Facility Profile - May/June 2002
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Golf Swings into Manhattan

Chelsea Piers
New York City

By Elisa Kronish

If it hadn't struck an iceberg and sank on April 14, 1912, the Titanic would have arrived at Chelsea Piers on April 16. Instead, 675 survivors were brought to the piers on April 20. While the end-all, be-all of luxury cruise liners met a tragic fate, the end-all, be-all of sports and entertainment complexes, which now exists where the Titanic would have docked, looks like it has an unsinkable future.

And to think, just over 10 years ago, Chelsea Piers was a crumbling mess, scheduled not for distinction, but for destruction.

"It was a very good use for the real estate," says Mike Brado, senior vice president. In fact, there wasn't much else that would have succeeded in this space.

"It's not good for residential because it's not stacked," he explains. "Also, there would be utility problems being right on the water."

Industrial use would have been shunned for aesthetic and pollution reasons. And commercial businesses had concerns over the lack of foot traffic around that area.

New Yorkers just need a good a reason to venture beyond their boroughs, and Chelsea Piers has lots of them.

"We thought we'd struggle with people getting here, but we've overcome that," Brado says. Now the complex is a regular outing for New Yorkers. Four million of them in 2001, with more expected this year.

"Now if you get in a cab and say, 'Take me to Chelsea Piers,' they know where to go," Brado says. In fact, it's the third most visited destination in Manhattan. And it's no surprise considering its scope and scale of, well, Titanic proportions.

Just consider these numbers: The complex, along Manhattan's Hudson River, took $100 million to finance. It encompasses four 880-foot piers and an 80,000-square-foot field house. It includes a 20,000-square-foot park for inline skating, skateboarding and BMX biking; the enormous field house for gymnastics, basketball, volleyball, rock climbing and more; a 40-lane bowling facility; a two-rink ice skating facility; a 200,000-square-foot film and TV production studio; a 150,000-square-foot fitness facility; and, perhaps the piéce de resistance, the Golf Club at Chelsea Piers' Pier 59.

"It's essentially a full-service golf course without the course," Brado says. With fabulous views over the Hudson River looking toward New Jersey, the golf club features Manhattan's only multi-tiered, year-round outdoor golf driving range. It has 52 heated and weather-protected hitting stalls on four levels, a computerized tee-up system, and a newly surfaced, 200-yard net-enclosed artificial turf fairway. It is one of the most technologically advanced golf driving ranges and teaching centers in the country.

When designers and engineers were planning the four-level range, there was the problem of the foundations, which are about 250 feet beneath the water.

"How do you put up a structure for nets when you would have to dig that far down to get to good soil?" Brado says. "It made no sense; it was not financially viable."

So they looked to golf-loving Japan, where ranges are built atop buildings and other challenging locations.

"[The Japanese] discovered you pay a tremendous penalty in cost if you leave the nets up during high winds," Brado says. "No one's hitting golf balls then anyway, so there's no point in building the structure to handle the high winds," he explains.

In New York, codes require that such a system be able to withstand winds up to 80 mph. The compromise at Chelsea Piers is a computer-driven system that responds to steady wind gusts of more than 30 mph by dropping nets to a safe level. With nets in the up position, the Chelsea Piers Golf Club range is designed for 40 mph, and with them down, it meets the 80-mph city code.

The high-tech, automatic tee-up system is also borrowed from the Japanese, developed by Suniga-Kaihatsu.

"You don't have to get a token or a bucket of balls," Brado says. "You don't even have to bend down to place the ball on the tee—it's fed from underground." To get balls, you purchase a debit-like card that comes in various increments. The corresponding value in balls depends on the time of day. At off-peak times, $20 gets you 118 balls, while at peak hours, it buys you 80. But you can split that $20 into as many sessions as you want at different times.

Besides being convenient for guests, the computer system is a highly effective tool for gathering statistics.

"We'll see the volume of balls being used at all times of the day, and we'll know if our off-peak/peak structure is working," Brado says. When the club instituted a morning bargain to hit all the balls you want between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m. for $20, the staff thought the club might get swamped, but the statistical information indicates that only a core group of people do the early-morning thing.

"So it makes it worthwhile," Brado says. At peak hours, it's not uncommon to see a two-hour wait.

Another popular technology gadget is the video analysis that shows you what you're doing wrong and how to correct it. By superimposing your body onto a pro's body, you can see where your feet are compared to the pro's, how your head is angled compared to the pro and other helpful images.

If you want the real-life pro there to give you tips, Chelsea Piers has that, too. In fact, it has one of the largest and most experienced groups of PGA and LPGA players and teaching professionals in the country. The Golf Academy offers schools, workshops, clinics and private lessons for all ages and abilities. And if you need to rent clubs, get custom club-fitting, club regripping or any accessories, clothing or gear, that's no problem. There's a pro-shop there, too.

With all this, it's no wonder that city-dwellers are crossing the city by car, cab, bus and train, with golf bags in tow.

"Everybody knows where they're headed," Brado says.

For more information
The Golf Club at Chelsea Piers: 212-336-6400
or visit www.chelseapiers.com