29 Mar The Rise of Urban Golf
“Concrete jungle where dreams are made of, there’s nothing you can’t do.” When Alicia Keyes wrote those lyrics to her now infamous song ‘New York’, I doubt she thought this could be applied to golf or that the thought even crossed her mind. Hell, not in my wildest dreams did I think I’d ever refer to Alicia Keyes in anything, anywhere. Especially when writing about golf. Now in 2019, it looks like the rise of a game called Urban Golf is proving us all wrong. It’s time to accept that life can sometimes be crazy.
What is urban golf you ask? Simply put, urban golf is a form of golf played in city streets or without a traditional golf course. For New Yorkers, think of it as the stickball of the 21st century. You still use a golf club, but I highly recommend using the oldest short iron you can find. $2 vintage club finds at thrift stores work best. Golf ball? Nahhhh. Tennis balls give you the best performance here. Tee boxes are replaced by potholes in the street. Lush and green fairways, once a reality, turn into a figment of your imagination. Now, vacant city streets and alleyways – lined by brownstones, warehouses, fire hydrants and sometimes pedestrians – guide your approach to the “green”. Where’s the hole? In many cases, the hole is that tall city light post, or a fence sign that says “curb your dog”. Do you putt? Putting is for chumps here. Long range hole outs or chipping is the key to hitting the hole in Urban Golf. All that’s required is that you hit or clip the target. Keeping score? Not required.
Urban golf has been around for some time, with the origins of this quirky version of golf dating back to the mid-1700s in…wait, for it…Scotland. Some poor lad must not have had any sheep that needed to graze the land but he still had that pesky stick. Not to mention, plenty of time to kill. Like any wise person, he took it to the streets! However, the real rise in popularity of the sport began in the mid-2000s with urban golf organizations popping up in London, Paris, Sydney, and Portland (shocker).
Today, the urban golf trend continues to gain momentum, especially in the US. What makes this game so appealing? Golf is about playing on amazing courses, knocking off all of A.W. Tillinghast’s designs from your bucket list, and swinging the best new clubs, right? In urban golf, what you lose in course aesthetics, architectural prowess, and expensive equipment you gain back affordability (it’s FREE!), accessibility (it’s FREE and potentially right around the block from your 400 sq. ft apartment), inclusivity (it’s FREE and any amount of people can play), and creativity (the courses and rules are all on you). Did I mention it’s FREE? Just be prepared for some really strange looks from others when you and your 12-some are walking down the street with 7 irons. It’s par for the urban course.
Living in NYC, and without an urban golf course of our own, a few of us scoured the city map to find a neighborhood where urban golf could thrive. One of the city’s thousand parks? Nope, too similar to traditional golf. Midtown? Not if you’re looking to play in less than 24 hours and really want to avoid getting hit by an uber in the process. We ultimately discovered the quiet Brooklyn neighborhood of Gowanus. Known for its overly polluted canal, warehouses, cobblestone streets, and a shuffleboard spot where millennials go to pretend they’re retirees living in Florida, this was the ideal place for urban golf. We hopped on the subway to Gowanus, scoped out the area and began mapping out a course. What followed was the design of the GolfPass Urban Golf Course. Utilizing downhill streets for lengthy par 5s, cobblestone alleys for tricky and undulating par 4s, and the crown jewel – a par 3 over the Gowanus Canal that we now tout as NYC’s version of the 17th at TPC Sawgrass. It truly is a sight to be seen and played. In the coming weeks, we plan to invite everyone and anyone to join us as we break this puppy in.
From the likes of some of our favorite people in golf, and where we draw much inspiration from, – Seamus Golf, Erik Anders Lang, Lie + Loft, and NYC legend, Tiger Hood – more and more people are getting involved in this small but evolving game or urban golf. It’s very easy to joke about the lack of seriousness associated with urban golf, but what the game is proving, on a much grander scale, is what’s most important here.
Urban Golf proves that golf is not only for elites or a select few but for anyone who can find an old golf club, a tennis ball, and an empty street.