Monday, July 29, 2013

Legitimate Golf Diaries, volume 4: on the Hudson River line

Hi. We're on the road again. Catskill, NY. Why I'm here, don't ask. Something to do with antiquing. To me though this place will always be associated with this guy--in my opinion one of the most terrifying video game villains of all time.

Opting out of antiquing for the day, I snooped around and found a sleepy little semi-private course. This here Catskill Golf Club is old school. No fancy on-line tee time bookings. You want a tee time here you'll have get it the old-fashioned way--pick up a "tele-phone", dial a number and ask for one.

This is a continuation of my new year's resolution to get out and play the world. I'm starting to get into kind of a groove with this. Being home(course)-less, it's not so bad. I'm finding a lot of charm in these old tracks, even the modest low-key ones designed by no-name architects. This one's no exception. It was built in 1928, and seems to be a tight knit club of golfers. Playing the course, you can sense the pride. And why not?

A perfectly good, typical old school Northeast wooded, mountainy course.

Pretty straightforward, challenging (135 slope) without resorting to a lot of visual chicanery.


There are a few blind shots, but the scorecard is a really helpful, a nice touch.

This little hole-by-hole is a modest little gesture, but it goes such a long way. I consulted it on every hole. It was really there for me when I needed a bit of guidance or re-assurance. All you courses that don't have this on your scorecard, you ought to take a good hard look in the mirror and ask yourselves--Why don't we have this?

Fun fact: the "C" is for Catskill. Word up.

A lovingly informative scorecard, charming cast-iron tee markers, birdhouse yardage markers... because I'm from where I'm from I guess I'm easily impressed by little niceties on a course. There were free tees in the pro shop and believe me I helped myself to a big grubby handful. While I was in there, I had to ask the pro shop guy a number of times about the pace of play out there. But I don't think he really got what I was talking about until the sixth time. "Oh yeah don't worry about it, there's hardly anyone out there." See, I think there are a lot of issues, a lot of beefs I have with public course golf, that simply don't exist in many parts of the world. I probably came off like a real cityfolk a-hole.

This is one of those places where walking and riding inexplicably costs the same, so today I'm riding. The carts here have a little more horsepower than normal, good for getting up and down this hilly terrain. Say that's a nice-looking hole. Which way to the tee?

Oh, okay there's the white tee. But where's the blues?

Aw jeez, I gotta walk up there?

That's pretty dang steep.

A little unsafe even. I'm getting winded...

Well okay, I guess it was worth it. This is a nice vista, and my tee shot got about a minute of hang-time,  and that is pretty cool.

Driving on a mountain course, there are some dicey moments. This is a hell of a lot steeper than it appears in 2-D.

Around that next turn, I have both feet on the brake, I'm white-knuckling the wheel.

Okay, got to the 16th hole. Say that's a nice looking par 3. But where are the blue...


This is some real-deal hiking my friends. It's taking all I have just to not have a nasty spill here.

OK let's wrap it up with a shot of the 18th tee shot. A really narrow chute. I didn't quite make it through, and I bogeyed, but it was a fun hole. I ended up riding the bogey train around and shooting 88. But I had such a good time, and the course was empty enough, so I went for the replay and managed an 83 while fighting off some heatstroke during the last four holes. 

Now I hope that was enjoyable and all, but I'm sort of afraid of this blog becoming a quaint little travelogue. That was not the plan. See I've got to get down to the nitty gritty. What about the golf, man. It's been a rough year for my handicap--I'm around five strokes worse than last year--and even though I'm not getting out as much this year, I really ought to do something about that. I mean, where is this so-called legitimate golf, man?

Playing the 36 holes in succession, sans waiting, was good, it really helped me to finally feel what the swing was doing. Might be the first time all year I've felt that. I mean you rely on fundamentals to get you through most rounds, but I just don't see how you can play to your potential when you can't feel your (club) face.

So some ho-hum scores but a pretty good day for the swing. Couple things--I remembered that there is only one way to hit a tee shot--hard! It's easy to forget that when you're not playing often. Also, I played this 6482 yarder--that's longer than most of you chumps play probably--without hitting the driver once. 

Yeah so that club is freaking me out lately--so what. It happens to the best. Tiger Woods is kind of scared of his driver lately too, and people are always saying how he is "number one". Only difference is, I will freely admit it. Why bust out driver on some tight and troublesome course that I've never seen before. Who needs that kind of stress. Anyway it worked out fine. I only had a couple of long approaches, and I couldn't really reach any par 5's in two but--I saved myself a bunch of consternation and nut-sack splitting. Which means more fun. And that, as we all know, is what it is--literally--all about.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Marine Park Golf Course (beyond the ghetto)

Earlier in the week, I made the long subway/bus trip out to Marine Park GC to have a chit-chat with Evan, the head pro. While I was there, I played a few holes and collected some nice photos I thought I'd share.

MPGC is located in far-flung Brooklyn, along the southern shore. It was designed in 1964 by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. Most golf enthusiasts will recognize that name, and most are surprised to learn that one of his designs actually exists here inside New York City limits.

When I first came here several years ago, the whole place was in a bad way. No pro shop, no range, no snack bar... almost nothing. The clubhouse looked like an abandoned, condemned building; usually there was just the one lone sad guy working behind the counter collecting green fees.

There was an ownership change at some point a few years ago, and since then things have improved drastically. There's now a legitimate golf atmosphere here. The staff seem to actually care about people. Out in the practice area you'll find all kinds of people, of all ages and genders working on their games. Technically this is Brooklyn, but I don't think I can really call this ghetto golf.

My trip getting here is a different story. It's a long ride on the 5 train from Union Square, through some of the rougher parts of Brooklyn, and then a particularly crappy, slow bus ride down Flatbush Avenue to the outskirts of the borough, near the Atlantic Ocean. It's ghetto. If not for the whole trip being such a heavy pain in the ass, I'd come here a lot more often.

Oh god, here we go again. Here I am in Union Square, which you might remember as the starting point of this trip. Right after I took this photo that fat kid walked by and gave me a staredown, and that kind of squashed any interest I had in photo documenting the train ride. Maybe next time.

Forty-some minutes later, here were are at Flatbush Avenue station. Man, people can be so slow walking out of the subway.

It's like, why aren't you in a hurry to get out of this stinkhole. Dammit!!!

Gah. Right out of the subway, and the Q35 bus is loading, getting ready to leave. Better hurry.

But not before taking a quick self-portrait.

Here I am riding the bus down Flatbush Avenue. This part of the trip is especially shitty. A good time to really lose yourself in the old smartphone. I'd show you more, but there's truly nothing to see along the way, you'll have to take my word for it.

About fifteen minutes later, the bus drops us off right in front of the course. I don't know about you, but when I see a golf course's initials spelled out in topiary letters, I expect quality.

Here we are on the inside. What do you call this, a foyer or something? Let's check out the pro shop before we head on out.

Oh, hello Brian. How's that novel you've been working on?

A fairly impressive selection of shoes. Evan has really done a great job with the whole shop. You can get just about any kind of golf gear you need here.

Experienced golf clubs. Always good for a laugh.

Marine Park boasts not one but TWO practice greens--one for putting and one for chipping and, would you believe it--pitching. But wait--there's more. There's even a practice bunker out there--OMG.

Here's the Trackman studio out on the range. It's the only one in New York City and one of the few in the whole state.

This range is just a few years old. It's irons only, but no one's complaining. Hitting balls to warm up before a round, now that might be normal to you. A way of life. Around here, that's an alien concept. The first six holes--that's our warmup.

And what a nice looking range. Would you look at that turf? It doesn't even need to be that lush and green, but that shows you how much they care here at Marine Park.

Hey. I think I know that guy. Let's go and say hello.

Hey, it's Mark Russ Federman. I met him and his lovely wife Maria at Dyker Beach a couple years ago. I've been lucky enough to play with the both of them on a few occasions since. Mark's the owner of Russ & Daughters, a legendary appetizing store on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, that his grandfather opened in 1914. Anyone who knows anything about great food around here knows all about Russ & Daughters. In other words Mark and his shop are kind of a big deal in these parts. So we're glad to feature him here on Legitimate Golf.

If all that wasn't enough, Mark recently wrote a book about the family business: Russ & Daughters: Reflections and Recipes from the House That Herring Built. Oh how quaint, you say. He wrote a little memoir. Well, it happened to make the New York Times friggin' Bestseller List. Mark is a real funny guy, a handy golfer, and as I'm finding out as I read his book, a tremendous writer. It would've been nice to play nine together today, but alas--I had some more yapping and photographing to do before I could get out on the course.

The first tee. This first hole is fairly wide and straightforward. Which is a nice design feature especially considering that the next couple of holes after it are pretty brutal.

These berms and fescue grasses are recent additions to the course. Along with the flat terrain and relative lack of trees, they really add to the seaside linksy feel of this whole place.

The third hole lies next to the Belt Parkway. Beyond that is the Atlantic Ocean. Along this part of the course, the whiff of the beach is especially strong. One time I watched a seagull attempting to scarf down a big live crab in the middle of this fairway, it was crazy.

 It was nearing sunset, and I pretty much had the front nine to myself.

Here's the approach to the green on #7, probably my favorite hole on the course. Plenty of room to miss a drive on either side, and you still have an outside shot at the green if you do, but shots from the fairway are given a big advantage and I think that's what I like about it--difficult without resorting to shenanigans.

If you look closely at the horizon you can see the One World Trade Center, 9.5 miles away as the crow flies. The building's also a familiar sight from the window of my bedroom, so when I look at it from the golf course I feel a little less desolate, a little less far away from home.

A parting shot of the ninth hole. I had some real trouble putting the ball in the hole today, but it was especially nice being out here playing during the twilight hour. Nothing special golfwise, but at least I got a few scenic pics out of it.