Greens and grapes?
The concept has come East, with Renault Winery and its Vineyard National Golf Course showcasing a dash of European sophistication.
Renault offers a sense of the golf-and-wine tasting tours that have become prominent all-day events throughout France. It combines the nation’s third-oldest winery with a golf course traversing through the vineyards. (Yes, a bad shot could put you in the Grapes of Wrath).
For patrons of this Egg Harbor City course, it’s easy to walk from the 18th green to an on-property restaurant and taste some wine created at this establishment. Renault will further emphasize its heritage with more wine-tasting stations and opportunities amid its revitalization project impacting the hotel, restaurant, wine and wedding facilities. The process is ongoing, and transformative.
It was a French immigrant, Louis Renault, who began this winery in 1864 and Vivamee Hospitality (Vivamee is taken from the French term to revive the soul) that aims to restore its grandeur.
While that process unfolds, golfers are greeted with a scenic track.
There are four sets of tees, ranging from a championship-level length of 7,000 yards to a more-realistic 5,748, depending upon one’s ability level. Vineyard National requires length off the tee, making the selection of the tee box and the delivery of a good drive important. Yet it won’t intimidate high-handicap golfers. The greens are, for the most part, open in front.
“One of the best characteristics of this course is that there is nothing else out here, it’s peaceful and very player-friendly,” says Paul Israel, the club’s director of golf operations. “There are wide fairways, big greens, not much rough and the nice, four levels of tee boxes. It is beautiful and scenic. We appeal to players of all skill levels.”
There are unique design touches like the eighth, in which a long bunker area literally cuts the hole in two, prompting one to play the safer left side or more daring right. There’s also the testosterone temptation, trying to clear the trap with a straight shot, yet that will require 260 yards from the back tees.
One of the most aesthetic images is the seventh, a pretty dog leg left cutting through a vineyard. It bends sharply enough to create a narrow landing area from some tee boxers. The ideal drive would be placed right center in the fairway. The left side is nothing but trouble on this hole. The green slopes from back to front, ensuring a good chance of a desired uphill putt.
Twelve and 13 offer elevation changes and a unique twist. The 12th is 377 yards, but from an elevated tee of 31 feet, will shorten the hole. Bunkers guard the left side of the green and also wrap behind it, a fair proposition both for penalizing a shot that runs through the green and protecting it from the further problems of water behind the sand.
Turn the tables on 13 and here’s a par 3 that could play harder than it looks, Israel notes. This hole allows a bailout to the left side for the conservative player or offers the risk-reward scenario for players who want to challenge the pond on the right for a good birdie position on the green.
Tap-ins: This looks like a great spot for a self-directed stay-and-play package, especially during the autumn months. Summer would be a good time to plan for that, as hotel space will likely get booked in the fall, when a number of wine-tasting projects may be completed. The course, restaurant, wine-tasting, nearby Smithville and Atlantic City could set up a personalized long weekend.