Public golf in New York can be a moving target. Securing a tee time can be tougher than ever – not to mention navigating to your chosen course – and yes, you’ll definitely encounter characters. Being a single golfer trying to golf on my own this summer has given me some stories worth telling.
Interning in the Big Apple at a golf publication allowed me to split my time between the 9am-5pm office and New York’s public golf courses. With limited courses and limited tee times, my golf outings have always been in the company of people I’ve never met before. Before, I dreaded playing with others, but now I can’t wait to be there. I hope my single lessons this summer can help you too.
Yes, playing with a stranger can be awkward at first, but you can also make connections on the golf course that you can’t make anywhere else.
Golfing with strangers can be intimidating at first. Depending on your skill level, it can be intimidating to play with golfers who are significantly better than you, or distracting when playing with golfers who are significantly worse. Playing as a single is always a gamble, but I think the risk is worth it.
Whether it’s just an afternoon friendship, or maybe longer than that, it’s one of the coolest parts of playing golf as a single person. You never know who you’ll meet at the course, especially in New York. One afternoon I was paired up with an older gentleman who had a career as a professional tennis player. We talked about his life, his trip to New York and his time in the field.
At the end of our round he mentioned that he was working on the course and would be willing to take me out for free anytime in the future. He also offered to give me some tennis lessons. I’d love to take it on both.
Be open to learn more about…anything.
Walking to the first tee at Bethpage, because I refused to pay the cart fee, I was greeted by the starter and a man in a golf cart. After leaving, the man kindly asked me if I wanted to join him. So I left my stroller and jumped in. Over the afternoon, we talked about everything from work to restaurant recommendations. Because it was my first summer in New York, I was very open to some direction from a local. Although I never saw him again after that day, thanks to him I had an amazing burger after my rounds at Burgerology in Farmingdale, and a full list of additional summer food recommendations in my Notes app.
The interesting personalities you will meet will not disappoint you.
It’s part of what you sign up for. The personalities I met over the summer were anything but ordinary.
In June, I arrived at one of the courses in town and the starter thoughtfully asked me if I would prefer to play alone. I agreed – the idea of hitting multiple times and listening to music sounded great. At least that was the plan – until I was on the second tee, and the man in the group behind me grabbed his driver, got to the start while I went through my routine and announced that he had decided to join me. Not “Can I join you?” or “Do you mind if I join?” No.
But it got more interesting. A few holes later, he missed a putt and started swearing under his breath. He then remarked, “I needed to make that putt to even the imaginary match I had with you in my head.”
You can expect to find some unusual golf personalities, especially in New York.
You’ll make friends quickly if you don’t take yourself too seriously.
I have to admit that I may not be a purely innocent public golfer myself. Even though I met some very interesting characters, I’m sure some of my playmates could say the same about me. And I have a story to prove it. I was paired up with a group of older women one afternoon in July. Despite being a woman, I haven’t played golf with older women, so it was an entirely new experience for me. On the first hole, I got a bit distracted and managed to crush one of their golf balls with my push cart.
I felt terribly sorry, but their laughter reassured me that they were an easy-going bunch. I couldn’t help laughing, me. I’ve been playing golf for 10 years, but I’ve never knocked down someone’s ball.
It’s not impossible to book tee times at public New York courses, if you know a few things.
You might not expect procrastination to be an effective strategy for booking tee times, but I’ll explain why. Trying to hang out at Bethpage can be nearly impossible unless you’re okay with playing at 6 p.m. like me, I can only do tee times five days in advance. What I find to be the best strategy is to check tee times the day before your desired play day.
Many people make reservations days in advance, but plans change and they end up canceling. On the Bethpage website, I saw tee times opening up for a foursome on the black course the night before, which is usually unheard of.
Finding a tee time as a single person is much easier than with multiple people. If you’re up for an adventure, there’s more than likely a tee time for you.
The pace of play can be brutal, but there are surprising ways to navigate it.
The known strategy when playing golf is to get out early so you can finish early. This is how it generally works. In the summer in New York, I found it to be the opposite. I played much faster in the afternoon. Unless you go out before 8am, the afternoon is quicker. When it’s noon with peak heat and northeast summer humidity, most people don’t choose golf in an adventure town. When I played in Pelham Bay during the summer, I often played around 2pm and had the whole place to myself. There would be hordes of people finishing their rounds, but I would be the only brave soul willing to brave the heat and humidity.
Even non-human interactions can be interesting.
Growing up on the west coast, I’m not put off by wildlife. But I was unprepared for an interaction I had at Bethpage. After hitting a solid shot to the green, I approached my ball and found…a raccoon patiently waiting for me. I approached expecting him to walk away, but he held on. After about a minute I decided he had won, so I left the green and headed for the next hole.
Thinking my encounter with the raccoon was over, I calmly hit my shot and started down the fairway, only to find that I was being followed. In an attempt to get him off my track, I started running, only to see him start charging at me. I have never been so scared.
Fortunately, my playmates came to my rescue and pulled me away from the sneaky raccoon.
If online dating isn’t your thing, the golf course is a place to find a like-minded person.
It was a Saturday afternoon and I was, predictably, at the golf course. I spent my tour in pairs with two brothers who live and work in Manhattan. We bonded over summer Fridays and New York golf woes. After 18 years, and beating them from the men’s tees, we shook hands and exchanged contact details.
A few days later I got a message from one of them asking if I wanted to go on a date. Although I certainly wasn’t looking for this in the course, you never know what you’ll find. Public golf really has it all.
Whether you’re looking to meet new people or figure out the plot for your next book, you can find it all at a public golf course.