Starr Whitehouse, a leading New York landscape architecture firm, has been widely commended for combining research and outreach with eye-catching design. Most notably, its BIG U project—a collaboration with BIG and others that proposed constructing a ten-mile-long protective buffer of berms around Manhattan—has been held up as an exemplary model of resilience. One may then be forgiven for thinking the firm’s latest project a curious non sequitur: a mini golf course and outdoor recreation center on Jones Beach, Long Island.
“At first, we thought, ‘Um, a mini golf course?’ How do you make it fun without making it tacky?” recalled Gail Wittwer-Laird, a principal at the firm. “You want a little wow factor, but also you don’t want to make it look like it came from a dime store.” But as the team began drilling down into the program, the more continuity it found with Starr Whitehouse’s wider practice. “Active recreation is integral to all public space,” Wittwer-Laird said.
Accommodating various forms of recreation was foremost among the project’s aims. In addition to playground areas, there is no shortage of courts for basketball, paddleball, shuffleboard, and even cornhole. Their geometric uniformity presents a foil to the free-form, ADA-compliant mini golf course, which announces itself through hilly kidney-shaped greens, native shrubbery, fiberglass and precast concrete props, along with the requisite water feature. A brick-paved central entrance plaza containing a ticket kiosk and Sitecraft picnic tables and benches unites the programming and connects the complex to the beach boardwalk.
Jones Beach West Games, as the destination is called, is one project among many in a $6.6 million state effort to upgrade and beautify the historic beach, which was a hobbyhorse for a young Robert Moses. Starr Whitehouse has benefited from this latest round of investment and has another landscape at a new energy and nature center a couple of miles west. From its engagement with local planners at both sites, the design team gleaned insights about operations and demographics. “We learned how the beach is used over the course of the day,” Wittwer-Laird explained. “As it turns out, the games are most active at night.”
Accordingly, lighting became a key feature of the design brief. Monitors from Selux US illuminate pedestrian pathways around the clock, while McGraw-Edison LED luminaires in the recreational areas keep the shadows at bay until 11 p.m. In other words, prime socializing time for an “underserved age group in public parks,” Wittwer-Laird said. “Tweens.”
Landscape architect: Starr Whitehouse
Location: Jones Beach, Long Island, New York
Client: New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation
Engineer (electrical, mechanical, civil): Liro Engineers
Construction manager: Cashin Associates
Lighting manufacturers: Selux US, McGraw-Edison
Furniture: Landscape Forms (umbrellas), Sitecraft (benches and picnic tables)
Precast concrete elements: QCP
Fiberglass elements: COST of Wisconsin
Court surfacing: Laykold Systems