BRONX, N.Y.—Frank Sinatra captured the essence accurately when crooning “New York, New York” with the lyrics “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.” This past April—after a prolonged period of various starts and stops over a number of years—Ferry Point Golf Course finally opened. In its short time of existence, the promise of what might be is quickly showing the wherewithal to match the allure and fanfare New York City has long cast as a location that always is seeking to push boundaries to the max.
Located on 222 acres of a former landfill and situated at the foot of the Whitestone Bridge on the Bronx side, Ferry Point is a collaboration few envisioned ever coming together to fruition. With land owned by the City of New York, the thought of a top-tier golf facility seemed more pipe dream than certain reality.
Good fortune started with a winning design bid from the Jack Nicklaus organization. Golf’s all-time major champion and one of the most prolific designers of top-tier courses put forward a winning plan with ground being broken in 2010. Using the skills of his talented design team with John Sanford and Jim Lipe collaborating, the final outcome provides spectacular views of the New York City skyline in tandem with a 7,407-yard par-72 course that has on its radar screen the desire to host golf’s most important championships in America.
The official name of the layout is Trump Golf Links Ferry Point in the Bronx. Yes. That’s right—the one and only Donald J. Trump. The Trump organization is front and center in holding the management contract for the property—with a lease of 20 years—and is the first municipal project for the group. While many may hold an opinion of candidate Trump for the U.S. presidency, there is another side to the man who has long relished his involvement with the game and has sought to be front and center in creating or restoring various key properties—primarily in the USA but also globally. As Trump has noted, Ferry Point is just minutes from his base of operations in Manhattan, and the intersection with the Big Apple is clearly an element of special note since the vistas of the Manhattan skyline, the nearby Whitestone and Throgs Neck Bridges, and East River areas are truly breathtaking.
The emergence of Ferry Point marks 52 years since the last public course opened in New York City and becomes the 14th in the portfolio within the city’s boundaries. The project has been on the drawing board at one point or another for 31 years—overlapping several city administrations and swallowing a hefty $267 million to create the final product.Unlike other key courses that dot the landscape of the New York metro area—celebrated locations such as Shinnecock Hills, Winged Foot, Baltusrol, Bethpage State Park—Ferry Point is smack dab in the confines of America’s largest city. In championship golf circles, only The Olympic Club in San Francisco is an active American championship course that actually can call its host city home.
Although Ferry Point says “links” in its official title, the reality is a bit different than advertised. The course had initial plans to use fescue grass for fairways and tees, but that was nixed not long after, given the usage of power carts and the resulting wear and tear that would cause. Bentgrass is the surface of choice, with verdant fairways and top-tier putting surfaces that roll true. The issue is whether the course will ever get the kind of “firmness” that can replicate what one sees on true links courses. Interestingly, it was Trump who opined against what the United States Golf Association (USGA) did when staging the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst #2. The USGA made it a point to firm up the course to such a degree that lush green colors were pushed aside so that the bounce of the ball would play a pivotal role. Trump decried such a decision and claimed #2 had a “horrible look” and is “not what golf is about.”
The Nicklaus design team artfully created numerous mounds that frame nearly all of the holes. They are not sloppily done—as what happened years ago early in Jack’s design career when creating Loxahatchee in southeast Florida, with hideous snow cone creations that looked more at home on Mars than Earth. Ferry Point has planted wiry fescue grass that in due time will provide the perfect contrast to the manicured areas. Ferry Point does provide ample width—some fairways can max out as much as 50–60 yards across. Given the unpredictable and tenacious winds that can blow throughout the treeless property, it’s crucial for everyday players having corridors providing maximum elasticity and playability.
The strength of the course comes from a superb routing—the Nicklaus team made it a point to constantly keep players off guard. Holes constantly weave in different directions when playing. Ferry Point doesn’t provide sameness; it allows for creativity for the player, but the key is being resolute in one’s execution. Half-hearted attempts are punished swiftly as befits a layout with a 76.3 Course Rating and 146 Slope from the championship tees.
Even with the width, there are preferred landing areas off the tee that provide the best angles into the putting surfaces. Credit team Nicklaus in providing elasticity that doesn’t bludgeon higher handicaps to the point of utter submission and its associated frustration. The goal at Ferry Point was to induce players for return play and be much more than simply a glorified postcard vantage point of various New York City landmarks. In that regard, Ferry Point succeeds. The inherent shots you must play are scaled proportionally to one’s skill level. No easy feat for any architect to attain, given that the ultimate goal is to host the most prestigious championships in American golf.
So how good is the golf? Ferry Point wastes little time in putting players on notice for the first six holes that quality shots are an absolute must. The starting hole is illustrative of this. Playing 444-yards from the tips, the drive zone is wide enough but narrows considerably as the length increases. The hole is encased in wonderfully crafted mounds, and the putting surface is appropriately contoured without being excessive. The 2nd may be the most demanding—especially when played as a par-4 at 518 yards. Once again, the demands increase proportionally as the risk taken from the tee is sought. There are bailout options for the meek, but Nicklaus does entice players to opt for the bold play and to attain the rewards associated with it provided the shot is flawless.
Ferry Point does have scoring opportunities, but at no time is anything simply given away without the capacity to mentally think through what one needs to do and then carry that forward with solid execution.
The inner half of holes may be the more exacting. The 10th is a longish par-4 that calls upon a shaped tee shot to find the fairway. The 11th and 12th provide birdie opportunities and are wonderful change-of-pace holes. The final six holes are quite rigorous, and the capper comes with the closing par-5 18th—playing 576 yards from the tips and calling upon one final effort to either achieve lasting glory or 19th hole laments.
Rates are reflective of the costs associated with its creation. NYC residents pay $141 and $169 for weekdays and weekends/holidays, respectively. Live outside of NYC? The costs rise to $190 and $215 accordingly. Keep in mind, if you wish to take a power cart you’ll be paying for that separately beyond the green fee.
A $10 million clubhouse, which Trump will build and operate, is planned—opening either late 2016 or early ’17. There is a temporary clubhouse now, and it’s more than functional with quality food service and offerings available. Players looking to warm up will find a top-tier practice facility, and Michael Breed—the dynamic presence regularly seen on the Golf Channel and PGA Teacher of the Year in 2012—provides an academy to raise one’s golf skills to handle the challenges the course provides.
Given the USGA’s recent desire to have the U.S. Open staged periodically at public courses—as was the case with Bethpage State Park’s Black Course on Long Island, which originated this effort at the ’02 and ’09 U.S. Opens—there is every reason to believe in the near future that Ferry Point will attempt to land the most prized golf event in the States. The routing of the course allows for ample gallery stands to be created, and unlike last year’s U.S. Open at Chambers Bay outside of the Seattle area, the mounding at Ferry Point is not so massive as to block key views of the holes and players.
Ferry Point plans to do roughly 30,000 rounds in its first year, and in all probability the course will remain open through the end of November.
Credit Trump for getting a stalled project to the finish line, and Jack Nicklaus and his talented team for creating an entertaining and challenging course that is clearly going to add another reason why the shine on the Big Apple just got a good bit brighter.
M. James Ward, a member of Golf Writer’s Association of America (GWAA) and past member of Met Golf Writer’s Association (MGWA), has reported on golf’s grandest events since 1980 in a variety of forums.