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Wave of openings has Ocean City awash in golf courses


BERLIN -- You're "downey ocean," perhaps sick of "doin' da boards" and, yesterday, you forgot to turn over and you could pass for a lobster's second cousin. Somehow, after a few thousand Thrasher's french fries, you can't look a potato dead in the eye anymore. The sequel "Jaws for the Last Time" holds little appeal.

Tired of the everyday life? Want to get away from it all? We offer you . . . golf.

Chances are, the thousands who have trundled off to Ocean City since the hurricane never thought much about dragging the mashie and the niblick along as a respite from the drudgery of what former Sun sports editor Bob Maisel used to refer to as "packing down the sand with the shoulder blades."

In a matter of just a couple of weeks before the month's end, four more golf courses will be accepted into polite society, bringing to nine the number now serving the area. It ain't Myrtle Beach, S.C., not nearly, but it's a start.

And, get this, you don't have to go through a tank of gas and your patience finding a layout that doesn't have three dozen foursomes waiting at the first tee an hour and a half before Farmer Brown's rooster wakes up.

The nine have banded together and, through computerization, the folks over at 1-800-4OC-GOLF can book you into a convenient tee time and at the course you'd probably most like to play.

"When we, in effect, doubled the supply of available tee times in one year, it just made sense to go to the computer to organize it all," Jessica Short says of the 800 number.

Despite the fact folks are just beginning to get clued in on the fact O.C. has designs on becoming a golf mecca, things got a little hairy Memorial Day weekend when 272,000 people, several golfers among them, showed up looking for entertainment. "We were able to handle it, though, and the supply will probably be able to handle the demand all year," says Jessica.

After the Beach Club Golf Links on Deer Park Drive gets done opening officially Friday, River Run cuts the ribbon and not a minute too soon. Concurrent with the celebration, the back nine will be available for play for the first time and golfers are going to love this stroll.

Gary Player is the architect of the course and, holding to his credo practiced on more than a hundred of his course designs throughout the world, the famed golfer says, "I don't believe in designing something that only the pros or scratch amateurs can handle. The world is already too full of tough courses."

Way back when, River Run was a soybean farm with 150 acres of forest on the St. Martin's River surrounding. Player, ever the environmentalist, stuck with the landscape and most of the holes on the front nine are of the Scottish links type. After the turn, however, it turns into a completely different course as fairways cutthrough corridors of high trees, there's tidal creeks and, yes, ponds and sand traps to test, not torture.

As Player explains, "Courses must always enhance the environment, using natural features like trees, streams, vegetation and vistas. By doing this, you give a level of finish and a sense of harmony from the outset, which increases in beauty as the course grows older."

Being one who, at 150 pounds, had to literally turn himself inside out if he hoped to stay within viewing distance of the drives of rivals Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus back in the heyday of the "Big Three," Player gets a measure of revenge as a designer insisting "skill and precision take precedence over power. I attempt to create an interesting mix of shots that test both the imagination and strategic skills of all levels of golfers. Accuracy rather than distance is rewarded."

A week after River Run debuts with Player on hand to conduct a clinic, play a round with sponsors and contest winners, Eagle's Landing on Eagle Nest Road in O.C. will open officially with PGA Tour star Craig Stadler aboard for a clinic and an 18-hole exhibition.

It appears that some scuba-diving experience may come in handy at "The Landing" as water figures on 16 of the 18 holes, which must qualify it as the "wettest" public course extant.

With these and the new Bay Club on Libertytown Road and the pitch-and-putt Peninsula Golf Center on Racetrack Road joining Ocean Pines, Nutter's Crossing (Salisbury), O.C. Golf & Yacht, Nassawango (Snow Hill) and Pine Shore, the Greater Ocean City Golf Association figured it was time for an annual "Golf Fest" to kick off the season.

The feature of the nine days of activity beginning Friday will be qualifying tournaments at each of the member clubs capped by the five-division Grand Golf Fest showdown June 21 at the O.C. Golf & Yacht Club.

Imagine being able to sidle up to a telephone and grab a weekend tee time during a pit stop on frantic Route 50 some Friday afternoon. Ah, the wonder of modern technology.

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