Ocean City starting to mature as golfing destination

By Jake Schaller, Contributor

Bear Trap DunesOCEAN CITY, Md. -- Ocean City, Maryland always has been a popular summer vacation spot, especially for people living in the Mid-Atlantic Region of the East Coast.

Its weather, beaches, boardwalk, amusement parks, restaurants, nightlife and proximity to major cities add up to an affordable destination that is difficult to beat.

For years, however, quality golf was not a part of Ocean City's winning equation. A day on the links in the late 1980s and early 1990s consisted of trying to hit a purple ball through a clown's mouth or the rotating arms of a windmill.

If miniature golf was your thing, heck, Ocean City was a miniature Myrtle Beach.

But a lot has changed since 1991 when Ocean City had just two championship golf courses. Fifteen additional championship courses have opened, including five in the past five years, and three more are in the works.

Now when you talk Ocean City golf, the first name mentioned isn't Jolly Roger, it's Arthur Hill, P.B. Dye or Gary Player.

"Obviously golf in Ocean City has improved dramatically over the years," said Tom Perlozzo, the Chief Operating Officer of Ocean City Golf Getaway. "We have 17 championship golf courses, and now people are spending a week and maybe not getting to play all of our courses. We're pretty excited."

Bear Trap Dunes With courses like The Links at Lighthouse Sound, Eagle's Landing and Bear Trap Dunes, to name but a few, Ocean City is fast becoming a viable golf destination. According to Perlozzo, there are now 700,000 rounds played annually at Ocean City's championship courses.

"We're gradually getting our name out with Myrtle Beach and other great golf destinations," said Perlozzo, who noted that the accommodations, restaurants, nightlife and activities for non-golfers were already in place in Ocean City.

The movement began in 1991 when the Ocean City government began construction of Eagle's Landing. And during the last decade, Ocean City has begun using golf as a marketing tool.

"It has definitely helped tourism," said Donna Abbot, the Media Services Manager for the Town of Ocean City. "We've realized the benefits from golf, particularly in the spring and fall. Years ago, Ocean City was just a summer destination, Memorial Day through Labor Day. But we have things going on in the shoulder seasons, and golf has definitely improved spring and fall tourism."

Bear Trap Dunes Since 1996, according to Perlozzo, The Bay Club opened a second 18 (Bay Club East), The Beach Club opened a second 18 (The OuterLinks) and Ocean City Golf and Yacht Club reconstructed one of its two courses (Newport Bay). Plus, two high-end daily-fee courses - Bear Trap Dunes and The Links at Lighthouse Sound - opened to rave reviews in 1999 and 2000, respectively.

Rick Jacobson, who worked as a course designer under Jack Nicklaus, transformed what once was a cornfield into Bear Trap Dunes. Jacobson used the sand underneath the flat landscape to build "dunes" that frame the holes and give the links-style course a distinct "beach" feel.

There are hardly any trees at Bear Trap, its fairways are forgiving and there are no forced carries. But watch out if you catch this Bear on a windy day.

"The wind is a big factor," said Bret Marshall, the head professional at Bear Trap Dunes, which recently opened another nine holes.

Bear Trap Dunes On the heels of Bear Trap came The Links at Lighthouse Sound, the magnificent third area offering by developer Tom Ruark, who also built Nutter's Crossing and Rum Pointe.

While the typical golf course is developed on 200 to 300 acres, The Links at Lighthouse Sound stretch over 1,000 acres. The Arthur Hills design winds through wetlands, marshland and along Assawoman Bay, and it provides sweeping vistas of the Ocean City skyline.

"Getting an upscale course like this really put [Ocean City] on the map," said Dennis Winters, the head professional at Lighthouse Sound. "It's ranked in the Top 100 Courses in Golf Magazine and Golf Digest, and it's just a beautiful, beautiful place."

Fifteen of the 18 holes play along water - whether the bay, river, wetlands or marshland - so the course can be difficult for the high handicapper. But Lighthouse Sound gives you four to five tee boxes per hole to ease the pain.

Lighthouse Sound offers the entire up-scale public package with players receiving a leather pouch containing a yardage book and ball mark repair tool as a gift. The driving range is all natural turf, carts are equipped with GPS and the clubhouse has full-service locker rooms for both men and women, a bar and grille and a restaurant.

"It has an upscale price [$140 on peak weekends], but people don't mind to play a course in great shape," Winters said.

The course should be in even better shape this summer. Paul Latshaw Sr., a renowned greenskeeper, has come out of retirement to nurture The Links at Lighthouse Sound, according to Winters. Latshaw is a former golf course superintendent at Augusta National Golf Club, and he was the director of golf courses at Winged Foot Golf Club in New York.

"He's like the Tiger Woods of superintendents," Winters said. "We anticipate the course to be real popular this year."

Also anticipate the increasing popularity of Ocean City as a destination and an alternative to Myrtle Beach.

For more information on all the courses in Ocean City, call Ocean City Golf Getaway at (800) 4OC-GOLF or visit www.oceancitygolf.com.

STAY AND PLAY INFORMATION

Drive down Costal Highway in Ocean City and you will find all varieties of hotels, motels, rental condos and Bed And Breakfast establishments. As more golf courses have popped up in and around Ocean City, more and more hotels are offering golf packages. For all the information, call (800) 4OC-GOLF. Here are some of the many hotels you can choose from:

Tidelands Caribbean Hotel and Suites (410) 289-9455 Located on 5th Street and the Boardwalk, Tidelands offers spacious rooms and a rooftop pool.

Commander Hotel (888) 289-6166 Located on 14th Street and the Boardwalk, Commander Hotel has Oceanfront suites and cabanas, indoor and outdoor pools and custom golf packages.

Princess Royale Hotel (800) 4-ROYALE Located at 91st street Oceanside, the Princess Royale has 310 two-room suites, 30 condos, several restaurants, a beauty salon and a health club.

Cayman Suites (800) 546-0042 Located in north Ocean City, the suites also have a glass-enclosed pool, a fitness room and personal balconies.

Like hotels, restaurants are plentiful and come in all varieties in Ocean City. Among them:

Al's Louisiana Kitchen (410) 213-1150 New Orleans cuisine.

Bull on the Beach (410) 2132555 Open pit-style bbq that is not to be missed.

Jake Schaller, Contributor

Jake Schaller resides in the Adams Morgan section of Washington, D.C. He grew up in Bethesda, Md., where he attended Walt Whitman High School and played football.


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