Since 1995, the Golf Club at Chelsea Piers in New York City has capably contributed to the pulsating sound of Manhattan’s fast-paced beat.
A mish-mash of 350,000 or so patrons have crossed the West Side’s 11th Avenue entranceway each of the past couple of years, hitting millions upon millions of golf balls. More than 15 million each of the past two years to be a bit more precise.
The Golf Club at Chelsea Piers was part of an ambitious multi-faceted 28-acre waterfront development, which features more than just golf. The area is owned by the Chelsea Piers Sports and Entertainment Complex. As an aside, it is also the same area in which the Titanic was headed – White Star Pier 59, to be exact - before horrifically sinking in 1912.
Serving as a juxtaposition to a dance studio, fitness center, hockey rink and more than 25 other sports, the Golf Club helps fill out the six-block expanse. And fill it out it does. The range is the most visible aspect of the entire conglomerate, easily identifiable from boat or plane. It does brisk business year-round, but the golf operation only makes up about 10 percent of the Chelsea Piers Sports and Entertainment Complex’s annual revenue.
That said, there’s no denying its appeal.
Fifty-two weather-protected stalls built on the Hudson River pier are stacked four stories high. A 160-foot high net covers the artificial turf fairway, about 40 yards wide, which juts out 200 yards over the water.
The view is spectacular. Panoramically-speaking, the Statue of Liberty, Freedom Tower, Jersey City and Hoboken are well-within glimpse, although a bit difficult to see from the tees. And summer sunsets are something to behold.
Without a doubt, the location, big-city appeal and uniqueness clearly underscore the fun factor.
“We get a lot of people who come in and revel in the notion of hitting golf balls in the middle of Manhattan,” said Thomas Bopp, 30, the club's Golf Academy manager. “It’s an idea that is generally novel to people. It’s also that dichotomy of being in the busiest place on the planet and hitting golf balls – not into the river – but overlooking the river.”
It’s not a hard sell, either.
With 1.6 million people living in Manhattan, and the number swelling to almost 4 million with tourists, the Golf Club sees a diverse mix of city workers and walk-ins daily. Celebrities too. Larry David, Danny De Vito, Rory McIlroy, Justin Timberlake, Mark Wahlberg, Kanye West, Tiger Woods, and many more, have stopped by. Bopp said the “busiest demographic” is between the ages of 35-45.
For seven years, 33-year-old Logan Gurtman lived on NYC’s East Side. A 3 handicap, Gurtman patronized the Golf Club range about 20 times to satisfy his golf jones.
“I’m in jobs that are sales-related, so I could go and come and do things pretty much on my schedule,” said Gurtman, who now lives in Hoboken, N.J. “So I’d try to go when there weren’t a lot of people. But in the summer time, no matter what time you go - it seems even before work or after work – it’s busy. And there’s no other place to go in Manhattan unless you’re going to go to a simulator.”
Execution is a bit different than other ranges. For starters, clubs can be rented or stored as part of a membership. Also, forget lugging around a bucket of balls. The range uses an automated tee-up system tailored to a purchased prepaid ball card – shaped, sized and the same feel as a subway card - in varied denominations. The more spent, the better value. It also explains how the club can measure how many balls are hit per year.
“It depends on whether it’s peak or off-peak hours, and depending on the denomination you buy it in,” said Bopp, “there is a pre-determined amount of golf balls loaded on those cards.”
Don’t be confused. There is more to the Golf Club than just a range, but it is the biggest attraction. In addition, there is a 1,200-square foot putting green, indoor putting studio and sand bunker, and full-swing simulators.
What’s more, the Golf Academy offers an array of programs and lessons. During the warmer seasons, 13 pros are on staff as compared to eight or nine in winter. Anyone can set up a lesson as a walk-in or through membership levels, of which there are five tiers ranging from $1,475 to $4,133 per year.
The Golf Club at Chelsea Piers also offers full instructional amenities with programs, private lessons and state-of-the-art simulators. (Photo: Scott McDermott)
Some of the benefits, depending on category, include unlimited hitting, advance stall/simulator reservations, private lessons, ball cards, bag storage, locker room privileges and, at the highest level, on-site parking. Payments can be made in full, with a discount, or monthly.
Stall reservations come in handy during the summer because it’s not uncommon to face a couple-hour wait on a sunny weekend afternoon. Gurtman said the longest he ever waited was just under an hour.
As an added membership bonus, the Golf Club also partners with Van Cortlandt Park, Silver Lake Golf Course and Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort, where members are offered special discounts and promotions.
In December, Bopp said he was in the throes of summer planning. That’s because the Golf Academy holds a 37-week instructional Elite Junior Program in which the focus is on teaching children about course management and etiquette, among many other golf tools. Lessons are at the fulcrum.
While Bopp spoke in December, he said golfers continued to ferry in despite the weather being more frigid than a refrigerator freezer. That would seem to be a deterrent, but not so. Seems nothing phases a determined golfer.
“I used to go throughout the year because they have heaters above the mat,” said Gurtman. “They have these knobs you can turn like a heat lamp. I think the coldest it was for me was probably in the 20s. But it’s always busy no matter what the weather is.”
The range is open year round and hours through February are from 6:30 a.m. until 11 p.m.
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.