Whitestone Bridge Golf Course Gives NYC Chance at OpenErik Matuszewski
In Ron Lieberman’s dreams, Tiger Woods will be playing for Jack Nicklaus’s record 18 major tournament victories on a course in the heart of New York City that Nicklaus himself designed.
Lieberman, a former New York City parks executive, oversees the first golf course to open in the city since 1963. Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point, built on a former landfill in the Throgs Neck section of the Bronx, had its ribbon-cutting in October, and will open to the public next year.
Ferry Point may have already been selected as a site of The Barclays, the first of the U.S. PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup playoff events in 2017 and 2020, according to a Golf.com report. It’s also attracted the attention of the U.S. Golf Association, which runs the U.S. Open in addition to being the sport’s rule-making body for the U.S. and Mexico.
“There’s nothing like this at all,” said Lieberman, the former director for the city’s parks department revenue division who’s now a vice president of special projects for the Trump Organization. “You have these fabulous views of the city skyline, and it’s 15 to 20 minutes from Manhattan.”
It’s the newest of the city’s 14 courses and, at a cost of $269 million, the most expensive public golf facility ever built in the U.S. Originally planned to open in 2001, the project was pushed back by cost overruns and construction, legal and environmental delays.
While the USGA doesn’t comment on potential U.S. Open venues, officials from the organization have visited Ferry Point, along with other area clubs, as part of their information-gathering procedures, spokesman Pete Kowalski said.
Over the past two weeks, both the men’s and women’s U.S. Opens were held at the Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina. It was the fourth time in seven years the men’s U.S. Open has been held at a course open to the public.
John Bodenhamer, the USGA’s managing director for rules, competition and equipment, said the championship committee that selects U.S. Open sites considers it important to hold the tournament at some public access courses.
The site of next year’s U.S. Open, Chambers Bay in Seattle, was selected as host seven months after the course, a municipal links built on a former sand and gravel quarry overlooking Puget Sound, opened in 2007.
Ferry Point shares some similarities.
Located on a 222-acre former landfill, Ferry Point has views of the Manhattan skyline from some of its 18 holes. The course sits on the east side of the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, which crosses the East River and connects the New York City boroughs of the Bronx and Queens.
Nicklaus designed a treeless links-style course, with tall grasses and dunes that reach heights of 55 feet. The course can stretch to 7,400 yards (6,767 meters) from the back tees, which Nicklaus says will “create a test of golf fitting of any tournament or championship.” The dunes around many of the greens create amphitheater-like areas suited for spectator viewing, there’s ample space for corporate and merchandise tents, and the infrastructure was set up to handle hosting a major, Lieberman said.
Ferry Point would join New York area courses such as Ridgewood Country Club, Plainfield Country Club and Bethpage State Park’s Black Course in the rotation as host of The Barclays, Golf.com said, citing people close to Trump that it didn’t identify. Bethpage Black became the first publicly operated course to host the U.S. Open in 2002, was the site of the event again in 2009 and will welcome the PGA Championship in 2019 and golf’s Ryder Cup in 2024.
Lieberman and PGA Tour spokesman Ty Votaw said there’s been no decision to bring a playoff event to Ferry Point.
Nicklaus, 74, counts four U.S. Open wins among his record 18 major titles, though none of his almost 300 course designs has hosted the sport’s second major championship yet. Nicklaus’s Valhalla Golf Club near Louisville, Kentucky, was home to the 1996 PGA Championship and is also the site of this year’s final men’s major. Another Nicklaus design, Shoal Creek Golf and Country Club in Alabama, is also a two-time PGA Championship site.
Trump, 67, predicted that Ferry Point will get its due. “There will be a major championship announced there in the not-too-distant future,” he said.
If the construction of Ferry Point was compared to a round of golf, it would be a 6 1/2-hour slog rather than a crisp 18 holes. Since former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani oversaw the start of the project almost two decades ago, costs have soared more than 12 times the original estimate.
Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, in 2011 brought in Trump to finish the project and negotiated a 20-year lease for him to operate the course. Trump has 15 other golf properties, including in Westchester and the Hudson Valley in New York, and Bedminster and Colts Neck in New Jersey.
“I have a good team of people. We know the contractors, we know people and we were tough, and we got it done,” said Trump. “It’s not only done, we got it done right.”
Concerns from local residents about hazardous levels of methane gas have been assuaged and emissions will continue to be tested, along with soil and groundwater at the former landfill.
The course won’t open to the public until next spring to give it time to mature. There’s also a $10 million, 15,000-square-foot clubhouse scheduled to be built while other infrastructure projects need to be completed. Trump is paying for the clubhouse and costs associated with operating the course once open, yet will pay no rent to the city for the first five years of his lease. The city has footed the rest of the cost of the project, including sewer and water charges.
The price for a round of golf at Ferry Point will probably be between $100 and $200, depending on time and day of the week, a significant increase over the $31 to $56 greens fees at other New York City courses that include Pelham/Split Rock and Van Cortland Park in the Bronx, Dyker Beach in Brooklyn and Flushing Meadows in Queens. There will be discounted rates for New York residents of up to 25 percent.
The man-made dunes, lush fairways and tall grasses waving in the breezes off the East River evoke images of a seaside resort. The steady drone of the 130,000 vehicles that cross the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge daily and the sound of airliners from LaGuardia Airport make it clear that this is New York City. It has views of houses in the Bronx on several holes to go along with the Manhattan skyscrapers.
Trump landed his first men’s major championship last month when the PGA of America said the 2022 PGA Championship will be held at his Bedminster property’s Old Course. The U.S. Women’s Open will be held at Trump Bedminster in 2017.
The next seven men’s U.S. Opens are booked: After Chambers Bay in 2015, future sites are Oakmont in Pittsburgh (2016), Erin Hills in Wisconsin (2017), Shinnecock Hills on Long Island (2018), Pebble Beach in California (2019), Winged Foot in Westchester, New York (2020) and Torrey Pines (2021) outside San Diego. Four of the next seven will be played on courses accessible to the public.
“The USGA loves the whole public golf course aspect,” said Lieberman, who has toured Ferry Point with USGA executive director Mike Davis. “That combined with the urban feel, New York City skyline, being right in the heart of the city, it plays right into what they look for.”
(A previous version of this story incorrectly said a Nicklaus-designed course hasn’t hosted a major championship.)