Queens, New York is possibly the most wildly multi-ethnic region on the planet. You name it, they got it. An especially big and thriving enclave is its Koreatown, and not surprisingly there's a place within the community dedicated to serving the golfer in need, a funky intersection of Korean-American culture and golf obsession.
Alley Pond is located in the neighborhood of Douglaston, out in the well-to-do part of Queens, on Northern Boulevard which happens to be the main artery of K-Town. When you get this far out towards the eastern city limits, near the border of New York City and Long Island, life is actually more suburban than urban. Douglaston and its surrounding neighborhoods like Bayside are home to increasing numbers of Koreans and Korean-Americans, and as we all know wherever there are Koreans there's sure to be golf, and wherever there are hoards of obsessed golfers there's sure to be a busy driving range. It's just basic economics man.
The well-worn range-slash-miniature golf course is technically property of the NYC Parks Department and probably pre-dates the dawn of golf among Koreans. In the present day however, Alley Pond is effectively just another of the fixtures of the city's fast-growing K-town, which originated two neighborhoods east of here in Flushing and continues to expand eastward out into Long Island.
Despite the weather I expected the place to be bustling, as it had been the other few times I had been here; I was hoping to capture a slice of golf life. K-Town style.
I remember coming here once years ago on a nasty summer evening, humid, mosquitos swarming everywhere (the range overlooks vast swamplands) yet the place was still packed to the gills, with a broad smear of Queens, New York humanity--everyone from the usual Korean golf mafia types to people on dates, quite a variety of age and ethnicity.
However on this night, it was freezing cold, enough so that a deep exhale produced big bong-loads of condensation clouds. Though the place doubles as some sort of a fun center, there was no amusement going at this time whatsoever. Nope, just a bunch of self-serious dudes going about their work in the desolate chill of a cloudless night.
The Long Island Rail Road tracks run along the back of the range; trains going back and forth between Manhattan and Port Washington pass by every few minutes.
It's a decent range, if a little cramped in the bays. Also, it's dark out at the far end of the range, so your long shots tend to disappear into the void--a little unsatisfying.
Far as I could tell, just about all the clientele and staff here on this night were Korean. There was a Latin guy wrangling empty buckets. In the stall to my right was a pair of older K.G.M. guys engaged in a hard practice session, one of them beating balls while his friend stood by watching, offering a steady stream of critique.
This being the off-season, a lot of the place was closed including the putting studio, and the outdoor cafe, where in happier times one might order up specialties like Korean bibimbap.
For now, Alley Ponders have to make do with this: a bountiful selection of instant ramen noodles, which are fast becoming NYC golf snack bar staples right alongside the trusty old weiner.
Honestly the visit was a bit of a letdown. (I made a few good swings at least, so not a total bust) The place was probably around 10% capacity and without much activity there's really not a whole lot to see or much of a story to tell. Then again what do you expect, this is a more or less a discarded scrap of swampland where people come to beat range balls, not to enjoy themselves. But we'll be back sometime--perhaps.