There are golfers who don’t have the time, money, experience and/or wardrobe to play 18 holes at one of Cape May County’s high-end public courses.
The Cape May Par 3 & Driving Range, located in the Rio Grande section of Middle Township, was built to satisfy that portion of the golfing public.
“There are no water hazards, no bunkers and no dress code here,” says Bob Shelton, who works in the Pro Shop. “And most of all, there is no aggravation.”
Now in its 20th summer, owner Rick Jones designed and built the facility that appeals to both beginner golfers and those who have been playing for decades.
The course is 1,873 yards, and holes are between 73 and 150 yards. Players tee off on mats with rubber tees and use pull carts or carry their clubs up wide, accommodating fairways toward smooth, large greens.
“I’ll put our greens up against any course in Cape May County,” says the 65-year-old Jones, who grew up in the golf industry.
His father Walt Jones has been involved in the golf business in the Rehoboth Beach, Del., area since 1957. He built and owned Old Landing Golf Course, and the family still owns Midway Par 3, which is located near the other port of the Cape May-Lewes Ferry in Lewes, Del.
Those courses, like the Cape May Par 3, were built with the idea of making golf an affordable and fun activity. Eighteen holes cost $18.95, while players 14 and under pay $14. Rental clubs, which also includes a bag and pull cart, are available for $4. A round typically takes less than an hour and a half.
“The three reasons some people don’t like to play golf are the cost, time factor and intimidation factor,” Jones says. “This place lets people learn to play the game without being intimidated by bunkers, water hazards or long rough. And we also draw our share of serious golfers. In fact, most of our customers are golfers who are just looking to spend a couple hours working on their short game.”
A recent visit revealed the wide range of players.
Three teenagers wearing Nike T-shirts, shorts and sneakers were playing the 73-yard first hole. On the 134-yard 15th, a guy wearing a sleeveless T-shirt, gym shorts and sandals hit his drive, then took a seat on a bench in the shade under a pine tree while the other members of his foursome took their turns.
“There is no dress code,” says Shelton, 77, who has worked there for three years. “We get people wearing bikinis and flip-flops.”
The course has always been popular with locals and visitors, but has really picked up in the last year or so.
Last summer, during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, golf became a fun, safe outlet.
“We’ve been getting a lot of newbies lately,” Shelton says. “Last summer, all of the waterparks and some of the bars were closed, so people that were here on vacation were looking for something to do. They wound up hitting some balls, playing some holes and discovered they enjoyed the game.”
Serious players also spend a lot of time honing their games and releasing some frustration at a unique driving range.
Two sets of targets are set up at 50, 100, 150, 200 and 250 yards and feature pictures of politicians. The 50-yard targets current have photos of Vice President Kamala Harris and former President Donald Trump. At 100 yards, players take aim at President Joe Biden and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are at 150 yards.
“A few people don’t like it, but I just did it for fun,” Jones says with a laugh. “I have three people on the left and three people on the right. You can take aim at whichever side you don’t like.”
Tap-ins: Private lessons, junior clinics and women’s clinics are taught by Certified Golf Teaching Professional Thomas Palmgren. ... Prices for buckets on the driving range are $12 (105 balls), $10 (75 balls) and $7.50 (42 balls). Discounted range plans are also available. ... 10-round passes to the golf course are available for $149 (seniors 55 and over) and $165 for friends and family.