It feels all wrong. It feels wrong to be playing golf atop a former landfill. It feels wrong to be playing within city limits. It feels wrong to be playing on a weekday. Yet here we are.
The entire thing almost didn’t happen. It took 31 years, several administrations, a record-setting $269 million, and an unusual public-private partnership with Donald Trump before the first round was played at Trump Golf Links Ferry Point in the Bronx .
Before the city decided to build a golf course, the land was “literally a municipal waste site,” said Anthony Macari, director of concession architecture for the city's parks department. Players can see (though fortunately not smell) the recent history through vents that dot the course, penetrating down to materials below. Still, Macari now calls it the crown jewel of the city’s 14 courses.
That jewel doesn’t come cheap. A weekend round at most of the other city courses will cost you $49 if you’re a resident. At Trump, that same round will cost a city resident $169. Not from around here? That’ll be a cool $215. “It was built to the highest standards of tournament golf,” Trump boasts. “Look at the driving range,” he says with pride. (It should be noted that during our visit, the driving range was serving as a helipad for Trump's personal chopper. He didn't even arrive or leave in it. It was just there as a prop.)
Trump isn't a name most people associate with New York's poorest borough, but you get a lot for the high prices he brought with him. The views are astounding. Designed by Jack Nicklaus and John Sanford, Ferry Point is nestled between the Whitestone and Throgs Neck bridges, with beautiful views of the Manhattan skyline and East River.
Superfluous nature is conspicuously absent from the links-style course. Devoid of leafy, ball-grabbing trees, the course’s fairways appear wide, generous, almost inviting. Although abutted by a surprisingly odor-free East River, water hazards are few and far between on the course. Even the rough—a self-sustaining, drought tolerant, minimal input fescue—looks manageable. And largely, it is.
At most courses, a player’s biggest battle is with the course itself: the bunkers, the water hazards, overhanging trees, the distance, and the slope. At Trump Ferry Point, a player is forced to do battle with mostly one force of nature.
It’s the combination of wind and distance that gets you. The course is more than 7,400 yards long. The readout on the luxe GPS-equipped cart may say you’re 150 yards from the pin, but depending on the wind, you can easily skew 20 yards in any direction. (Which direction can be difficult to determine.) Good luck. Pick a club, hope you guessed right, and swing away. It’s a course that rewards excellent ball control and shot discipline.
The course is in fantastic shape. Greens are incredibly firm, fast, and remarkably free of ball marks. Tee boxes, with their new grass, were largely free of broken and discarded tees. Signage can be confusing from time to time, but the GPS-equipped carts are quick to alert you to any missteps.
Trump himself seems to have a good handle on his course. Playing before the official opening on April 1, he recorded the first ace on the par-3 12th hole. A plaque commemorating the event now adorns the tee box.
Everyone seems very aware of the uncomfortable fact that Ferry Point is the city's most expensive public golf course in its poorest borough. About half of the employees are from the Bronx, and area high school students have been hired for the summer as caddies. Bronx Pale Ale was prominently displayed at the bar in the temporary clubhouse and at the small concession stand out on the course. General Manager Joe Roediger says that the course’s baked goods come from two local bakeries and that all produce comes from nearby Hunts Point.
Macari says that approximately 70 percent of golfers have been city residents. The city hopes that the course, along with a planned waterfront park, will jump-start development in the area. Out on the course, you can be forgiven for forgetting about your proximity to millions of NYC residents. Sure, there are places where the immediate neighborhood is visible, the din of traffic on the Whitestone is audible from some holes, and planes on approach to LaGuardia descend overhead, but the next noisiest reminder of city life comes from St. Raymond's cemetery, which borders the course to the east.
The cons? To put it kindly, Ferry Point is a destination even for the average New Yorker. A few MTA buses will get you there, but it’s nowhere near a subway. The name itself is misleading: There’s no ferry either. To make it from another borough in any humane amount of time, you’re going to need a car or be willing to shell out for a taxi.
There’s no permanent clubhouse yet, either. Trump expects to break ground on a $10 million clubhouse shortly with the goal of finishing construction by the end of next year. A temporary, yet tastefully decorated structure houses a pro shop, bar, and bathrooms for now.
None of the loose ends faze Trump. He has big plans for the future of Ferry Point, telling Bloomberg that he has already turned down two major tournaments. “We’re looking for something else,” he explains coyly.
The USGA has “serious interest in bringing the Open here,” Macari says, spilling the beans. “It would be an amazing coup for the city.” Nicklaus and Sanford designed the course with just such an event in mind: The black tees stretch the course, and there is ample room for spectators.
We’d suggest playing it now instead of trying to qualify for the Open in a few years. It might not be the best golf bargain in the five boroughs, but it’s certainly the most luxurious round you can play without leaving the city.