Seaview Marriott Resort & Spa, Galloway Township, N.J.
This is going to be another of those columns where, without any intention of doing so, I will aggravate fans of a legendary golf course architect of the golden past. I'll do it by pointing out their icon didn't do one of the courses they think he did.
Here goes: The Bay Course at New Jersey's Seaview Marriott Resort & Spa (host in June, for the sixth straight year, of the Shoprite LPGA Classic, with Annika Sorenstam as defending champion), is not a Donald Ross original.
I know, I know, the resort says it is, all its promotional literature says it is, even the Donald Ross Society says it is. But it isn't.
Ross was involved, as I'll explain in a moment. But first, I need to set the record straight. The Bay Course at Seaview was originally designed by Hugh Wilson, of Merion fame. Which isn't too shabby a pedigree, either.
How can I know that, but the club doesn't? Well, back in August of 1974, Harold Walker, the general manager of Seaview, wrote me in response to an inquiry about the history of the club. "Unfortunately, some years back, when there was a change of ownership in our club," Walker wrote, "the historical information that you are interested in somehow went astray."
A year later, he wrote again to confirm the club's old paperwork was lost. Never to be found again. Like a lot of golf history, Seaview's early documentation apparently got tossed into a dumpster, and thence into a landfill or, seeing as this is New Jersey, dropped to the bottom of the deep blue sea. So I looked elsewhere. It took me 25 years of searching, but I recently stumbled upon a 1918 Atlantic City newspaper article on microfilm. It was a rambling review of the history of Seaview, especially its massive clubhouse (now expanded into a hotel.) The article did mention the course: "Hugh Wilson laid out course and Ross did the trapping," a subhead read.
The 13th hole on Seaview's Bay Course.
"Hugh I. Wilson, who also laid out the two Merion courses, is responsible for the Seaview course," it said in the text. "Five or six years ago, Clarence H. Geist, then president of the Whitemarsh Valley County Club (outside Philadelphia), decided that there was no earthly reason why Philadelphians and other golfers should go south in the winter to get their golf. He felt that there were scores of men of big affairs who ... could run down to the shore and play over the weekend ..."
The course Wilson laid out could be termed a genuine links, I suppose, as it sits on sandy soil edging the marshes of Reeds Bay, a barrier island removed from the Atlantic Ocean. (In fact, it might even be on land filled in from the bay, which is why it took the crews two years to complete construction.) When I first played the course, back in 1993, it was terribly overgrown with trees, mostly big firs, spruce and cedars, the worst stuff with which to line fairways. They may have cut down on the effects of ocean breezes, but they also cut off most views of the bay. Worse yet, you could see deep hollows along many holes. These were huge old fairway bunkers that had been grassed over decades before, and had 40-foot-tall trees growing from them. I'm happy to say that many of those trees have since been removed, and many of those bunkers were restored back in 1998 under the supervision of architect Bob Cupp Jr., helped by old Ross diagrams unearthed a few years before in the maintenance building.
The Bay Course is not long, just 6,247 yards from the back tees, par 71. (The LPGA plays it at 6,051 yards, and almost every year, somebody tears it up with an 8-under-par 63.) As of a month ago, the turf conditions on the Bay Course were hardly pristine, but since I've never attended the LPGA event there, maybe the field always deals with some weeds and wet spots.
No matter. The Bay is a quaint old design, with tiny teardrop greens perched above flat, lay-of-the-land fairways, perfect for less-than-perfect course conditions. The bunkering is marvelous. Greens playing into the wind, or on long holes (like the 219-yard 11th) are open in front. But other holes have bunkers clear across the front of putting surfaces, forcing shots into the air, like on the 300-yard fifth and 292-yard eighth. Best of all, old-fashioned cross bunkers have been reclaimed and preserved. There's a string of them across the 10th fairway (which was the 14th until a recent renumbering of the back nine) barely a hundred yards off the tee, but they serve as an ornate frame to a marvelous picture that sweeps back towards the bay. Three enormous cross bunkers, placed on a strategic diagonal, complicate matters for average golfers on second shots on the 492-yard 16th (the old ninth). Those bunkers turn an ordinary short par 5 into a work of art.
The bunkers were created by Donald Ross, who was described rather impertinently in that newspaper article as a builder, not a course architect. "Two years ago," the article reads, "the best of American golf course constructors, Donald Ross, ran down to Seaview for a week and when he left, a string of small posts dotted the course. These marked the traps. Those who have not played the Seaview course in two years would scarcely recognize it. Ross has done a splendid bit of bunkering ..."
It is splendid indeed, especially since the club still maintains tall fescue rims around most of the bunkers and atop old mounds. A magazine article published soon after the course opened in 1915 indicated Hugh Wilson's original design contained no sand bunkers. Recalling that the infamous "white faces of Merion" were partly the work of Merion superintendent Joe Valentine and its superintendent-turned-architect William Flynn, I'm thinking maybe bunkering wasn't Wilson's strong suit.
The resort has a second 18 that's even more of an architectural hodge-podge. Flynn did a third nine in 1931, and it was used, along with the front nine of the Bay Course, as site of the 1942 PGA Championship, won by Sam Snead (his first major title). Flynn's work is now the first two holes of the Pines Course, plus 12 through 18, although the 15th and 16th (Flynn's old 17th and 18th) have been remodeled into modern-looking back-to-back par 3s. William Gordon added a pretty interesting nine (containing some Pine Valley-like expanses of sand) to Flynn's nine to complete the Pines Course in 1957. (A few years before, Gordon had built two new greens on the Bay Course, replacing the dual mounded "Mae West" green on No. 1 and the punchbowl "Pot" green on No. 5. What a pity.) Gordon's nine lost three holes in 1990 to provide room for a mammoth practice facility, and architect Al Janis created three substitute Pine Valleyish holes, Nos. 6 through 8, extending the par 71 Pines Course to 6,731 yards.
You couldn't ask for a better contrast between resort 18s. The Pines is a fairly modern pine barrens romp, while the Bay is an old-school, early American seaside stroll. But the latter is not a Donald Ross original.
Seaview Marriott Resort & Spa
401 S. New York Rd.
Galloway Township, New Jersey 08201
For tee times: 609-652-1800
Green fees: $99 (weekdays), $129 (weekends), through Oct. 19, 2003, then $79 & $99 to Nov. 16, then $49 & $59.
Golf Digest's Ron Whitten, the preeminent golf course architecture critic, will review a course each week for GolfDigest.com.