Saturday, November 30, 2013

Ghetto Golf, vol. 8: Pelham Bay GC, Bronx

Located way, way up in the northeast Bronx, Pelham Bay is perhaps the most remote, far-flung course within the New York City golf matrix.

The Bronx lives up to its reputation as the worst, most ghetto of the five boroughs, but outsiders are surprised to find out that much of the Bronx is wild, uninhabited woods. Set deep within some of these woods is the Pelham Bay/Split Rock duo of golf courses. It's actually two courses at the same location, but each was given its own distinct name, just to make things confusing.

The two 18-hole courses share a lot of design features and a general feel, with Pelham Bay being the shorter, far easier half. Split Rock is allegedly closed for repairs right now so our first look will be at Pelham. (We'll come back next year, cameraphone in hand.)

I have a little bit of personal history with this course. Back in the mid 2000s, having lived in the city for a few years, I woke up one day and decided I needed to take up golf. My old college roommate Chris, who also lives here agreed with this plan, so we both set ourselves up with some barebones club sets and started hitting the range at Chelsea Piers.

When it came time to set out on a golf course proper, we somehow decided that Pelham Bay was our best bet. Now 2005 is not that long ago in the grand scheme, but in internet terms it's another era. There was precious little golf information to avail us. Golfnow had yet to become a household name, and there were no handy guides on how to play golf in the city, etc.

So despite our screwing up and picking out one of our worst possible choices, my first proper round of golf as an adult in New York City took place here at Pelham Bay, which makes it historically significant right? I got my first New York City par here. And just next door at Split Rock is where not long after that I got my first taste of ghetto golf squabbling, when some knucklehead teed off over the heads of Chris and me as we stood in the tenth fairway. That was actually the first time that as an adult I said "Fuck you" directly to someone's face--but that's another story for another day.

To get here from the center of New York City is a pain in the ass no matter by car, subway, bus etc. But it is possible. As usual we'll go the public transit route. The 6 train (made famous by that exciting debut album from Jennifer Lopez On the 6) runs all up Manhattan and into the Bronx, where it makes about a hundred local stops. Since we're riding all the way to the end of the line, we get to see every last one of them.

It's been over a year since I last visited here, so I glossed over some of the details, which ended up derailing my whole itinerary. Once at Pelham Bay station, end of the 6 line, there is exactly one bus that takes you the rest of the way to the clubhouse. We're so far up in the Bronx that it's not even a New York City/MTA bus, but a "Bee-Line Bus" which is based in Westchester County.

I hadn't allowed enough time in my trip for the inevitable incompetence delays on the train, so when I finally got to the 6 terminal, I had missed the bus by a couple of minutes. Since we're in such a remote area, this bus runs only on the hour. My options were to either: stand around for about an hour at this dismal train station and wait for the next bus, flag down one of the unlicensed gypsy cabs that roam around the Bronx and other ghetto areas, or else simply walk. According to the smartphone it was 1.7 miles on foot. I didn't see any gypsy cabs and anyways I was in no mood for those shady bastards and their ripoff rates. Basically I was not about to get all in a tizzy trying to make this stupid cut-rate tee-time--it's freezing and the pro shop don't even give a damn whether I'm on-time or a few minutes late.

Fuck it. I'll walk. 1.7 miles won't be the end of me. I am in decent shape, what the hell, quit hemming and hawing and just do it. If I leave now and hustle I might just make the tee time. I'll take some frickin photos along the way and share them on the internet, what do I care.

Thankfully since this is technically a city park, there's an ample footpath I can take all the way there, so I don't have to tiptoe along the shoulder of the road.

The lonesome Bronx Victory Memorial, dedicated to the hundreds of Bronx guys who gave their lives in Dubya-Dubya One.

To help speed things up, break up the tedium and hell, generate some needed-warmth, I'll alternate jogging and walking. Pick an object in the distance, and then make myself to run the whole way there. Walk for a little bit, repeat etc.

Greetings From The Bronx!!!

Hey, what about the golf? You might wonder at this point. Think about how I feel though--it's cold out here, not even 40 degrees, I'm freezing my butt off walking along this stupid manure-stinking path, there's not a soul around, I'm only about halfway there and all for what? I'm pretty sure it's gonna suck anyways once I get there. I mean there has to be some reason why I haven't even thought about playing this dump in over a year.

 Judging by the ambient smell, this must be some kind of horse path I'm walking on.

Up in the distance I can just make out the clubhouse, thank God. Finally.

The clubhouse looks kinda neat from a distance and whatever but inside it's the same old boring bland corporatized clubhouse shit motif, so let's not even bother with photos. See the thing about photos is that you kind of make an ass out of yourself taking them. That's the price one pays; for something genuinely interesting to see it might be worth it. But in these such cases, sorry to say it is not.

But hey--at least I can tell you the facilities here are pretty decent. Swanky for an NYC muni actually.

#1 tee, nothing special. Hazard left, which I hit into.

Busy course, lot of people out on this cold day, almost all of them Koreans. It appeared to be one very big group outing perhaps.

From the tee of #4, one of two or three interesting holes on the course. Fun, in a brutal kind of way.

An overhead view. Pretty classic dogleg action.

Huge elevation change to a two-tiered green with a big sheer face separating the levels. (Note the terrible turf conditions. A lot of the course is shaded by forests, so dead spots like these are too common.) Ideal tee shot here, by the way.
The two levels seen from the side, and what has to be the steepest slope found on any putting green in North America.

It's a bitch because this top tier, where the flag is usually put, is shallow, tiny and unreceptive, even more so considering the elevation and the blind approach. I thought I did very well to put one on the back fringe, but then made a bullshit bogey after grossly underestimating the crappiness of this particular green.

At 290 yards from the back tees, the sixth hole always seems driveable. The wind is almost never favorable though.

A de facto cart path carved out by poor path planning and years of general disregard.

When the pace of play is quick and you're chugging along at a brisk pace, cold and windy conditions aren't so bad. When traffic slows down however the cold starts to eat away at you.

This is the infamous, forsaken 13th hole of Pelham Bay.

It's tucked away deep in a dark, sunken corner of the course. Deprived of sunlight, the green is forever in a bad way.

It's not just a winter situation, unfortunately--this green looks like utter crap all year long.

From behind the 18th green while waiting for the bus.

I left on a sour note. I won't lie. Cart-riding, I managed to skip around and repeat a few holes in a vain attempt to squeeze some more value out of this whole snafu, but that was largely to no avail since there were people almost everywhere; the backend of the course was positively jammed. Anyways there was no way to play a legit 18 since the third hole was completely closed for repairs. On top of all that the bus back to the train station was over ten minutes late, leaving me huddling by the roadside like a jackass. Needless to say I won't be coming back here soon if ever. I'll come back once more to cover the Split Rock course and then that's it. It would take at the very least, a $6.99 tee time deal to get me to even think about Pelham Bay again.

The Good

Clean restrooms. A huge practice green. Probably get to use every club in the bag.

The Bad

A combination of sun-exposure problems and lackadaisical course upkeep results in some truly awful turf conditions and wholly forgettable green surfaces. Apathetic management typical of corporate-run NYC muni's and some of the worst slow play in the region compound the misery. Design-wise there is not much to see here.

My Round

Could hardly be called a round. An aborted 13-hole affair with a couple holes repeated for the hell of it. The course was pretty empty behind me but not in front. Luckily I played alone, which is how I'd prefer when in a foul mood. I can't really speak of the golf action because honestly it didn't feel much like proper golfing. I waited a lot which meant I sat in a cart and froze a lot. Hard to get a rhythm going that way.


  1. I gotta give it to you beef, You are as dedicated to this game as anyone I know. Kuddos for the pics. Maryland is golf nirvana in comparison. but damn it's cold early this year.


  2. Thanks for freezing your butt off for us, man! That is dedication indeed. Not to put you any further in a bad mood, but I have to mention that I just came back from a nice (but tough!) course near Gilroy, CA (yea, the garlic capital), where I enjoyed a balmy round, near 70F...

    Good read by the way. Keep it up!

  3. I want to hear the "F U Story", but then you probably already anticipated that reaction from me.

    Your stream of consciousness writing is brilliant. If I had your writing talent I would be working on a book.

  4. Thanks for the feedback people. Brian, that is high praise and I can only take that to mean you enjoy reading these tales. And that is good enough for me. For now. AHAHAHAHAHA

    The "F U" story, I'll probably revisit it when I do Split Rock. I haven't played it a whole lot, but for some reason I have some memorable memories there.

  5. Cold and angry beef... classic NYC Steak Tartare.

    1. ...sinewy, gristly, tough to swallow, acquired taste. Very apt metaphor.

  6. Wow, Pelham Bay. I've actually played this one, in the mid-season '09. The only thing i really remember was pace of play and that it was pretty dumpy. We had a 6 hr round and narrowly avoided a fist-fight with the d-bags behind us. Starting to sound typical for the course.

    Another great read!