NEW YORK CITY
Within easy reach of some of America’s truly must play golf courses, there’s never been a better time to hit New York City to take a bite out of the Big Apple. Seventy-two hours in the city that never sleeps should just about do for the ultimate, long-weekend break. So here’s where to go and what to see, where to stay and what to play – as recommended by GW’s contributing editor and resident NYC expert, Brian Wacker...
With apologies to no one, New York is, quite unequivocally, the greatest city in the world. Before you stop reading out of disgust over another jingoistic blowhard American, is there anywhere else, after all, where you can indulge in so much gastronomic delight (76 Michelin star restaurants and PIZZA!), soak in endless hours of fine art and culture, and play a collection of golf courses (William Flynn, C.B. Macdonald, A.W. Tillinghast to name a few) so sublime that Scotland would start sweating under its kilt? Fuhgeddaboudit! But on a kinder, gentler note, with the 101st PGA Championship being played this May at Bethpage Black, located less than
40 miles east of Manhattan on Long Island, what better time to explore all that the Big Apple has to offer, from its array of fantastic golf, to incredible nightlife and everything in between? Come along for 72 hours for an insider’s perspective (your trusty author, who grew up just over an hour’s drive outside NYC) on the city that doesn’t sleep and what to do, where to stay and, naturally, the courses to play…
First things first, you’ll need a place to lay your head. Because while New York is the city that never sleeps, you will need to get some shut eye. Excellent options spread out all across Manhattan and into the other four boroughs, so consider this a general overview and a basic starting point. The Meatpacking District (1) is great for those seeking art, fashionable boutiques and late-night clubs. The Upper East Side (2) hotels typically offer old-fashioned luxury, the Lower East Side (3) is full of vintage clothes stores, restaurants and live music venues. But to be at the heart of everything, albeit paying for the pleasure, book into a hotel in Midtown Manhattan (4), home to much of the city’s accommodation options and within walking distance of Times Square, Central Park and many of the other big-tick attractions covered below. The Ritz-Carlton (5) and The St. Regis New York (6) are two good, high-end options, The Quin (7) and Viceroy Central Park (8) are impressive and easier on the budget, the Hudson (9) better still. Wherever you stay, New York’s subway is fast and, with a MetroCard, economical.
Only when you’ve booked your hotel can you think about ticking off all the tourist sites that lie outside your door...
NEW YORK’S BIG-TICKET ATTRACTIONS
If it’s your first trip to New York, there are a few things you simply shouldn’t miss. Even as someone who has spent countless hours wandering the streets of the Big Apple, there are a few obvious choices I’m always drawn back to. In a 72-hour stay in the city, make sure you get round the following... You literally cannot miss The Statue of Liberty (10). Is there anything more American than the 305-foot copper statue designed by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi and gifted to the US from France to celebrate the friendship between the two countries? There’s a terrific observation deck, and the original torch with the bronze plaque featuring Emma Lazarus’s poem A New Colossus are worth the ferry ride over.
At 843 acres, you can spend all day wandering Central Park (11) and not see it all. Here’s a tip, though: Instead of entering at 59th Street, where it’s most crowded and with not much to see, head to 72nd Street on the west side of the park and make your way back east, past Strawberry Fields, the Sheep Meadow, Bow Bridge, the Bethesda Fountain, the Naumburg Bandshell, the Hans Christian Andersen Monument, the Conservatory Water’s model boats and the Alice in Wonderland statue. Along the way you can also rent a rowboat or take a gondola ride.
There are bigger structures than The Empire State Building (12), but none are better and more New York. The main observation deck on the 86th floor provides jaw-dropping views of the Hudson and East Rivers, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty and more. If you want to go even higher, head up to the indoor deck on the 102nd floor. From there you can see all of Central Park. Equally synonymous with NYC are its endless array of Broadway (13) shows. Tickets can get pricey, though, so do your research in advance. Little tricks like scoping out limited standing room only tickets the day of a performance can also score you a seat to some of the world’s hottest shows.
The High Line (14) is a once-abandoned elevated train track turned into a walkway that is one of the most popular public spaces in the city, not to mention one of its most scenic. If the weather’s good, take an early morning or late afternoon stroll along 1.5-mile park’s green gardens, taking in glorious views of the Hudson River and Whitney Museum of Art.
After that, if time allows, there are a million other options you could factor in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Grand Central Terminal, a stroll across Brooklyn Bridge, or through the residential neighbourhoods for a feel of the real New York. But plot your itinerary carefully and don’t overload it with regular tourist sites, because – as well you know – you’re also here for the golf, and NYC Golf takes several forms.
GOLF ACROSS THE 5 BOROUGHS
New York City’s five boroughs – Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island – are home to 8.5 million people who share between them 13 municipal golf courses. With more than 600,000 rounds played per year, if you want a tee time you better, as the saying goes, never sleep. Or be willing to sleep over. PGA Championship host Bethpage Black, for example, is infamous for players spending the night camped out in their cars to get an early morning tee time, with the first hour blocked off for those eager souls who do so. You can also call ahead and out-of-towners can get a tee time 48 hours in advance, or simply roll the dice day, turn up and hope to wedge your way in to an open tee time at the Tillinghast beauty. You’ve got your pick, too, with four other courses to choose from as well – my second-favorite is the Red, which is often referred to as “Baby Black”.
Another venue worth the ride – and a much shorter one at just 15 miles from Manhattan – is Trump Ferry Point (1). Once a landfill at the base of the Whitestone Bridge in Queens, it’s now a Jack Nicklaus beaut that has unbeatable views of the city skyline laid out across a nearly treeless landscape with fairways edged with flowing native grasses and dunes. You’ll need to book well in advance to get on.
With enough track that if stretched out it could carry you from New York all the way to Chicago, the New York City Subway System is the most New York way to make your way around the Big Apple and it can deliver you direct to some of the city’s most historic and scenic golf courses.
You can take the Long Island Railroad to Bethpage, just a couple of miles from the Black Course, but there are loads of favourites scattered across the five boroughs. Here are my favourites that you can train it to.
Van Cortlandt Park (2) in the Bronx was originally built as a 9-hole course in 1885 before later expanding, making “Vanny” the oldest public golf course in the US. It’s also one of the easiest to get to via public transport with the No.1 or 9 trains dropping you off at 242nd Street, just a short walk away. Wide and forgiving, the par-70 layout has been spiffed up recently with more than a half dozen new greens, new tee boxes and improved bunkering and drainage. It’s also got serious New York soul and swag – among the stars to have played there regularly were Sidney Poitier and baseball legend Babe Ruth, and it has been featured in Hollywood hits Wall Street and the Wolf of Wall Street. Tip: Get there early, because the joint can turn into a traffic jam.
Less than 30 minutes east and still in the Bronx you’ll find Pelham Bay (3) and Split Rock (4). Because everyone in New York likes a good deal, the beauty in these two is that they’re right next to one another yet offer vastly different experiences. Split Rock is hilly, tight and has tricky greens with all sorts of knobs and mounds. Holes 15 through 17 there are known as ‘Little Amen Corner’. Pelham Bay, which opened three decades earlier in 1901, is shorter and more open. Getting there also gives you the full New York experience – take the 6 train to Pelham Park stop and transfer for a Number 45 bus.
South of Manhattan, head into Brooklyn and Dyker Beach Golf Club (5). This is where Earl Woods took up golf in 1972 when he was stationed at nearby Fort Hamilton. It has other deep-rooted connections to the game, too, with one of its members, Frank Strafaci, having played in the Masters in 1938 and 1950. The tree-lined course drips all sorts of cool history with the early holes laid out in the late 1800s before John Van Kleek came up with its current layout in 1935. Views of the Verrazano Bridge, sloping greens and a grand stone clubhouse make for a memorable experience as well and getting there isn’t difficult – take the R train to 86th Street and walk for 15 minutes.
And further south still, Staten Island’s La Tourette (6) is another of New York’s unique treats. Ride on the Staten Island Ferry after taking the
1 train to South Ferry Station in Manhattan. From there, it’s only a 10-minute cab ride to arguably the best track of this bunch. La Tourette has the look and feel of a private club, but with a public course bargain price at $50. As for the course, it’s plenty wide but has loads of bunkers and small greens with plenty of slope that are in good shape.
THE LURE OF LONG ISLAND
The island that juts out into the Atlantic Coast to the left of Manhattan and the five boroughs is the aptly-named Long Island. It’s home to various state parks, wineries and the ultra-exclusive Hamptons. More impressively, it’s also home to some of America’s greatest golf courses.
Shinnecock Hills Golf Club is where all conversations in the greater New York City area start when it comes to golf. It is not just the best course in the area, but widely considered one of the best in the world.
Tougher than playing the course? Getting on it, as it is in the realm of Augusta National and Pine Valley in that way. If you do not have a friend who is a member, you cannot play it. But there is one way. Once a year each May for the last handful of years, Shinnecock Hills has hosted the Project A.L.S. Golf Classic. There are only 20 foursomes in the field at $2,500 a player – but it’s worth every cent.
Should you find your way onto Shinnecock, perhaps you’ll also be fortunate enough to meet someone who can get you onto National Golf Links of America, the Macdonald gem that hosted the Walker Cup in 2013 is a blend of the architect’s favourite features from old British holes and happens to be across the street. And if you’re able (and still riding a hot streak of good fortune), on a long summer’s day that spilled into twilight, you could hang a left and cap your day at Sebonack GC, a Tom Doak/Jack Nicklaus collaboration that costs a reported half-million bucks to join.
There are seemingly innumerable beauties across all of Long Island, too, including Friar’s Head, Maidstone, Atlantic and The Bridge. All fantastic, and all requiring your best talking game to gain access given their privacy. But fear not, there are plenty of terrific and accessible public courses to choose from, too.
A QUICK FIX
Time too tight for 18 holes? Try these easy alternatives.
Manhattan’s only four-level outdoor driving range (15) is a NYC institution and god-send, a 200-yard range that shoots out onto the mighty Hudson River. The automatic tee-up system is nice, plus there are also simulators featuring more than 50 courses from around the world as well as a full-blown golf academy.
The Bridge Golf Center
The coolest thing about this state-of-the-art indoor facility (16) is that it offers a free after-school programme for Harlem’s underprivileged youth. For the rest of us, you can get an hour in a booth for just $35, getting access to a Trackman-equipped simulator where you can play a round at any number of courses on the planet and get access to all the swing data you’d want – and some you probably won’t.
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Golf & Body NYC
If you’re looking for something high end, Golf & Body NYC (17) exudes luxury. The private, indoor country club in midtown Manhattan features a fitness centre, entertainment space, simulators and more. More publicly available options are springing up, too, with Golf Manhattan, Five Iron Golf and Premier Indoor Golf among them.
WHERE TO EAT
With roughly 24,000 restaurants in NYC the options are endless. Like any big city, the Big Apple runs the gamut, from swanky Michelin-starred delights to hole-in-the-wall joints devoid of tourists. But no food is more synonymous with New York than pizza. Plus I have full faith in your ability to find the best (insert cuisine) in the city, thanks to your smart phone or trusty hotel concierge. The better the hotel, the more he should know. As for the ’za, well that requires a special knowledge.
John’s Of Bleecker
Avoid the Times Square version and hit the Greenwich Village original. The tang of the sauce and char of the crust are sublime, baked to perfection in ancient, coal-fired brick ovens. The best damn pizza place there is.
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Over in Brooklyn but well worth the journey, Dom DeMarco has been smothering his pies in San Marzano tomatoes and mozzarella for decades – and he’s turned the trade into a fine art. Like any good pizza joint, this one’s no frills and the line will likely be long but it’s worth the wait.
Another Greenwich Village institution, Joe’s does what John’s doesn’t: Slices. Because sometimes you don’t need or want a whole pie and a slice will suffice. Some of the finest in the city and, happily, open late.
WHERE TO DRINK
The rhythm, soul and personality of New York lives in its nightlife, which most often starts (and usually ends) in its watering holes. Here are a few and varied favourites that should keep you well hydrated.
Tucked behind an unmarked door at the back of the East Village restaurant Village Yokocho, this Japanese cocktail lounge is the oldest new-age speakeasy in the city. It’s wild and flashy.
Adjacent to the iconic Rainbow Room on the 65th floor of Rockefeller Center, the drinks are predictably expensive but well-made and the views absolutely stunning.
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The Dead Rabbit
This old-school Irish pub is a beer and sawdust-on-the-floor joint downstairs, upscale cocktail bar starring some of the city’s best mixologists upstairs. Combined, it’s easy to see why it was the World’s Best Bar in 2015 and 2016.
King Cole Bar
Inside the iconic St. Regis Hotel, Proper attire is required and the drinks will cost you (starting at $25) but this place oozes luxury.
The best place to snag a good Guinness, or a quality brew from an extensive beer list. The food’s excellent, too, and this is a worthy spot to end your night.