By Bill Barton, Former Bronxville Village Trustee and High Net Worth Banker for Goldman Sachs
Dec. 7, 2016: Have you ever passed Van Cortlandt Park or driven over the Throgs Neck Bridge and seen golf courses in the city and wondered what playing them would be like? Well I have, and after retiring at the end of 2015 decided to make it my mission to play each of the 13 municipal golf courses within the city limits.
My good friend Matt McKenna also loved the idea, so we played them together. Our adventure started in the nearby Bronx on a 9-hole track, Mosholu Golf Course, on April 25. We first met for breakfast at the Riverdale Diner on Kingsbridge Avenue. I should add that we have combined our rounds with interesting borough dining experiences. We were paired up with two local Bronx gentlemen, Cornell and Ted. They gave us hints about the course and Matt and I each broke 45--a goal for us.
Our next round was at the iconic Van Cortlandt Park Golf Course, America's oldest public course, founded in 1895. Joining us were Steve Mills and a former Bronxville resident friend, John Curtis. What an experience, and we each paid only $45 with a cart! The locker room was featured in a scene from the movie Wall Street. There are replicas of the original lockers that held the golf shoes of a few famous New Yorkers--Moe, Larry, and Curley, as well as Joe Lewis, Willie Mays, and The Babe. Despite a few holes running along busy highways, there are some spots where you'd swear you were in the country. One hole is even over 600 yards long. We all played decently. For lunch, we visited the king of Irish pubs, The Rambling House, not even 15 minutes south of Bronxville, in Woodlawn. Shepherd's pie and Irish sausages are popular meal choices. This is a neighborhood where you might see red-headed residents walking down the street carrying hurling sticks.
In late May, Matt and I hit Pelham Bay and immediately ran into our partners Cornell and Ted from Mosholu. We were already becoming part of the regular crowd! This is one of the less interesting layouts but well kept. Our pace of play was much slower than our first two rounds, so we had to quit early because of previous obligations. A funny memory stands out. At a particularly bucolic spot on the course, Matt observed that we could be in Maryland or Ohio. But we kept hearing a sound like clanking golf balls being washed in a big bin as you would at a driving range. I finally figured out what was causing this--we were pretty close to the NYPD shooting range at Rodman's Neck, so this wasn't Maryland, it was the Bronx!
Our final Bronx course was Split Rock, considered one of the gems of the publics. We played it on June 7 with the same group who played Van Cortlandt. It is a challenging, nicely designed track, but the tees were pretty bare. The northern edge of the grounds borders Westchester County. I had a particularly good round and won a little money from my fellows. A lobster roll lunch at the Sea Shore Restaurant on City Island followed and was terrific.
Next, we crossed the bridge into Queens and played Clearview, the busiest of the municipals. It is fairly routine with holes paralleling each other but like the others, in decent shape given all its play. Matt, Steve, and I were paired up with a nice gentleman originally from Korea named Kong, who was good company. Following the round, we walked into a nearby restaurant in Whitestone for lunch, the Jägerhaus. The bar was filled with Croatian supporters of the FIFA World Cup match between Croatia and the Czech Republic. Another trip into a foreign world in the restaurants of the boroughs!
Forest Park, along the Jackie Robinson Parkway, followed and was one of our favorites. It is quite wooded (thus the name) and on the second hole a hawk swooped down onto the fairway. Matt, Steve, and I had good rounds and we played the blue tees at 6053 yards, pretty typical of the city courses, although some are longer. Our hearty lunch was at one of Queens's most authentic German restaurants, Zum Stammtisch in Glendale. Glad we didn't eat before the round!
On August 8, we chalked up another round in Queens--Douglaston, which used to be a private club and was acquired by the city in the early 60s. A couple of the holes were shortened to allow for a few houses to be built on the former grounds but was pretty nice and quiet, near the Nassau County border. Lunch was at Il Bacco, a classy ristorante on Northern Boulevard.
Then it was off to Brooklyn, home of two courses--Marine Park and Dyker Beach. Marine Park is very open, almost links-like, and skirts the wetlands of the borough. Joe Marshall, Matt's friend from Point o' Woods, accompanied us and it was his first NYC golf experience. We all agreed that this was a terrific course and a new greens keeper is working hard to bring it into excellent condition. How could we be so close to Coney Island and not try the original Nathan's Famous for a hot dog? They taste better there!
We played Dyker Beach on September 26. This was where Earl Woods, Tiger's father, learned to play golf when he was stationed at Fort Hamilton in 1972. It was a fun course and has a wonderful view of the Verrazano Bridge. Matt, Steve, and I then enjoyed a few slices at Lenny's on 86th Street in Bensonhurst which perhaps served the most famous pizza in a movie--the two slices John Travolta ordered and folded together in the opening scene of Saturday Night Fever as he was walking to the cadence of "Stayin' Alive." Good pizza!
Our final Queens course was Kissena, played on November 11, a short track (4665 yards). Matt, Steve, and I were joined by our Bronxville friend Frank Bergold, who grew up in that area and came along for neighborhood guidance. It was a nice course and had some challenging holes. We also started having to play the "leaf rule," as we were hitting that time of year. Frank suggested Flushing for lunch and we enjoyed an upscale restaurant experience at Mulan, self-described as "Modern Asian Cuisine."
Staten Island hosts three public courses (and a private one). Matt and I played La Tourette and South Shore on Election Day. We started quite early and were hit with an hour frost delay before teeing off. While we waited, we saw a number of deer grazing by the clubhouse. This borough is certainly suburban in its feel and at places even rural. In the afternoon, we played South Shore, which we finished just before dark. From what we observed, plus the folks we talked and played with, it was clear that this area was leaning toward Trump. La Tourette is in great shape and very attractive, less so South Shore, but it too was a nice track.
The final outing was to Silver Lake, in Staten Island, on November 21, with snowflakes accompanying our round, almost seven months to the day since we started. Silver Lake is known as "the working man's golf club" and was a very attractive course despite its seasonal bareness and leaves spread everywhere on the ground. I even parred the number-1 handicap hole. Matt concluded that it was his worst round, as wool gloves are a lot bulkier than a regular golf glove. We concluded with a very tasty tapas lunch at Beso, only a few minutes up the hill from the Staten Island Ferry entrance, where we took our favorite picture of our borough excursion, Matt and Bill holding our golf clubs with the skyline and Freedom Tower in the background.
A word about Trump Links at the Whitestone Bridge. This is not a true municipal course so it wasn't officially included on our list. It is, however, a spectacular layout and is in world-class shape. The cost per round is over $200, so out of reach for many NYC golfers. Having splurged and played it once before, we did not include it in this experience.
NYC plays a major role in the history of golf in the U.S. All in all, our tour of the NYC golf courses took us into some previously unknown neighborhoods and introduced us to gems of nature within the world's greatest city. The addition of restaurants rounded out the fullness of this most fascinating adventure!
Pictured here (top to bottom): Matt McKenna and Bill Barton at Van Cortlandt Park Golf Course in the Bronx; Bill Barton at Forest Park Golf Course in Queens; Matt McKenna and Steve Mills at Zum Stammtisch restaurant in Glendale, Queens; Joe Marshall, Matt McKenna, and Steve Mills at Marine Park Golf Course in Brooklyn; Matt McKenna, Steve Mills, Frank Bergold, and Bill Barton at Kissena Park Golf Course in Queens; and Matt McKenna and Bill Barton near the Staten Island Ferry on Staten Island.
Photos by Bill Barton, Matt McKenna, and another golfer