Water project to bring big changes at Bronx course

By Nick Nicholas, Contributor

BRONX, N.Y. - Mosholu Golf Course, a 3,253-yard par-35 track, is only a short subway ride from midtown Manhattan. To thousands of Bronx and Manhattan residents it's their golfing sanctuary, where they can boast of having a charming little course as their own.

But immediate and big changes over the long haul are in store for this little course.

How immediate? Try October.

How long? More than five years.

This is more than your standard renovation project.

A $1.3 billion water filtration plant to be built on the existing golf course property had been caught in a prolonged tug-of-war between opposition from neighborhoods surrounding the Bronx site and the recommendation of the city's Department of Environmental Protection. But no longer.

Mosholu will remain open throughout construction of the water filtration plant. Work on permanent fixtures to the course will begin once the plant is finished.

"There are obviously two sides to this,'' says Barry McLaughlin, executive director of The First Tee Metropolitan New York program that oversees Mosholu. "There is the golfer who plays here every day who is concerned about losing the facility. I think we've given them hope that we're going to keep up and running a nine-hole golf course, driving range and certainly the junior (program) that they've come to count on.

"From a temporary standpoint, I think they know we've done everything we've can to keep their public facility open for them.

"We offer a service to the community and we want to try to continue to do that."

Thus Mosholu, a course that annually welcomes more than 30,000 nine-hole rounds and is approximately 10 miles north of Yankee Stadium, will undergo extensive renovations to make room for the underground 13-story water filtration project.

The changes

McLaughlin estimates $5 million from the project will be earmarked toward golf course improvements. In the end, he expects no less than a state-of-the-art golf facility.

A new 5,000 to 7,000-square-foot clubhouse with a pro shop and learning center will operate near the present first tee.

Several new holes will be incorporated in the layout - in the plans are two par-3s with elevated greens - courtesy of architect Stephen Kay. And bunkers will finally be a part of the layout.

John Van Kleek designed Mosholu as an 18-hole course in the early 1900s. Van Kleek was no stranger to the area, having had his hand in designing seven of the 13 public courses in the city. Kay knows the city, too. This will be the New Jersey-based designer's second renovation at Mosholu. His imminent upgrade also will include an overhaul to the course's practice facility.

Mosholu is recognized having small, well-manicured bent grass putting surfaces and a busy driving range. Pending blue prints for Mosholu call for a substantial practice area with a two-tiered, 60-stall heated area paved with lights for nighttime play. At the other end will be 15 grass teeing areas, created mainly for the juniors in the First Tee program. A 3,000-square-foot putting green, a pitching and chipping area and three practice holes between 50 and 70 yards are also in the mix.

Gone will be the signature 248-yard par-3 ninth, as well as the old clubhouse and parking lot. "It's hard to imagine right now," McLaughlin says. "I've looked at so many different drawings of clubhouses and of golf course layouts.

"I envision standing on the fourth tee and looking (at the new par-3) where the green will sit in this sort of a saddle on top of a hill. Golfers won't believe it when it's actually there. They're going to say, `They did that in a short amount of time.'

"We anticipate making many changes to the current layout to make it more playable, safe and just a better test of golf. Right now I'd say it's an OK layout, but the plans we have will make some of the tee shots a little more practical and visually pleasing."

Every tee and green will undergo a facelift. Mosholu will have 10 holes in the interim - the lone par-5 will be divided into two holes. This will allow work on one hole while golfers continue to play nine.

Toward the end of October, Mosholu regulars will see a change as soon as they step off the 4 train at the Woodlawn stop. The clubhouse and its 150 cherry wood lockers donated by the Country Club of Purchase will no longer be within 9-iron range.

Initially, a trailer will be substituted for the check-in point. But by Christmas, a temporary clubhouse will be up and running near where the ninth tee is now.

McLaughlin will miss Mosholu's old clubhouse. He knows how much it's changed for the best, as do the 100 or so students who participate in the First Tee Program each day during the summer program.

McLaughlin came on board in 2001 and witnessed extensive brush clearing that enabled sunlight to once again skim off a large window and through the clubhouse. Renovation and care replaced water damage and leaks. What once was an old storage dumping room soon became a learning center, with videotape equipment and golf books. "The place needed a lot of TLC," McLaughlin says. Pictures of the clubhouse from several years past remain in the learning center as a constant reminder of this rags-to-riches scenario.

As for the course, the greens "were about 75 percent crab grass and 25 percent black dirt," McLaughlin recollects. "Since then, the superintendent has taken greens that were unacceptable in our estimation to the best greens by far in the city."

Enough memories have been recorded at Mosholu to fill more than one scrapbook. McLaughlin's top goal for Mosholu is for the next Jack Nicklaus to come through its First Tee Program. In fact, this past June the original Golden Bear made an appearance at Mosholu and spent two hours tutoring juniors in the program.

"We're going to miss what's here now because this is where the First Tee of the Metropolitan New York started,'' McLaughlin says. "We're going to go into a temporary facility that's really going to be nice. Then, the final facility is going to be such an amazing change from where we are now and will add to the enhancement to the Bronx."

The verdict

Mosholu is ideal for busy New Yorkers who can spare a few hours between work and dinner. This is especially true for those who reside in Manhattan and want more out of their game than simply hitting balls at Chelsea Piers or Randalls Island.

Course officials don't lie when they claim their greens are as good as any in the five boroughs. As nine-hole courses go, this is a fun test with tight-driving holes and small greens with a Donald Ross-type personality.

Too bad the lengthy par-3 will be taken out of the mix. The most demanding hole on the course is an instant reminder that this nine-hole course can bring you to your knees.

Fast fact

Thanks to the 4 train, golfers easily can enjoy a day both on the golf course and with Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and the rest of the New York Yankees. Golfers can take the 4 train to the course - a Mosholu locker can be rented for $50 a year - play nine holes or hit balls and then take a short train ride to the legendary house that Ruth built. Also nearby are the Bronx Zoo and New York Botanical Garden.

Open year-round pending weather conditions. Rates for New York City residents to walk before 1 p.m. (with discount card) are $19 (nine holes) and $27 (18 holes), non-residents $22 and $33. Weekend rates for locals are $21 and $33 and non-locals $24 and $39. Rates after 1 p.m. for locals are $18 and $25 and non-locals $21 and $31.

Ask about special weekday rates for juniors and seniors. Golf carts for two are $18 for nine holes and $27.50 for 18. During weekdays it's not too difficult to get a tee time but weekends are packed.

Nick Nicholas, Contributor

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