Volume 74, Number 22 | September 29 - October 5 , 2004

Sports


Playing Palm Beach, without hurricanes, in Chelsea

By Judith Stiles

Golfing at Chelsea Piers suits Roddo DiStefano to a tee
As the autumn weather begins to get chilly, hardcore golfers from the metro area usually begin to fantasize about a little trip to Palm Beach, Fla., where you don’t have to warm up your hands before tee time. However this fall, it is the Floridian golfers who are fantasizing about a little trip up north to play golf, and perhaps after four hurricanes, they might be thinking of a one-way ticket to a life where golf in nippy weather would be a welcome relief. But are there any public golf courses in New York City anymore where you can catch a good game?

Believe it or not, amid the concrete jungle, the city is home to four public, 18-hole golf courses, boasting the oldest golf course in the U.S.A. at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. It was founded in 1885 and designed by Tom Bendelow and was known to be frequented by Babe Ruth.

There is the Clearview Golf Course in Flushing, built in 1930, with rolling greens and excellent views of the Throgs Neck Bridge and City Island. Rumor has it that multitudinous balls have been lost in the water on the way to the fourth hole, so having a long shot is a must. For hearty golfers who are not heading to warmer climates, this course is open all year.

In Staten Island there is La Tourette Park and Golf Course, opened in 1920, with a beautiful Greek-revival clubhouse built in 1836. It also has 18 holes and a driving range. The annual New York Amateur Tournament is held here.

Don’t forget Dyker Beach Golf Course in Brooklyn, built in 1897, and redesigned by golf course expert James Van Kleek in the 1930s. It is considered one of the most well-maintained courses in New York, even though it has over 80,000 visitors a year.

For beginners, the Flushing Meadow Pitch & Putt is a perfect place to play an undersized game, especially for children who are not ready to walk the big course.

Locally, the most unique and unusual golf experience is right here at the Chelsea Piers Golf Club, at W. 23rd St and the Westside Highway, where you can play 18 holes of golf in the rain, snow, sleet or hail without even getting wet.

That’s right, you can play golf in the bliss of cyberspace, with a friendly foursome or even alone. Choose from a menu of 36 famous golf courses, and after you hit the ball off an Astroturf mat, two sets of sensors instantly process the information about your drive, and in a split second your ball enters the virtual golf course where you can watch it land on the green or in the rough on a cinematic screen in front of you. Assistant General Manager David Belcher reports that Pebble Beach in Monterey, Calif., is his favorite virtual course and is the most popular among their cyber-golfers.

“The sensors record how fast you hit the ball, how far and what direction,” he adds. If you hit into the rough or into a virtual sand trap, you move to different turf mats that simulate both. On a touch computer screen you are given choices of angles from which to make your putt, as well as a grid that overlays the putting green, indicating curves and angles that you would find on the real course. Comfortable leather couches and tasty food that can be ordered make the wait as your golf-mates take their turn more pleasurable. Up to four people can play for about $40 per hour and you don’t have to hire a caddy. No aching shoulders from lugging your own bag and no sunburn either.

The Chelsea Piers Golf club at Pier 59 has the plush and comfortable feeling of a country club. The entrance was designed to be reminiscent of the famous Shinnecock Golf Club, in Southampton, N.Y., and in the pro shop you will find wonderful old black-and-white photos of famous golfers, such as Arnold Palmer and Nancy Lopez. There is a putting green and a golf academy where you can take private lessons, choosing from over 13 teachers with impressive resumes. There are group classes with the same first-rate instructors, where the favorite activity is videotaping your swing and then analyzing it on a computer screen.

There is a Junior Golf Program for children with a low student-teacher ratio, where young players are taught the fundamentals of the swing, proper grip, body alignment as well as learning mental strategies to play a better game of golf. Gil Boggs, the Academy director, enthusiastically describes how the youth program is designed for budding golfers of different abilities so that “students can learn at their own speed while given maximum individual attention.” Boggs draws on his experience as a dancer in the American Ballet, pointing out that the learning curve is similar for dancers and golfers. “Both golf and ballet are about body movement — understanding how your own body moves and controlling it,” he emphasizes.

If you have a gap in your weekend plans or an hour or two to kill, you can just show up at the driving range at Chelsea Piers without a reservation and hit some balls into an enormous netted and enclosed area that has a panoramic view of the Hudson River. There are four floors, each with 10 stations that you can pick from to whack those balls out toward the river.

Thirteen-year-old Roddo DiStefano of Greenwich Village prefers to go to the driving range in the evening to catch a glorious sunset. “The colors are great, and occasionally it is very bright, and you might have to get used to having the sun in your eyes, because it could happen in a real game,” notes DiStefano. “It’s great to see the sun setting in New York City,” he says as he extends his arm and points to where his ball might land, playfully mimicking Babe Ruth.

For New York golfers who have a hankering for the sunny skies of The Bay Hill Golf Club in Florida, only time will tell how this famous golf course in Orlando will survive the 2004 hurricane season. Whatever the damage, Bay Hill remains in pristine condition in cyberspace ready and waiting for golfers to play the course at Chelsea Piers, day or night, without a single felled palm tree on the horizon.

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