With several excellent new daily-fee courses opened in the past few years and a $7 billion renaissance plan, the slightly tacky but always charming seaside resort of Atlantic City in southern New Jersey is on the rebound. It was here that stressed-out city dwellers came to stroll the nation's original boardwalk (1870), taste the first batch of saltwater taffy (1883), and collect picture postcards of the city's gaudy amusement piers.
Now golf is a major drawing card. Most of the region's new and vintage courses, routed on sandy soil dotted with pines, resemble their exalted neighbor to the west, Pine Valley Golf Club. Because it's within driving distance of New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C., their combined citizenry representing a third of the U.S. population, Atlantic City has the virtue of convenient access plus a mild maritime climate that makes year-round golf possible.
Where to Play
Blue Heron Pines Golf Club . Opened 10 years ago, the club's West Course -- the region's first upscale daily-fee layout -- was designed by Stephen Kay and is still among the area's best. Carved out of pines and hardwoods, Kay's creation is a classically styled parkland spread marked by clever short par fours. The straightforward front nine is reprised by a tougher back nine highlighted by the par-five 14th, its gaping fairway hazard inspired by "Hell's Half Acre" at Pine Valley. The East Course, a Steve Smyers design unveiled in 2000, is a nearly treeless layout built to emulate a links, its playing surfaces kept firm and fast. The raised, tilted greens are very slick. Large oblong bunkers signpost the fairways and defend the greens. The facility will host the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship in July. Green fee: $65 to $90 (all rates in article run April through mid-May). 609-965-4653; www.blueheronpines.com.
Shore Gate Golf Club . Named to GOLF MAGAZINE's Top 10 You Can Play list of the best new public-access courses opened in 2002, this Ron Fream-designed firebreather, gouged from a thickly wooded, sand-based site, is a visually striking stage best played from a carefully chosen set of tees (there are five, stretching from 5,284 to 7,227 yards). Fream's greens, most of them large, wavy, and undercut by swales, are as entertaining and unpredictable as the tee-to-green game. To survive, players must avoid numerous ponds, enormous waste bunkers, and vertical sand-flashed mounds alongside the fairways. Green fee: $42 to $99. 609-624-8337; www.shoregategolfclub.com.
Seaview Marriott Resort & Spa . The region's only full-service golf resort offers two very different layouts. The Bay Course is a Donald Ross creation routed along the shores of Reeds Bay. Its vintage features -- deep sand pits, high grassy mounds, crowned or punchbowl greens -- have been artfully restored. Not long at 6,247 yards (par 71), the Bay, site of the ShopRite LPGA Classic in June, is no pushover when the wind blows. The Pines Course, carved from a thick forest of pines and oaks, is a rolling, narrow layout that calls for accuracy off the tee. The demanding par-three sixth, fronted by a .sandy wasteland, could pass for a hole at Pine Valley. Green fee: $49 to $59. 609-748-7680; www.seaviewmarriott.com.
Sand Barrens Golf Club . Conceived as a parkland course, co-designers Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry discovered a sizable layer of sand beneath the surface and changed the theme, shelving the manicured look for a more rugged style. Bentgrass greens at this 27-hole facility, among the Garden State's largest, require a sure touch -- and a sense of humor. The riotously undulating, boomerang-shaped double green that serves No. 2 North and No. 4 West, stretching nearly 400 feet from end to end, is a case in point. Green fee: $69 to $79. 609-465-3555; www.sandbarrensgolf.com.
McCullough's Emerald Golf Links . Built on a closed landfill and opened last year, this Stephen Kay-designed muni features an 80-foot elevation change plus variations of holes drawn from famous British and Irish courses. Green fee: $50 to $60. 609-926-3900; www.mcculloughsgolf.com.
The Links at Brigantine Beach . A windswept, Scottish-style links set on a barrier island, the course, established in 1927 and now owned by the City of Brigantine, is where pros tuned up for the British Open in the 1930s. Tidal inlets come into play at 14 holes. Green fee: $50 to $75. 609-266-1388; www.brigantinegolf.com.
Where to stay
Originally founded in 1912 as a private club, Seaview Marriott Resort & Spa , located just north of Atlantic City in Galloway, is a perennial GOLF MAGAZINE Silver Medal resort. Anchored by a Georgian Revival-style hotel overlooking Reeds Bay, Seaview has evolved into an elegant 36-hole getaway. The hotel, with 297 updated guest rooms, features fine dining in its window-walled main dining room and more casual fare in the Golf Grille. Celebrity guests? Actress and princess Grace Kelly celebrated her 16th birthday at Seaview, while Bob Dylan reserved his room under the name "Justin Case." Seaview is home to the Faldo Golf Institute by Marriott as well as an Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa. Golf packages for two are available starting at $289 per night. 609-652-1800; www.seaviewmarriott.com.
Want to stay on the boardwalk near the action? Tropicana Casino and Resort, a large hotel overlooking the beach, is the only casino property that markets a golf package. Voted "Most Innovative Slots" and second in "Best Craps" by Casino Player Magazine in 2002, the Tropicana offers two-night packages from $195-$259 per person, based on double occupancy. 877-734-7702; www.tropicana.net.
In addition, the Greater Atlantic City Golf Association packages most of the courses listed above with several midpriced hotels. Golf guide and reservations: 800-465-3222; www.gacga.com.