QUEENS, N.Y. — Amid the shadows of the glittering light illuminating from Citi Field, home of the New York Mets, Zach Rosenblatt didn’t know what to expect as he entered the doors at Flushing Meadows Golf Center.
On this sultry early summer night, Rosenblatt and two friends left the Mets game early as the home team was closing out the Philadelphia Phillies in relatively uninspiring fashion. As unavoidable traffic built, the trio decided to kill a couple more hours tracking golf balls rather than brake lights.
“It was fun because it was pretty approachable,” said Rosenblatt, 30, who was visiting from St. Louis. “Overall, there was a lot of light. It was really bright. The coolest part was that at night you are right in the shadow of Citi Field. It was really beautiful.”
Aesthetics aside, the 18-hole pitch-and-putt (complemented by an 18-hole miniature golf course) is located in Queen’s Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. It’s tucked between the Queens Zoo, Citi Field and the adjacent United States Tennis Center, which is currently hosting the U.S. Open.
The draw, however, is that Flushing Meadows Golf Center serves as New York City’s only fully lit, night-time golf facility. There used to be another under-the-lights pitch-and-putt within the city’s five boroughs, but the competition soon went belly up in 2012 after Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on its generators and lighting.
For more than 30 years the Flushing Golf Group, a private corporation, has been leasing the land from the city. (One of its other five holdings happens to be the historic Van Cortlandt Park Golf Course – the country’s oldest public venue – located in the Bronx).
The 990-yard, par-54 setup offers more than just straight-angled approach shots. Competitors must think around the tree-lined course, armed only with a wedge and putter. Clubs can be rented for $2 apiece or players can bring their own. The layout is broad enough that it suits a beginner or an intermediate’s eye. For accomplished golfers, it’s the perfect place to refine a swing or work out the yips.
“I see it every day,” said night manager Tajay Ramkissoon. “[Beginners] come in here overwhelmed, and they leave here knowing they can play golf.”
Employee Daniel Mora, who has worked at the course for eight years, added that he sees all ages of both genders participating.
“Believe it or not, we have a lot of females who are not everyday golfers come out,” said Mora. “I would say 30-40 percent of our clientele are females. We see a lot of women who come out with their husbands or boyfriends. It’s great for a first date.”
The first and ninth holes measure the longest, at 80 yards. Nos. 2 and 10 are modest 40-yard holes. The walking-only layout features the similar attributes that one would experience at a full-scale course. Deep, gnarly rough? Check. Unforgiving bunkers? Yep. Confounding false fronts? Those too. Some holes require fades or draws, or neither. Rounds take about two to two-and-a-half hours.
The greens are, arguably, the most challenging aspect of the tightly-manicured bentgrass and Poa annua design. They are slick as ice, undulating and require a keen eye. Even a seasoned pro would find them imposing. That said, novices may be intimidated, but there is a silver lining: such tough love educates the least experienced on how to read a green properly. Best of all, there are always employees nearby to offer advice.
Outside of stints with putt-putt and Topgolf, Rosenblatt couldn’t say whether he had ever played a “real” round of golf before. He began his round by ominously sending his first shot onto an adjoining hole but quickly recovered and didn’t finish far behind his golf-proficient companions.
“I scored a par once, and it was pretty exciting,” said Rosenblatt. “I wanted to do one of those Tiger [Woods] moves: a fist pump. I was like, ‘Holy [cow], I didn’t think I could do that.’”
How would he rate the course and experience?
“I’d give it a 7 out of 10,” he said. “It was actually much more enjoyable than I thought it would be. I was a little nervous because golf tends to be hard to get into. People I work with play golf and talk about it, but it has never been in my skillset, nor did I ever have four-five hours on a Sunday to go out and play.”
Mora, who played the course religiously before getting hired, agreed with Rosenblatt.
“The fun factor?” he said. “I think it’s extremely fun. It’s great for beginners, great for intermediates and for those who want to work on their short games.”
Prices are reasonable, too. Depending on the time someone plays, the highest rate runs $20.25 per adult. The center does offer senior fees for those 62 and older, and a youth rate for those 16 and younger. High schoolers only within the five boroughs are eligible for a discount with proper ID.
During the golf season, which at Flushing Meadows Golf Center extends from mid-May to late-October, the course stays open until 11 p.m., making it New York City’s only night-play course. (Photo: Ken Klavon)
FLUSHING MEADOWS GOLF CENTER
Location: Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens, N.Y.
Note: Weather permitting, the facility is open year-round with extended summer hours (9 a.m. – 11 p.m.). Summer hours run between May and October. For non-summer hours, call the pro shop.
Ken Klavon was the online editor and a senior writer at the U.S. Golf Association for 12 years. He has covered golf for 22 years. He resides in Morgansville, N.J.