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i went to new york and played golf

Drew's Cool Golf Revue
i went to new york and played golf
By Drew Millard • Issue #9 • View online
my partner and i spent like three weeks in brooklyn over the summer and i played a lot of golf there, here’s some stuff i wrote about it. this will end up in my book probably, anyways i swear i’m gonna update this newsletter more often, pls like/subsribe etc.

Their place is near the park. They bought it back when the neighborhood was the third-worst in Brooklyn, her dad tells me. He grew up in Alphabet City, drove a cab to put himself through college, went on to become a podiatrist and invent the Velcro shoe. He’s constantly vigilant about alternate side parking and can eyeball the required fifteen feet from his rubber bumper buddy to the hydrant.
He tells me all his tricks before they leave us to house-sit. Never drive into the city, except for dinner, because the meters stop running at seven. And you should only really do it on a Monday or a Thursday, because then you can grab a Tuesday or a Friday spot close to the house and move it the next day when everyone’s at work. If everything’s filled up, you can always double-park and do work on your laptop during the street cleaning hour, or if you can’t do that, just double-park and leave a note with your phone number on your windshield so someone can call you and ask you to move your car if they’ve got to get out. Or, just go get your groceries during street cleaning. That’s what I do. 
Our first night there, I misread the hours on the sign and don’t go to move my car until after street cleaning’s ended. I don’t receive a ticket. I end up doing this three more times during our trip, forgetting to move my car a little less unintentionally each time. The last time it happens mine is the only car left on the Friday side and I have to race to beat a meter person, ticket machine in hand, to my car and beg them to let me move it. Whatever, they say.
Most alternate-side parking days, though, I decide to go play golf. It’s fifteen minutes to the golf course, a place called Dyker Beach, and thirty from another, Marine Park. They’re both owned by the city and equally a ripoff, but Marine Park’s a nicer course so it’s always more crowded. 
But even an uncrowded golf course in New York City is populated unlike any other on this earth. Here they take the subway to play, buses, lugging clubs blocks on both ends. They sit in traffic on the BQE, the Belt, the West and East Side highways, FDR Drive, waking up at 5:30 for an 8:30 tee time. There are almost no driving ranges here, either, so for beginners it’s truly sink or swim and let God sort it out. Yeah you can go to the range at the Chelsea Piers, and apparently there’s one on Roosevelt or Governor’s Island or something, plus Marine Park has one, but if you’re making the trip you might as well make a day of it. 
Either by design or providence, golf is slow here. Look left and it’s lush as North Carolina, right and it’s an impossibly packed street with life moving a thousand miles a minute. Or: It’s a fuckin’ zoo out here, says Eddie, a man who starts talking to me in the Dyker bathroom. He’s wearing a New York Mets polo and a Titleist cap with the Mets logo etched on the side and contorts syllables in ways which were heretofore only theoretically possible. And the first cut? They gotta do something about that shit, I lost three, four, fuckin’ balls out there. 
That’s the city of New York for you, I say, complaining about the city government as my partner’s father has taught me to do. Among true New Yorkers, I have been told, hatred of local bureaucracy is one of the few things uniting the citizens of the most diverse city in the world, a hatred so strong that it is present even among those who work for it. 
Don’t even get me started about the bunkers, he continues, they were supposed to fix them last summer but did they? You gotta take a drop every time, it’s all rocks in there
He didn’t even get to the bees, which I have come to loathe and fear here; for some reason most of the sand traps are infested with them, big ones, maybe wasps, buzzing incuriously as you gingerly remove your ball from their territory. Something tells me it’s them that keeps the city from putting new sand in, because whoever has the task will get stung, and either no one wants to be the one to fall on that particular sword, or maybe they do in the hopes that they’ll get stung enough times to get rubber-roomed and so the city’s trying to play some three-dimensional chess. Regardless, the bunkers belong to the wasps now. 
But the thing is, golf in New York is special. It’s a commitment, between the traffic and the slow play guaranteeing that it’ll take up your whole day to the lost balls in the tall rough and hitting out of divots in the fairway to the slow greens to the fact that you could literally die out there. So you better savor it. And much like living in the city itself, the hope is you reach a point where endurance sublimates into enjoyment, a pride that by simply being there and going through it your will has grown strong, strong like a DMX video or the guy I saw uptown doing resistance band exercises on a sign pole, which now that I think about it sounds like a thing that would be in a DMX video. 
Oh, Eddie hated that the grill was only open on the weekends, by the way, it was open on a Monday the last time he was here, but now they’ve got a sign up saying it’s only open on Saturdays? What the fuck’s up with that, he’s had it with this place. He’ll be back next Tuesday, he says, he’ll see me then if I’m around.
I don’t see Eddie on Tuesday, because on Tuesday I play at Marine Park, which is a golf course in a park that is also called Marine Park and is at the ass-end of Brooklyn. Like a lot of things in the city, it’s a physically ancient place in a state of constant rejuvenation. Today it’s the largest park in Brooklyn, and like more than a few parks in the city, it has existed both as a literal and metaphorical trash heap, but is pretty nice now. 
Part of Marine Park was once an island marsh, donated to the city by a naturalist; when the villainous urban planner Robert Moses, whose machinations shaped the city in ways both seen and not, got his hands on it, he threw so much trash on the island that it fused with the mainland. When he was building the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn, he dealt with the sand displaced by the new road by dumping it on the trash in Marine Park, inadvertently causing the marsh to come back. 
When they built the golf course in 1963, the city added a layer of asphalt in for good measure, all of which led to a miasma of filth, lawlessness, and decay that it would be impossible to believe except for the fact that it happened. A 1965 New York Times article describes an army of “teen-agers with bows and arrows hunt[ing] rats” that “run in and out of junked automobiles, rotting mattresses, upholstered chairs and sofas with their stuffing cut open, abandoned baby carriages, wooden doors, bedsprings, refrigerators, tires, beer cans, milk containers and discarded foodstuffs.” (This is to say nothing of the fact that today, Marine Park Golf Course is one of the preferred locations in the city to illegally release live raccoons captured elsewhere in the city.)
Maybe it’s the legacy of the Great Teens vs. Trash Rats War of 1965, or maybe it’s that in the 1800s, Marine Park contained a gigantic facility where horses went to die and that’s got to be horrific karma, but for whatever reason, the golf course on its grounds, while beautiful, challenging, and uniquely in tune with what passes for the natural world here, is also home to the largest mosquitoes this side of science fiction. 
I first see them on the third tee box, following a long Par 4 that traces the highway on one side and the water separating the mainland from Dead Horse Island (technically Dead Horse Isthmus, now) on the other. They look like flies at first, pretty whatever if a little annoying, but then I look down and notice a splotch of blood on my sock. I see a not-a-fly-actually-a-mosquito locked into my other ankle and I get the disconcerting sensation of knowing that I should feel pain but I don’t due to the stuff in mosquito saliva that numbs your skin; instead I experience the anticipation of an itch and smack it as hard as I can. Another splotch, this one bigger, the result of both blood leaking out of the hole left by the bug, compounded by the fact that when I killed the little guy it exploded. 
My playing partner for the day, Lou, starts hitting his own legs. My wife’s gonna think I got in a fight, he says. He’s a recently retired third-rail supervisor for the Metropolitan Transit Authority, he comes out here almost every day to get out of his wife’s hair. He’s got braces on both knees, but like any good New York golfer, he walks the course to save the twenty bucks for a cart rental which is a stupidly high price on the face of it that becomes even more ridiculous once the first cart they give me starts spitting black smoke out the back and I have to get a new one. The good cart’s got a seat so spongy that I have to crane my neck to see over the steering wheel.
i started uploading the newsletter then remembered i took this picture
i started uploading the newsletter then remembered i took this picture
Hey listen, Lou says. Life doesn’t always give you golden fuckin’ eggs. But you can still be happy. He’s a little on the short side and despite his age is objectively jacked, and he’s still got the cool jacked-dude thing where it seems like he’s willed himself to be completely bald so that people get to see the muscles on his skull move around when he talks. I got married at 19, had a fuckin’ kid at 20, had no idea what we were doing, but you know what? We made it work. I hated my job, I got no cartilege in my left knee, no ACL in my right, both from walkin’ on fuckin’ subway rocks all day. But it bought me my house on Staten Island. And now I get to come out here. I love it. 
To be fair, the mosquitos are kind of worth it. It’s probably, scratch that, definitely, the best municipal course in the city. (Bethpage, home to the legendary Black course, is technically on Long Island, and the Trump Organization runs a municipal course up in the Bronx but until the city’s contract with them is officially severed, the greens fees are way too high to justify playing at, and that’s putting aside any weird moral issues that one may have about playing at the place.)
Marine Park was an early design from the important golf architect guy Robert Trent Jones, and it’s about as close to links-style golf as you could hope for on this side of the Atlantic. Its challenges aren’t obvious at first. Most of the holes are about the same length and shape, and if you slice off the tee you’ll probably end up on the next fairway. But there are mounds everywhere, both in the fairways themselves and on their borders, full of thick stringy grass that spontaneously develops claws whenever a ball comes its way. If you find it there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to hit it out. And the wind! 
So much of modern golf, in America at least, is predicated upon the idea of “knowing your yardages.” As in, how far do you hit each club? The idea is to dial in your distances, understand which way your ball flies when you mis-strike it; on every shot, you take the club that goes the number you need and aim a bit in the opposite direction of your potential miss. For skilled players, point-and-shoot golf can become rote, not all that different from archery or whatever. On a links course like Marine Park, the wind blows in little swirls that cause balls to wobble through the air, unsteady, until one eddy wins out and you end up wherever.
At times I kept the ball in the back of my stance, leaning towards my front foot while sliding the other away from me, and tried to hit a low hook that would roll to its intended destination, but that didn’t work either, because Marine Park’s fairways are as bumpy as a cobblestone street and every little curve of the earth presents another variable that simply cannot be accounted for. Even the mosquitos started to feel like one of the subtle challenges Marine Park threw at me, testing my focus and even my will. I left my bug spray in the car, Lou didn’t have any either. My socks are polka-dotted by the time we’re through. 
But this is why Marine Park is great. Sometimes it’s fun to pay money to feel like shit.
When you play in the city, you gotta always, always, always come to Marine Park, Lou tells me. Never go out to Dyker. It’s a dump.
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