Farmingdale, NY- In 2002, Bethpage Black became the first public golf course to host the US Open. It broke a long-standing mold and was a smashing success. Tiger Woods topped the leaderboard all four days and won his second US Open and his eighth major. He edged Phil Mickelson by three strokes while the crowd provided a boisterous and entertaining backdrop.
Over the next 16 years, Bethpage became a favorite Tour spot. It hosted another US Open in 2009, which was interrupted by several rainstorms and ended with Lucas Glover claiming his first Wanamaker Trophy. The Barclays paid two visits to Farmingdale in 2012 and 2016 (won by Nick Watney and Patrick Reed) and with the PGA Championship moving to May for the first time since 1949, Bethpage is playing host to a new major.
The Black Course is one of five public courses in Bethpage State Park. The park came into form when railroad executive Benjamin Franklin Yoakum bought a 1,368-acre plot of land in 1912 and developed a golf course on the site. When he died in 1929, a major conflict over the use of the land resulted in the State of New York purchasing the territory, finalizing the transfer in 1934.
The State oversaw the development of the original course into the “Green Course” and the creation of four additional courses of varying difficulties, each one with a color assignment. In ascending difficulty, the colors are Yellow, Green, Blue, Red, and Black. The Black Course has a famous sign at the start which reads “The Black Course is an extremely difficult course which we recommend only for highly skilled golfers.” That sentiment is echoed by the pros competing at the highest level.
The course is a 70-par, 7,459-yard challenge of varied elevations that feels like a local community golf course, not a set-aside country club. It’s a unique feel among Major caliber courses. It boasts great views of Long Island’s forests and welcoming
The universal description of Bethpage Black is that a mistake off the tee is a death knell. The roughs are remarkably thick and tight to work out of. The early week rain dampening the course and more possibly on the way only makes the roughs tougher to escape from.
Francesco Molinari described the course as “Long, very long, and extremely long. It’s just a course where you need to hit the fairways, but even if you do hit the fairways, then there’s a long way to go.
Eight of the holes are 450 yards or longer, including three 500 or longer par-four holes and a 608-yard par-five.
While the fairways are challenging, the greens are universally praised. Brandt Snedeker thought that “The greens are in such phenomenal shape that it will bring more guys into contention. Someone can get hot with the putter” Jordan Spieth agreed, but with a proviso.
“I think Brandt is right on. The greens are not extremely diabolical. There’s a couple that are tricky, but for the most part, they’re just gentle slopes, and they’re so pure that somebody can really get — I was saying that on the practice round yesterday. Somebody can really get hot with a putter this week. But if you’re not hitting fairways, that’s getting really hot making par putts. I think the driver is important. I don’t think it’s any more or less important than PGA Championships typically are, which it normally is about as important a club as any. But certainly, it can be an equalizer.”
Layout and Pacing
The layout of the holes is also interesting. The first hole is a conventional downhill, dogleg right to open up. Holes 2-14 are across Round Swamp Road and away from the clubhouse. That helps to drive home the feel of the course existing as part of the town and not separately from the neighborhood. But it does make the course feel somewhat disjointed. It’s still a great viewing experience and a great playing experience.
Of the holes on this side, the well defended par-three third and fourteenth holes are particularly memorable and challenging. The fourteenth is the shortest hole on the course at 161
The final four holes are back across the street and make for a nice finishing stretch. Their design isn’t overly complex. They’re back-and-forth long par fours on fifteen and sixteen with both holes going up and down the same hill. That’s followed by a taunting par-three seventeenth hole defended by three large bunkers in front. A miss into the bunkers or the rough here can be particularly back-breaking. The final hole isn’t a particularly challenging hole compared to the rest. It’s a straightforward 411-yard par-four with the tee box and green on higher elevations than the fairway. It’s not a grueling end, but it is picturesque and makes for a dramatic ending spot.
Weather and Crowds
There are a few things that will affect the course that are unique to the time and location. Most notably, this week has been much cooler than the sweltering August heat in St. Louis for last year’s PGA Championship. “the ball goes a lot further when it’s warmer,” said Dustin Johnson. “The course is playing extremely long right now.” The temperature will warm up over the weekend, but not enough to match last year’s humidity at Bellerive.
In addition, New York fans have a well-earned reputation for hooting and hollering at the players. 2002 was a famously lively US Open with Tiger and Phil at the top of the leaderboard. Jordan Spieth commented on the fans at his practice round.
“I think certainly there’s a difference in the crowds than we’re used to every week. It was fun out there yesterday. I mean, people were hollering at Michael (Kim), hollering at me, everybody. And I think that they’re more involved than you’re used to seeing in a tournament. That can be a lot of fun if you get on the good end of that.”
Last year’s US Open at Shinnecock Hills, an hour away at the other end of Long Island, saw Bryson DeChambeau draw heckling after describing the hard conditions as “clown golf.” The fans will play an enormous factor in the atmosphere on offer at Bethpage. This is a smart crown that stays on top of the stories and happenings. They will have an impact on the weekend.
All-in-all, Bethpage Black is one of the sport’s best experiences and should be a fun experience for the fans and players alike. Hopefully the rain holds off over the weekend.