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Urban Golf
Urban Golf

Actions: What You Can Do With The City finally comes to Chicago at the Graham Foundation. Organized by the Canadian Centre for Architecture, the exhibition features “experimental interactions with the urban environment [that] show the potential influence personal involvement can have in shaping the city.”

These “actions” tend to be modest in scale and budget, opportunistic and informal, communal and participatory. If broadly categorizing, they might fall messily under the heading of urban hacking. They are not the great tectonic reconfiguration of urban landscape and infrastructure dreamt up by messianic urban planners, urbicidal architects and despotic graphic designers. Rather, they are merely common activities like walking, playing and gardening, but reprogrammed with new tactics to “instigate positive change in contemporary cities around the world.”

As there are 99 “actions,” we'd like to offer one more to round out the number: urban golf.

Urban Golf

While the rules may differ in cities and even within cities, the game is invariably played in urban settings. Rather than in well-tended lawns, players tee offs on the street, sidewalks, alleys or on top of buildings. Urban parks, it would seem, are avoided, though certainly not a prohibited course.

One aspect of the game that we find interesting is that it isn't merely the manifestation of ennui among the hipster crowd. It's guerrilla theater with the requisite social commentary.

Quoting Wikipedia (though we might be quoting an outside text copied almost verbatim but uncited by a wiki editor):

Urban golf is seen by many as social commentary on the nature of golf and its traditional opinions and attitudes [i.e., elitist, sexist and racist club policies]. Considering golf pompous, dogmatic and quite often inaccessible, urban golfers worldwide have adopted many different urban environments as their new course to engage in this recreational pastime. Commonly, urban golf organisations tend toward using disused or under utilised urban areas to play golf, not just to reduce the risk of damage or injury, but also as a statement toward the development and reuse of the city.

Urban Golf

We haven't used this meme on this blog yet, so: is there an iPhone app for that?

If not, it probably isn't too difficult to program an app that maps out an urban golf course, pinpoints where the teeing ground and “hole” are located, shows and vectorizes the streets or alleys or parks or bridges or whatever disparate features of the built landscape comprise the “fairway,” and lists what hazards to expect, for instance, traffic, storm drains and street furniture.

Wired to sensors strategically placed on buildings and lamp posts outside the course, this app could even forecast wind speeds at various urban canyons. Perhaps a popular feature would sync your urban golf calendar to Twitter or Facebook, announcing your scheduled tee off time in the hopes that you will be joined by other enthusiasts.

Once finished with one course, it will direct you to the next one and then further on to another and so on until the final hole. Collectively, these courses represent a new urban layer augmented physically and virtually onto the city. At the end of play, you will have explored your city from one end all the way to the other end, perhaps experienced it anew.

Urban Golf

It's worth further fantasizing, meanwhile, this imagined urban layer becoming more and more codified. Teeing grounds become permanently delineated, not just marked with chalk. Viewing stands are placed next to the hole. Building facades that abut the fairways will be colored to denote this border. As urban golf becomes grotesquely popular and insanely profitable through sponsorship, these courses become permanent fixtures, like (18) stadiums but carved out of existing urban fill. Traffic and pedestrian flow will be diverted. Commerce will colonize their edges. And the city will grow thick around these recreational voids, encrusting the stadiums with an enveloping shell.

When urban golf suffers the inevitably crash in popularity, what happens to its walled game-spaces will be similar to The Stadium of Domitian, which later became Piazza Navona.

Urban Golf

It's also worth further fantasizing the notion that playing through all 18 holes across the city is a form of tactical tourism. The photos decorating this post were downloaded from We may be embarrassingly stereotyping the people behind the websites, but we're imagining them to be part of an underground scene, whose members are mostly of African and Middle Eastern descent — the ones probably fictionally documented in La Haine. At night after a day of parkour, they trace the imaginary outlines of urban golf courses. Starting from the suburban ethnic ghettos that encircle Paris, from streets disconnected locally from Haussman's boulevards yet ironically connected via immigrations to the rest of the world, they infiltrate the interior arrondissements of the French capital.

From cramped public housing high-rises of the banlieues to fin de siècle hôtels particuliers, from ringed roads to the spacious Jardin du Luxembourg, from the outer flames of race riots into the City of Light, a new breed of urban critics embarks on a self-guided tour of spatial inequity and conflict.


We ♥ Irish Handball Alleys
  • rob
  • October 20, 2009 at 1:54:00 PM CDT
  • That is rather coincidental...

    This bit, from the beginning of the Fredorrarci article I quoted from, seems relevant to your piece, as he expresses a childhood preference for alternative spaces for soccer, which is not at all unlike the appropriation of alternative spaces for golf:

    Something else it taught me, and my childhood friends, was resourcefulness. At least, it taught us enough initiative to stage an impromptu game of soccer in the most inauspicious of circumstances... This ingenuity stretched to the area in which the game was to be played. No space was too unpromising or irregular that it could not serve as a venue. No surface too unyielding or unforgiving to the falling knee. No patch of ground -- grass, concrete, gravel, dirt -- was too closely situated to single-glazed window panes, no living room too lovingly decorated with delicate ornaments.

    Simon Kuper, in his book Football Against the Enemy, wrote: "The Brazilians say that even the smallest village has a church and a football field -- 'well, not always a church, but certainly a football field.'"

    In our own small-scale way, my friends and I were doing the same thing, marking our territory in a necessarily ad hoc fashion. Verily did the god Televisuos say, You can do anything if you put your mind to it. Especially if that mind is of the one-track sort.

    There happened to be a proper, full-size pitch yards away from where we lived. Yet despite this facility, we preferred to stage our small-sided kickabouts in small spaces bounded by walls and trees and hedges. In part, our games were a way of living out our dreams before the idea of their realisation seemed foolish. Our mini-Maracanas were, therefore, entirely appropriate venues. The professionals we sought to emulate were an exotic breed, they were non-existent in our parts. They resided on posters and television screens, in newspapers and magazines. They were beamed in from without, the grandiosity of the spectacle condensed to fit, doubtless with some loss in transit. It was easy to imagine that we were them -- they had already been shrunk to our scale.

    It's easy to imagine a similar future history for urban soccer, with guerrilla pitches becoming first recognized, then commercialized, then forgotten and reused...

  • S'Mat
  • October 20, 2009 at 1:55:00 PM CDT
  • seem to remember a spike jonze/dinosaur jr video of some renown featuring urban golf..

  • namhenderson
  • October 20, 2009 at 2:35:00 PM CDT
  • S'mat,
    Ha! I too thought the same thing upon reading the post. Classic video and song.

  • petersigrist
  • October 21, 2009 at 7:54:00 AM CDT
  • Do they use regular golf balls?

  • Anonymous
  • October 21, 2009 at 10:50:00 AM CDT
  • There is an app for that. Being a golfer with an iPhone I use GolfCard to track scoring and as a rangefinder. "Courses" can be mapped with the program and uploaded to Oobgolf for anyone with the app to download, so it could be used to map urban golf courses.
    There seems to be a difference of opinion regarding balls. Purists would use actual golfballs while those more sensitive to property damage issues use tennis balls, which do not fly as far but also do not readily fly through things.


  • Georgia
  • October 21, 2009 at 12:00:00 PM CDT
  • Did you read the mention at Spacing?

  • Anonymous
  • October 27, 2009 at 10:59:00 AM CDT
  • Urban Frisbee Golf is pretty easy to manage and quite fun as well. It has similar benefits. While it does attract some police activity from time to time, typically being at night, aiming for lonely dumpsters down alleys and stop signs, that's all part of the game.

  • Robert Pavement-Tee
  • October 29, 2012 at 11:15:00 PM CDT
  • It's bigger than you realise :0 - Handicaps are for Pensioners!

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