Orginally published June 10, 2001
Midway through the back nine at Sea Oaks Golf Club, the upscale, semi-private course with a tragic story behind it, one of my playing partners asked me how I liked it.
I liked it. I'd really like it at $60 a round. I think I'd still like it at $75, maybe even as high as $80.
The thing is, at Sea Oaks, the prime-time, in-season weekend and holiday greens fees are $95.
But then, why wouldn't they be? That's pretty much the going rate for the country-club-for-a-day experience these days, especially down at the shore during the vacation months. The Blue Heron Pines courses, East and West, are even more. So is Harbor Pines.
But Sea Oaks , while first-class from top to bottom and a welcome addition to the shore golf scene, isn't quite the golf course you find at Blue Heron Pines or Harbor Pines.
|At a glance|
| Getting there: Sea Oaks Golf Club is at Route 539 and Sea Oaks Drive, Little Egg Harbor Township, N.J. From Philadelphia, take Route 70 east to Lisbon Circle to Route 72. Follow Route 72 east about 15 miles to the first light. Turn right onto Route 539. Follow Route 539 for two miles. The phone number is 609-296-2656. The Web site is www.seaoaksgolf.com.
Green fees:In season, Fridays, weekends and holidays, $95; Monday through Thursday, $80. Twilight rates are available.
Walking: Walking is permitted anytime Monday through Thursday, although cart fees are included. Carts are mandatory on Fridays, weekends and holidays until 4 p.m.
Amenities: Comfortable, upscale clubhouse; well-stocked pro shop; excellent practice facility with driving range and putting green.
Rating: Sea Oaks is a slight cut below the Shore's best, but it is a strong and playable addition to the Jersey golf scene. Definitely worth a try. Lots of sand, rolling fairways, huge greens. Should challenge all levels of players.
Accurate as of June 2001
It's a beautiful piece of property, with more than a few appealing and testy holes. Most of the bent-grass fairways are lined by trees, with towering hardwoods sprinkled in among the thousands of pines. There are plenty of jagged, gaping fairway sand hazards that will give you fits, not to mention some of the most gargantuan undulating greens you will find in these parts. Sea Oaks also offers the kind of mild elevation you don't expect to find so close to the ocean. All in all, Sea Oaks definitely gets a thumbs-up.
But where it falls short of Blue Heron Pines and Harbor Pines, in my view, is that it lacks a real, well, "Wow!" factor. You know, like, "Wow, look at this hole." Oftimes at Sea Oaks , I found myself standing on the tee, nodding, thinking, "Good-looking hole, quite good," but rarely "Wow!"
Much of the reason, I think, is that architect Ray Hearn, whether deliberately or not, has almost hidden many of the imposing hazards at Sea Oaks . Several times, as I stood on the tee, I'd glance at the yardage book and see a picture of a hole with foreboding, sandy chasms running all up one side of the fairway. Trouble, to be sure.
But as I stood there, trying to determine the best angle of attack, I couldn't see them from the tee - or I couldn't see enough of them to make me sweat. In some cases, it was because of a crest in the fairway, in others because the bunker simply cut a low profile. But each time, it left me with the question: How is a hazard supposed to strike fear in your heart if it's not front and center, not looming large?
My confusion turned to frustration at the 16th, a fine, sweeping 540-yard double-dogleg par 5 that confronts you with a vast sand hazard off the tee, then more sand, then a small lake.
My tee shot, which was up the left side, caught the front end of the sprawling fairway desert. No big problem, I told myself, just don't get greedy. Take your medicine. Take an 8-iron and punch out to the fairway, which would leave me 150 yards over the pond into the green. I picked what looked like an OK spot, then hit exactly the shot I wanted to hit. When I reached the ball, I was in yet another tributary of sand I hadn't been able to see.
I don't mean to whine too much here. Sea Oaks has a lot going for it, especially if you can take advantage of the $80 Monday-through-Thursday rate. It can play long, up to 6,950 yards, and it can play fairly tough, with a 72.4 rating and a 129 slope. There are a couple of very strong par 3s and a healthy dose of interesting mid-length par 4s, all crafted in a way to challenge low handicappers without overwhelming lesser players.
Hearn, quite the student of golf history, has given the course a mix of well-bunkered greens that demand lofted, target-style approach shots, while others are virtually unprotected, welcoming the run-up shot.
Developing the course was the dream of Fred Stryker, from Long Beach Island, a Yardley native who went on to become a successful businessman and entrepreneur. Sadly, last June, only two months before the course was to open, Stryker was killed in an auto accident. His wife, Barbara, and their four children operate the facility and carry on the dream.