Golf and the city
Skyscrapers reaching for the sky, elegant stores on Fifth Avenue, yellow cabs, and stockbrokers on the verge of a nervous breakdown: That’s New York. But golf never springs to mind. Why is that?
Golf and the city
The Bronx. Fenced-in basketball courts, street gangs swinging knives. That’s what you’d expect to find in this sweltering, noisy part of the city. But the swings taken here are very different, more distinguished, and the result is rarely a bloody nose – unless, of course, you manage to bash yourself on the head with your own 9 iron. So no bulging biceps, ghetto blasters or violence? No club-swinging thugs? No, the only club-swinging you’ll find here is kids swinging their gleaming golf clubs in the sunshine. Right in the center of town.
The city is getting into the swing. Even in downtown Manhattan golf balls fly out of a four-level range toward the Hudson River before being gently intercepted by a net. Another option, albeit an incredibly expensive one, is to take a water taxi past the Statue of Liberty to one of two super, if strictly private, courses. New York City, home to eight million people, doesn’t exactly have a reputation as a golfing destination, even though four of its five districts have fantastic courses, including some public ones with a great downtown feel.
It wasn’t always like this. There was a time when stolen cars burned on the fairways; their smoldering tires stinking to high heaven.
There was no sand in the bunkers, the grass looked more like a freshly harvested field and the sun scorched the greens into a dusty brown desert. Then in 1983 the park authorities, who were in charge of most of the courses, entrusted their management to professional firms – and laid the foundations for a success story.
But New Yorkers don’t just golf on the courses; they play it on playgrounds in the middle of the park, too. Park authorities run summer courses where kids can learn to chip and drive. Because the ground is so hard, the ball is placed on small artificial turf mats. The city provides the equipment and the coaches, and budding young golfers with a knack for the game even get a chance to play with their coach on a full-size golf course.
The First Tee is a project aimed at introducing children to golf as a way of teaching them rules and values that are relevant to every-day life. Up to 4000 children from age seven to 17 happily take up the offer every summer. The training base is the nine-hole Mosholu Golf Course in the Bronx, which is easy to get to on the subway.
Two exclusive clubs, the Bayonne and the Liberty National Golf Club, are decidedly the other side of the coin. Although worlds away in neighboring New Jersey, their members enjoy a perfect view of the Manhattan skyline, and they naturally also consider themselves a cut above the rest. Both courses occupy formerly highly contaminated dockland sites and have been laid out as links, just like the oldest courses in Scotland.
It cost 150 million dollars to create the Liberty Golf Course, making it one of the most expensive in the world. Brokers whiz across to the first tee from Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan in the club’s own water taxis – or climb into a helicopter.
The hill-top clubhouse in Bayonne stands majestically over the course like an old mansion. It wasn’t long before the Liberty Club next door had to polish up its image in order to keep up: A futuristic and gigantic skyscraper-style clubhouse was their answer. This much luxury of course has its price. In the case of the more affordable Bayonne, that’s a membership fee of 150 000 US dollars, at the Liberty it’s a hefty 450 000 dollars.
Good to know that at least one of the best and most difficult courses in America is public and affordable – the famous Black Course at Bethpage Park on Long Island, where the US Open was contested in 2002 and 2009.
To play this course you need to be a tough cookie, as the Americans put it. There’s even a warning sign at the first tee about how difficult the course is. Toughness is necessary as well if you want to snatch up one of the limited tee times. True golf fans will even turn up the day before and camp out in the parking lot all night, just to wait in line for a turn. Just like Frank Sinatra, they clearly "want to wake up in a city, that never sleeps."
The Manhattan skyline as backdrop:
The Liberty National Golf Club built one of the most expensive golf courses in the world on a once contaminated waterfront site; the project guzzled a cool 150 million dollars. Sadly, the exclusive course is open only to club members, who shell out 450 000 dollars for the privilege.
New Jersey Liberty National Golf Club: 100 Caven Point Road, Jersey City, Tel.: +1/201 333 4105. www.libertynationalgc.com
Novices? No thanks! At Bethpage Park on Long Island, the Black Course comes with a warning notice recommending all but the most highly skilled golfers to give this extremely difficult course a wide berth. And it’s true, the Black Course really does attract the best of the best – the US Open has been held here twice already. Luckily Bethpage Park has four other courses that are ideal for the less than professional player.
Bethpage State Park Golf Course: 99 Quaker Meeting House Road, Farmingdale, Tel.: +1/516 249 0701. www.nysparks.com/parks/108/details.aspx
Brooklyn also has its golf, of course: The 18-hole Dyker Beach course is situated right at the heart of this buzzing New York borough. Through the tops of its tree-lined fairways you can glimpse the pylons of the spectacular Verrazano Narrows Suspension Bridge as they reach for the sky.
Brooklyn Dyker Beach Golf Course: 86th Street and 7th Avenue, Tel.: +1/718 836 9722 www.dykerbeach.americangolf.com
Take your pick: The price of a short game on the pitch and putt course at the famous tennis stadium Flushing Meadows (Queens Flushing Meadows Golf Center, green fee starting at 14,50 dollars) is particularly reasonable. A round at the affectionately nicknamed Vannie, the oldest public course in the United States (Bronx Van Cortlandt Park Golf Course) can also be head for a comparatively small sum (green fee starting at 19 dollars).
Queens Flushing Meadows Golf Center. 100 Flushing Meadows Park, Tel.: +1/718 2718182. Bronx Van Cortlandt Park Golf Course: 115 Van Cortlandt Park South, Tel.: +1/718 543 4595. www.golfnyc.com (both courses).
Golf city New York: Millions in public subsidies cleaned up the sometimes desolate courses and put them back on their feet. The metropolis now has some exclusive, members-only courses as well as gorgeous greens and fairways for John and Jane Doe – some of them within easy reach by bus or subway.
More on the New York golf scene at: www.americangolf.com, www.golfinnyc.com, www.nycteetimes.com, www.nygolfshuttle.com
Child’s play: Kids from seven to 17 learn how to drive and putt on the summer courses laid on for them by the park authorities in an initiative called “The First Tee.” Each year, The First Tee introduces up to 4000 children park not only to the world of golf but also to values that will serve them as they move through life.
The First Tee: www.thefirstteemetny.org
Photos: Corbis (3), mauritius images, Redux/laif (2), Thinkstock