Jersey City Cinderella: Skyway Golf Course makes its debut

Skyway #9

Say hello to the Met area's newest public links, Jersey City's Skyway Golf Course, nine holes tucked between the winding Hackensack River and the Pulaski Skyway to the north. Set in a brooding, post-industrial cityscape, Skyway presents a fun 3200-yard challenge to the entry-level golfer -- and, as the closest nine-holer to Midtown, a welcome option for the urban golf addict in need of a quick, par-friendly round.

Lincoln Park West always had a golf component to go along with Lincoln East's extensive ballfields and courts -- but by 2000, while the old driving range was still operable, the pitch'n'putt had fallen into disrepair. When the county bought new balls, mowed the range, and painted the stalls, "all of a sudden there was a line of people wanting to get a bucket," recalls Hudson County chief executive Tom DeGise. "That was one of the first revelations as to how many golfers there were in the county." The problem was a dump behind the range -- officially a Parks Department wasteyard for brush and construction debris, though according to one longtime Jersey City resident, "You needed to get rid of a refrigerator, a car, that was the perfect place." The state-mandated cleanup plan originally provided for a passive wildnerness area, but shortly after he took office in 2002, DeGise and Hudson County Improvement Authority chief Norman Guerra, self-described duffers, took the opportunity to survey the site and propose a golf course.

At times it seemed every silver lining had a cloud: DeGise's original idea was for an 18-hole course that included a tract north of Duncan Avenue, owned by the Archdiocese of Newark, but the city decided to zone the parcel commercially. The project had the cooperation of the Army Corps of Engineers, which was remediating the wetlands adjacent to the river -- but was obliged to use much of the refuse the Corps unearthed: course architect Roy Case, a specialist in reclaimed sites, used the more unwieldy fill to bolster mounds to enhance the separation between holes. Construction benefited from a favorable market for "clean" dirt (including excavation from the Second Avenue subway construction and the new World Trade Center): 400,000 cubic yards of dredgings from New York Harbor were delivered wet, requiring the creation of settling ponds to drain the salt water.

The result is an artful, engaging 3200 yards. Skyway isn't exactly a pushover, particularly when the breeze picks up from the north and you're facing a forced carry over a deep collection pond from the tee of the par-5 8th hole. Architect Case presents you with proud, gritty panoramas: though the New York skyline makes a cameo appearance, Skyway's scenery is Jersey through and through, fairway hillocks and green complexes resonating with the massive old Kearny generating plant that hulks across the Hackensack like a solemn Gothic memorial to a dark industrial past, below the improbably awe-inspiring black lattice of the bridge sweeping askew the horizon. As Guerra puts it, "The Pulaski Skyway never looked so good."