Bonding, The Bronx Bombers, and Golf
My son recently got married this year and before the big day I had a thought; Father Son bonding time. I was looking to get some undivided quality time with Eric, but what can we do that will be fun, unique, and have the best chance to be remembered for a long time. Then it came to me, New York City, that will do. New York is his favorite city, he’s a big Yankees fan, and nothing beats a slice of New York pizza. I checked the Yankee’s schedule and there was a home stand on the schedule that was a perfect fit in everyone’s schedule. And just like that we were off to NYC for bonding, The Bronx Bombers, and golf.
That’s right, golf, and believe it or not this was not some elaborate ruse to go on a “bonding” trip with my Son, but make it really about a clever way to get out on the golf course that inspired the journey I’m on to play the oldest public golf courses in the US. It didn’t dawn on me that it was even a possibility until I was checking out the subway map, trying to figure out how to get from Midtown Manhattan to Yankee Stadium. I was following the 1 train on the subway map and I found Yankee stadium, and glanced a little higher up on the map and I saw Van Cortlandt Park, home to the oldest 18 hole public golf course in the US. I thought to myself, “could we / should we do that too”? I asked Eric if he was up for it and without hesitation he agreed with a resounding “Let’s do it”
After consulting with him about his New York City “to do list” I presented to him this somewhat solid plan; Leave Thursday night on the 10:40PM red eye, which get us to The Bronx in time to make our 10:15AM tee time at Van Cortland Park Friday morning. We will mess around in Manhattan Friday night, and then go to the Yankee game Saturday afternoon. Finally wrapping up the weekend meeting his friends for brunch Sunday late morning.
The Road Trip to Vanny
Thursday around 5:15pm I rolled up to his place and he bounded out the door ready to roll, we found long term fairly easy enough, and we were settled in at one of the airport’s sports bars having a pre-flight meal by 8pm. In a bit of irony we found ourselves watching Thursday Night Football and the New Your Giants were playing. Over dinner we launched a plan for the flight. We will sleep after we watch one movie, knowing we need to be rested for the 10:15 tee time waiting for us Friday morning.
That didn’t work. Two and a half movies later we land at JFK touching down at 6:15 in the morning. That’s 3:15 in the morning for us West Coasters.
Already awake for 20 hours we grab a coffee and begin the New York leg of this road trip to Van Cortlandt Park, which is better known to the locals as Vanny. We hopped the “Train to the Plane”, which takes us to Jamaica, Queens. Jamaica is home to one of the largest commuter rail services in the US, the Long Island Rail Road, and almost all riders converge here before they head into New York City. Thousands of Friday morning commuters are busily trying to get to work, and trying not to run over two sleep deprived zombies from California. We easily find our way on one of the seven trains heading to Penn Station. It’s only 20 minutes to the middle of Manhattan and even though we are very tired the adrenaline and caffeine started kickin in, we are both excited to take on the “Big City”
From Penn Station it’s a transfer to the subway, we grab the 1 train uptown. Here is where I get to flex a little local knowledge from when I worked in the city, and maybe impress my son. We ride the 1 for one stop to 42 street, I signal to Eric to get off and we cross the platform and right on que the 2 train comes barreling in. Eric’s a bit confused as to why we jump off the 1 train to catch the “same” train uptown. As we grab a seat he sees the express sign next to the 2 train marker. The 1 is the local uptown subway and hits like 30 stops, where the 2 makes about 12 stops before our final stop. I confidently share with him that we just navigated the subway like a true New Yorker. Now, full disclosure, I have not taken the subway in about 20 years and in preparation for this weekend, I did a fair amount of research, pouring over maps and downloading the NYC Subway app. (Remember my Vanny discovery earlier). Soooo, with all my preparation time after running various mass transit scenarios, finding the transfer points, calculating travel times, and using google maps to view the pathway to Vanny. The newly minted “real” New Yorkers arrived at the Van Cortlandt Park subway stop at 8:30 nearly 2 hours ahead of our 10:15 tee time, early yes, but if Eric was not impressed with my mass transit prowess I sure was!!
First Tee Goals, Don't Whiff
The walk up to the club house seemed familiar to me, I’m guessing it was the lushness of the woods, the deep green surrounding the club house. It was a bit muggy and warm, not sunny, and the air sort of just blanketed around you. It felt good, it reminded me of when I was living and playing golf on Long Island. There was no waiting to get on and the folks sent us right out, which was good because if we had to wait until 10:15 we would have missed our tee time, because we would have slept right through it! With breakfast beers in hand, some light snacks on the ready, and closing in on being awake for 24 hours, we strapped the rented clubs to the cart, and we headed to the first tee.
I normally would want to walk the course if allowed, and yes we were allowed to walk, but did I mention the 24 hours of no sleep right? We both felt very good about this decision to take a cart. When we arrived at the first tee, the starter was waiting and sent us out with a single. He had hit already and the starter and the single player were waiting on us. It was a weird feeling like we were holding up the round even though we were teeing off 90 minutes early. We both stepped up to the tee box with zero “first tee jitters''. It was actually kind of relaxing because after being awake for over 24 hours neither one of us had a clue where the ball was going to go, we had no expectations. Maybe this is how I should approach every first tee experience? Eric went first and pounded the ball 20 feet in front of him and it skipped down the fairway about 125 yards to the left. I stepped up and pooched my tee shot about 130 to the right. I think we both breathed a sigh of relief that didn’t miss the ball completely. Vanny was underway.
The course was very lush, not so much the fairways and greens, there was nothing wrong with them, they were in good shape, but what caught my eye was the dense green trees and woods that lined the fairways and circled the greens. The woods were so dense you can hardly hear the major freeways that run right next to the course. The down side was if you hit an errant shot and the ball went a foot into the woods it was lost forever, all you could do is watch it fly and marvel at how quiet it was around you until the ball came crashing into the thick brush. The round went as one might expect it would while playing on no sleep, all and all not too bad. We both powered through and had a good time feeling the game on this historic beauty.
There was lots to see and you really got the sense how the course was cut into the already existing landscape so long ago. I learned about this course in the book The Range Bucket List, and if you ever have the chance to read the book the passage on page 189 is what motivated me to create this journey I’m on today. You’ll learn a little bit about the course's rough and tumble beginning, and understand how important this course is for the future of the game. Vanny has been welcoming golfers for over 100 years and it was my honor to play on her very welcoming fairways.
Urban Hikes, Pizza, and Memories
Before we knew it we were saying our goodbyes to his friends and heading to the reflection pools at the World Trade Center. It was Sunday and we got in a little more sight seeing before we reversed our commute back home. Less sleep deprived, the return trip was a bit more bearable, and a little less stressful. It was an absolute pleasure to spend a great weekend with my Son.
How fortunate it was that we could plan this trip and execute it. Being able to share the Yankee game experience he had been talking about for years, if only they could have cooperated and won! Being able to share in my “small” golf obsession/journey.
We both had a great round even though we were running on fumes from hole 12 on. With all that aside, I think the best time for me was just walking around the city. We walked everywhere and we talked about everything. It was so nice to have undivided time and lots of it. Golf was great, the game was great, but the urban hikes are what I will remember most.
Let's all have a great 2022! I'm counting on it!! I have started planning 4 golf trips for 2022. It's looking like a "Reviving the Journey" round at Del Monte in March. Foxburg Country Club in April, Downers Grove in June, and to round out the 2022 journey I'll be heading to Maine in September! Check the website for firm dates. I hope to see you out on the course soon!!