Course Reviews & More
Finding Some "Friendly" Places to Play in NJ - Gambler Ridge Golf Course/ Cream Ridge GC/ Atlantis GC
Reviewed by Sean Fawcett, njgolfnews.com senior writer
Everyone loves a friendly place to tee it up. A place where the staff always greets them with a smile and treats them like family. Gambler Ridge Golf Course in Cream Ridge is just one of those very places.
For more than thirty -five years, and often referred to as “New Jersey’s Friendliest Golf Course," Gambler Ridge is located in horse country near Freehold Township. Given the sirene rural surroundings, it's just the type of track that all golfers love to play over and over again. Besides being affordable and thoughtfully designed, the real stars of Gambler Ridge are its extremely playable layout, laid back atmosphere and its many exciting risk-reward opportunities with rolling fairways, manicured greens and several reachable par 5s. There's even an often driveable par 4s highlighting the loop.
Gambler Ridge begins with back-to-back par 4s that the longest hitters will enjoy giving it a go on. The short par 3, third hole adds to the potential birdie barrage playing uphill at about 100 to 120 yards over a small pond to a two-tiered green sloping severely from back to front. Don't let the short distance fool you. This can be a trickly hole.
Checking out a couple of more holes, the course’s two risk-reward holes - holes 5 and 6, are both par 4s. The first of the two, the 5th, playing for a left to right fade/slice of a about 250 yards downhill boast water bordering the par 3 7th down the left with two massive bunkers guarding the front and right. The second, No.6, calls for a long draw over water about 20 yards just short of the of the green or a strategic tee shot of about 150 to 200 yards to the right to set up a wedge or a pitch approach to the putting surface. These are just a few examples in the first few holes of the great variation and fun that you'll having playing at Gambler's Ridge.
Following a fun day of golf, be sure to visit the Gambler Bar and Grill and reflect on your round with a cold beverage and a burger or a cheesesteak or a humongous Bavarian pretzel with cheese sauce, or any number of the other scrumptious selections from their popular Pub-style menu.
“Our facility is the perfect blend of picturesque scenery, hospitable service and friendly atmosphere,” said Gambler Ridge Golf Course Assistant General Manager John Cereste. “ At Gambler Ridge, many visitors say they feel like family and form many lasting friendships and memories through their experiences with us. We take special pride in that.”
Not far up the road, that very same familial-type feeling can be felt at Cream Ridge Golf Course, as well. A CORE GOLF property managed by golf professional Bob Lowrie and PGA pro Kevin Figa, Cream Ridge GC in Cream Ridge, near Allentown, offers a terrific, challenging and fun golf course with ultra-friendly and top-notch customer service making for a memorable and enjoyable day on the links.
“Cream Ridge was a family built and run golf course and continues to be,” said General Manager Lowrie. “ Our #1 priority is to treat people like friends and have them just enjoy their time here.”
Meticulously maintained by Course Superintendent Mark Stallone, with ongoing improvements entering its 3rd year of renovations, Cream Ridge is a fair and scenic course that all players of all levels can play and like coming back to over and over again.
Together with its fine, first-rate restaurant, The Roost, featuring classic pub fare and up-scale dinners to suit every taste, Cream Ridge Golf Club satisfies a golfer’s every wish making for a tremendous, and all-around, golfing experience.
“It’s all about the whole experience,” said Lowrie. “ We strive very hard to treat people nicely and have a really nice course for them to play with a great place for them to come and eat.”
If you heading a little further south, put on your list to play another very friendly place to tee it up is The Ocean County Golf Course at Atlantis in Little Egg Harbor.
A county-run course since the late 1980s, Atlantis opened in the early 60s as a private country club designed by Merion US Open runner-up to Ben Hogan, George Fazio, and features several very memorable, and fun-to-play, holes like its signature par three 6th. Modeled after the more famous, and sometimes infamous, #12 at Augusta National(Golden Bell), Atlantis’ challenging 6th plays left to right over water and a massive sand trap to a narrow, sloping green. Playing about the exact same yardage as Augusta’s 12th (145yards), players get to try their skill, and nerve, playing a par 3 just like the very best in the world get to do two to four times every April at The Masters.
The par 4 18th is maybe the most challenging finishing hole in all of Ocean County. Atlantis’ finishing hole plays straight uphill to a treacherous two-tiered green perched some fifty feet above the players’ head.
Additionally, Atlantis features a 200-yard driving range, a chipping green with sand trap and full-sized putting green with the Ocean County Vocational School’s culinary restaurant, Cuisine on the Green, which provides fine food, pub fare and beverages inside and out on the patio by the first tee.
“Atlantis is a hidden jewel in southern New Jersey,” said Pro Shop Witkowski. “ Although our course is challenging, our entire staff takes great pride in knowing that their level of service brings our visitors back again and again.
“Our “family” of regulars have stories that go way back and now their children and grandchildren play here as well.”
Hopefully, I've peaked your interest in three of our "friendliest" courses in New Jersey. Golf is a friendly game which promotes many values, including fair play and friendship. Courses like Gambler Ridge, Atlantis, Cream Ridge, are three great places to start. Take a chance and play these three this season!
Cream Ridge GC
Atlantis Golf Course
Gambler Ridge Golf Course
Union League National Golf Club – A Masterpiece in the Making
Reviewed by Sean Fawcett, njgolfnews.com senior writer
Imagine being there when the Eiffel Tower was being erected, or when DaVinci was painting The Last Supper, or when Michaelangelo painted The Sistine Chapel, or when The Beatles recorded Sgt. Pepper, or when The Boss, Bruce Springsteen, and his E Street Band first played The Stone Pony in Asbury Park. Imagine that, if you can, and you will sort-of know what The Union League of Philadelphia’s members and their guests are feeling and seeing, when playing at the new Union League National Golf Club.
Now in its third year of renovations, Union League National just north of Avalon in Swainton, NJ, was formerly Sand Barrens Golf Club but you'd never know it. It’s being totally and almost unbelievably reimagined by its original Sand Barrens architect, Dana Fry, and his partner Jason Straka, into one of the elite golf courses in the entire country.
Fry and Straka have worked together for more than twenty years on award winning projects all over the world. Fry is the architect of Erin Hills which hosted the 2017 US Open, and New Jersey's own Hamilton Farm Golf Club. He credits much of his work to his former co-designer and mentor the late golf course architect and artist Mike Strantz, perhaps best known for his work at Tobacco Road near Pinehurst, North Carolina and Caledonia Golf and Fish Club near Myrtle Beach. They came up through the ranks with world renowned architect Tom Fazio.
Fazio's concept behind this new Union League National is to create one of the best in the country, inspired by two great golf courses, New Jersey’s iconic Pine Valley and Fry’s design at Calusa Pines in Florida.
"The course is totally unrecognizable from when it was Sand Barrens," said Union League National Golf Club General Manager Jacob Hoffer. "Lakes ponds and creeks, plus vast waste areas and creative vertical elevation, all create so much more drama than there was here before."
"There’s a little of Pine Valley and Calusa Pines, Dana's course from down in Naples(Fla.)" added Hoffer. "Put them both in a blender and you have the new Union League National. It's a great course and a sight to behold."
One of the most memorable "attractions" to see at Union League National Golf Club is the "Big Fill. "At its highest point, it reaches a height just over 78 feet above sea level. The existing ground was around 18 feet above sea level, meaning close to 60 feet of fill were brought in. The "Big Fill" is modeled after a somewhat shorter 48- foot fill at Calusa Pines. It is a sharp, vertical man-made mini mountain that covers over 45 acres and was constructed from the dirt when digging out Union League’s brand new lakes, ponds and creeks.
The Big Fill towers over the Union League's 27-hole facility. Each of the three nines is named after a Civil War Union general– Ulysses S. Grant, George Meade and William. T. Sherman. From it, one can see many awe-inspiring and totally breath-taking views of multiple tees, fairway and green complexes.
"The Big Fill is the primary, and most prominent feature of the course," says artichect Fry. "You can see the whole course from the top. Everything just spreads out from underneath you from the summit of the Fill."
Besides the Big Fill a massive year-long strategic tree, native grass and wetland plants revegetation project was implemented by Jason Straka. Over one million plants were planted, including regional grasses and shrubs like broomsedge, switchgrass, bayberry, different varieties of sedges, bearberry, scrub areas and all around the course with more to come. While this project still has years to go and really is still in its early stages, the ultimate aim of all the new growth is to return the property to its natural forested condition and surroundings and create a feeling similar to the one that golfers get at courses like Pine Valley, Bandon Dunes, Friar’s Head, Sand Valley and Pinehurst #2 get when playing those iconic and very natural landscapes.
Additionally, creating the Big Fill dug created some interesting and unique features to several of the par 3's and 4's. For instance, on the fifth hole on Meade, one of the par 3's plays through two ridges downhill to a slender green fronted by water. The two man-made ridges on the hole creates a cool canyon-like atmosphere that will challenge golfers of all levels, including low handicappers and professionals.
On the eighth hole, also on Meade, is a straight uphill, and occasionally drivable Risk/Reward Par 4 with bunkers, which need to be avoided, all around the fairway and green. The hole measures just 306 yards. It tees off right below the halfway house and plays uphill about 25 feet. Long hitters will have a gutsy decision of whether to go for the green or more probably, get up-and-down from one of the greenside bunkers. Otherwise, play more prudently and lay-up off the tee to try and set up for a full wedge or get imaginative with a straight-forward, but also extremely tricky, bump-and-run approach.
Several other holes at the twenty-seven hole facility offer many more Risk/Reward opportunities with reachable greens and split fairways forcing players to have to think and aim and play strategically. This adds to the fun and challenge of Fry/Stranka's absolutely jaw-dropping and significantly improved Union League National layout.
"Pine Valley and Calusa Pines are the inspiration," said Fry. "The great thing about those two courses, and Pine Valley in particular, is that they just look so natural that they look like they’ve always been there.
"The soil is the very same sand-based soil as the Pine and Oak forested terrain you have where Pine Valley is located less than an hour away.
"Our goal is to make it look so natural that you can’t tell that it was actually built. My hope is to be around in 30 years to see it when it is all grown and fully mature. This is one of my all-time favorite projects. It's really going to be something very special."
Without a doubt, Fry's comments were hyperbole; it’s just a fact. Union League National is a masterpiece, and it will, in the not too distant future, be thought of right along the likes of America's finest golf courses.
Courtesy of Union League National Golf Club
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