This summer my friends and I set out to plan a serious golf trip. We decided that a drive to Long Island to try our hand(s) at Bethpage Black was easily the most feasible option.
This marked my second time, technically third, playing on a course the held the US Open. My buddies and I have all played Grover Cleveland up here in Buffalo which, in 1912, hosted the US Open under the Country Club of Buffalo moniker. Of course, Grover isn’t even close to being of the quality that Torrey Pines or Bethpage Black. But it is cool to see the history posted in the snack shop.
Four of us traveled to Long Island, by car, and stayed in a hotel about 10-15 minutes from Bethpage. We also made a tee time. For New York State residents it is a pretty easy process. You need to provide two forms of ID, a passport and license work fine, and you can make three times a month. This was much easier than sleeping until 3am and getting in line at the course – or sleeping in you car at the course. So, we sprung for a hotel room, between four guys it’s not bad. Plus food, travel expenses and greens fees, it wasn’t a very expensive trip. We also got the twilight rate, which saved some cash.
While it is worthwhile to play after four, you save $20, good luck getting your round in. Anything started at 3:45 or later will not result in finishing 18 holes in the daylight. We played all 18, but the final two holes were played in the dark.
Another awesome feature of Bethpage is the pro shop. You can set up for a caddy, I didn’t get one but next time I will, or buy a souvenir. They have racks of shirts with the Bethpage logo at great prices. A lot of stuff was marked down at least 30%. I snagged a long sleeve Nike polo at 40% off and a brand-new Under Armour polo for 20% off (I benefited from the Father’s Day sale). Either way, you can get high performance polos for a great deal at the shop. They also have hats, belts, 2009 US Open flags and other golf souvenirs. I went with a yardage book, two polos and bag tag for just over $100. So, in total my round cost just around $175 – that doesn’t include food or any other travel expense.
Since we had a 4:18 tee time, we decided to hit up a local course in the morning. We chose a place call Lido Golf Club in Lido Beach, NY. It was a true links course on the ocean in Long Island. Slightly more upkeep would fetch a pretty penny from the patrons at this course. But, it was a fun track and I was glad we played it before Bethpage. Next time I would head up to the state park early and play an early round on one of the other courses in Bethpage’s stable. The Red Course is very challenging as well, from what I read.
So, if you’re thinking about a trip to Bethpage, do it. Especially if you live in New York. Sign up for the tee time program, get a hotel and play the course. You can call a week in advance and you need the whole week. We called at the beginning of our tee time period and got bumped to past 4pm. Devote yourself to getting the tee time and make sure it is at 3pm or earlier. Get a hotel nearby, explore the area (we didn’t get to as much as I would have liked) and take in the experience. It is a blast.
As for the course, Bethpage Black is the hardest golf course I have ever played. I can say that will full conviction, you need to play a perfect game to make a respectable score on this track. I went in with a goal of breaking 90, I shot 92 and would have reached my goal had I not gone four over through the first three holes on the back nine.
I will start at the top. There are three putting greens around the club house, one in front and two in the back. One was closed on the day we played, but the two in back were open to accommodate the players on the five courses in the Bethpage State Park. The clubhouse has a large restaurant and an even bigger pro shop, more on the pro shop in part one. You must register your time before heading to the starter, it has a very Soup Nazi feel to it, you wait in line and when called you either verify your time or choose an available time from the TVs listing the remaining tee times for the day.
The first hole is daunting. Not because it is long or difficult. But because you have a gallery watching your tee shot. For those of you not comfortable having more than your Sunday foursome this will be a new and nerve racking experience for you. My goal for my first shot was to make solid contact. I managed to do so and put my ball in the fairway. Little did I know that any shot not in the short grass should just be abandoned. The first green is well bunkered and difficult to hit. I put my approach in the left bunker but managed to make a five.
I learned quickly that you have to hit your fairways and you have to hit your green. If you don’t you will sacrifice at least one shot per hole. In fact, the heather is easier to hit out of than the rough. It is long, but very thin. I found the heather one two, then the bunker for my first double of the day. The second features a very difficult green to hit with deep bunkers along the right side.
Three is a straightforward par three that leads into the first monster of Bethpage. The fourth hole is a daunting 517-yard par five with gorgeous bunkers throughout. Any tee shot left will find sand and any shot put in the rough will find the cross bunkers. Then there is the green. A blind shot that forces you to avoid the large, deep bunkers on the left side. This was my first encounter with the Bethpage rough. Even though I learned my lesson, you can only avoid the rough for so long.
My tee shot on four found the right rough and there was no chance of getting a club behind the ball. The rough i at least 2 1/2 inches, if not longer, and is thicker than anything Western New York has to offer. I managed to make a bogey, but on a 517-yard hole you would like to make par or better.
Five and six are both tough par fours. Five is 478 yards of madness with the first serious force carry of your round. On the front nine alone you have a forced carry over enormous bunkers on five, six and seven. the back nine features even more as you have the challenge on three additional holes.
What makes Bethpage so difficult are the approach shots. Most courses you have a six iron in your hands on the longest par fours. At Bethpage you are lucky if you are taking out six iron. I had a steady diet of four and five iron with a side of hybrid on some holes.
Ten and twelve are absolutely no fun. Playing from the tips you get to play both at 500 yards. You follow that with a 600-yard par five at thirteen. Fifteen is a nice reprieve of only 478 yards but it is up a massive hill that adds a stroke to just about every person, except Tiger.
Bethpage tortures you with its length. You have to place your drive and then place a long iron. If you miss the fairway, you’re penalized by the rough. The same goes for missing the green, you’re better off finding the bunkers because it allows more precision in putting your chip on the green.
One of the coolest parts of the course is standing on the 15th tee. You look out on the 15th, 16th, 17 and 18th on the Black course, plus, a handful of holes on the Red. Seventeen and eighteen are the two most visually stimulating holes on the course. The 17th has bunkers everywhere with beautiful heather running up to the edge of the rough. The green is large and receptive, of course it is 207 yards up a hill.
The 18th is the signature hole at Bethpage and it was one of my best of the day, despite being played in the dark. A laced drive past the fairway bunkers set up for an easy nine iron into the elevated green. It is a great way to end a very challenging round.
I would go back to this course in a minute. But, if I went, I would play from the white tees. Playing from the tips is such a daunting challenge. While I am barely long enough to negate the extreme length you need off the tee, my iron play isn’t good enough to put a four iron on the green on even half of the holes. The rough is so thick and difficult, I can’t imagine what it was like at the Open. But, the fairways are perfect as are the bunkers and greens. Every putt is true and doesn’t bounce or wobble off line, not even on the par threes. The greens weren’t particularly quick, but they didn’t have to be. They rolled so well and the rest of the course is so tough you don’t need tough greens on top of it all.
The other outstanding feature of this course is the lack of carts. You are required to walk at Bethpage and, for me, it was an awesome feature. It keeps the game in the truest form and eliminates the distraction of carts on the course. It also helps with the time of your round.
From your first tee shot until your last putt at this track you are tested. You really have to play a perfect game to score what you are used to at your local course. From the white tees it is most likely a different story as you eliminate about 800 yards from the entire course. That is a major difference, particularly when you need to carry your drive 250 yards to clear some of the fairway bunkers.
But, this course goes down as my new favorite. The conditions were beyond pristine and I would find my way back in a heartbeat. Not to mention, the cost is very affordable. Just over $60 at peak hours for NYS residents and $44 at twilight.
Find a way to play this course, you won’t be disappointed. Here are the rest of my pictures: