Sunday, February 17, 2008

ACCC Taproom Grill Opens to Public

Taproom at ACCC Open to the Public.

By William Kelly

With the transfer of the liquor license is approved by the city of Northfield, the storied Tap Room of the historic 110 year old Atlantic City Country Club is now open to the public for the first time in living memory.

Previously a private club open only to members and their guests, the Atlantic City Country Club, once purchased by Bally-Hilton, was used only by the casino’s executives and select guests until last year, when the course was opened to the pubic for the first time.

Now the historic clubhouse, banquet rooms, restaurant and Tap Room are open to the public as well. Previously, without a private or public liquor license they couldn’t even legally serve the high rollers, so they arranged the purchase of one of the two liquor licenses in town from the J.J. Kemp’s Pub, formerly the Owl Tree/the Parrot on Route 9. (The other license is Ventura’s Offshore CafĂ©).

When the club held an open house, showcasing the historic clubhouse and grounds to the public, the Tap Room began serving Bloody Marys when it opens for breakfast at 8 am Friday, March 16, the Opening Day of the 2007 Golf Season and Tap Room beer was flowing from the taps on St. Patrick’s Day.

The Tap Room Grille will be open on weekends for breakfast and lunch, and for dinner on weekends at 5 pm and slowly expand their hours and days thru the summer.

The historic clubhouse and classic championship links course make for many legendary myths, some of which are actually true.

The Tap Room is where Babe Zaharius played the piano after winning the 1948 U.S. Women’s Open, and where Sam Snead played the trumpet in 1980 during the first PGA Senior’s tournament (now the Champion’s Tour).

The Tap Room’s small, straight hardwood bar is against the wall next to the Locker Room, and sets the stage for a small dining room that sports comfortable booths, walls packed with historic memorabilia and a large bay window overlooking the course, the bay and the Atlantic City skyline on the horizon.

Above the bay window is a panoramic photo of Shawnee on the Delaware, an equally historic course where early club pro Johnny McDermott defeated British champions Harry Vardon and Ted Ray by 8 stokes in 1913, and set up the “Greatest Game Ever Played” by promising they wouldn’t take the U.S. Open championship home with them.

The ceiling of the adjacent Locker Room is lined with painted portraits of the winners of the Sonny Fraser tournament (1945-1999), one of the premier amateur invitational tournaments in the country. Among the portraits are Sonny Fraser, Dr. Carey Middlecoff, Julius Boros, Billy Hyndeman III, Howard Everett and Billy Ziobro, who also won the New Jersey Amateur championship and N.J. Open in the same year, a hat trick that’s never been duplicated.

Ziobro was named the first pro in the casino era, an esteemed position now held by Steve Sullivan, who has announced he too is moving on soon. There are a few of the long time employees still working there, including some waitresses and the chef, as well as manager Kenny Robinson, who can answer questions about the history of the place and the accuracy of some of the stories.

Among the yarns is how the term “birdie” was coined there in 1903, how Johnny McDermitt became the first and the youngest (at 19) to win the U.S. Open, which he did twice (1911-12), how the women’s tour was nurtured there and how the U.S. Senior’s Tour got started over many discussions, arguments and a few beers in the Tap Room.

It’s not true that McDermott celebrated his victories in the Tap Room (he was a teetotaler), but it is true there used to be slot machines in the Tap Room for many years in the pre-casino era.

The Tap Room slots became famous when Florida Senator George Smathers complained about them when club owner Sonny Fraser and club members Hap Farley and Olympic champion John Kelly (Grace Kelly’s father) decided to build the Atlantic City Race Course. Smathers thought the race course was competition to Florida gambling venues and complained about the slots machines. Instead of getting rid of the slots however, Sonny Fraser sold the club to his brother Leo, a returning World War II hero, and the slots stayed into the early 1950s.

Over the years the Tap Room was the center of social life at the famed club, where everyone gathered after a game, a tournament, wedding or just a Saturday night at the clubhouse. A First Class establishment with exquisite charm, the Atlantic City Country Club is a throwback to a time forgotten by the glitz and the glitter of today’s Atlantic City.

The opening of the Tap Room to the public for the first time is an historic event in itself, ensuring that history will continue to be made there.

[William Kelly is author of the book “Birth of the Birdie – The First 100 Years of Golf at Atlantic City Country Club.” He can be reached at]


Longtime Atlantic City political boss Hap Farley, stands tall in the middle, holding court at the Tap Room bar, sometime in the 1940s. Can anyone identify any of the other people in the photo? If so, please contact the Current or Kelly at / 609-425-6297.

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