Golf in the City

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The par-3 11th hole, Dyker Beach Golf Course.

 
NEW YORK ' The first true Subway Series was contested in 1923 between the Yankees and Giants. The two baseball squads were only separated by a few miles ' the Giants played at the Polo Grounds in Upper Manhattan and the Yankees at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. Later, the Brooklyn Dodgers made it a three-borough series, until both they and the Giants split for California in 1958.
 
Today, the Subway Series features the Yankees and the Mets, who reside in Queens. Since the formation of Interleague Play in 1997, the Yankees hold a 37-29 edge over their cross-town rival from the National League, including a 4-1 series victory in the 2000 World Series. The two teams have also played three day-night, dual-stadium doubleheaders, with the Yankees sweeping two of them. In this unique twin-bill, the two squads play an afternoon game in either the Bronx or Queens and then take a 17-minute bus ride over to the other borough.
 
With the Subway Series serving as inspiration, I thought it would be compelling to play a doubleheader of my own during a recent trip to New York. But instead of playing two nines, I would play four ' 18 holes in the morning at Dyker Beach in Brooklyn, and another 18 in the afternoon at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. And like the Yankees and Mets, I would use mass transportation. Not a cushy bus, mind you, but the subway. No police escort for me though.
 
Yes, they play golf in the big city, and plenty of it. There are 13 public golf courses in the five boroughs, from South Shore on Staten Island to Pelham Bay in the Bronx. And there's a rich history to these courses as well. Van Cortlandt is the oldest municipal golf course in the United States, having opened in 1895. Its legendary patrons have included Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson, actors Sidney Poitier and Michael Douglas (scenes from the movie 'Wall Street' were filmed here) and the Three Stooges. Dyker Beach has also had some famous feet walk its course: Earl Woods, Tiger's father, took up the game here while stationed at nearby Fort Hamilton in the early 1970s.
 
Dyker Beach would be the first stop this early Saturday morning. With clubs slung over my right shoulder, I exited my friend's apartment on 66th and 2nd Ave. in Manhattan and made my way toward the Lexington Ave. subway.
 
Destination: Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.
 
It had been more than five years since I last played Dyker and, to be honest, I wasn't excited to be going back. My memory of Dyker was that of a pinball gallery, with golf balls flying dangerously close to my head from everywhere. I remember one flying so close I could almost read the inscription on the ball. In a few hours, however, my perception of this course would completely change.
 
Here's this straphanger's journal of a day in the life of a city golfer.
 
  • 7 a.m. ' Leave 2nd Ave. apartment for Lexington Ave. subway station via foot.
  • 7:17 ' Board F train to Coney Island.
  • 7:26 ' Transfer at 34th St. Herald Square to D train (express) to Coney Island.
  • 7:42 ' Transfer to R train at 36th St.
  • 7:59 ' Arrive at 86th St. Station, Bay Ridge. Fifty-nine minutes. Not bad.
  • 8:11 ' Arrive at Dyker Beach Golf Club on corner of 86th St. and 7th Ave., just past Nathan's Famous hot dogs.
  • 8:30 ' Tee it up.

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    Unlike Alex Rodriguez and David Wright, I didn't have the benefit of batting practice. I was scheduled to tee off at 8:52, but there was a threesome on the tee so I hustled to join them.
     
    Right out of the box, Dyker was nothing like what I remembered. A recent $1.5 million makeover in 2007 added 12 new bunkers, moved a few others and transformed every tee box. The fairways were lush, the sand white and the greens looked like they belonged at a private course. They rolled very true, which is remarkable considering the amount of traffic at the course. According to an August-September cover story in The Met Golfer magazine, Dyker was the most-trafficked golf course in the world in the 1950s and '60s, averaging more than 100,000 rounds annually. Today, they handle about 70,000 rounds per year and as many as 350 per day on peak summer weekends.
     
    Dyker Beach Golf Course
    Web site
     
    How to get there
    From Manhattan, take D train toward Coney Island. Transfer to R train at 36th St. (to 95th St. - Bay Ridge); get off at 86th St.. Walk along 86th St. to 7th Ave.
     
    How to play it
    Book a tee time at golfnow.com or call 718-225-4653.
     
    19th hole
    The new 15,000 square-foot clubhouse has a huge patio out back for Sunday brunches and Slate, a 75-seat restaurant and bar.
     
    While set in the heart of Brooklyn, underneath the shadows of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, Dyker feels like it's hundreds of miles away from the city. On the second hole, I'm reminded of the last time I was in these parts, as I can spot one of the giants spans from the bridge off to the left of the fairway. Every November, the Verrazano is the scene of one of the greatest spectacles in all of sports ' the start of the ING New York City Marathon. The race is still fresh in my mind because last November I rumbled off that bridge along with 38,000 other runners ' talk about your foot traffic! ' headed for the great unknown. The feeling you have coming off that bridge to the welcoming applause and encouragement of the Brooklyn residents is like no other. And while it was very quiet on this Saturday, I was flooded with memories of the race throughout my round because the bridge is nearly visible from every hole.
     
    One of the more scenic holes on the front nine is the short, par-4 fifth hole, which plays only 358 yards from the back tees. The Verrazano rises above the corner of this dogleg left, with the clock tower from Poly Prep Country Day School also visible from the tee. The bridge also appears to be right on top of you as you walk toward the corner of the dogleg right on the par-5 sixth hole. The next hole plays very uphill and much longer than the 412 yards listed on the scorecard. I found it to be the most difficult hole on the front side ' by far. It's not until you get to the ninth hole (par 5, 488 yards) that you feel like you're playing golf in the city, as 7th Ave. runs parallel left to the fairway. Cars are stacked up along the fence and occasionally crash through the fence, as I was told by a playing partner. So, in addition to errant tee shots, you must be wary of cars careening out of control.
     
    The signature hole on Dyker Beach is the uphill par-3 11th (150 yards from the white tees). From the green, you almost feel as if you can drive your golf cart onto the entrance ramp of the Verrazano. The back nine plays significantly tighter than the front, as trees seemingly obstruct any ball that misses the fairway. There is only one par-5 on the inward nine, the 450-yard 15th hole, although it plays considerably longer on this day as a spring rain starts to steadily fall. The weather cooperates for the most part, however, and we surprisingly got around in just under 4-1/2 hours. This is the equivalent of running the NYC Marathon in 2 1/2 hours, because just a week earlier one of my playing partners needed almost 6 1/2 hours to complete the same 18 holes. If you can play a round of golf in under five hours in New York City, you feel like you just punched a lottery ticket.
     
    I departed Dyker Beach at 1:08 p.m., and while I was tempted to stop at Nathans and scarf down 50 hot dogs like Takeru 'Tsunami' Kobayashi (he of the famous July 4 hot dog eating contest), I had a long trip ahead of me to the Bronx and a 3 p.m. tee time to catch. This time, I left Dyker feeling like I had hit a walk-off home run.
     
  • 1:18 p.m. ' As I walk down the steps at the 86th St. Station, the R train is pulling away. This is a helpless feeling for a straphanger, much like watching the Mets' bullpen (at least the 2008 version) fritter away a two-run lead in the ninth inning.
  • 1:30 ' Board the R train.
  • 1:45 ' Transfer to the D at 36th St., headed for Manhattan.
  • 2:21 ' Transfer to No. 1 train at 59th St./Columbus Circle. Last stop: 242 St./Van Cortlandt Park.
  • 3:00 ' Finally arrive at Van Cortlandt Park. The 23-mile journey takes nearly two hours. But at least I don't have to sit in traffic.
  • 3:08 ' After eight-minute walk through the park, arrive at pro shop to check in.
  • 3:28 ' Tee off.

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    The par-4 16th hole, Van Cortlandt Golf Course.
    America's oldest public golf course also boasts some of the longest par-5s in the metropolitan area. Hole No. 2, also known as 'The Babe,' plays 620 yards from the back tees and 605 from the middle tees. The hole bends slightly to the left and the second shot plays uphill, making it a Ruth-ian sized task to reach the green in two. After a solid drive and a well-struck hybrid, I still had 210 yards to the green for my third. No wonder why it plays as the No. 1 handicap hole.
     
    The other long par-5 is the 600-yard 12th hole, which ranks as the second-most difficult hole. The good news is that none of the current par-5s plays as long as the ninth hole did in the original Van Cortlandt layout. It registered 700 yards. Imagine how much fun The Babe would have had playing that hole.
     
    While the par-5s play extremely long, the par-4s at Vannie, as the locals call it, are far more generous. The par-4 6th hole plays 283 yards from the middle tees. It's an easy carry over the water off the tee but the fairway slopes significantly uphill, ending any dreams medium-length hitters like myself have of driving the ball on the green. The green is set back against the trees, making this one of the more picturesque holes on the course.
     
    Van Cortlandt Park Golf Course
    Web site
     
    How to get there
    From Manhattan, take 1 train to last stop, 242 St./Van Cortlandt Park. Walk through park
     
    How to play it
    Book a tee time at Golf NYC or call 718-543-4595.
     
    19th hole
    Gleeson's Sports Bar & Grill on Broadway is conveniently located across the street from Van Cortlandt Park, adjacent to the subway stop.
     
    My two favorite holes on the course are also short par-4s, the 310-yard 16th and the 324-yard 18th. From both elevated tees, you feel like you're standing on the observation deck of the Empire State Building, with the landing zones and greens well below. For the longest hitters, both greens can be reached off the tee; and for the shortest hitters, it's reasonable to expect a wedge in for your second shot.
     
    It was an uplifting way to finish off my doubleheader. After nine hours of golf, close to three hours riding the subways, and one too many three-putts, I went home saying I nearly drove two par-4s.
     
    Unfortunately, I had to hop in the subway again. Next time, I'm taking the bus.