My trip to Bethpage was like one of those stories you hear about in a coffee shop. A friend and I started a trip out East by heading down to West Virginia to play Pete Dye Golf Club. After a stellar day, we started the trek up to New York with no place to stay, or golf course in mind for the next day of our trip. After a quick call to Bethpage, we decided to set the maps to take us straight to the Black Course.
We arrived at Bethpage around 2 a.m. and parked our car in the numbered spots line. We were sitting in the 13thspot, and at 4:30 they would come out and give us tickets for the draw. Obviously, we were almost too excited to sleep. We walked out around the grounds and were able to see the “WARNING” sign, as well as the grandstands that were still up from the PGA Championship just a week prior. As time grew closer to 4:30, more and more people came to get in line, and sat out by their cars drinking coffee and chatting it up. I thought, “It’s 4:30 in the morning and they’re acting like this is normal.” But maybe that is normal for some guys. Get up early and go get a tee time at Bethpage. Why not? Go play a world class golf course, then go sleep the rest of the day.
Once 4:30 hit, they handed out tickets to those parked in line. Once we got our tickets it was a mad rush up to the clubhouse to hear your number called. Being #13, we got called rather quickly. We got in line and quickly got an open tee time for 7:06 off of Black. They gave us our official tee time wristband, and to be quite honest, this whole process almost seemed a little too easy to be true. But, we weren’t going to complain about it!
First off, I just want to say that getting to play Bethpage in major championship conditions was unreal, even after only running on about 45 minutes of sleep. Getting to come down the final holes with grandstands up and greens rolling perfectly was incredible. Bethpage really took me by surprise though. I had played another public state park major championship course before in Torrey Pines, just 2 weeks before the Farmers Insurance Open. But Bethpage was head and shoulders above Torrey. I knew Bethpage was great, and its ranking reflects that, but I never imagined how flawless it was going to be out there. Being a public course, with a lot of play, I imagined some blemishes here and there, but it almost seemed that no blade of grass was out of place. The greens rolled great, the rough was plush and thick, and the fairways were so smooth and tight. It was way more impressive than I had expected, and I couldn’t have been happier that my preconceived stereotypes were all proven wrong.
Tillinghast and Burbeck both made their impact on the creation of Bethpage Black, and what it is today. When I sit back on each tee and look at the layout in front of me, I see championship golf, and I don’t see unfair championship golf. I see a course that will test a player from the tee to green, and no holes where you can let up in-between. We didn’t play every tee from the tips, but we did play a few. In major championship conditions, we could see the demand for keeping the ball in the fairway. On 4 different holes, I still had to punch back into the fairway because I drew a thick lie in the rough. Not sure how the pros muscle those out of there, but nonetheless it’s very impressive after seeing it firsthand.
Although Bethpage is demanding from the tee and fairway, the greens are large and create plenty of opportunity to hit each. The greens are also not super undulating, but do contain some slope. Having played with some locals, they told us that the breaks are deceptive, and usually do not break as much as it appears they should. Another hidden subtlety that makes Bethpage special.
It was interesting to us, being from out of state, that most people that waited overnight didn’t even play the Black course. From what we’ve heard, that’s not unusual either. There are 5 great courses at Bethpage State Park, and let’s be honest, if you don’t have the game, then the Black course could beat you up. It’s hard to imagine not wanting to play the Black every day. Picturesque hole after picturesque hole, a world class layout, some of the best par 3’s on the PGA Tour, and manicured splendidly. My experience at Bethpage was the “full experience” that I had heard so much about. I recommend it to anyone, and I can’t wait to go back sometime soon with friends and family to try at it again.