When the USGA announced that the 2002 US Open Championship would be held on the Black course at Bethpage State Park in New York, little did they know what they were letting themselves in for. Not only was this to become the first publicly owned and operated course to stage a US Open, but the pre-Open media hype suggested that the Black was far too easy and there would be record scoring. But they were wrong. Players unanimously agreed that the Black was one of the finest courses in the world, a supreme test of golf and eminently fair.
Only one player bettered par in the 2002 event and only five players broke par when the US Open returned to the State Park in 2009.
The 102nd US Open was a defining moment for Bethpage Black and it was fitting that Tiger Woods emerged victorious at Farmingdale in 2002. But Noo Yawkers in the know realised that this was the jewel of the Bethpage State Park’s 90-hole complex from the day the Black course opened way back in 1936.
Joseph H. Burbeck, a superintendent at the State Park, was the driving force and the project manager who led the construction of the Black, and A.W. Tillinghast was the course architect. The Black really is as difficult and penal as the high slope rating suggests. It’s not for the faint hearted, with narrow fairways, tangly rough, plateaux greens and huge sculptured bunkers. You need to be on top of your game to score well on the Black Leopard as Tillinghast used to lovingly refer to the course. For all those macho men out there, it’s recommended that you play from the forward tees, which have a course rating of 73.1.
So, are you up for the Black challenge? If so, which tee will you choose?
I chose the white tees, as did Joe, Cal and John, and we were off. It was damp and even a bit chilly and threatening rain. By the time we walked up the 18th fairway more than five hours later, the drizzle was beginning.
Of all the par 4s, only four were less than 400 yards and many were 420, 430 and 440, too long for me. But it is a beautifully designed course and in very good shape. Just how it stays in such good condition when it gets played from dawn to dusk every day is a mystery to me. It has lots of elevation changes, many heroic carries over fescue to the fairways and small heavily bunkered greens. In fact the bunkers give this course its character. A WWII veteran once wrote. “I have seen no bomb craters that I’ve studied as anxiously as that bunker guarding Number 2 of the Black Course. They do come bigger. When the ruins are cleared away, plenty of them look more like the third hole from tee to green.”
Long, thick rough abuts the fairways, with long fescue and many trees just outside of that. The Black Course demands long accurate play to small, well bunkered greens…
No comment on how the front nine went, but I shot a 45 on the back and was damn proud of it. My short game was on through the back because most of the par 4s were unreachable for me. Larry Berle
The course is a "man-sized" course with incredible design elements. The hazards are HUGE but very fair in their positioning. Only 1 water hazard is present on the entire course so the hazards are in the form of mammouth bunkers, waste areas, and the brush that borders most holes before reaching the woods. The only downfall that I have ever noticed in the routing is that a lot of the greens are completely encircled by rough which puts a premium on flying the ball in to the target. I am not saying that this takes away from the experience at all. Longer hitters (like myself) enjoy the target golf style here but shorter hitters may find it difficult to hit many greens in reg let alone reach the green in reg.
Holes 2, 5, 6, 9, 10, 15, 18 are all par 4s where the player is forced to fly the ball in for the approach and this is extremely difficult if you are not in the fairway at an acceptable distance to the target. The par 3s are super in their variety and are actually not too overpowering. The par 5s (3 of them in the normal non Open setup) are varied in length and offer a great chance to score if played wisely. Personally I feel that 3 par fives would have been a better setup for the Opens. Why the US Open has to be about length year after year is beyond me. Let the guys score and have some fun out there. Hole 7 is better played as a par 5. Overall the course lives up to the hype and is a true classic. Every golfer should cross swords with this beast at least a few times in their life. Once would not be enough.
Designed in golf's "Golden era of Golf Course Architecture" this was last course designed by the legendary AW Tillinghast, the area's most prominent Architect. One of his best, he'd be proud to see his baby today.
An understated harbinger is the sign on the first tee that warns, "The Black Course is for highly skilled golfers only." Had Ben Hogan ever played Bethpage-it's unlikely that Oakland Hills would be associated with "monster." With slick greens, impenetrable rough, and enormous bunkers, Bethpage Black is a beast. Its USGA Course Rating of 76.2 speaks volumes, as does its impressive 151 slope.
A mad, mean, unforgiving beast that shows no mercy, swallowing golfers whole, spitting them out and looking for the next victim, The Black is punishing, intimidating and often times simply overwhelming. With double bogeys and "others" lurking at every turn, it is a lesson in humbleness. The par 4's are brutal and play forever long. 480 yards, 485, 490, 510, and 490 paint a vivid picture. It can make the golfer feel as if he were a pawn. Adding to this, it’s a walking only course.
The USGA caught on; in a historic move, Bethpage Black, would be the first to hold an Open at a "truly public" course. Rees Jones renovated and restored it in 1997 and the "US Open Doctor" earned his stripes. Rest assured, Tillinghast nodded in approval. So highly embraced, it was dubbed the "People's Open." The world's best players had their hands full and the 2002 scoring attested to this as only a handful bettered par. Accordingly, The Black was bestowed with the highest of honors and awarded a second U.S. Open just seven years later.
A strange breed indeed, it’s the same scene daily. Golfers come in herds, lining up to take a shot at the beast, brushing off any discomforts or inconveniences they might endure along the way – even sleeping in the car. Never has pain and torture felt so good. Beau Kazzi.
The course starts with 4 relatively straight forward holes. The par 4 first requires a solid drive, the par 3 second a long iron and an accurate yardage to carry the trouble and the third is the only par 4 less than 400 yards long (from the tips). Then, after this gentle(ish) start the course warms up. The 4th, a par 5 is one of the best holes in golf. As you walk off the third green the beauty of it hits you like a Mike Tyson left hook. It is a sensational hole, then the fifth: 478 yards up hill, to a raised green guarded by two very deep front bunkers; play it as a par five! The sixth to ninth are all strong holes, none of which can be trifled at. Then starts the back nine, which at just under 4000 yards long is brutal if you can’t get it off the tee! The tenth is a par 4 and 505 yards into the prevailing wind. I was told that it was this hole, during the 2002 US Open, that forced Nick Price to move to the Champions Tour; in 4 rounds he didn’t make the fairway once! The eleventh presents a semi blind drive, the twelth is another 500+ yard par 4 (pray that on the day the tees are up or you’ll never carry the cross bunkers at 283 yards. Thirteen is a great long par 5 (605 yards) with trouble up the left. Fourteen a gentle par 3, but you mustn’t be long. Then starts the NY version of Amen corner: 15, 16, 17. Awesome holes but 15 is the trump card at 478 yards up hill with a 70’ elevation change to the green…oh and it’s into the prevailing wind again! I hit driver 250, ripped a 3-wood and was still on the hill short of the bunkers! Seventeen is a wonderful par 3, kind of reminiscent of 17 at Pebble Beach and the eighteen provides a great finishing hole.
Bethpage is a wonderful course. It is so fair but brutally long. If you don’t hit it well off the tee don’t bother showing up! You won’t have a good time. Others have commented on the caddies. One of my playing partners took ‘Bobby G’, he was fantastic. He is a real character with great experience and a wonderful eye for break on the greens. Enjoy Bethpage. It is a great course and one that the serious golfer must visit…it’s a golfing pilgrimage!