Donald Trump has certainly been busy this year, from amusing sound bites from the campaign trail to the launch of the first new golf course in New York City in over 30 years, Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point.
Located in the Bronx, the luxury golf course which opened in May 2015 is a study in contrasts, from the spectacular views of the Manhattan skyline, the East River and Whitestone Bridge, to the less inviting views of nearby neighbourhood housing projects and a cemetery. It is ironic that the city’s most upscale course is located in its most impoverished borough. That being said, Ferry Point made it a priority to hire locally, with 85% New Yorkers, and 90% of those from the Bronx. They also have a program to train local kids to become caddies.
But politics and societal inequalities aside, there is no denying that the Jack Nicklaus-designed championship course will delight top golfers and maybe lure over a major PGA event in the near future.
The public course, built on a former landfill, has been in the works for years, but the project had stalled until Trump stepped in four years ago.
“It’s a great property, with great bones and great location,” said Ron Lieberman Executive Vice President at Trump Tower. “Donald took a dump, literally, and made it the most spectacular public course in the U.S.”
CHALLENGING COURSE. The 7,407-yard links-style Ferry Point is set on almost 200 acres. The course was designed to accommodate all levels from five teeing stations, but the accomplished golfer will truly appreciate it. With its wide fairways, immaculate greens, many landing areas and bunkers and some serious wind to contend with, it certainly provides a challenge. It also plays longer than most, taking on average 4.5 hours to finish a round.
Playing the course, several holes really stand out and are sure to become signatures. Number seven, a boomerang-shaped par-4, is a risk/reward shot with the largest body of water on the course to contend with, not to mention a tight fairway with sand on the other side. This hole might appear easy, but good luck if it's windy!
Number nine, another par-4, delights with gorgeous views of the Whitestone Bridge, and number thirteen is the money shot with the iconic Manhattan Skyline in the background. Don’t let the postcard views take your focus though or there are bogeys waiting to happen.
Number sixteen, the longest par-4 on the course, will turn towards the East River and you’ll have to contend with a marsh, mounds and bunkers making it a thread-the-needle fairway. Number seventeen is a fun, 193-yard par-3 that throws bunkers and uphill shots at the golfer. The course ends on a beautiful note with the 576-yard, par-5 number eighteen featuring a water hazard and views of the bridge and river. That's a lot of eye candy all at once.
A $10 million clubhouse is scheduled to open in 2016. If you’re looking to work on your skills, take a lesson from the onsite Michael Breed Academy. Breed was the PGA National Teacher of the Year in 2012.
PELHAM BAY. If Trump is the fancy new kid on the block, Pelham Bay is the stalwart, with the Pelham Bay course dating to 1901 and the Split Rock course to 1936. Both courses are located just six miles from Ferry Point, in Pelham Bay Park, New York City’s largest green space. The landscapes are so different, though, you’d think they were hours apart.
“Even though you’re in New York City, you feel like you’re upstate in the woods,” said general manager, Monica Davis.
For beginners and those who like to play down the middle, the Pelham Bay course, with its wide fairways, is a delight. The course is not undulated and there are no significant breaks, but there are plenty of bunkers scattered throughout that force you to play shrewdly. Number fifteen is the only hole where you’ll have to contend with water. The clubhouse at number nine is one of the prettiest holes and the back nine is framed with large weeping willows that add a lot of character to the course.
SPLIT ROCK. The Split Rock course is definitely the more difficult of the two on the property and will challenge even the most experienced golfer. A good example is number five, a par-5, 515-yard whopper that is awkwardly narrow with no room to the right and very little to the left. The green is elevated and hard to hit. Sure enough, none of the four guys in front of me hit it in two.
Number seven is a visually intimidating hole because all you see are trees, and according to Davis, that psychs many a golfer out. The addition of tall reeds and bunkers makes you feel like you have to hit the perfect drive or it's game over. And it doesn’t let up, because on number eight you can’t see the landing area on the fairway and there is a bunker on the left. Put too much of a fade or cut on the shot and you’re in the bunker or the woods. The par-4 number seventeen is the second-largest handicap hole, but there is more room to play with here. The rub is that it’s long, at 448 yards. It could easily be three shots before you even sniff the green.
The Pelham Bay/Split Rock courses and the Trump Ferry Point course are very different in many ways. Trump is like the special occasion restaurant, whereas the other two are like the pub down the street. Trump’s course has better views, but Pelham’s courses are much more like a traditional north-eastern course. And of course, it costs a lot more to play Ferry Point.
GOLF & THE CITY. You don’t think golf when you think New York City, but both properties are only a short drive from Manhattan. (Trump is hoping to have a ferry service at some point.) I don’t think anyone would make the trip across the pond and fail to experience everything else the city has to offer, so definitely base yourself in Manhattan.
If you like the hustle and bustle of Times Square, make the newly renovated Knickerbocker hotel your base, or if you prefer a quieter neighbourhood the boutique Ink48 in Hell’s Kitchen is ideal. And you can never go wrong at iconic New York hotels like The Peninsula or The Plaza.
If golfing has left your muscles screaming for relief, before you explore the city, hit my favourite spa at the Peninsula hotel. Between the treatment and one of the best relaxation rooms of any spa anywhere, you’ll be fully revived and able to take in all the iconic New York experiences waiting out of the door.
Good to know
Nearly every major airline flies direct from London to New York
Trump Golf Links Ferry Point www.trumpferrypoint.com
Pelham Bay/Split Rock www.pelhamsplitrock.com
Knickerbocker Hotel www.theknickerbocker.com
The Peninsula www.newyork.peninsula.com
The Plaza www.fairmont.com/the-plaza-new-york