Atlantic City Country Club History
Late in the 1800’s golf became a popular sport in tourist destinations such as Philadelphia, North Jersey, New York and New England and many visitors arriving to Atlantic City by rail had played golf. At the time, Atlantic City offered fine beaches, a boardwalk and exceptional hotels but no golf course. With a decline in business in 1897, the community turned to golf to lure new business.
On Sept. 11, 1897 wealthy businessmen, mostly made up of AC Hotel owners, met at the Brighton Hotel to discuss the best options for catering to guests arriving to the resort. It was decided that the new game of “golf” was deemed the best plan of action. The name, Country Club of Atlantic City was chosen and land in Northfield was selected as the site. Its easy accessiblity to and from the boardwalk hotels via a trolley line that ran from Atlantic City to Somers Point and Ocean City made it the perfect location. Money to purchase the land was raised thru the issue of certificates. One of which was issued to Warren Somers that is still in possession of the club today and can be seen on display in Taproom Bar & Grille.
The founding fathers determined that the course would be 18 holes in length and that a clubhouse would be started. Two-hundred members would be admitted. John Reid, the professional golfer brought in to survey the land decided that the bayside property would make the best holes and the subsequently, the first nine holes were completed rather quickly. While still under construction, the course and clubhouse officially opened on June 18, 1898, just in time for the summer season. There was great interest in the club from the beginning and golfers began to play before all 18 holes were completed.
As much as it was a golf course, it was also a hub of social activity. The Clubhouse once housed a barbershop and hotel rooms. Atlantic City Country Club was the place to be and be seen. Dinner was served nightly in the main dining room, now referred to as the Grand Ballroom with jackets and ties mandatory for all gentlemen. Throughout the decades Atlantic City played host to every social event imaginable. And some even unimaginable.
Nucky Johnson, a NJ political boss, racketeer and bootlegger made famous by the HBO special Boardwalk Empire was known to frequent Atlantic City Country Club. In 1929 when Johnson hosted an organized crime convention in Atlantic City, Chicago mob boss Al Capone was said to have “hid” out at the club to avoid detection.
In the 1940’s Atlantic City Country Club owner and NJ Assemblyman James “Sonny” Fraser would frequently host politicians and celebrities alike. Some of his guests included: Frank “Hap” Farley, the NJ Senate President at the time, Jack Kelly Grace Kelly’s father, Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra and many others.
While men played a prominent role in the development of the Club, women would not be regaled to second class and were provided access to the course in great numbers. It is considered one of the great legacies of Atlantic City Country Club.
On a windy winter day in December 1903, Abner Smith of Philadelphia teed it up on the 12th Hole at Atlantic City Country Club. His tee shot landed in the fairway like any other ball, but it was his next shot from the fairway that would make history. It landed on the green just inches from the hole allowing an easy putt and one under par score. It was such a fine shot that someone in the group shouted, "That was a ‘bird of a shot!" Back in the day, the term "bird" was used to describe something outstanding or incredible."Bird of a shot" was transformed into "birdie" to describe a one under score and rest is history. Visitors to Atlantic City Country Club learned of the term and it spread around the world. A memorial rock now sits on the spot where the term was first used to commemorate this historic event.