The Pines at Seaview Marriott

A most understated challenge

At the mention of Seaview Marriott Resort, most golfers probably think of the dignified and storied Bay Course. As its name suggests, the charming Donald Ross design unfailingly serves up seagulls and gentle sea breezes, along with eye-catching views, as it wends its way along the wetlands and waters of Absecon Bay.

Indeed, back in 1914, the Bay Course was the centerpiece of the old Seaview Country Club, which utilities baron Clarence Geist built as his personal playground when he grew tired of waiting for preferred tee times at other courses at the Shore. The Bay Course later would become the setting for Sam Snead's dramatic win in the 1942 PGA Championship, and in recent years has become home to the ShopRite LPGA Classic.

Yet, for all that pedigree, any golfer who has spent any time around Seaview knows that the far better course sits across the street, tucked quietly and unobtrusively behind the resort's hotel. Also aptly named, that layout is called the Pines Course .

Granted, the Pines doesn't quite share the Bay's legacy. The Pine's original nine holes were built in 1929 by Howard Toomey and William Flynn, the team behind so many fine courses in the region, and a duo only now beginning to get its due. The second nine at the Pines was completed in 1957, thanks to William Gordon, a Toomey and Flynn disciple and colleague who left behind an impressive body of work of his own (Saucon Valley, Sunnybrook).

Truth is, here's a case where Donald Ross got outdone.

The Pines Course, at par 71 and 6,731 yards from the championship tees, is as engaging, endearing and demanding as many of the best private courses around Philadelphia.

It lies only a few hundred yards from the bay, yet the Pines might as well be somewhere 80 miles inland on the Main Line. Before you are nothing but towering pines and oaks enveloping each hole, and gently undulating fairways and greens. It tends to be quiet back there, as if you were a thousand miles from the hustle and bustle of shore activity.

It's hard to point to one or two holes as breathtaking or even impressive. Because Gordon integrated his work into that of Toomey and Flynn's, creating a rather seamless whole, I dare all but the most sophisticated students of design to even identify who laid out what. I sure couldn't.

Holes on the Pines are not dramatic - no eye-popping views, no massive carries required, nothing to make you stand back and marvel. That's a function of the terrain, certainly, but it is also perhaps a testament to the understated design techniques of Flynn and Gordon.

Instead, what you have at the Pines is hole after hole that is tightly framed by trees, with flat or mildly contoured fairways, most complicated by gentle twists and turns and masterfully placed bunkers. As with their courses around Philadelphia, Flynn and Gordon's greens run toward midsize with significant but not severe undulations.

From the tips - my tees of choice - the Pines measures a respectable 6,731 yards and plays every bit (and then some) of its 71.7 rating and 128 slope. More than a few of the tee shots play out of tree-lined chutes into tight fairways just waiting to cause you misery. Approach shots are rarely simple. Greenside bunkers loom, tree limbs intrude, and your hands sweat.

I later learned that almost nobody plays the Pines from all the way back. Most regulars gravitate to the more manageable white tees, from which the course plays 6,211 yards to a 126 slope.

If the Pines has a problem, it has nothing to do with the course itself. It's the greens fees. In season, from April 29 through Oct. 8, a round goes for $110 during the week and $139 on weekends and holidays. True, that includes the cart and a forecaddie, but it's still steep.

Because of competition in recent years from the spate of new, quality daily-fee courses at the Shore, there are ongoing discussions about reducing the rates. Maybe it will happen, maybe it won't. Until then, the best bet is waiting for twilight (after 3 p.m., it's $59 on weekdays and $69 on weekends) or waiting until Oct. 9, when the price drops to $99 on weekends and $79 on weekdays. Better still, come November, when the weather is still generally pleasant at the Shore, the price drops to $49 on weekdays and $59 on weekends.

Orginally published Aug. 13, 2000