Urban Brawl

A cross-country move settles the debate
Clubs on a subway
Photo: Andrew Haynes

Nothing says fuccboi like a quarter-zip, golf bag and No Laying Up visor on the J train rumbling out of Brooklyn’s Marcy Ave. stop. This is the beginning of what’s become my commute to play weekend golf in New York—a mixture of trains, taxis and ride-bumming that feels like a journey up the Mekong River to see Colonel Kurtz. It’s in these moments, when relaxing weekend golf becomes an urban expedition, that I realize New York City is not a golf city and San Francisco is the best one in the U.S.

With six-hour rounds, steep rates and all-day transit, public tracks like Bethpage and Van Courtland are where weekends go to die. If I’m lucky enough to garner an invite, the clubs in western Long Island (shout out to Rockaway Hunting Club) or Westchester require a train odyssey or, sometimes worse, an afternoon ride home inching along the Van Wyck or Major Deegan with someone in your foursome who was nice enough to get the car out of the East Side garage (which is never anywhere near home). Sure, New York has the golden-age architecture and golf history, but I find myself asking what’s the use if it eats up 10 hours of my Saturday? 

After five years in San Francisco I recently moved to Brooklyn; unlike my college experience on the Upper West Side, I’ve returned to the city with a pricey golf habit and just enough disposable income for it to become a problem. This has led to me seriously questioning why I’ve moved to a borough known for Biggie and fixies when I’m happiest sneaking in back-nine twilight rounds. New York City has created a fascinating juxtaposition: my urge to play golf in a place where the definition of a bogey for most is an American Spirit in between col’ beers at the East River Bar. 

These NYC misadventures remind me of the fact that San Francisco is the best golf city in America. All you golden-age truthers and architecture purists can kill that talk of template holes, width, angles and green complexes. When you move to the calf-tattoo capital of the world and people shoot “this mothafucka” looks at you and your clubs when the subway doors open, it quickly becomes obvious that timeless design and storied country clubs do not a golf town make. It’s really about access and proximity. 

Allow me to make this point with a few moments of NorCal nostalgia: I now long for a quick ride out to play Harding Park in under five hours and $100. 

I miss the sound of the coxswains timing up oars out on Lake Merced, reminding me that I’d always rather be golfing. I have a new appreciation for the 3 p.m. super-twilight round up in the Presidio—two free beers and as many holes as you can squeeze in for under $50 in the most expensive city in the country. There’s nothing like overswinging driver into the foggy abyss of the downhill, par-5 18th: The cypress trees loom down the left and only a Lefty-like “face awareness” gives me a prayer at finding my ball. 

I love Mira Vista Country Club, with its panoramic view of San Francisco Bay looking due west at the Golden Gate, an angle you never see in tourist posters or betchy Instagram posts from Marin Headlands. It’s a track that taught me that 6,500 yards is long enough if the greens are well-kept, not flat and roll fast. It also hung a framed picture of the 2006 U.S. Ryder Cup team in the grimy bathroom behind No. 14 green—right where that team belongs. These are luxuries I will never again take for granted.

They say New York has the best of anything you want; you just have to go looking for it. So even though there’s no doubt this city has hindered access to my drug of choice, I intend to continue trying to make this golf relationship work.

Someone recently told me that the key to playing good golf in New York is the freedom to play during the week. Since no one has hobbies in NYC and everyone works way too late, mistaking activity for achievement, this is sage advice. Weekday golf provides more of a chance to play elusive private courses, and it signifies that I’m in control of my time, which to me is the true currency of wealth. So I’ll be scheming all winter (another bummer) on how to uncover the quality golf experience that New York assuredly offers to those who go out and seek it.