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?
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When I finally got to the front of the line, at 6:00 a.m., I had a 10:30 time and four-and-a-half hours to kill. I made friends with the starter as best I could (he was a busy guy), and at 10, there was a cancellation. “Grab your clubs,” he said, “you’re up.”…
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 above review is an edited extract from A Golfer’s Dream, which has been reproduced with the author’s kind permission. A Golfer’s Dream, by Larry Berle, tells the story of how a regular guy conquered America’s Top 100 Golf Courses (following Golf Digest’s 2001/2002 list). Larry has exclusively rated for us every course in the hundred, using our golf ball rating system. However, Larry did not rate the 100 courses against every golf course he has played, but instead he rated them in relation to each other within the hundred. Consequently, in some cases, his rating may seem rather low. A Golfer’s Dream is available in Kindle format and also on Kindle Unlimited via Amazon... click the link for more.
Make it your goal in life to play this course. Unique experience encompassing everything that the inventors of the game set out to achieve. No exaggeration.
Just played it for the first time this week. Played the whites. I am a 12.5. Might have been set up a bit harder than normal regarding the second cut of rough because a pro tournament is being played there next week. I have played a number of good coursed in the US and many very good coursed in Ireland. This is one of the best and probably THE best course I have ever played. I really learned the meaning of a "protected green" on this course. The second cut needs to be avoided, especially off the tee (or it basically means a stroke). You can get out of it, but you are really not sure where it is going to go and it MUST go back in the fariway or you could be looking at a big number. The predominitatly elevtated or blind greens are flanked by massive bunkers, the aforementioned second cut of rough and hay.....Approach shots are normally long and when you are looking at an elevated green that is protected as described above, I was often forced to admit that "I don't have that shot". Many times I just tried to lay up to the end are of the fairway. At that point you are looking at a 50 to 100 yard pitch to the pin off of the short stuff. At least you are putting for par. Of course you don't want to do that all the time. You want to have fun. Later in the day as you examine your card, those are the holes where you tell yourself that you left some strokes on the course.... Next time I see the pro's on TV hitting approach shots out of that rough the elevated greens and making it happen consistently, I will be truely amazed that their skill level. The course also had a much more "linksy" feel than I was expecting (with trees included). The substrate is great hard packed sand with just enough give. Hitting off the fairways is a real pleasure. The track is defintely worth whatever you have to pay to play it. Also, be prepared for a serious workout (mental and physical). Good luck out there !!!
I was fortunate to play Bethpage Black multiple times in the 90s prior to the restoration. The course was an absolute joy to play, even in the poor conditions. You just knew that the proper framework was there. Then I was also quite fortunate to play it prior to each of its 2 US Open Championships (after the renovation of course). It was then that the true potential of AW Tilly's design was realized.
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.
After reading all of the reviews already posted, there are a few other tidbits I would like to share without duplicating the obvious accolades for one of the best courses in the world and clearly one of great golf bargains too.
I grew up in the NY area but never made it out to The Black until the July. The computer system they have in place has made the sleeping in cars a thing of the past.
I played the RED the day before as a warm up as it is the 2nd toughest course of the 5 at Bethpage. It was 103 degrees and I carried my bag. Bring it on! I shot one of the best rounds of my life. In the bar afterwards, exhausted but exhilarated, I chatted with the bartender and he told me The Black was 5 shots a side harder. Damn.
The epilog is that The Black was 16 strokes harder and I hit the ball the same! I had one of the best driving days of my life on The Black and I was still looking at 190 yards into greens. The course is can be best described as playing golf against Mike Tyson - in your face, nothing fancy, and hitting you hard. It was 100 degrees when I teed off and I walked/carried again. I am the man! ;)
Best tip would be to spend a hour at the chipping green. I lost all my strokes in the heavy rough around the greens. The greens themselves are slower and flatter than my club, so I found them easy. It was getting on the green that was the challenge. At the famous #15, I hit driver and 5 wood and was in the greenside rough in front of the left front trap; about 30 feet from the pin. I walked off with a double bogey after taking 4 strokes to go 30 feet.
I played with a local 12 handicap woman. Though our handicaps are the same, I lost 6&5. She summed it up perfectly on the 1st tee, "Once you do Black, you never go back." ;)
In pursuit of their passion golfers have been known to do some head-scratching things. But sleep in the car? ... Just to play 18 holes? More accurately, since there's no guarantee… Just for the CHANCE to play 18 holes? What gives? Welcome to Bethpage, where it has been the norm for years... and while there are ninety holes at the complex, it's only The Black these die-hards seek.
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.
We had no problem securing a tee times. no camping overnight. The course was brutal that day. How can you beat this beast. And we're all 4-6 handicaps. Course was fantastic. Caddies sucked. We had a caddie named Dave. Are friends the next day had a caddie named Tito. Do your research if your going to hire a caddie. Joey the slicer seemed to have had the best experiance with his caddie. Scroll back in this blog and you will findit. Guys, the whole experiance was awesome. Get your butts down to Bethpage and play this course.
As you read some of the reviews you may think this course is super difficult. Not at all. That is of course my opinion, but I believe this golf course is not all over your head at all and very playable and manageable. Of course, if you believe that you should be able to make a green in regulation on every hole this is most likely not a course for you. You need to be very very good to really do this. But if you don't mind laying up from time to time you can enjoy this course very easily and still shoot a (relatively) good score.
The course itself is the best I have ever played and I've played quite a few out of the the top 100. I just can't imagine how golf can be better than this. The Black course has it all - history, beautiful and picturesque scenery, perfect lay out and design, excellent conditioning. If you ask me what one can improve about it I wouldn't answer, there is just no way this can be better. Or have I already said this?
Also, it is the best bang.... They charge you $130 whilst they can easily have a $300 rate and still have full booking. That's very fair.
So, play this course if you haven't already and be prepared to want to come back ASAP.
Bethpage Black….wow! Muslims have Mecca, Catholics have Lourdes and we golfers have Bethpage Black. It really is a pilgrimage: a 0315 train from Penn Station to Farmingdale, arriving at the course at 0420 I managed to get the 5th parking slot where I slept with my bag as a pillow for an hour! It was worth it though as my early arrival translated into getting out onto the course in the first group at 0651…perfect. By way of advice if you are planning a trip: the traffic started building up soon after 0500 so it is worth getting there before then. There are of course those that sleep in their cars; last Friday there were 4 of them. By 0530, when the ranger came around, there were about 30 cars parked up. Don’t forget though that many golfers don’t play the Black, certainly the red is just as popular, if not more so, for the locals. Anyway, to the golf.
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!
I have been lucky enough to have played some of the best private clubs around N.Y. and have to agree that the Black course is as good if not better than all of them on the island. I do think you've gotten the 2nd and 3rd holes mixed up though as the 3rd is the par three and no easy one from the tips! If people can't carry it 225 straight all day they need to play the Blue course instead!
I was lucky enough to play this course in the same week as Shinnecock, NGLA, Winged Foot, Merion and Baltusrol. Beth Page Black is the best mental test of golf I have ever played. Other courses may give you a short Par 4 or fair Par 3 to have a break from other long holes but not Beth Page Black. If you cannot hit your 3 Wood off the deck or a hybrid club (from rough) 200 yards as well as long irons consistently then it will be a long long day. Deserves its slope rating. For simple toughness and brutality its the best in the world.
I am a regular golfer at Bethpage. I play all the courses. I can tell you that the caddie program has changed. Gone are the days of caddies soliciting in the park. All caddies affiliated with the Black course must register with the State. Though the caddies are registered, this does not insure you will have a quality caddie on your bag. Most of these guys will just carry your bag and offer bad or no advice. Scoring an “F” on even the most basic caddie services. These guys are not worth the $75 a bag + tip. My advice. Ask the Pro Shop who the top guys are and request there services. A great caddie on one of the Worlds greatest course will insure you have one of the best experiences of your life. Good luck…jr
We arrived at Bethpage on Wed. .Our plan was to play the Red course on Thursday. Come off the course and get on the car line for the Black course. 2 of us wanted to get caddies and the others were going to carry there own. We all heard that getting a caddy here might not be the best thing to do, so we were very skeptical. The night we arrived we hit balls on the range. We started asking locals about the caddie situation. We asked at the bar, the pro shop, even the men's room. One name of a caddie kept on coming up in most of our inquiries....Johnny G is the man. This is the guy you want out there on the Black course. This is the guy that will guide you around this course properly. We made a call and hired Johnny G for our Fri. round. Though the Black course beat us up that day, we all would have been lost out there if not for our caddie. It was our first time on the Black and I highly recommend Johnny G if you are in need of a caddie on this course. Ask for him in the Pro shop or you can call him at the # he gave us...Johnny G cell#516-813-5522. Good luck to all you hackers trying to beat the Black. This is one hard course.
21 August 2010
I agree with Willy. Johnny G is without a doubt the best caddie up there. Our group has used him the last 2 years. Call ahead and request him, otherwise it is a complete luck of the draw what caddie you get and how good or bad he is.
10 February 2011
Watch out for bad caddies!!! It took me a few years but I finally found a caddie our group has used 2 times last year. Willythedivotbum got it right. Call Johnny G at the number above. The word around the Black course is this guy is the best. Our group agreed and we will hire him this year again. He did not use a laser but my friend did. we tested his yardages for 5 holes and gave up using the laser the rest of the day. the guy knows the course better than any caddie I have had.
01 March 2011
Regarding best caddies on the Black course...I have been playing the black course for 25 years and have had my share of good and bad caddies. So I believe I am qualified to offer this blog a list of the top caddies on the Black course and how you can hire them. If you ask around the clubhouse and the course, the best caddie up there is Johnny G. He has been up there for years, very well known and highly regarded. A caddie who knows every inch of the black. Monte, who is also mentioned many times in this blog is also very good. These 2 caddies work together a lot and have gotten us all around the course without loosing a single ball. Eagle eyes!!! And that is hard to do on the Black. Another caddie we have used for years is Bobby L. I've never seen someone hustle so much as Bobby on the Black. Johnny G and Bobby L are considered the best at reading these greens. An advantage to the newbie playing this course. A dark horse caddie to hire is Jack Miller. Has lived and played this course over 30 years. All these guys are true professional caddies. They know the yardages, the best shots to take in good and difficult situations and will undoubtably be an asset to your game. How do you hire them? You can personally request there services by calling the Pro Shop. If it were up to me I would call them directly. Johnny G 516-813-5522 Monte 516-316-8936 Bobby L 516-448-9586 Jack M 516-965-1557 Good Luck, and if you hire these guys please give this blog some feedback...It will be helpful to others in the future.
My son and I just returned from playing the Black course. I’ll start off by saying read the famous sign in front of the first tee. They are not joking. Even though I Am only a medium handicap at best, I have had the pleasure of playing some of the world’s best courses, Ballybunion, Portmarnock, Pebble Beach, Oak Hill (ask the Seniors about this one). I played Spyglass earlier this year. Bethpage Black is the only one of these that I can say I probably didn’t belong on. This was far and away the most difficult course I have ever played. Of course it did not help that I played from the back tees. It was also one of the best golf experiences ever. This course deserves all the respect and admiration it gets. It is a beast, 7460 yards from the tips. The most penal rough I have played this side of the Atlantic. But as tough as it is, it is also just as spectacular. My only complaint is about the caddie. I wanted to hire two caddies, but the caddie master ( I do not believe the caddies are officially part of the course) would not let us. They insist on one caddie on two bags. This did not work. Our caddie was not worth the $200 I paid. He did not find any errant balls, even though he handed us the same club every hole and walked up the fairway to fore caddie leaving us without any other club options (or my camera). He also did not seem to know the course. Be wary of the caddies, but don’t let this in any way deter you from this amazing experience. We will be back.
This is as the ranking suggests one of the best courses in the world. I got off the train at Farmingdale and proceded to the taxi rank. It was there I would unknowingly meet my playing partner for the day who I shared a cab with, George was a regular at the Black and got us off within an hour. $100 to play this place is like giving it away. George pointed me in the direction of a good caddy (Drew) and the match was on.
As soon as you get on the first tee you know you are somewhere special, with breath taking views across the opening holes and miles of multi coloured forests.
The first fairway was like the living room carpet after it had just been hoovered, not a piece of debris in sight and as tight as you could imagine.
Every tee shot was a treat, tee boxes perfect holes even more so. It was a shame to miss the fairways as you know you wont be hitting off turf like that at your local club.
We played in a strong wind from the north, the toughest out there i was told or at least I hoped, but it was not until the 470 yard 15th that your mind was put at rest. You were playing a brute of a golf course. Fair but LONG and difficult.
To sum up the place you would have to say that it is long, well maintained, awesome to look at and one of the best tests of golf you are likely to find on the planet. All I can say is go play, you will not be disapointed.
Long is certainly the name of the game. The course is tough but not because the holes are extra-ordinarily imaginative. But because all of them are so so long. You are struggling as a mid-handicapper to reach par 4s with two woods. And there is plenty of gradation in the holes, sometimes making the holes much longer than the official yardage. There is no better bang for buck course anywhere in America though.
The Black is the best bang for your buck available in the USA. It's a VERY difficult course to walk and carts are not permitted. Caddies are generally available. This is a course which punishes attempts at heroic recovery shots. If you miss the fairway then just pitch out and play for bogey. It's a wonderful wilderness experience as most holes are isolated and there are no houses in site. Fairways are generally maintained at near US Open width & the rough is long and the fescue longer. Many par 4s are driver and then fairway wood and you'll still come up short. many fairways required a 200 yeard drive to reach them off the tee. Short hitters should play the Red course.