ATLANTIC CITY. N.J. -- Rocker Bruce Springsteen's hit song "Born to Run" is a classic - still considered a "last-ditch" effort on his part to make it big in the music business. The New Jersey native's 1974 lyrics were bold and a bit desperate.
In it, Springsteen mentions a few rebellious individuals who chose to break the rules in order to escape their working-class environments. After being "sprung from cages on Highway 9," they proceeded to jump into their "chrome wheeled, fuel injected" hotrods and went "steppin' out over the line."
Sounds like a freedom thing. Ah, the 70s.
Though this burning-rubber activity is now a thing of the past along Route 9 — which still hugs the Jersey coast — it doesn't mean there is no longer an inherent need for speed down by the shore. With so many great golf courses to get to and so little time, it's no wonder the now-plodding, two-lane, undivided U.S. Route 9 has been overtaken by progress: namely, the Garden State Parkway.
The "Parkway," in contrast, is a wide-open wonder full of multi-lane pavement that also slices north and south along the Atlantic Ocean. It is a modern, funky-fast highway — funky in that it can get you to seaside destinations without any interruptions. Fast (even within in the legal speed limit) in that it can get you to multiple golf venues in a blink of an eye.
In fact, this highway can zip you from Atlantic City to the cozy beach resort town of Cape May in about a half an hour, give or take a rest-stop break along the way. Of course, there are various exits along the journey where you can pull off and play several high-end golf courses that dot the South Jersey coastline.
The list of "GSP Glories" begins with the northernmost course at Sea Oaks Golf Club in Little Egg Harbor and extends all the way south to Cape May National Golf Club in historic Cape May.
Naturally, there are golfers who would prefer to slow down and take in all of the wonders of the region aside from the links. For those, it is highly recommended that they stick to old Route 9. This classic roadway closely parallels the Garden State Parkway - at about a quarter of the pace.
Route 9 takes you through several old-time New Jersey neighborhoods, past quaint, architecturally diverse houses with modest patches of green front lawns. It is along this "divine" stretch of road where as many as nine golf layouts play within a few minutes of the double line that separates the roadway portrayed in Springsteen's "Born to Run."
Any one of the courses (Sea Oaks; The Bay and Pines Courses at Stockton Seaview Resort; Atlantic City Country Club; Greate Bay Country Club; Shore Gate Golf Club; Sand Barrens Golf Club; Wildwood Golf & Country Club; and Cape May National) is worth the effort it takes to pull the car out of your casino hotel garage and "step it on down the line" as a part of your Atlantic City golf package.
For those golfers always in a rush, each of the golf courses is also situated just minutes off the parkway as well. Wildwood is in such proximity to the toll road that, in fact, the club actually has two former green sites buried underneath its pavement (the golf layout was reconfigured when the new road went through).
One other note about Route 9, the landmark road actually dissects both Seaview (separating its Bay and Pines offerings) and Greate Bay, which features six holes on the east side of the roadway and 12 holes just to the west of it. The two "sides" to Greate Bay are connected by a pair of tunnels. Play the course and you'll hardly notice that it is there.
Here is a rundown of the facilities, moving from north to south, directly accessible from the Divine (Route) 9:
Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Resort
Were it not for the sound of seagulls floating in the salty air above, one might think they were at the Greenbrier Resort. But no, there aren't any West Virginia mountains here — just a wonderful hotel and two marvelous golf courses that represent the epitome of charm and elegance along the New Jersey coast.
A brief walk across the grounds and you'll know you've arrived at a special destination. Situated in the seaside town of Galloway, the stately Stockton Seaview is the only golf and spa resort on the New Jersey Shore. It offers guests an idyllic resort vacation, world-class golf and some of the best spa experiences on the East Coast.
The Bay Course, which opened in 1914, clings to its Scottish links-style heritage as crafted by Donald Ross, a true Scot from Dornoch. The Bay Course continues to be the region's championship venue as a host to an LPGA event. It began its professional legacy in 1942 as host to the PGA Championship won by Sam Snead.
Though not as strongly affected by the strong Atlantic breezes, Seaview's Pines Course is a highly rated layout designed by Toomey & Flynn in 1929. The course differs from its sister Bay routing in that it features tree-lined fairways, the towering pines helping protect it from nature's elements. The contrast between the two makes Seaview a great dual-course facility.
Greate Bay Country Club
Though operated as a private course, Greate Bay Country Club in Somers Point will make a select few tee times available for golf packages at off-peak hours. Known for famed designer and one of the game's great original pioneers - Scotsman Willie Park Jr. (who was recently inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame) - Greate Bay is popular for its 358 (three hours and 58 minutes) pace of play program and its fun-and-friendly atmosphere.
The layout's traditionally small greens are considered among the best in Southern New Jersey and they putt with subtle breaks that even long-time members find mystifying. Though Park's "Touch of Scotland" influence has been transformed somewhat over time (it opened in 1923) due to the growth of native trees (making it more parkland in style), the course still attracts celebrities like LPGA golf legend Annika Sorenstam. Other former guests range from Frank Sinatra to Dean Martin to Michael Jordan.
Tucked quietly off exit 17 of the Garden State Parkway where it brushes up against Route 9, Shore Gate Golf Club's entrance welcomes you to an experience that is considered "elevated above the rest."
Shore Gate, which features some remarkable terrain, is the only course in the area designed by the California architect firm of Ron Fream and David Dale.
According to general manager and director of golf Harry Bittner, this aspect gives the course a little different feel than most you'll see in the Northeast of America.
"Everything they've done, they've done well," Bittner said of the design team. "The whole goal was to build a golf course that was pretty dramatic and different to give people something special — something they will remember. They had a really great piece of land with which to work."
Though situated only a couple of miles from the beach, the landscape at Shore Gate is surprisingly diverse.
"For being so close to the ocean, this is unusual. Not all the land up and down the coast is consistent, Shore Gate rolls across one of the more unusual pockets with its natural variation," Bittner added.
Seven ponds also adorn the layout. "It's a very natural golf course, certainly not a commercial one," Bittner said. "Golfers come back in here and they go, 'Whoa, this is a whole other area.'"
As the story goes, the 27-holes at Sand Barrens Golf Club are a result of a mad scientist. Well, Dana Fry may not have been mad, but he certainly was intuitive.
It was back in the winter of 1996 when Fry, then a co-designer with Dr. Michael Hurdzan, was simultaneously working on a desert course out west and walking the land situated among the pine trees of coastal New Jersey. Digging down into the soil with a backhoe, Fry struck what he was looking for — sand, and quite a bit of it too.
So, instead of designing a typical green, parkland-style golf course, he decided to bring the sand up from the earth and turn Sand Barrens into the "closest thing you'll find to a desert course in this neck of the woods."
Today, three really strong nines put Sand Barrens at the front of the class and still the only 27-hole facility in the system.
Cape May National
As the known "Cape Crusader," Cape May National Golf Club's front nine is narrower, shorter and potentially more difficult. The back nine plays longer, is more open and is more like a traditional links layout. The front nine is more parkland style with bigger fairways and smaller greens; the back nine sports smaller fairways and bigger greens. On every hole the wind can shift so "you have to be creative down here."
The course, known as "The Natural," will challenge even the most skilled golfer and No. 18 is considered on the finer finishing holes in the state.
When owner Bob Mullock first designed "The Natural" along with Florida architect Karl Litten back in the early 1990s, he took a workmanlike piece of land from its previous functions as a dairy farm, a soybean field and an airstrip and turned it into a golfer's playground.
According to one press report: "Cape May National is not full of tricky holes or punitive angles. It's a steadily paced layout that, except for an occasional blind shot, allows you to find your rhythm and plot your strategy accordingly."
While visiting the region, you'll want to spend some time in charming Cape May, a one-time pirate's cove, smuggler's harbor and whaling port with a rich and colorful history.
Learn more about all 20 Atlantic City golf courses and book your golf getaway at www.PlayACGolf.com.
Martin Armes, 919-608-7260, firstname.lastname@example.org
Brad King, 336-306-9219, email@example.com