As a weather-dependent sport, golf usually takes a back seat during the winter, especially winters as harsh as this one. But where there’s a will, there’s a way. And New York’s golf fanatics have wills that are as strong as the temperature is low.
Paolo Santaniello, a manager at the Van Cortland Park Golf Course in the Bronx, says the course was open last week before Tuesday’s snowstorm hit, even as temperatures dipped to 25 degrees on Sunday. Although there is generally a significant decrease in footfalls during the winter, there are those who brave the cold every week to get a round or two in. “The die-hards, they can’t get enough,” Santaniello said, adding that the snow finally did force the management to close the course.
But for the golf-obsessed people who won’t wait around for the snow to melt, there are alternatives. Fifty-year-old Rose Addison was hitting a few balls at the Chelsea Piers Golf Club on Thursday evening, oblivious to the 19-degree weather and frigid winds from the river. For her, winter is the time to tweak your swing. “In order to get better you have to practice year-round,” she said.
The club’s driving range, a 200-yard, net-covered platform jutting out into the Hudson, reopened the day after the storm, while Addison’s regular driving range in Brooklyn remained closed. She likes the lower rates at Chelsea Piers during winter, and the heating ducts over each stall that take the edge off the cold winds from the river are an added bonus.
A carpet of snow still covers the artificial grass surface that the golfers hit into, but the range is open to anyone willing to brave sub-freezing weather. “There are people that come and bear the cold,” says Tasha Edmead, senior operations manager at Chelsea Piers.
Charles Levinson, a 35-year-old journalist who has been playing golf for about seven months, is one of those people. In fact, Levinson actually likes the cold. “It invigorates me,” he says. “New York City is always crowded, so I like golfing when no one else is out.”
Although Chelsea Piers did shut down during Tuesday’s storm, Edmead says it can stay open in up to two inches of snow. Unlike golf courses and other driving ranges, the club does not have to wait until the snow melts. The 20-odd members of the ground staff work in shifts to clear the snow to acceptable levels, using a tractor, shovels and brooms.
The facility also has simulators for the less adventurous golfers. But for the complete simulator experience, Golf Manhattan, on the third floor of a building on West 39th Street, features three enclosed rooms with state-of-the art simulators. Customers can either play full rounds of golf at a course of their choice, or can practice at a virtual driving range that gives them instant feedback, providing a convenient option for golfers trying to avoid losing touch with their swing during the winter.
“When it was warmer, I’d probably go to Chelsea Piers,” says Mukul Hariharan, who has come to Golf Manhattan a couple of times a week lately to take lessons. “During the winter, the fact that you can actually hit balls here and not have to wear five layers of clothing is kind of nice.”
Stan Tso, 40, is not as regular, but came on Thursday because he wanted to work on his swing away from the bitter cold. “It’s nice to be able to pretend I’m playing in Florida in the middle of Manhattan,” he says.
“Winter is a time to make changes, when you want to change something in your swing,” says Mike Schwartz, the club-fitting specialist and part owner of Golf Manhattan. Schwartz notes that hitting outside in the cold is not just uncomfortable, but can hurt the arms. “It’s really hard to hit balls in the cold. When they’re stored cold, they become more difficult to hit,” he says, explaining that the action of rapid compression and extension that a golf ball undergoes at the moment of impact is reduced at lower temperatures. As a result, the ball doesn’t compress as much as it should, resulting in the club vibrating excessively and hurting the arm.
Michael Lai, a senior from Harvard University and a member of its golf team, agrees. “I’ve never competed in weather this bad,” he says during a session at Chelsea Piers, “But when it’s foggy and cold and you hit the ball thin, it really hurts.”
Lai is doing an internship at an education start-up next door to the driving range, and came to hit a few balls with his friend Christopher Lee, who also works in the city. “We always try to catch up over golf. It’s just crazy that it happened in winter in the city when it’s 10 degrees outside.” says Lee. “But the snow’s kind of nice on the fake grass.”