Mark Twain could have easily described Atlantic City when he famously said: "The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated."
All you seem to hear these days is how Atlantic City is down and it can't get up.
I played some excellent golf courses, hit the slots, hoisted a few at the Original Irish Pub, had a shot of Tequila at the Tropicana's taco and tequila bar, strolled the Boardwalk, feasted on a funnel cake and gorged myself on some of the best Italian food and seafood I've enjoyed in all of my global travels.
Atlantic City is much more than mega-casinos and the Boardwalk and tourism officials are working diligently to expand its appeal.
After spending a few days there, rest assured, golf vacationers, especially buddy trippers, will find "AC" very accommodating on many levels.
Once you put the clubs away for the day, there are few destinations that can match the off-the-course entertainment that encompasses 24-hour casino gaming, big name shows, comedy clubs, pub crawls, eclectic dining and deep sea fishing.
There are 20 courses within 25 minutes of the Boardwalk in Atlantic City. The menu features lots of diversity, too. On my visit, I played a couple of classic, tree-laden layouts, a links style course and a replica holes course.
Word is, they started swinging the sticks in the area way back in 1890s so golf is an integral part of the overall Atlantic City experience.
Better still, Atlantic City offers reasonably priced golf packages. The average cost is about $375 per person for a 3 day/2 night stay with three rounds of golf. Casino accommodations typically run around $475 and value-oriented hotels are approximately $275 for the package.
Here's where I played:
Atlantic City Country Club--Dripping with tradition at every turn, this historic club was founded in 1897. Playable and picturesque, I see why this has been ranked the #1 Public Golf Course in New Jersey by several publications and websites. The beautiful views of the Atlantic City skyline, superb course conditions and classic clubhouse grill and locker room are at the heart of this course's appeal. It received a makeover and modernization treatment by designer Tom Doak in 1999.
McCullough's Emerald Golf Links--This course plays much longer than its 6,535 yards from the back tees. It's an Irish-Scottish golf experience with lots of grass mounds, bump and run opportunities and tricky winds. It's a true replica course as the hole designs are inspired by famed courses like St. Andrews Old Course, Carnoustie, Prestwick, Gleaneagles and Turnberry. It has water on five holes, a three-acre waste bunker, an island fairway and 100-foot elevation changes. My favorite hole is number 7, a 464-yard par four, which is dedicated to architect Alister Mackenzie. It's the hole with the humongous waste bunker facing you off the tee.
Twisted Dune--You could air drop this course into Scotland and it would easily blend in. If you love Scottish links golf, this American version is the closest thing to being there. The wind, bump and run shots and undulating fairways make it fun and challenging.
In conversation with local, well connected golf tourism officials, other play suggestions include Ron Jaworski's Blue Heron Pines, Shoregate GC and Galloway GC.
7 Little Things I Liked
1. The free Wi-Fi you can access while walking outside on the Boardwalk.
2. The funnel cakes on the Boardwalk. The best in the world. Period.
3. The affable and all around great guy, Mike Charlton, who is a Greater Atlantic City Golf Association member, owner of GolfAC.com and knows everything about Atlantic City golf vacations.
4. The Turtle Nine Putting Course at Seaview Hotel & Golf Club.
5. The amazing vintage photographs of Yankee greats like Dimaggio and Berra hanging on the walls at The Original Irish Pub.
6. The traditional clubhouse at Atlantic City Country Club that has lockers for swimmer Michael Phelps, PGA Tour star Hale Irwin and other notables
7. The amazing bowl of homemade white bean soup I had at Twisted Dune.
I stayed at Tropicana Casino Resort. It's a great place for golfers in Atlantic City. It's located directly on the Boardwalk and has a 24-hour casino, 25 restaurants including Carmine's and Chickie's, Pete's Sports Bar and Crab House and Hooters, lots of bars and nightclubs, concert showroom, IMAX theater, spas, swimming pools and shops.
Atlantic City has a good mix of casino hotels as well as reasonably priced chain offerings like Ramada, Comfort Inn and Days Hotel, which are offered in golf packages.
You can get everything from fantastic funnel cakes to phenomenal seafood in Atlantic City. There's a terrific blend of old and new restaurants with some that have been around for decades and others inspired by celebrity chefs like Bobby Flay, Gordon Ramsey and Guy Fieri.
On my visit, I dined at some of Atlantic City's most heralded traditional restaurants.
Angelo's Fairmont Tavern--Known as "Little Italy By the Sea", this cozy restaurant has been serving home style Italian fare for more than 80 years. Forget all these chains, this place is the real thing. Owned by the Mancuso family since 1935, this traditional Italian restaurant has a wood bar, pictures of Sinatra on the wall and huge portions. If you want to celebrate a round of golf and truly immerse in the Atlantic City lifestyle, eat at Angelo's. The menu is dotted with classic favorites. I had the sauteed mussels in red sauce, fried calamari and lasagne with a meatball. Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!
Dock's Oyster House--Opened in 1897, this classic seafood restaurant is an absolute don't miss in Atlantic City. Let's face it, you don't stay open that long unless the food is great-- and, believe me, it's phenomenal. The dining experience encompasses white tablecloths, professional veteran waiters and a comprehensive menu of spectacular seafood specialties and prime steaks. I had Oysters Rockefeller, Potato Crusted Flounder and the Apple Crisp topped with vanilla gelato. This is the best seafood restaurant I've ever dined at. Period. End of Story.
Original Irish Pub--With walls dotted with vintage black and white sports photos, friendly service and prices that look like they haven't changed since the 1980s, this is a great place to gather after a full day of golf. For lunch, you can get a hamburger for $4.00, turkey sandwich for $4.50 and grilled chicken sandwich for $6.50. There's also an excellent selection of beers at reasonable prices. Chances are, you'll meet and see Cathy Burke, the wonderful long-time owner, who greets every customer with a smile and good cheer. Better still, it's open 24 hours.
Other exceptional places that are popular with golfers, include Carmine's, Capriccio, Cuba Libre, Chef Vola's, Il Mullino N.Y., Gallagher's Steak House and Landshark Bar & Grill. For a quick bite, don't miss the legendary White House Subs, a local mainstay since 1946.
THINGS TO DO
Stroll the Boardwalk--Running about 4.5 miles, this wide wooden walkway dates back to 1870. Updated and safe, it has complimentary Wi-Fi and is lined with casinos, nightclubs, restaurants and saltwater taffy shops.
Casino Gaming--The biggest names in gaming are represented in Atlantic City. Wanna throw some bones or play black or red? The top casinos are Borgata, Ceasars, Harrah's Tropicana, Bally's Wild West, Trump Taj Mahal, Resort Casino and Golden Nugget.
Big Name Entertainment Shows--The casino showrooms feature lots of major entertainment acts such as Jerry Seinfeld, Toby Keith, REO Speedwagon and Beach Boys founder Brian Wilson to name a few.
Deep Sea Fishing--If you can't win at the tables or slots, there's some excellent deep sea fishing charter options in Atlantic City and nearby Ocean City and Point Pleasant. The big catches are Striped Bass, Bluefish, Tuna, Mahi and Marlin.
Outlet Mall Shopping--The Tanger Outlets near The Boardwalk is an open-air mall spanning three city blocks with 109-stores, including Columbia Sportswear, Timberland and Kenneth Cole.
Bass Pro Shop--Opened in April 2015, this expansive, wilderness-themed store has been a huge hit in Atlantic City. Overflowing with fishing and hunting gear and outdoor apparel, the store also has a 13,000 gallon aquarium and pistol range.
Steel Pier--This iconic amusement park pier stretches 1,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean. It has 25 rides, an arcade and food outlets.
Atlantic City is situated 96 miles south of New York City. Philadelphia International Airport is 65 miles from Atlantic City. Fifteen minutes from the Atlantic City Boardwalk is the Atlantic City International Airport, which is serviced by Spirit Airlines, Air Canada and Choice Aire. Other distances to Atlantic City: (Harrisburg, Pa-155 miles, Hartford, CT--226 miles and Boston, MA-326 miles).
Visit DoAC, which is a great place for general information upcoming shows, accommodations and restaurants. For golf package information, call 844-475-2922 or click to PlayACGolf.
For those who wants lots of party opportunities after golf, I suggest clicking to Atlantic City Golf After Dark. Devoted casino gamers that want "Golf 'n Gamble" packages can click to Golf and Gamble or call 877-946-5318.