Bay Ridge Almost Had a Park to Rival Prospect Park. Instead it Got a Golf Course.

Dyker Beach golf course
Photo by Hey Ridge

To be upfront, I don’t play golf, and I don’t really like golf. Still, I don’t think it’s unreasonable, or even evidence of bias, to argue that courses don’t belong in a modern city like New York, like Brooklyn, where every square inch had been claimed and built upon—or, occasionally, preserved as open space. It requires too much land where there’s no land to spare. No other pastime requires so much space—125 acres, minimum, for a proper 18 holes. Tennis, basketball, baseball, soccer, even football, could all be accommodated in the same space it takes for one golf course—with room left over for trails and trees; then there’s the game’s environmental unfriendliness. (The Marine Park Golf Course’s website has a page called “Sustainability”; when you click on the link, it comes up as “Page Not Found.”) If we’re going to set aside more than 200 acres in modern Brooklyn, we can’t in good conscience defend doing so for the minority of people interested in playing a round of golf—not when most residents of southern Brooklyn don’t have access to even almost the amount of open space that experts recommend.

The Dyker Golf Course occupies about 217 acres, the fifth-largest plot of open space in the borough, after Floyd Bennett Field, Marine Park, Prospect Park and Green-Wood Cemetery. It’s larger than the Fort Hamilton Army Base. It’s larger than Shore Road Park, Owl’s Head Park, Cannonball Park, Leif Ericson Park, John J. Carty Park, McKinley Park, John Allen Payne Park, the Fort Hamilton High School Athletic Field, the Russell Pedersen Playground and the Dan Ross Playground combined—by more than 75 acres, the size of another 13 McKinley Parks! (Very roughly, 15 acres on the northeast side of the Dyker Golf Course are given to playgrounds and baseball fields; at the northwest corner, approximately 1.5 acres constitute a dog park. I can’t tell if this is in addition to or subtracted from the 217 acres, but it’s relatively negligible—the size of just about three McKinley Parks.)

Dyker Beach Park
Dyker Beach Park, right, in context. It’s huge! Via Google

If the golf course were in Bay Ridge, it would stretch from about 86th Street to 96th Street, Shore Road to Fourth Avenue; it’s the size of nine Owl’s Heads. But it’s only accessible to those with a bag of clubs, many of whom visit from outside the community. (Some entrances to the course are not secured or staffed, but nongolfers are not allowed to just walk onto the course, even if they do their bests not to interfere with games in progress, for safety reasons. Even if you were willing to accept the high safety risk, you will be picked up and escorted off by a polite and apologetic security guard within 10 minutes of stepping foot onto the grounds; at least this was my experience.) A friend who grew up in the neighborhood told me recently he didn’t know anybody from Bay Ridge who’d ever used or even been to the golf course; I’m sure this is true for many other locals.

So why should we shoulder the city’s “need” for golf courses at the expense of access to open space for all of us, as well as residents of Dyker Heights, Bath Beach, Bensonhurst and beyond?

How did it even end up this way?

The Original Plans
Dyker Beach Park was not envisioned for golf. When the first, 144-acre parcel of land that today makes up the 217-acre course was purchased by the city, in 1895, the plan was to turn it into a public park. “The new Dyker Beach park is to be one of the pleasantest in the whole chain of beautiful grounds that Brooklyn has acquired for itself,” the Brooklyn Eagle reported in 1896. “It commands the finest view and promises the purest and coolest air. It will convert what is now a lonely and unsightly marsh, with a few shabby buildings near or on it, into a delightful resort that future thousands will praise us for.” (And yet here we future thousands are, praiseless!)

Dyker Beach original plan
Original plan for Dyker Beach Park, 1895–96. Via Brooklyn Eagle

Then, it would have been the second largest park in the borough, after Prospect Park, and it was planned in part by the man who had co-designed that behemoth, as well as Central Park before that: Frederick Law Olmsted. “Olmsted…says that Dyker Beach park will make the finest seaside park in the world,” the Eagle reported, “providing more and varied kinds of pleasure than can be found by the people anywhere else.” The plan drawn up by Olmsted, Olmsted & Eliot included a great lagoon, fifty acres large, fed by the sea, as well as much more. According to the Eagle:

A system of paths has been arranged covering the whole park, with here and there a flower garden, a shrubbery and other attractions…There will be a band stand and concert grove, and inclosed lawn for little children, covered seats for mothers, sand court for babies, a grove for swings and a place for the restful donkey to make his youthful burden happy in the length of time he takes to cover a given distance.

In short, the Bay Ridge area was offered its own half-size Prospect Park, something akin to that greenspace’s southern half (with its lake and concert groves). To create such a space, however, would have required tremendous investment. The biggest issue was not just procuring the land but also making it suitable for human occupation. “Prior to development,” Sergey Kadinsky explains in Hidden Waters of New York City, “Dyker Beach was a salt marsh separating the terminal moraine of Bay Ridge and the coastal plain of Bath Beach.” (So was much of the land that later became the Fort Hamilton armybase.)

Dyker Beach Park plans revised
Revisions to the Dyker Beach Park plans, 1903. Note the “Dyker golf club” west of Seventh Avenue. Via Brooklyn Eagle

Balking at “Extravagance”
A sizable chunk of the park, 70 acres of its eastern lowlands, were marsh, particularly fine conditions for mosquito breeding, to the consternation of local residents, who spent years pressing city officials to fill it in. Little was done, either to fill it or to sculpt it into a lagoon. By 1910, the local alderman (similar to a modern city councilmember) complained that Olmsted’s lagoon was unnecessary. Money was held up because “the rustic bridges and swan ponds called for in the plans were regarded as being extravagant.”

“Since 1896, when a drive was built through the park connecting Cropsey Avenue with Seventh avenue, not a dollar has been spent by the city in improving this park,” a man wrote to the Eagle in response to lagoon opposition. (This road, once “declared an impossible feat, because of marshlands,” Charlotte Bangs writes in her Reminiscences of Old New Utrecht and Gowanus, was later eliminated for uninterrupted golfing.)

Dyker Beach
Dyker Beach, looking toward Fort Hamilton, 1896. From the Annual Report of the Brooklyn Department of Parks

Compare the parks of this borough with those of the Bronx, where the city has spent millions upon its parks. Outside of Prospect Park, have we any parks in Brooklyn that, in any way, in size or beauty, compare with the great parks of the Bronx…? Dyker Beach Park can be made one of the most beautiful of all the city parks…it commands a view of the whole harbor from the Narrows to Sandy Hook and the west end of Coney Island. The beach is a good one and is almost half a mile in length and could easily be made an attractive bathing place. A large part of the land back of the beach is swamp and salt meadow land and there is a small creek which runs in from the bay, almost as far as Bath avenue. This is the portion which it is intended to dredge out and make into a salt water lagoon, using the earth excavated to fill in the balance of the swamp.

It stands to reason that this will be a cheaper improvement than buying soil at 75 cents or a dollar a load, or perhaps more, to fill in the whole swamp.

Perhaps the opposition to [the parks commissioner’s] plan comes from someone who has soil or ashes to sell, for the city will have to fill in the swamp land in this park sometime if it does not adopt this plan.

Dyker Beach map
1898 map (detail). At right, many proposed streets that would later become demapped and part of the golf course. From the New York Public Library

“The plans [for the park] were revised somewhat in 1911 by Charles D. Lay, former landscape architect of the Park Board,” according to the parks department. “He proposed to decrease the size of the lagoon to 16 acres and add several concert groves.” In 1916, Parks Commissioner Raymond Ingersoll (later the borough president and eponym of Brooklyn College’s science-department headquarters) dreamed of building a fine athletic field there, rivaling perhaps not Prospect Park but at least its Parade Ground, which was only 40 acres large—a little more than half the size of Dyker’s marsh. But these alternative plans went just as far as Olmsted’s, which is to say nowhere.

Years of Inaction
During these decades of dreaming, the park went to seed. “The property was acquired by the city about fifteen years ago,” a resident wrote to the Eagle in 1911, “and in that time nothing has been done to improve it but making a road through it and a wooden bridge over the mudhole.”

Dyker Beach bridge construction
Construction of the trestle bridge over the marsh, or “mudhole,” 1896. From the Annual Report of the Brooklyn Department of Parks

The tide flows in, and most times does not flow out again, because the drain pipe becomes clogged with sand.

When the water has been covering the lowland until it is quite deep enough to sail a boat, the man employed by the Park Department pokes out the sand in the drain pipe and lets water run out, and then [you] should be there to smell it.

During the past winter, some surveyors came and drove a few stakes like laths (I have located four), and that piece of work cost about $60,000, and so it remains.

It would really be an ideal place for a tent city.

The big improvement in the years before and after World War I were bathhouses, according to the parks department, probably around 1913, when residents complained “that the beach is much used at present by people who undress in the underbrush near by,” the Eagle reported. “This is asserted to have become a nuisance to residents of the section and to the women and children who visit the park.” At least someone thought of the children!

Dyker Beach
Dyker Beach, 1925. Via NYPL

The Fight for Landfill
The necessary landfilling was still years away. As early as 1910, the idea had been floated of using landfill from the coming construction of the Fourth Avenue subway (the present-day R train), thus saving money, to fill in the marsh, which would require 800,000 cubic yards of earth—more than enough to fill the entire Woolworth Building. But that never panned out; a large feature in the Eagle a few years later bemoans the landfill being wasted because of “the lack of co-operation between various official departments of the city,” and two years later, in 1916, a headline definitively declared, “No Subway Dirt for Dyker Beach Park”—because it was too expensive, and there was no political will or power to make it happen.

Because the city could not get the park filled in, alternative ideas surfaced, including a training camp for young officers in the reserve corps, or, my favorite, a landing strip for planes flying mail into New York from Washington, D.C. Dyker Beach was federal officials’ favorite location, as of May 1918, for this project in the whole city, from the Bronx to Coney Island. “Central Park and Prospect Park were definitely rejected on the ground that the meadows were flanked by hills, groves or buildings which would cause troublesome air currents near the surface.”

Dyker Beach Park, on the hand, slopes from Eighty-sixth street to the waters edge with absolutely nothing near it to cause tricky puffs of air. With a little filling here and there the whole park could be made as level as a sand beach…the park was easily large enough to serve for a landing: and…it was free from the the objections made against larger parks inland.

Neither plan, though, got the marsh landfilled. What finally did was a bit of bureaucratic maneuvering: the sympathetic dock commissioner was promoted to director of the Port of New York City. “As Commissioner of Docks I am powerless to help [the parks commissioner] out,” he told the Eagle in 1918, “but as Director of the Port I can give him all the filling he needs, and by a very simple expedient, too.”

My plan is to dig a big hole in the bottom of the north side of Gravesend Bay. The sand and mud coming out that hole will be dumped on the marshes of Dyker Beach Park until they have been transformed into upland. That will eliminate what is perhaps the most prolific breeding ground for mosquitoes within the limits of Greater New York.

In 1918–19, the swamp finally began to be filled in. The lagoon idea was briefly resurrected then dropped. (The only remaining water here is a small pond inside the present-day golf course.) Parks Commissioner Ingersoll said, “I can promise the people of Brooklyn a public playground that will be without a peer in Greater New York. The natural advantages of the ground are unsurpassed by any similar spot within the limits of the city. There is a beautiful stretch of beach which, while it may not be suitable for bathing purposes on account of the contaminated waters of Gravesend Bay [ha!], will make a splendid playground for little children.” He also promised an athletic field. “The park comprises a very large plot of ground which will be used to the greatest possible advantage for the benefit of the public.”

Uh-huh.

Dyker Beach field
A field, now part of Dyker Beach Park, originally considered for Poly Prep. 1915. Via the Brooklyn Eagle

The Earliest Dyker Golfers
After WWI, any enthusiasm for Olmsted’s or a similar plan had long since faded, and Dyker Beach had become swamped with golfers. At the turn of the twentieth century, New York city planners possessed epic ambition, but it was unmatched by the political class’ ability to get things done. Something similar to what was happening at Dyker happened to Owl’s Head Park around the same time—politicians dithered, and a potentially great park suffered. In Owl’s Head’s case, bits of available land were sold off. Future generations lost some acreage, as well as access to a view of the harbor unchoked by automobile traffic, but a park still came out of it, eventually, and a good one at that. In this case of Dyker, a competing interest was ready to fill the vacuum left by government inaction. We lost a potentially grand public space to golf fiends.

As far back as 1910, there was some tension over golfers acting like they owned the place, which they didn’t. The Dyker Meadow Golf Club had been granted exclusive access to the part of the park they used, occupying two holes of its nine-hole course (which it shared with the Marine and Field Club, who also had a nine-hole course, for a total of a proper eighteen), so long as they paid to take care of it. “I think it is wrong,” the comptroller said, when informed of this arrangement. “The park is public property and the city should not leave it to a private organization or individuals to provide the money for maintenance of any part of the park. The whole park should maintained at the expense of the city, and the whole park should be open for general park use.”

“This change will be welcomed by hundreds who have visited the park and have been ordered off the golf links,” the Eagle reported, “regardless of the fact that the city and not the club owned the property.” (The golf clubs denied this ever happened.) “If [the comptroller’s] attitude is upheld, the precarious existence of the oldest and best golf course within the city limits will come to an abrupt if not untimely end,” Brooklyn Life threatened.

Then, Dyker Beach Park was basically nothing but golf course and swamp. A “Real Park is Urged” by the residents of Bath Beach and Bay Ridge, the Eagle reported in 1912. In the meantime, the golfers strengthened their hold, retaining exclusive access as long as they “kept the grass mowed and the links in order,” the Eagle reported in 1913. The Bath Beach Taxpayers Association formed a committee to study “the inaction and apparent indifference of the city authorities regarding the proposed improvements to Dyker Beach Park,” as well as “why it was that a large population of this park property is used as a golf course by a couple of private clubs to the exclusion of everyone else.”

Golf had been a part of some of the original plans for Dyker Beach—but just a part. The parks commissioner “has prepared plans for a golf shelter,” the Eagle reported in 1896, “which, while not the principal attraction, will be welcomed by those who favor that sport.” (Emphasis mine.) That same year the Dyker Meadow Golf Club began playing on 28 or so acres across Seventh Avenue, across from Dyker Park, on the land that later became Poly Prep. Its members played there for 20 years, before the school bought the land, and they were to be kicked off as of September 1, 1916 (a deadline later extended to September 24). The club said it would disband, and many of its members joined other golf clubs on Long Island (St. Albans, Garden City) or Staten Island.

Poly Prep had originally looked at a big chunk of land slightly larger than that between Twelfth and Thirteenth Avenues, Benson Avenue and 86th Street, which would later become part of Dyker Beach Park, but that site fell through; had it not, perhaps the golfers would have stayed where they were, and Dyker Park would have become something resembling the plans Olmsted and those who followed him had had for it!

Poly Prep original site
Original site considered for Poly Prep, now part of Dyker Beach Park. 1915. Via Brooklyn Eagle

Around this time, the Crescent Athletic Club, a major institution in Bay Ridge in the early 20th century, lost its golf course as well. Around the land it owned—today, the grounds of Fort Hamilton High School—the club carved out 18 holes on various open lots that it leased from the Van Brunt family, roughly between today’s Ridge Boulevard and Shore Road, 77th to 87th streets. “The golf course…would last until 1919, when the Van Brunt Estate gave in to constant pressure to free more land for housing, and began to sell that area to developers,” according to Brooklyn Ball Parks.

The Last Plan: A Public Course
In 1922, Parks Commissioner John Harman suggested a golf course at Dyker Beach Park that would, the Eagle reported, “rival…in scenic beauty and difficulty of playing tests the famous seaside links at St. Andrews, Scotland.” Of all the plans suggested for the park, this is the one that stuck, probably because that’s how the land was being used while the city figured out what it could do with it. Harman’s plan was far more ambitious than what we ended up with; apparently, he also wanted to take over the army base.

At this time, Dyker Park essentially ended to the north between Bath and Benson avenues, and Harman envisioned taking over the land up to 86th Street, which the city eventually did. “The new city course would swallow up the present links of the Marine and Field Club which lie south of 86th st., at 12th ave., and 12 holes of which are on the property of Dyker Beach Park…Six holes of the [Marine and Field Club] links are on private ground leased by the club…Of the remaining 12 holes all are between the driveway and the Park rd. [both of which cut through the park west to east, later eliminated, see map below] bordering the Fort Hamilton reservation…”

Dyker Golf Course original plan
Proposed public course, 1922. Via Brooklyn Eagle

The 140 acres now known as Dyker Beach Park and owned by the city would be combined with the adjoining northerly tract on which are the present M[arine] and F[ield] links. This course is short and its inadequacy, already apparent, will be increased as the army of golf enthusiasts grows.

A shelter or clubhouse, with locker rooms, bathrooms, etc., would need to be built; the Marine and Field club had a clubhouse a mile away, from which members could be driven to the course by club bus. (It was near present-day Shore Parkway, then Warehouse Avenue, roughly between Bay 13th and Bay 14th streets—just about where the Son of Sam shot his last victims.) Nonmembers were permitted to use the course, but they were required to pay 75 cents on weekdays or $1 on weekends and holidays. “This charge, together with the lack of all shelter house accommodations, placed the course out of reach of the very ones for whom a public course is intended.”

$0.75 in 1922 is worth $10.72 today; $1 is worth $14.30. Today, to play 18 holes on a weekday at the Dyker Beach Golf Course costs four or five times that: $48 before noon, or $39 after; on the weekends, it’s $56 before noon, $48 after. (There are discounts for nine-hole games, as well as for early-bird or twilight games, and seniors and children can get discounts during the week. Residents of the city also get a discount. There’s also a $4 reservation fee, as well as permit fees, and more for parking or cart rental, if needed.) The public course, owned by the city, is operated by the American Golf Corporation, which owns or operates 62 courses across the country, including several in New York City.

In 1923, Mayor John Hylan got on board with expanding the Marine and Field course and making it public. “That the Mayor no longer considers it a ‘high-brow’ game is evidenced by the fact of his approval of the…purchase by the city of 83 acres of land adjoining Dyker Beach Park to be laid out as a golf course, with an up-to-date equipment,” the Eagle reported.

Controversially, however, he wanted residents within a mile of it to pay for half of it, through a tax assessment, which locals vigorously opposed. “I do not care to contribute $200 as my share toward another man’s golf course,” one resident said at a public hearing. (“You would if you played golf,” the borough president told him. “Perhaps I would,” the man answered, “because I doubt if there are any greater fanatics than golf fiends.”)

“The Fort Hamilton section [or, southern Bay Ridge]…is composed of the homes of poor people,” another speaker said, “so poor that they are not able to have the streets in front of their homes paved! They are still living on dirt streets, and that is a fact. And yet you want to assess them for a golf course! Could there be a greater injustice?” The city eventually relented.

The Marine and Field Club leased part of its course from the Estate of George J. Smith, which rescinded permission in November 1926, presumably to force the parks department to buy it or lose it. The land included “the first green, the entire second hole and most of the third fairway,” the Eagle reported.

Dyker Beach plans
Planned remodeling of Marine and Field golf course, later part of Dyker Beach. 1918. Via Brooklyn Eagle

The Marine and Field Club Course is by no means a championship layout. Neither is it adequately trapped and bunkered. But thousands of Brooklynites use it regularly. It has been a great convenience to the residents of the borough, particularly since the fees are but 75 cents week days and $1.50 Saturdays, Sundays and holidays [respectively, approximately $10 and $20, adjusted for inflation].

Part of its course was once played upon by members of the Old Dyker Club, when its course was noted for the excellent condition of the greens and fairways. Much of the turf of the Old Dyker Club is still in use.

“‘Eventually the only place left for golf will be so far from civilization as to take a day or so to get there,’” a tennis enthusiast told the paper. “‘If one is not satisfied to ride this far, he would need be a millionaire to be able to pay the costs on a course near the city.’ In a way this tennis enthusiast was right. Golf courses are being forced farther and father away from what was the center of population, but he overlooked a point, and that is that the center of population is following the golf courses.”

Until 1916, with the opening of what’s now the R train, a trip to the Dyker Golf Course would not have been short or easy for most New Yorkers or Brooklynites; it would have required a trip on the elevated lines and transfers to streetcars; most roads would have been rough riding by carriage or antediluvian car. Even with the subway, the city still lacked much of the connecting subway-infrastructure we have today. Golf began in Bay Ridge/Dyker Heights when Bay Ridge/Dyker Heights was still the countryside. The effort required to make the trip then would today be commensurate to most residents trying to get to Long Island, New Jersey or even Staten Island. As the rest of the city urbanized, many golf courses within its limits moved farther away, where land was not as valuable and there was more of it. They moved out of cities for the country as the country became city. The Crescent Club moved to Huntington, where it remains.

But not Dyker Heights.

Cropsey and Fourteenth Avenues
Cropsey and Fourteenth Avenues, 1925, looking at Dyker Beach Park. Poly Prep tower visible in distance. Via NYPL

The Golf Course Opens
Between 1924 and 1927, the city acquired four additional pieces of land needed to fulfill Harman’s plan, according to the parks department—about another 80 acres, whose purchase had been recommended as early as 1913. The course opened to the public on June 1, 1928. (In 1929, its holes were reconfigured, as they had been two years earlier, just before opening. The modern course’s layout traces to about 1935, when it underwent a major redesign.)

In 1929, the Eagle reported “it now boasts of more grass than in many years. In fact, it is said the course is in better shape than in three years.” Though that wasn’t good enough; in 1930, a local chamber of commerce adopted a resolution to protest conditions, calling on the city to invest $25,000–$50,000 a year in rehabilitation (approximately $350,000–$700,000 adjusted for inflation).

During those years, the course could be kind of a mess. “The ever-increasing army of just average golfers and the punishing band of beginners that plough their way through the only municipal course in Kings County annually aren’t conducive to rolling fairways and perfect greens,” the Eagle reported in 1930. “‘Last year 67,000 rounds of golf were played over the Dyker Beach course, 20,000 more than the year before[,’ the parks commissioner said. ‘]The course is a paying proposition, almost $30,000 in profits accruing to the city last year alone…’”

Beginners are the chief bugaboos out at Dyker Beach. “Why, some of them just put on a pair of golf pants, grab a club or two and start swinging,” said the affable [caretaker]. “The caddies are supposed to tell them what clubs to use, but often they don’t, and that’s why the greens are torn up with niblicks and drivers.”

Even the special police who patrol the course in summer can’t cope with the situation. The layout is so open and unprotected that street urchins hide in the rough beside the fairways and scamper off with the golf balls at every opportunity. [The caretaker] blames a certain type of golfer which patronizes the Dyker Beach layout for this evil. “If the golfers wouldn’t buy the balls from the boys they wouldn’t be stolen,” is his theory.

Undeniably, the course was popular. In 1932, the mayor urged the speedy development of the Marine Park links, Brooklyn’s other golf course, to complement the “overcrowded, none too good Dyker Beach layout.” The 210-acre Marine Park course would not open until 1963, according to the parks department. In the meantime, “During the 1950s and ’60s, Dyker Beach was the most-trafficked golf course in the world,” The Met Golfer reported in 2007, “averaging [more than] 100,000 rounds annually.”

Those numbers have fallen considerably. Last year, 54,693 rounds were played there, according to numbers given to Hey Ridge by the parks department, more than the 51,743 played the year before. Last year, Dyker was the city’s fourth most-played course, after Pelham–Split Rock (92,103), Clearview (67,541) and Douglaston (60,266).

Dyker Beach Park construction
Dyker Beach Park, under construction, 1925. Poly Prep in background. Via NYPL

The course is no longer as open or unprotected as it was in 1930. The problem with the golf course is not only that it excludes the general public from more than 200 acres of land; it also deadens the streets around it. After recently being escorted off the golf course, I walked the entire perimeter, about 2.25 miles (which will give you a sense of how enormous the course is, relatively speaking). An attractive if imposing stone wall, topped more recently with another several feet of chain link, protects most of the 86th Street side; benches along the route beckon passersby to use them, and because the street connects a business district with a playground, ballfields, and more commerce, it’s not unused.

But the Fourteenth Avenue side, south of the ballfields, is mostly lined with chain link, and there are no benches; the grass between fence and sidewalk is overgrown, and it reaches something nasty on Poly Place, before the VA Hospital, where I came across the fresh, fly-swarmed corpse of a cat stuffed into a few plastic shopping bags and crossed the street. This is a dead area, a dumping ground; I wouldn’t be surprised if kids drive here to get high, or if johns with cars bring sex workers here. (Conditions improve some along Seventh Avenue, thanks presumably to the presence of Poly Prep, then SUNY Downstate.) A truly public park, with multiple entry points, would encourage more people to visit these blocks and thus revive them.

Dyker Golf Course wall
The stone wall along 86th Street. Photo by Hey Ridge

We Need More Parks!
Of course, Bay Ridge lost Dyker Beach Park, but it gained others: Owl’s Head, Fort Hamilton Park (now Cannonball, or John Paul Jones, Park), and the Shore Road network to connect them. (Dyker would have been one more greenspace along this planned network.) But none come close to the size and grandeur of Olmsted’s vision. Bay Ridge and its surrounding communities have access to much less parkland than, say, all the communities surrounding Prospect Park; despite our seeming preponderance of greenspace, we have just as much as the average Brooklynite—and much less than the average New Yorker.

(Here are the numbers, for those who are interested: Bay Ridge has about 127 acres of parkland, including outliers like McKinley and John Allen Payne. With an estimated population of 80,000, that’s 1.6 acres per 1,000 people; experts generally recommend 10. Or, it’s 69 square feet per person, slightly more than the 64 square-foot average in Brooklyn, much less than the 109 square feet other experts recommend, and much much less than the 158-square-foot citywide average, according to the blog Greenpointers. “Parks and trails can promote physical activity and community engagement; and provide both environmental and mental health benefits,” according to the CDC. “When well-designed, parks have been shown to reduce stress and foster community interaction. They can also protect sensitive lands such as flood plains and steep slopes. Parks and trails can provide resources most communities need when addressing many of today’s public health problems.”)

Now think what this parkland could mean to the residents of Dyker Heights, Bath Beach and Bensonhurst, who have access to even less than we do!

“There is a growing sentiment in favor of a public right to pleasure,” the Eagle reported back in 1896.

It is at the bottom of the communistic and Populistic agitation. It inspires much of the prevailing enmity and jealousy of the rich. For the poor life is little more than work and hardship and too often its pleasures are in the seeking of forgetfulness from hard conditions. But there is a tendency to ameliorate those conditions. It is with that view that tenements have been torn down…that free baths have been provided; that libraries and reading rooms and lectures have been established; that band concerts have been given in parks and squares; that statuary and fountains have been erected and trees and flowers set out; that art has been put into public buildings. Everything of the kind tends to put the poor man on an equality with the rich and relieve the bitterness of his life. There is more than passing pleasure in these common holdings; there is life, health and understanding.

The modern golf course, especially the one in Dyker Heights, stands in opposition to these lofty (if condescending) ideals.

Gilbert Sorrentino, Bay Ridge’s greatest novelist, spent the end of his life in the old Victory Memorial Hospital, in 2006. “My father died looking at the Dyker Golf Course,” his son, novelist Christopher Sorrentino, said at an event this spring.

“It brought him no solace.”

Now imagine if he’d been staring at an Olmsted park.

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Dyker Beach golf course
Along Seventh Avenue. Photo by Hey Ridge
Dyker Golf Course panorama
Panoramic view inside the golf course. Photo by Hey Ridge
  • Ryan

    What might have been…