New Nicklaus course brings more options to golf-rich NYC

By Nick Nicholas, Contributor

Forest ParkNEW YORK, N.Y. -- From the little-did-you-know department: three years ago Tiger Woods arrived for the Buick Classic in suburban Westchester, approximately 40 miles north of New York City. During his news conference Woods was flabbergasted to hear about a Jack Nicklaus course being built in New York City.

Woods, snickered, saying it's out of the question to route a course through the country's largest concrete jungle.

Golf in New York City? If you're unfamiliar with the Big Apple than you might share a giggle at even the mere suggestion. And Woods was right about Manhattan, although it has two sizeable driving ranges and even a musical about golf currently running Off-Broadway.

But there are the other four boroughs.

The Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island collectively have 13 public courses and two private venues, Richmond County Country Club on Staten Island and Towers Country Club in Queens. And those layouts have their share of tree-lined paths, gently rolling fairways, quaint and historic clubhouses, demanding, memorable signature holes, and striking scenic views.

Now, in no way are the municipal courses as celebrated as the rich tracks in neighboring Long Island and Westchester, but to many of the 8 million residents in New York City they're just as important. And in 2006, Nicklaus' public venue Ferry Point Golf Course in the Bronx will be unveiled. It will be the city's newest layout since 1965 when Robert Trent Jones' Marine Park opened, Ferry Point will likely join the city's best foursome of layouts, which currently includes Van Cortlandt and Split Rock in the Bronx, La Tourette on Staten Island, and Dyker Beach in Brooklyn.

Of course, there is a demand for more. Plenty more. Trying to divide a small number of public courses amid so many golfers is asking for mass tee-time confusion. Clearview alone attracts more than 80,000 annual rounds while the other 18-hole courses welcome 50,000-70,000 rounds each.

Forest ParkThe City of New York Parks and Recreation and course managing partners function as traffic cops and do their best to keep the pace of play flowing. Yet five-plus hour rounds are the norm. For the city player though, who travels by bus, car and subway for a quick fix of golf, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

There is a telephone reservation system and an on-line service to access tee times, and singles without one are welcome. But don't be shocked if your wait is a couple of hours or even turned away because the tee sheet is full. You're in the ultra-crowded Big Apple after all.

City residents - they dish out $6 for an annual local discount card - play for less than $40 on weekends and less than $30 on weekdays. But for everyone, the courses are open 365 days a year - barring blankets of snow - and welcome walking.

The city golf sensation can actually be serene at times. There is potpourri of golf encounters on each course. Some locations conjure up skyline views of Manhattan. An afternoon round at Marine Park in Brooklyn is a walk on a links-style layout with sea breezes from start to finish. Forest Park in Queens is well-named, with virtually every fairway on the par-70 guarded by trees.

La Tourette on Staten Island is regarded as the treasure of city golf courses and is the annual host to the New York City Amateur. First-timers are pleasantly shocked when they drop their clubs off in front of the La Tourette clubhouse - a three-story high New York City landmark - before heading out to a course that is embraced by so much greenery. Up in the Bronx is Van Cortlandt Park, which opened in 1895 and is the country's oldest public golf course.

Despite all of the history and scenery, conditions on most if not all of the courses were poor. Not long ago though, the city earmarked $15 million for irrigation systems on its courses. In less than two years the system cultivated Van Cortlandt's horrendous playing surface into a layout where you'd pay to be a member. You'll need the manicured turf there, especially on the three risk/reward par-4s and strapping uphill par-3 that close out the scorecard.

The city's baker's dozen of muni courses is by no means are flawless. But further improvements are on the way to groom over-saturated areas and upgrade clubhouses.

No course will be getting more attention than the Bronx's Split Rock, arguably the city's most challenging course. Within the next three years, architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. will oversee a project to transform the 6,700-yard course into a tournament-tested site.

Even now Split Rock is a shotmaker's layout, with lean fairways that twist and turn to every green. At the fifth, players face an entertaining 471-yard par-5, where long-hitters are teased to try and string two straight shots to reach the green in two. It's one of the city's best par-5s, rivaling even the 620-yard monster second hole at Van Cortlandt.

Pelham Bay, Split Rock's sister course, is known for its generous fairways and severely undulated greens. The fourth, a short but uphill par-4, causes major headaches with a nasty two-tiered putting surface.

Popular Dyker Beach is known for smooth putting surfaces and memorable views of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge that connects Brooklyn to Staten Island.

But that's not to say New Yorkers or visitors won't be content on other city courses.

Staten Island's Silver Lake and South Shore, Queens' Clearview and Forest Park, Brooklyn's Marine Park and the Bronx's Pelham Bay are the city' s most underrated layouts. Their designs may be a notch lower than the city' s top four, but from tee to green they are equal in condition.

Silver Lake's first and 10th tees are within an L-wedge to each other, both neatly shaped and elevated. It's a nice way to begin on either nine on the par-69 layout. South Shore, formerly a private facility known as the Mayflower Club, shows its strength at the start with a testy dogleg left par-4.

Clearview's par-3 16th provides one of the city's most unique targets, a heavily sloped green protected by bunkers, as well as more than a handful of lengthy par-4s.

The rest of the New York City lot - Mosholu in the Bronx and Kissena Park and Douglaston in Queens - are not your normal courses, but all consistently have avid followings.

Mosholu is a nine-hole layout with some of the city's best-kept greens and an extensive practice area. Like neighbor Van Cortlandt, Mosholu has a subway stop minutes from the course.

Kissena Park's par-64 layout can lure first-time players into a false sense of security. Plenty of second-guessing uphill shots await, including the 198-yard par-3 that is arguably the most difficult in the city.

Douglaston is a par 67 with its share of uneven lies and blind shots. Best of all is that a new management team has taken over and has earmarked $5 million in course and clubhouse improvements. Renovations are under way while the course remains open.

As for Ferry Point, it's being built on a former landfill and could become the city's most prominent layout. Nicklaus and his partners are constructing their links-style course with a striking clubhouse.

Although city and course owners have yet to determine Ferry Point's green fees, there is no question when it comes to their intention of luring a PGA Tour event. If that happens, Woods will know firsthand that New York City can grow fairways and rough after all.

Nick Nicholas, Contributor


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