Where To Golf Next

Technology, trends shape Randall's Island Park facelift

Popular Manhattan golf complex eyes broader demographic

The oldest public outdoor golfing facility in Manhattan, N.Y., is receiving a facelift.

A year ago, the nearly three-decades-old Randall’s Island Park Golf Center was awarded to Drive Shack Inc. as its new concessionaire by the New York City Parks and Recreation Department.

Since its inception in 1990, the Golf Center has been operated by American Golf Corp., Drive Shack’s subsidiary. Randall’s Island is a 480-acre urban park located along the East River that separates the Bronx from Manhattan, on the upper east side. The Golf Center grounds takes up about 18 acres.

The publicly-traded Drive Shack has owned and managed golf courses under the American Golf Corp. brand before moving into the golf and entertainment business. Its mission is to develop golf-related leisure entertainment while blending technology, design and service. Or in layman’s terms, think of Drive Shack as a Topgolf competitor.

Drive Shack — West Palm Beach, Fla.
The Drive Shack model features multi-stacked hitting bays that accommodate up to six people and offer not only driving range games, but an assortment of food, drink and other "gamification."

Currently, Drive Shack has opened four locations — Orlando and West Palm Beach, Fla.; Richmond, Va.; and Raleigh N.C. — and plans to open more. There are plans to spend an aggregate $300 million, and Randall’s Island Park Golf Center falls within the portfolio.

As part of the agreement, Golf Shack is rebuilding and replacing the existing driving range with a year-round, golf-centric three-story complex. Ninety-six climate-controlled hitting bays that infuse food, drinks, technology and gamification are in the blueprints. Each bay will hold up to six people.

Additionally, the multi-purpose venue will include a renovated miniature golf course to go along with a restaurant and grill, group event space, a game lounge and the ability to handle outings. It’s estimated that Drive Shack plans on breaking ground in 2020 while American Golf Corp. continues managing the property.

"We look forward to continuing our more than 30-year partnership with the city to reimagine the Golf Center and further evolve the recreational offerings cultivated by the Randall’s Island Park Alliance," said Drive Shack CEO Sarah Watterson.

As travelers cross the Triborough Bridge — which is actually comprised of several bridges and elevated expressway viaducts that link Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx — spotting the massive new golf entertainment facility won’t be a struggle.

"We know that the golf center is a beloved and a much-needed recreational resource at Randall’s Island Park," said Aimee Boden, president of Randall’s Island Park Alliance (RIPA). "The state-of-the-art facility will create an environment for all levels of golfers to come out and enjoy the park."

In 1990, after securing approval from the NYC Parks and Recreation, American Golf Corp. began construction on a driving range, pro shop and 36 holes of miniature golf to the tune of $2.7 million.

In 2008, a $500,000 upgrade included an 82-stall driving range, more than 320 yards of landing area, grass tees, short game area with bunkers and PGA instructors came on board. Watterson didn’t divulge figures for the upcoming renovation.

With the Golf Club at Chelsea Piers opening on the west side in 1995, the two compounds have provided able bookends for the Manhattan market. The Golf Club was part of an ambitious multi-faceted 28-acre waterfront development, owned by the Chelsea Piers Sports and Entertainment Complex. Fifty-two weather-protected stalls overlook the Hudson River pier and are stacked four stories high.

That said, Drive Shack is banking that the new complex appeals to the more than 1.6 million Manhattan residents. If they happen to be golfers, new or experienced, even better.

Watterson said community outreach will be an important objective. Internal instructional programs, plans to work with school golf teams, RIPA sponsored youth and development organizations are some of the ways to introduce Drive Shack technology and golf to a larger audience.

It’s all part of the latest trend, where golf intersects with technology and entertainment. And that makes Watterson excited.
“Our secret sauce [will be] gamification,” she said.