With its hefty pricetag and sprawling greens, golf is one of the least accessible sports for kids living in urban environments. Luckily for children growing up New York City, City Parks Foundation is breaking down many of the obstacles associated with picking up golf by rethinking where the game can be played. Their innovative golf program repurposes baseball fields in all five boroughs as space-maximizing golf courses, allowing more than 1000 kids to learn the game free of charge annually. We recently caught up with Heather Lubov, Executive Director City Parks Foundation, about how these baseball diamonds-in-the-rough are a hole-in-one for city youth.
INHABITAT: How did the idea to use baseball fields as golf courses come about?
City Parks Foundation has long been committed to bringing free sports lessons to kids throughout New York City. Back in the late ‘90s, we had been organizing our citywide youth tennis program with tremendous success. At that time, Tiger Woods was the most popular athlete in the country, and we started fielding calls from parents asking if we offered free golf lessons. As Tiger Woods continued his ascent in the golf world and became a household name, the volume of calls increased. We would tell parents to take their kids to local driving ranges or direct them to the nearest public golf course; the challenges of creating a more accessible and free golf program in a city with virtually no open space seemed insurmountable. Then, one summer, one of our team members passed four empty baseball diamonds. Instead of a few unused bases and a deserted outfield, he saw a blank canvas to create a practice range for a beginner golf program. As an organization that is consistently working to maximize the value of our public parks, City Parks Foundation created a pilot program the next year. From there, the program took off.
What kinds of alterations need to be made to the fields so that they can function as golf courses? Are they temporary or permanent?
HL: City Parks Foundation’s golf lessons are retrofitted for the baseball diamond, and none of the changes made for instruction are permanent. The home plate area is used for learning putting, while chipping and full swing practice takes place on the two ends of the field. Groups rotate to each skill station every 20-30 minutes to keep it fun. On the last week of the program, we convert the field and diamond into a three-hole course. The only semi-permanent alterations made to the diamond are the steel bins we affixed to the backstop behind home plate. We needed to figure out a way to keep all the golf equipment on site, and these bins allow us to store our special low-flight balls, clubs and hitting mats with rubber tees.
Who can enroll in the CPF golf lesson program?
HL: Our golf lessons are for youth ages 6-16. City Parks Foundation’s parks programming is geared towards kids living in underserved neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs.
How can people find these schools/sign up?
HL: Those interested in the program can sign up on the City Parks Foundation website. For safety reasons, we have a limited capacity—we wouldn’t want too many kids out on the field at once. This year, our class size limit is 30 per class, so spots often fill up quickly.
Do other cities do this as well or is NYC the first?
HL: I know of other cities who host free golf programs adjacent to courses and country clubs, but I’m not familiar with any other organization using this model. We see enormous value in bringing the game to neighborhood parks in the communities where our students live.
How can other cities learn from CPF’s example and turn their baseball fields into golf schools?
HL: We encourage other organizations and cities to think “outside the tee box.” City Parks Foundation sees parks space as having limitless potential for public good; we would urge other cities to bring golf to neighborhoods where young people traditionally haven’t had access to the sport by adapting our model to their own public space.
Big thanks to Heather for filling us in about CPF’s groundbreaking urban golf program. For more information, head to the CPF website here.