The historic Van Cortlandt Golf Course may have beautiful greens and holes but its infrastructure is showing its age.
“As a person who doesn’t play golf, I don’t have the opportunities actually to see your golf course,” Community Board 8 parks committee chair Debra Travis said to golf course concessionaire Mike Tafet, owner of GolfNYC. “Residents who live outside only see the fence, the vines, the things that are down.”
Greater Riverdale residents may not be aware, but since 2007 Tafet, a Riverdale native, has been responsible for overseeing more than the Van Cortlandt Golf Course. His concessions are a portion of Greenway, a portion of the birding bridge and more. His contract with the city is up in four years. His company operates five golf courses in New York City, including Van Cortlandt, Forest Park, Flushing Meadows, Kissena and Douglaston.
It is expected $250,000 will be used for golf course maintenance in the final years of his contract.
Concessions are offered at any New York City park with a contracted operator through a permit or license. There are approximately 400 concessions within the city’s parks system.
Concessions are not limited to large parks. For example, a tennis coach runs one tennis court in Seton Park, Travis said. She brought up the discussion in an April park committee meeting.
The Van Cortlandt course was created by Riverdale businessmen in 1895 with nine holes. Eventually, it grew to more than 120 acres and 18 holes.
The golf clubhouse is “really, very historic,” Tafet said. Even sports greats Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson, and Joe Louis called the golf course their home. Some of them have holes named after them. The Three Stooges have a hole as well.
“I’ll have to be honest with you — community board — I read this report that was issued, and I was a little upset,” Tafet said. “I’m a sensitive guy, there was a lot of negative stuff written about the golf course.”
He continued to defend his maintenance, and care for the clubhouse after giving it a facelift between 2012 and 2014. Under his management, approximately $2.5 million in restorations and improvements were made. Among other improvements was the drainage system.
The makeover came with an upgrade to its dining option for its patrons. However, Travis explained her investigation to find improvements through community output. “A lot of folks said they just wanted to be able to have a burger and beer at the golf house, but they don’t know when it’s open,” she said.
In total the concessionaire has completed more than $4.6 million in improvements to the course, clubhouse, maintenance facility and cart bridge since 2007.
Public access was one of the items on Travis’s wish list for improving the course and clubhouse. The clubhouse restaurant is generally open from sunrise to sunset — but there are no times posted.
The contract states the concessionaire must have snack bar hours approved by the commissioner and visibly posted for customers each year. They are also not supposed to close for private activities during public hours.
After a hike in Van Cortlandt Park, people want to refuel and look at the lake on its more than 2,500-square-foot deck overlooking the Van Cortlandt Lake, Travis said.
Tafet admitted the building was a big issue because of aesthetics.
“As far as that boarded-up window, I totally agree with you guys. It’s an eyesore. The reason why that was placed was because we had many break-ins through that window,” Tafet said. “Kids walked up the fire escape and broke into the building,”
The Riverdale Press reached out to police to confirm these charges, but they would not comment.
After Tafet was notified about the community report, he immediately contacted General Manager Chris Ryan about the clubhouse’s exterior. The improvements included a power wash of the building to remove the gunk, dirt, and stains. Also, the clubhouse has newly re-stained wood trim.
Tafet said he would eventually replace the Plexiglas windows.
Fencing around the golf course is in poor condition and will not be taken care of anytime soon, but it will be one of their priorities in the future with the next concessions contract.
But at the same time, fencing is needed in response to people harassing golfers, taking flags, and driving with ATVs on the course.
The birding bridge on the John Kieran Nature Trail that connects golf holes 9 and 10 have seen severe deterioration with two sneak holes in the gate surrounding the bridge.
Travis also wrote in a report the parks department quickly closed it up as she explained the complexity of walking on the nature trail.
“There is no prohibition for anyone using that bridge, though it’s not the most aesthetically pleasing,” said David Cerron, chief of staff for business development and special events for the parks department. “Those were cut out by Mike to allow community access once the attachment was taken down.”
The gate has sneak holes — on purpose, created by Tafet to allow community access to the trail, despite the agency closing them. The incident also occurred after the bridge deteriorated and its pedestrian attachment was closed in 2017 and removed by the Van Cortlandt Park Alliance two years later.
The bridge currently offers a space for golf carts and pedestrians to cross. But Tafet expressed safety concerns about allowing pedestrian access.
“There are two big holes that are open now, but after speaking with my manager Chris Ryan, a lot of people who are entering into those big holes — when they get on the golf course side, they don’t know it’s a golf course,” Tafet said.
Tafet has reservations about the safety aspect of the bridge. Out of instinct, people would bring a picnic basket and blanket and relax by the 10th hole. Tafet is open to suggestions on another solution rather than two cut-up holes in the fence.
A discussion for signs is on the table, but something still needs to be officially decided.
The Friends of Van Cortlandt Park built the bridge 20 years ago, attaching it to a DOT-approved inspection bridge.
In 2014, former Sen. Jeffrey Klein included $543,000 in funding for improving the birding bridge. But that was put on hold.
Despite Klein’s efforts, it failed inspections in 2017. And that same year, Tafet spent $47,000 to repair it and deemed it safe even though the former cantilevered section of the bridge was not his responsibility.
The remaining portion of the bridge is within the golf course and therefore Tafet is responsible for incidental repairs and maintenance. So Tafet voluntarily made repairs.
Stephanie Ehrlich, Van Cortlandt Park Alliance executive director and park administrator, believes fixing the bridge is not so easy because it is located in a wetland.
“This is a wetland, and there have been some engineering studying done by parks to understand what is needed,” said Stephanie Ehrlich, executive director and park administrator. “There is a permit with the Department of Environmental Conservation, so there can be some borings done to rebuild the bridge, but that is all sort of in a little limbo.”