The Birth of the Birdie. In 1903 Ab(ner) Smith played a fine shot into the then 12th hole at Atlantic City Country Club. That shot was laid dead as to yield a score of one under the stern par of four. That green today exits as a practice just north of the 18th green. The plaque commemorating the event has been moved to its proper place from where it had been kept adjacent to the current 9th hole. The course has changed quite a bit since then. At the conclusion of the hole a fellow-competitor called it "a bird of a shot" and eventually as it developed and traveled it became birdie - one under par. There are many variations on this story some including William and George Trump as well as A.W. Tillinghast recanted in the club's 100 year History Birth of The Birdie. This version is considered by the club as most true.
As a take off point - a Birdie is one under par, an Eagle two under par and an Albatross three under par (NOT a “Double Eagle” as Americans are wont to say – that would be FOUR under par on a hole), Double Eagle is a very grating term to my ears – just as a hole-in-one. It’s an ACE. Another sticky point – the mis-belief that an ace must be in an 18 – hole round to be legitimate. That’s just wrong – it’s a perpetuation of the Golf Digest requirement for an ace to be a part of an 18-hole round to be recognized by their clearinghouse, lest our Honest Abe American brethren stand out on a par 3 with a bucket of balls and shoot at a par 3 flag all day to say that they holed-in-one. Funny one, that - I was recently in Arizona for a meeting and thanks to a friend was able to play the lovely little Adobe Course at the even lovelier Frank Lloyd Wright Masterpiece Biltmore Hotel. There was a special hole-in-one event going on taking up half the practice tee (hell, I don’t practice …) for the Fiesta Bowl Charities wherein one buys a number of balls and shoots at a 125 - 140 yard target to try and hole in one –apparently as many as three occur in a day. These are technically holed practice shots, but they do qualify the golfer (as well as the closest on any given day that no one holes) for a final event at the time of the actual Fiesta Bowl (Make that Doritos Fiesta Bowl?) in which each final qualifier tries one time to hole in one for who knows, a million bucks or a KIA Sedona or something else exciting.
Atlantic City Country Club – famous for the invention of the term birdie was renovated in 1876 by Tom Doak to the point that one might even consider it a new course at this point –is a fun little course that is clearly falling very hard on economic downturn. During Monopoly money boom times recently it was a very exclusive course that was almost like a secret society in how it was run and evident in how few had gotten to play it. Now under dire economic stress it is open to the public and last Sunday was available for the enjoyment of a slug-like 5 hour round for a very nice $45. But, sometimes it felt like going to jail without passing go. Slow play is killing golf, I just want to see courses policing pace of play more. 5 hours in mid-40 degree weather escapes me.
The preferred look of the lovely raggedy bunker style fits very well here and is still in place, it looks great in pictures, but the course is sadly getting beaten up Closely mown areas adjacent to greens is perhaps my favorite hazards as it is very egalitarian – foozlers pick their putters and stroke away whilst the skilled golfer considers every one of five or so choices before he makes a mess of it (sometimes). This was one of the great joys of ACCC as it is a windy site and it was a recovery shot often required. Soft, spongy pock-marked closely mown areas have little teeth and are very unattractive. Public golfers are notorious for not fixing ball marks on greens so they sure as hell aren’t going to do it on the approaches and runs-off. Once you fix offending marks on the line of your upcoming putt, the greens are putting very well – once you finally get to them. After waiting on every shot for the first three holes the waits got longer and longer despite the chilly temperatures the players out on Sunday could just not get the lead out. Not fixing these marks certainly didn’t add any time to the round.
The routing is generally lovely but on the 14th a long walk out to the tee on the marsh to wait for the green to clear (that almost no one can drive in cold weather) backs things up. Then from 15 to 17th tee, one feels a bit exposed. The design team cannot really be held accountable for this as the original mission of the re-design was for mostly walking and little play. Still, the routing is a nice one with a lovely bayside stretch from thirteen to seventeen.
The par 3’s are generally a little shorter than one usually sees today - a good thing considering the winds on the property. All five of them are lovely and challenging requiring very precise shot-making to small greens with many places to tuck a pin. Middle green and putting is not a bad option most of the time. The fully exposed wind-swept 15th is one of the more demanding par 3’s anywhere with a marsh in play and nearly always a cross wind or hurting wind never mind the season. It is a lovely hole by anyone’s standards with the skyline of Atlantic City across the marsh as the backdrop. The par 5’s are stout with only the water-guarded left turning dog legged 10th likely reachable in two shots. The par 4’s are quite varies from the very gentle and deceptive 2nd to the demanding 6th and seventeenth – they being barely reachable with very well-protected greens.
Overall the design is an excellent one and the clubhouse is quite a bit of history, but the conditioning and care of the golf course and monitoring of pace of play sorely needs attention. The carts have a Plexiglas-covered pin sheet with summer left-over offers – proffering a mere $100 replay round and a suggested 4:15 to 4:30 pace of play admonishment - both out of reach given the experience Sunday.
ACCC is well-worth playing, but the pace of play needs attention.
Much of the history of the course is from Birth of the Birdie. The club has existed for more than 100 years, the original layout pre-dating 1900 laid out by John Reid the professional. He laid out nine holes at a time and the 5,900 yard par 72 course attracted the 1901 USGA Amateur contested by Charles Blair MacDonald and Walter Travis among others. Mr. Reid who later won the USGA Open for two consecutive years prior to Francis Ouimet's "Shot heard 'round the world" in 1913. Most of the Philadelphia School of Architects who collaborated on Pine Valley visited and played ACCC. However, it was Willie Park, Jr. who added the third nine which persisted through 1950 according to the club. Herbert J. Tweedie from Chicago also tinkered with the design pre-depression with no time frame given. In an interesting frame of reference the tome claims he drank Scotch Whisky heavily while creating deeper and deeper bunkers (none of which remain) on the course. Their recollection is actually quite humorous, unless you are a descendant of Mr. Tweedie! During the period from the Depression through 1950 not much change ensued. Prior to Tom Doak's acclaimed re-design in 2000, only some elevation of the most marshward holes occurred.
The design as it exists today follows the first nine footprint of Flynn fairly well with the exception of shortening the second and lengthening the fifth. Flynn's 10th and 11th were combined to make the par 5 tenth. The footprint of the routing again remains fairly intact through the added 14th, 15th and expanded sixteenth. 14-16 are reviewed in photos below.
Here's a short pictorial tour of the course as it existed while still private and after Doak revised Flynn's 18 hole version.
The approach to the lovely third - on the same footprint as Flynn's hole
The short 4th with Atlantic City across the brackwater marsh
The Par 3 Eighth - Aptly labeled Sycamore
The 9th when known as Adirondack for the viewing chairs and the penultimate (erroneous) resting place of the Birdie Plaque
An Original Doak Hole - #14 drivable under certain conditions
Another Doak Original - The demanding fifteenth par 3 snuck in between 14 & 16
Par 4 Sixteenth from the Tee
Sixteen approach - Tall seaoats encroach on the marsh to the right of the green today
The Hidden 17th - another marvelous hole