The charming Green Tree Golf Course; municipal golf in the charming southern New Jersey

I am back from my time off the grid in New Jersey, which was spent largely on the cape, that tiny strip of land on the farthest southern edge of the Garden State.  I was able to sneak in a round of golf, accompanied by the old man to boot.

The cape and areas just slightly to the north are not the friendliest to the budget minded golfer, as the limited useable real estate coupled with the resort nature of the area has limited the extant golf courses to very nice, and accordingly pricey, tracks.  Nevertheless, for someone on vacation in this seeming enclave of Philadelphia, there is plenty of golf to be played.

With a more reasonably priced round of golf on our agenda, my father and I targeted Green Tree Golf Course, about 40 miles north of Wildwood and 20 west of Atlantic City, as the perfect place to play.  The course is a municipal one, owned and operated by Atlantic County.  Being in a coastal area of the northeast, the greens fees were a slight bit higher than some other regions of the country, but were still very reasonable.

In eager anticipation of the round, we decided that Monday would be the best bet, as the locals would be back to work and the rates would be a little bit cheaper.  The weekend in Wildwood was absolutely gorgeous.  Both days were sunny and warm, other than a brief afternoon shower on Saturday, and would have been excellent for golf.

Instead, we enjoyed the boardwalk, took in a parade, rented a surrey (a double wide bicycle with a roof and steering wheel, available with 1, 2 or 3 rows) and did all of those things you do down at the southern Jersey Shore.  It had been several years since I made my way to southern Jersey, and I was made comfortably aware that the area has retained it’s very Philadelphian feel.  The dialect of the locals mirrors that of the massive wave of Philadelphians and others of the Delaware Valley making their annual trek “down the shore” for a vacation.  Scrapple is widely available; the man who rented us our surrey was delighted when he saw that the license I gave him as a deposit was from New York but that I was also wearing a Phillies hat; and several “how ya doing?” greetings upon entering businesses and restaurants were returned with “better than the Phils.”  Southern New Jersey is still as charming as it’s ever been.

Monday morning had arrived, and our fears of the approaching rain were not yet confirmed on the ground.  The day was dreary, and while the forecast called for an amazing 1 to 2 inches of rain for most of southern New Jersey, it was not yet raining in Wildwood.  After analysis after amateur analysis of the radar, we agreed that the first system would be passing just north of the golf course, about 3.5 hours ahead of the second system, which would certainly find it’s way to the links.

So, on a day when the forecast was positively terrible for golf, we hopped in my car and headed north to Egg Harbor Township, in a quest to sneak in 18 holes during those 3.5 hours.  Half an hour up the Parkway and fifteen minutes to the west through the very rural forested marshlands that dominate inland southern New Jersey, and we had arrived at the course, one of just four vehicles in the lot.

It was not yet raining, but to claim that the skies looked anything other than ominous would be greatly dishonest.  We made our way to the clubhouse, discussed the weather one last time, and finally decided to check in and pay our weekday riding, non-resident rate of $36.

After riding up to the first tee, we had a nice short talk with the starter, an elderly gentleman with that distinct heavy Philadelphian accent.  We got a few tips on nearby holes, and also learned that the course was privately owned for a long, long time before finally being purchased by the county within somewhat recent memory.  According to the starter, the condition of the course had improved mightily under direction of the county.

The first hole is a short dogleg right par 5, measuring approximately 210 to 220 yards to the dogleg from the white tees, per the starter.  I teed it up from the blues, the starter notifying me that I was now about 240 to the turn, and hit a big high fade that didn’t fade quite enough and I found myself through the fairway in the woods and our round was underway.

In addition to the price, a significant reason we had chosen Green Tree was due to the length of the course.  My old man is nearing 60, and has had bad knees for years.  He doesn’t get out to golf as much as I think he should, and this was his first time out this year.  At 5574 yards from the blue tees and a very reasonable 5347 from the whites, this course was a perfect length for him.

Diminutive in length, Green Tree does manage to present some obstacles to scoring well.  An incredible sixteen out of eighteen holes have water, and a majority of the holes are pretty tight.  The course was built in a wooded, marshy area typical of the region, and the amount of water on the course and the tightness of the holes is accordingly not surprising.  To reach it’s par of 72, the course has 4 par 3 holes, 11 par 4’s, just 2 par 5’s and a very rare par 6 hole.

In the 676 yard, par 6 3rd hole, Green Tree has a signature hole worthy of any golf course.  As is typical of the course, the fairway on 3 is lined with trees on both sides, but is wide enough to allow a slight draw or fade to play just fine.  There is a meandering creek which protrudes about halfway into the fairway from the left about 320 yards from the blue tees.  From here, the massive hole moves ever so slightly up a hill, and dog legs to the left after about 520 yards.  A large green sloping from left to right awaits.  A three shot hole for even massive hitters, it took me a driver, 5 iron and 7 iron to get home, but I was left with an 8 foot downhill twister for eagle, which I disappointingly missed, having never given it a chance.  The shame of not even trying to make the eagle was quickly dissipated with a tap in birdie.  My old man, meanwhile, had matriculated his ball down the fairway and did end up having a long par putt.  Unfortunately, he 3 putted, and after 3 holes, we stood at 1 and 5 over respectively.

The 4th is a short par 3, but has a small pond just in front of the green.  Interestingly, all 4 par 3’s on the course have water just in front of the green.  While the par 3’s measure just 105, 147, 152 and 175 yards from the blue tees, there is no duffing your way onto the green on any of them – you gotta hit a nice high and soft shot to get on any of the 4.  I didn’t lose a ball on any of the par 3’s, hitting 2 of them, and narrowly missing the other 2.  If your ball ends up dry, the only of the par 3’s which will challenge you if you miss the green is the 175 yard 15th – there are trees to all sides and the apron to the rear of the green, which itself slopes heavily from back to front, features heavy rough.  I bombed a 6 iron over the green here and had to pitch my ball down to the front of the green.  It was the only par 3 I bogied.

If the well protected par 3’s and massive par 6 aren’t distinctive enough for Green Tree, the course could stand as a model for short yet challenging par 4’s.  There are an incredible 6 par 4’s under 300 yards.  Of them, only 1 doesn’t have water, however, and several of the holes are doglegs.  The 12th and 13th feature both obstacles, but can easily be tamed with well placed tee shots.

By the time we had reached the 17th tee, luck was still on our side as it had not yet begun raining, but the skies were darkening, and we didn’t have much time left.  17 is a 90 degree dogleg left which purportedly measures 215 yards to the bend, and other 120 in from there.  As the rain slowly began falling, I teed up a 5 wood with the intent of drawing one slightly around the bend.  Instead, I hit a towering high hook into the heavy woods guarding the dogleg, and as the ball soared amongst the leaves, I abandoned my hopes of finishing strong.

The rain continued to intensify as we drove past the dogleg.  Then, all of a sudden, we saw my ball, resting just 30 yards shy of the green!  The golf gods had blessed the sphere, guiding it with caring hands either over, through or around the woods!  However, the gods proved themselves vengeful as well, as the skies opened up and the deluge began as we made our approach to the par 5 18th green.  In a massive downpour, we finished our round, myself having shot a 78, my father having shot a 102.  Not too bad for an old guy with bad knees on his first round of the year.

With a course rating of just 67.2 and a slope rating of 112 from the blue tees, Green Tree is not the most challenging course in the world.  Were it not for the water on nearly every hole and the general tightness of the course, I suspect that these ratings would be significantly lower, as these are the only defenses many of the holes have.

Despite the relative ease of the course, it was a solid municipal experience.  The course was well maintained and the staff was very friendly.  Green Tree is great for beginners looking for a little more of a challenge, or for older players who don’t hit it quite as far as they used to.  For better players, there is still some shot making to be done here, and you aren’t making a good score if you don’t manage the course well, thanks in large part to the ponds which dot the entire course.

This was my second very positive municipal experience in the last week, and I left the course very encouraged at the prospect of playing a majority municipal courses on the approaching trip.  It was also possibly my last round with my old man before the trip, and I was glad to get out on the links with him before I leave.  My father will always be my favorite playing partner, and the times when it’s just us two on the course are always special.

This is likely the last course review I will be writing before I leave as well, as I will begin shifting to information more pertinent to the trip itself.  Look for the itinerary to be updated either later this evening or Saturday morning.

Finally, don’t expect entries about courses or rounds during my trip to be this extensive, as I will most assuredly not have the time to get into this level of detail.  Speaking to the length of this entry, it was largely the result of a poorly cobbled together blend of describing both the area and the course and round.  As someone who has been vacationing in New Jersey my entire life, I felt that I had the responsibility to do more than simply say I golfed in southern New Jersey; I had to take a few extra turns to do my best to endear the region to you.  Southern New Jersey really is a great place, and I would highly recommend visiting it to anyone.

While on the trip, I am going to do my best to keep entries about the courses and rounds to golf, while entries related to travel will be related to, well, travel; about the area, the drives and vistas I will surely encounter; about the people I meet and the experiences I will have.  Of course, there will be some blurring of the lines.

As usual, please leave any feedback you may have, and please spread this blog far and wide.

Details on itinerary will be posted next, followed by details on the involvement of charities.  Stay tuned.


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