PGA Championship

Valhalla Golf Club

The Golfers of Gotham: Oh, The People I Meet

August 25, 2017

Photo by Alan P. Pittman

Golf in New York City has its own unwritten rule book. Having lived and enjoyed the game here for 22 years, I'd like to share my six most important city golf rules.

1. Don't limit your yelling to "Fore!" I once played at Van Cortlandt with a man who'd moved here from Brazil years earlier. He told great stories about Brazil and the Bronx and gave me advice about dating Brazilian women, which I'll never use because I'm happily married. The 16th hole at Van Cortlandt is next to the street, and kids from the neighborhood love to run onto the fairway and steal your ball. After my drive, a boy ran onto the fairway. My partner yelled: "You better leave that ball alone—you know I know your mom!" The boy promptly did a 180 and ran off without the ball.

2. If you're Korean-American, as I am, it's better to pretend you're Chinese than admit you don't speak Korean. One Korean gentleman in his 70s accused me of having an American wife because I didn't speak Korean. I said my wife is from Hong Kong, which didn't help. He said I'd never learn my mother tongue, told me to start hitting the ball like a grown man and focus on my putting. His wife punched him in the arm and told him to knock it off.

3. Korean moms will outscore you—and remind you of your mom. I can't count the times I've played with Korean moms. They like to drive carts, hit the ball about 100 yards down the middle and play fast. I'm usually looking for my drive in the woods while they patiently wait at the green. There is also a good chance they have packed the perfect lunch with sushi rolls and side dishes and will share it with you if you remind them of their kids. I'm actually disappointed when a Korean mom doesn't feed me.

4. Chefs can be wonderful playing partners. Or not. Van Cortlandt is where I run into the most chefs. I'm a walking stomach and love talking to chefs, hoping to learn tips and their favorite places to eat. Chefs usually pull out nice snacks they've made, and I'll drop hints like, "Can I try your snack?" There's no shame because every time I've played with a chef, my snack is an energy bar, which is weird because I don't even like them. One chef made a beautiful sandwich, big enough for two. Because I was conditioned by Korean moms, I was waiting for him to share. Everything turned to slow motion as he ate the whole thing. It was one of the worst golf days I've ever had.

‘Korean moms like to drive carts, hit the ball 100 yards down the middle and play fast. There’s a good chance they’ve packed the perfect lunch and will share it with you if you remind them of their kids.’

5. You'll meet a lot of players who are new to the game—and better than you. I once got paired with a squash player from India who had played for only two years. He hit it 280 off the tee and shot in the mid-80s. Another guy from Germany was a former field-hockey player. His average drive was 300 yards, and the only time he shot above 100 was the first time he played. Both became friends, even though I'm filled with resentment every time we play. On the bright side, German friend brings apple slices or grapes in a plastic bag to share with me because he knows how I am. This season I met a British player who outdrove me. He just picked up the game three years ago. Naturally we exchanged numbers, and it'll be fun watching him get better than me.

6. Michael Bloomberg will ruin your Bloomberg joke. My friend Steve and I had a running joke. Back when Bloomberg was mayor, we would see a random person on the course, and Steve would whisper, "It's Mayor Bloomberg." Usually it was someone wearing black socks with street shoes and shorts hiked up to his nipples. We always cracked up like 10-year-olds. One time at the range on Randall's Island, we saw Bloomberg hitting balls. We've stopped using the joke because it's no longer funny once you've actually seen Bloomberg.

James Yang is an award-winning illustrator living in Brooklyn.