FOREST HILLS, NY – Is Donald Trump truly as he is depicted by his detractors? A rapacious Gorgon? A ravening-fanged, slavering-jawed, leathery-winged, blood-stained ogre slaughtering his way through an innocent golf universe?
Or is he a hero? A white knight, saving golf courses that would otherwise go under by swallowing them whole and re-branding them in his stern visage?
I’m afraid he’s both. “Yes” and also “Yes.”
The Donald likes to play Monopoly with real buildings, and it seems he also likes to play EA Sports PGA Tour Golf with real courses. He builds them, he buys them, he brands them after himself, and he brags about them. 17 in all – scattered across the Americas, UK, and Ireland, with one in UAE as well. To hear him talk, they should all be ranked 1-17 in the world by every magazine rankings list now known or hereafter created. That’s the Trump hype machine: always in overdrive, at any time, for any reason. It gets pretty crazy some times…
“I love the Black Course,” Trump told Hank Gola of the New York Daily News, referring to two-time U.S. Open venue Bethpage Black, “but this [Ferry Point] is going to be much better.”
See what I mean?
Still, Trump is also often right, and if someone could tilt his taste away from loud and ostentatious, to subtle and sublime, reality would equal the hype.
Which brings us to Ferry Point: a project originally designed to be a daily fee course easily accessible at all times, for all New York City public golfers, but which morphed into a “major championship venue” that took over a decade to build, finished with the third highest price tag in American golf history – a whopping $236 million -and will open with greens fees for city residents of $140-$$170, $190-$215 for non-NYC residents.
Like Trump himself, Ferry Point polarizes opinions: detractors decrying its cost, the choice of using the land for recreation rather than low income housing, (a more urgent need for a greater number of people), and the so-called “sweetheart deals” Trump got to run the place for the City. Supporters laud the excellent, state of the art golf course that Nicklaus design associate John Sanford delivered, the monumental success in finally cleaning up the landfill, and made for TV visuals that will provide epic Goodyear blimp shots on the few occasions big tournaments will be held there. As you might expect, both sides have good points. Let’s take a closer look at the winners and losers:
Jack Nicklaus’s name is on the shingle and the Golden Bear may do all the interviews when it’s time for tournament broadcasts, but John Sanford, the affable Floridian, is recognized, indeed lauded, by the industry as the architect. Previously best known for a 27-hole public facility near Boston called Granite Links, now Sanford is riding the crest of a long and high wave of acclaim for his success at Ferry Point.
“Granite Links was built on a quarry, it was a major transformation for a golf course, and so that’s why we were able to have a strong bid in replying to the Parks and Recreations Department’s RFP,” explained Sanford.
Sanford exceeded expectations with some originality: he employs center-line bunkers frequently, both off the tee and on the approaches as well. There are also excellent diagonal angles of attack. It allows for the ground game, so Ferry Point’s claims to playing like a links are not exaggerated. Around the greens, shaved chipping areas and grassy swales allow for a whole galaxy of recovery shots with all types of clubs and lofts, and the greens are as perfect as anywhere we’ve ever played. Most importantly, it has width, you can hit driver on every hole. The course is fun, interesting, reasonably easy to play when the wind is mild, and well-conditioned. It’s a fine golf course, if a little easy since there are so few penalties lurking, and you can almost always find and hit your ball. It should be a great host for the Barclay’s in 2017 and 2020. It could fit and host a PGA Championship – though access for fans would be another “Park in Philly and get shuttled in” nightmare a la Kiawah Island or Torrey Pines.
The design does get repetitive as the round progresses, but the strong par-4s at 16 and 18 have strong character in both interesting hazards and waterside settings with the bridge in the background, so it does end on a high note. Most of the course’s character comes from the natural setting – the bridge and the river on one side, the cemetery on another, and squat, monolithic red brick buildings on still another – and visuals sometimes steal the scene from the golf. You can also tell the landscape is manufactured –they had to move 2.4 million cubic yards of sand and earth and the sculpting of the land is too precise, not as rugged or random and more natural looking courses of the great UK links or Golden Age American courses. It may not draw a U.S. Open, but Trump has finally won over the PGA of America, so you know Ferry Point will bid for a Ryder Cup.
Sanford gave us a silk purse from a sow’s ear of a piece of property under conditions that had to be brutal to work under. With all the permitting issues and bureaucracy he had t maneuver around, “it was like a marathon of high hurdles,” he quipped. But he got the job done after the project had languished for over a decade, and now tournament rights-holders are lining up to make deals. Which leads us to…
The Donald got the job completed after the project languished for a decade under the mis-management of the Parks Department.
“I brought in some of my toughest guys – these guys eat nails – and we knocked heads. We got everybody together and they got things done!” boasted Trump.
Well he talked the talk, but then he walked the walk. Given a blank check, ($190 million!), the Parks Department got nothing done in a decade. Trump finished the course in less than two years. That’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.
How did he do it? Trump does not fall victim to what author Ian Fleming called the vices of the herd: lack of follow through, fragmentation of vision, dissipation of energy, loss of momentum. Like the old San Francisco 49ers offense, he is always moving the ball. So who can blame him for all the hype? If you walk the walk, you can talk the talk.
He received a financial boon as well. In bailing out the city, Trump got what many political and business pundits called a “sweetheart deal.” The New York Daily News’ award-winning political journalist Juan Gonzales lambasted the Bloomberg administration for the deal, claiming Trump got concessions no other city golf concessionaire enjoys, including, according to Gonzales, no concession fees for four years, decades of extraordinarily low revenue-sharing with the city, a low 7% instead of the customary 18-23%, tens of millions of gallons of free water annually, and a five-year time span for him to build a $10 million clubhouse, his only major capital investment in the project.
“At the Pelham Bay & Split Rock…the operator pays the Parks Department from 18% to 23% of greens-fee revenues, plus an additional $4 surcharge for every round of golf,” writes Gonzales. “At Clearview in Queens, it’s 27%. At Silver Lake in Staten Island, the city gets 25% to 27%. And at Marine Park Golf Course in Brooklyn, the city’s split is 20%. These also have a $4 per round surcharge.”
Moreover, the Barclay’s is coming for certain, and with the PGA of America already involved with Trump Golf for a future PGA Championship, one might expect Trump courses to enter an informal PGA Championship and Ryder Cup rotation, for a few years at least. All that adds up to a big score for Trump and his pals. After all, the Donald throws great parties.
The Whitestone Bridge! St. Raymond’s Cemetery! The City skyline! Snoopy 2 is gonna be busy with aerial shots of everything within 90 miles. The Donald does have one point – barring the housing projects, the natural setting is more striking than Bethpage Black.
RIGHTSHOLDERS OF GOLF TOURAMENTS
The Donald will bring his wallet to the negotiations if he knows cameras and microphones will follow.
Starting at $141 a round on weekdays and $170 on weekends, Ferry Point is not going to be in the regular rotation for the average New York City public golfer. (And look for rates to increase shortly, each year at least.) The average round at any of the other City public courses clocks in at around $75 on weekends, $50-ish on weekdays, but conditions are almost uniformly mediocre and six-and-a-half hour rounds all too prevalent. Ferry Point was supposed to alleviate those problems, but somewhere along the way, the imperative became attracting a major championship or Ryder Cup using a big name designer’s brand as the draw.
As such, critics are derogatorily referring to it as “The Country’s Most Expensive Muni.” (Actually that honor might belong to Torrey Pines, but hey, the Donald can always try to buy that too…)
Part of the problem is Trump’s obsession with opulence. When every detail has to be the absolute best of anything, anywhere in the world, it gets expensive quick. Like the Donald himself, each reflection of himself that he creates – golf course, casino, condos – must be larger than life. This is a high end course – the “”Country Club for a Day” theme taken to its furthest conclusion – “Epyptian Pharaoh for a Day.”
EVERY WEEKEND NYC PUBLIC GOLFERS
As one NYC public golfer put it on-line, “It’s not within the basic affordability of most New York golfers, so it will benefit only a small group of people. It’s either super-rich locals or ardent, well-moneyed traveling golfers. The big tournaments Trump keeps trumpeting only happen for four days every four years or so.”
Still another wrote to us, saying, “While none of us in NYC were expecting a world-beater, I hope it ticks off enough architectural boxes to make the sting of paying almost twice as much as Bethpage Black (and 3x Red) hurt a little less.”
THE NEW YORK CITY PARKS AND RECREATION DEPARTMENT
Given ten years and $190 million the NYC Parks and Recreation department got nothing done – zero – an F-minus grade.
For decades the public course of this City have festered and decayed under their mismanagement. Even as recently as four years ago, playing conditions of places like Marine Park and Forest Park were so ghastly, you’d wish you were back home cutting the lawn. Happily in those cases, white knights came in, and with the help of Stephen Kay, New York City’s native son of an architect, Marine Park and Forest Park have resurrected. They are thriving despite the Parks Department, doing things their way, and not being handcuffed by interference, incompetence, and nickel-and-dime chiseling. Now someone comes along and cleans up the mess so well, the result is a course so far above the quality of the rest, it’s as though Gisele Bundschen was racing a herd of Roseanne Barrs.
Why couldn’t the Parks Department get the job done?
***Cricket! Cricket! Cricket!***
The gargantuan failure of pre-Donald Trump Ferry Point is an albatross they should wear around their neck for the next half-century: a monument to excessive waste, broken promises, shifts, evasions, and shady deals. Everyone take note: this is exactly what not to do and how not to do it. They should never be trusted with public finds to that degree ever again. They’ve shown what they can do when given the chance – squander it. Fire them all and send in the monkeys.
Geoffrey Croft, president of New York City Park Advocates wrote, “City taxpayers are building the most expensive course in the United States [sic] for a so-called billionaire.” He again highlighted how the city has 8,000,000 and is growing steadily, and how he thought the City could better, more civic-minded, uses of $236 million.
SANITY AND LEVEL HEADS
Where should Ferry Point stand on the rankings lists of the greater-NYC golf courses? Not quite as good as Bayonne, Winged Foot, Garden City or Bethpage, certainly better than Liberty National.
“I call it ‘Bayonne Light’ or ‘Long Island National West’, said one expert, who asked for anonymity.
I agree with him about Bayonne. The charm of the neighborhood is much more palpable than the feel of the environs at Ferry Point. At Bayonne you have the 7 sisters bunker complex, the flagpole hole, the cranes, the church and natural looking dunes with long ridges. Ferry Point is level and just doesn’t have an iconic hazard. Aesthetically smokestacks, projects, bridges, cemeteries and landfill do detract at times.
Moreover, it can’t compare to the charm and Old World environs of Royal Birkdale or Lytham or the windswept tumult of Troon, Chambers Bay, Pebble Beach, or Whistling Straits.
As Kurt Vonnegut once wrote, keep what’s sacred and toss aside what’s a commercial. (So much of what passes itself off as culture is really just a commercial these days.) Bayonne and and Troon and Royal Birkdale are the culture. Liberty National is the commercial. Ferry Point is somewhere in between. It’s really good, but because of Trump it will get a rankings and ratings bump.
Nobody is better at hypnotizing people with his swingin’ baloney than Donald Trump. He says things like, “It’s 15 minutes from Manhattan!” when everyone knows that’s not true, (it’s 45 in average traffic), but he gets away with it and, worse still, people keep parroting it. The course will get over-hyped, and because of that and the televised tournaments it will probably get overrated too. After all, author Terrance Dicks was right: History is what we remember.
LET THE GAMES BEGIN
So as usual, Trump is a dilemma: One side says, “Qui bono: Who benefits?” The other side says, “Qui gives a shit! He got it done! Let’s party!”
He did get it done. Where all of New York City failed, he came through. He’s been on quite a run lately – two major championshuip venues, several courses on various tours, and so many new properties that he’s almost doubled his golf course portfolio in the last two and a half years.
I wonder if we elect him president it would keep him too busy to deal with golf course construction and acquisition? He’d be tough on Muslim extremists. He’d tolerate no nonsense from Russia. He’d organize and delegate. He’s great at putting together deals and getting to yes. Except in parts of Scotland, he makes friends easily.
“We hate him,” said one Aberdeen local, speaking of Trump’s controversial new Hawtree design. “But fookin’ good golf course!”
At the least, maybe we should get Trump to send his nail-eating, head busters over to the Middle East. Give them a sock and a cue ball and have them take out ISIS. You know what would happen, of course. In three years, Trump, Sanford, the President of the U.S. and some new Middle Eastern potentate would be cutting the ribbon on Trump International Tehran, a Golf Magazine Best New Course you can play…for $225 a round.
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