One of my little boy’s favorite things to do is play mini golf. It makes sense – Roger and I used to play mini golf a lot when we were dating. Jack even came along for a few rounds while he was in utero! Most people have no idea that there are several mini golf courses in NYC, but let me tell you there are! From Tribeca to Queens, there’s mini golf all over the city, and it’s now one of my favorite things to encourage people to do. We have a few favorite courses in the city, but our family favorite is out on Randall’s Island at the Randall’s Island Golf Center. I think most New Yorkers are somewhat aware of the golf center, but know it more for the golf range and batting cages. Well out front of the center is a 36 hole miniature golf course! You pay one fee and get UNLIMITED play. Unlimited. That’s huge when you have a mini golf obsessed kid like we do.
This past Sunday Jack wanted to go play golf and asked to walk over the bridge. I think the walk there is part of the reason we all like this mini golf course the best. We live on the (Far) Upper East Side and it’s an easy stroll over to the East River Esplanade and up to the Wards Island Bridge, a bike and pedestrian only bridge that spans the river. It’s a walk that I don’t think too many people outside of the neighborhood do – it’s never crowded even on the most splendid summer days.
We like to cross over at 96th Street and walk by the river for a bit, then you go up and over the bridge for some amazing views of the city.
You come down onto Wards Island and are immediately surrounded by lovely plantings and playing fields, there’s plenty of open room for picnics!
To get to Randall’s Island and the mini golf, we follow the pedestrian and bike paths (they are separate for most of the walk) around the western edge of the island. You go through a small salt marsh via bridge and find yourself right by Ichan Stadium (home of world-class track and field events!). This is the only part of the walk that isn’t terribly lovely. Unless you ask our three-year old who loves looking at the big bridge (RFK formerly Triboro) and any construction vehicles that happen to be around. There’s also a fire department training area nearby so occasionally we spot FIRE TRUCKS. Just past the stadium and up a gentle hill is the golf center. Park the stroller or your bikes and go inside the pro shop to pay (as of this writing it’s $9 for adults and $7 for kids under 12) then hit the links!
The first 18 holes remind me of Adirondack wilderness complete with a log bridge while the second 18 holes are centered around a huge waterfall feature. Like most mini golf courses seem to be, there are a few spots that could use improvement. Mini golf just never inspires the same upkeep as a real golf course, does it? In any case, it’s never been crowded when we’ve gone over the past few years which is awesome when you have small kids who wish they could play the “cool” holes three and four times in a row. It’s unlimited play and not crowded – go for it kiddo. No wonder he requests this one by name!
When you’re done playing or just need a break in between rounds there’s a small outdoor dining area billed as a “beer garden”. The do serve beer so I guess it counts. Beer for daddy, wine for mommy, and french fries for the kiddo. It’s right by the batting cages and sometimes Roger goes and gets a practice in for softball season while Jack and I hang out.
Randall’s Island is served by MTA buses so we can catch a bus back to Manhattan if exhausted, but we have always opted to walk back. It’s just too special of a walk to miss. We talk, watch boats on the river, and enjoy a little peace and quiet before diving back into frenetic Manhattan living. Even if you don’t like mini golf, you should give this walk a try someday. With views like this, how can you not?
I’m always amazed by how peaceful it is, and how amazing it is to have this little slice of nature just across the river. For all our city gets wrong…sometimes they get it spectacularly right. The Wards Island Bridge was completely renovated just a couple of years ago and Wards Island and Randalls Island are a work in process. There are manicured sports fields, open areas by the water and mature plantings along with new. These signs are a frequent sight:
How very blessed we are to have places that allow us to pause and recharge. Living here is hard, the pace is exhausting and it’s just so darn crowded sometimes. You should go for a walk this weekend – it’s a beautiful surprise! Do you have any favorite under-appreciated spots in your hometown?