GOLF COURSE REVIEW - BETHPAGE STATE PARK (BLACK COURSE)
Course Architects: A.W. Tillinghast (1936), Rees Jones (1997-98,
2007-09 - redesign/renovation with Greg Muirhead)
Year Opened: 1936
Location: Farmingdale, New York
Slope: 148. Rating: 76.6
Hole-by-Hole: 1 - Par 4 430 Yds 10 - Par 4 508 Yds
2 - Par 4 389 Yds 11 - Par 4 435 Yds
3 - Par 3 232 Yds 12 - Par 4 504 Yds
4 - Par 5 517 Yds 13 - Par 5 605 Yds
5 - Par 4 478 Yds 14 - Par 3 158 Yds
6 - Par 4 408 Yds 15 - Par 4 458 Yds
7 - Par 5 576 Yds 16 - Par 4 490 Yds
8 - Par 3 230 Yds 17 - Par 3 207 Yds
9 - Par 4 460 Yds 18 - Par 4 411 Yds
Par 36 3,720 Yds Par 35 3,776 Yds
Key Events Held: Ryder Cup (2024),
PGA Championship (2019),
Barclays (2012, 2016, 2021, 2027)
U.S. Open Championship (2002, 2009),
New York State Open (1998-2001),
Metropolitan Golf Association Open (1989, 2001),
U.S. Amateur Public Links (Blue and Red Courses) - (1936).
Awards Won: #5 by Golf Digest - America's 100 Greatest Public (2009-10),
Ranked #6 by Golf Digest - Toughest Golf Courses in US (2009-10),
#29 ranked Golf Digest - America's 100 Greatest Courses (2009-10),
Ranked #6 by Golf Digest - Best in State (New York) (2007-10),
#7 by Golf Magazine - Top 100 Courses You Can Play (2006-08),
Ranked #1 by Golfweek - Best State-by-State Public-Access (2007).
HISTORY: The history of this mighty test of golf is quite storied, as famed
architect A.W. Tillinghast is credited with creating one of the finest venues
in all of golf.
Previously owned by the Yoakum family, State parks commissioner Robert Moses
purchased the land for the state of New York in the early 1930s and had nearly
2,000 workers building the Black, Red and Blue courses and the original
clubhouse as part of a Depression-era work relief project. Moses wanted to
create an enormous golf complex that would be open to the public, "The
People's Country Club," as it has been dubbed. Tillinghast was brought in to
design and oversee the construction of the aforementioned three courses at
Bethpage, and to renovate the existing course, Lenox Hills Country Club, which
would become the Green Course (originally designed by Devereaux Emmet). A
fifth course, the Yellow, was later designed by Alfred Tull and opened
Tillinghast, who designed Winged Foot, Baltusrol and San Francisco Golf Club
to name a few, crafted golf courses all around the United States, but it was
the northeast region where Tillinghast shined. The latest rankings of
America's 100 Greatest Courses, lists seven Tillinghast designs, six of which
are in New York and New Jersey.
Some believe Tillinghast had little to do with Bethpage, but existing designs
and drawings confirm that he definitely created this masterpiece. That said,
Joseph H. Burbeck, the park superintendent at the time, deserves credit for
carrying out Tillinghast's ideas.
Bethpage State Park is the largest public golf facility in the world, with
five 18-hole golf courses centered at one clubhouse. The 1,500-acre state-run
facility at Bethpage has hosted more than 18 million rounds, and averages
Bethpage is a truly public golf course, with a daily fee of just $50 on
weekdays for local residents, and $60 on weekends. For those wishing to visit
from out of state, fees are doubled. The daily-fee status of the venue meant
that when the U.S. Open Championship was contested there in 2002, it was the
first time the event was held on a truly public course. Although previous Open
courses Pebble Beach and Pinehurst are open to the public, they are not daily
fee venues. Torrey Pines joined Bethpage Black in this category in 2008.
Prior to hosting golf's grandest event (at least in the U.S.), Rees Jones was
brought in to make numerous changes to the Black. The "Open Doctor" did not
disappoint. Jones, whose own resume includes such wonderful layouts as Haig
Point Club (SC), Huntsville Golf Club (PA) and Ocean Forest (GA), has
renovated many of the U.S. Open and PGA Championship venues in recent years.
At Bethpage, new tees were added, repositioning and restoring of all greenside
bunkers took place and green surfaces were adjusted.
When the USGA made its initial visit to The Black for the '02 U.S. Open, it
was world No. 1 Tiger Woods who captured the Championship. Woods carded a
final round, two-over-par 72 to defeat Phil Mickelson by three shots. Despite
bogeys on two of his final three holes, Woods was the only player to finish
under par for the championship, at three-under 277. Although Woods did not
putt particularly well (T-53), he finished first in greens in regulation and
seventh in fairways hit.
"I think it's just a fantastic golf course, and especially [considering] what
it used to look like prior to the renovation," said Woods. "It's quite
exquisite considering where it used to be and where it is now."
How difficult was the 2002 Championship? The Black played over par all four
days, with a total scoring average of 74.9. Sunday's final round yielded only
three subpar rounds, which makes it more remarkable that Nick Faldo was able
to shoot 66 (low round for the event) during round three.
Jones was once again brought in to refurbish the Black Course in preparation
for the 2009 Championship. This time around, Jones, along with the USGA,
increased the course yardage, as five new tees were added on holes three,
five, seven, nine and 13. The 10th hole was also adjusted after most of the
Tour players complained about its lengthy forced carry. In all, the 2009 U.S.
Open will play 212 yards longer than in 2002. Several greens were re-shaped,
including the eighth and 14th, creating new pin positions.
"If you look at the two Open setups, we believe there will be more risk-and-
reward shots than in 2002," commented Mike Davis, the USGA's senior director
of rules and competitions. "Structurally the course is pretty much the same."
Bethpage did not disappoint in 2009, as Lucas Glover defeated Phil Mickelson,
David Duval and Ricky Barnes by two shots for his first career U.S. Open
title. The rain-soaked event took five days to complete, as several inches of
rain fell throughout the championship.
Mike Weir opened up the 109th U.S. Open with a six-under-par 64 to snare the
first-round lead, however Ricky Barnes shot rounds of 67-65 to post a new 36-
hole record of 132 and lead Glover by one shot. After third-round 70s, Barnes
maintained his one-shot advantage heading into the last round. At one time
during round three, Barnes had reached 11-under-par, however his six-shot lead
had dwindled to one by round end as he stood at 8-under.
During the final 18, Barnes stumbled with bogeys on the front nine and by the
turn, Glover held the lead. Mickelson, who had played steady throughout the
championship, was two-under after 54 holes and with an six-foot eagle putt on
13, reached four-under-par and was tied for the lead. His heroics were short-
lived, as he bogeyed 15 and 17. With the finish, Mickelson became the all-time
leader in U.S. Open history to finish second five times. He was the only
player in the field to post all four rounds at par or better.
Now it was Duval's turn, as he birdied holes 14 through 16 to grab a share of
the lead at 3-under-par, however a missed four-footer on 17, saw his chances
diminish. After making seven bogeys in 12 holes, Barnes rebounded with a
birdie on 13, but he parred the final five holes to tie for second.
Glover was steady in round four, but was four-over par following a bogey on
15, as he stood tied with Duval. His approach to the 16th was stellar and when
the putt dropped from six feet, he was back on top to stay. Pars on the final
two holes solidified his spot in history, as he became only the sixth
qualifier since 1960 to win the U.S. Open.
For the week, Bethpage Black played to a scoring average of 72.931, with only
five players under par. World number one Tiger Woods, who captured the 2002
title, could do no better than tie for sixth. After an opening 74, Woods
countered with rounds of 69-68-69. As was the case in 2002, the 15th was the
most difficult hole on the course at 4.470, yielding only 17 birdies.
REVIEW: The golf course itself has extremely hilly terrain with expansive
fairways, humongous bunkering and relatively flat greens, but the powers that
be certainly let you know what's in store right from the get-go. All players
are warned on the first tee, "The Black Course is an extremely difficult golf
course, which we recommend only for highly skilled golfers." Not something you
want to read when you reach the first tee, but as you'll find out, quite
The opening hole is a dogleg to the right, flanked by a row of trees on the
right side. The first shot is played from an elevated tee to a tight fairway
with the second shot towards the smallest green on the course. Three-metal
might be the play off the tee to set up short iron to the severely sloped
putting surface. A nice opening hole which could produce some early birdies.
The second hole, the only par-four on the course under 400 yards, bends from
right to left to an elevated green. A long iron or fairway metal should
suffice off the tee, leaving a short-iron approach to the blind putting
surface. Sand short and left is not the place to be, as this will result in
bogey...or worse. If your distance control is on, then birdie is certainly a
possibility as the green is quite benign.
A new teeing area has been added to this devilish par-three that now stretches
to 232 yards. A pinpoint tee ball must be struck precisely to find a shallow
green that is angled from right to left. The putting surface is fronted by two
huge deep bunkers on the left, allowing the players only a glimpse of the top
part of the flagstick from the sand. A back-left pin can be a killer.
A sure birdie hole is the par-five fourth, or is it? The tee shot must steer
clear of the huge wasteland of sand on the left and trees on the right. The
second shot must carry over the "Pine Valley" like crossing bunker towards the
green or to the right. Players attempting to reach this hole in two, will have
their hands full, as the blind uphill shot to a shallow green slopes away from
the player to a thicker pitching area behind the green. Trees, which
originally played havoc behind the putting surface have been removed, but
going for this green in two will certainly be quite a test.
A 270-yard carry awaits players on the fifth, a classic par-four that reaches
478 yards from the tips. Even with a successful tee shot, the player is left
with a long iron approach to an elevated, small and well bunkered green. The
tee shot must hug the right side of the fairway, as a wall of trees cover the
hole on the left side leading up towards the green. Stay below the pin, as the
green slopes from back to front, otherwise, you're looking at an easy three-
Birdie is a likely possibility on the sixth, as players will tee off with a
three-metal or hybrid to a plateau, with a second shot that drops sharply,
some 50 feet to a small green guarded on both sides by sand. The USGA made
significant changes to the left side of the hole, allowing the player an
opportunity to take driver out and reach the bottom fairway. Risky, but worth
Although a par five for most mortals, the seventh hole will play as the
longest par four in U.S. Open history at 525 yards. Playing to 489 yards in
2002, a new tee box was added for 2009, putting additional pressure on the
competitor. Tall trees guard the right side, so cutting the dogleg right is
not an option, thus leaving a long approach to a fairly easy putting green.
That is, if you reach the green in regulation. To add insult to injury, the
putting surface features a pair of traps, one on either side. Guaranteed, this
will be the most difficult hole at the 2009 Open. The locals play this hole at
576 yards and without a doubt, a par five!
The eighth is a beautiful par-three from an elevated tee over a pond with a
green guarded by a bunker left and deep and a tall oak tree on the right.
Since the previous U.S. Open, 20 yards have been added, but more importantly,
the putting surface has been restored to its original size, thus bringing the
water back into play. With new pin locations added to this green, the hole can
play from as little as 135 to a whopping 230 yards.
At 418 yards, the ninth was certainly no pushover, but after the 2002
Championship, the USGA, with Rees Jones at the helm, extended the tee box an
additional 42 yards, making this a massive 460-yard par-four that plays uphill
to the green. The lengthy bunker down the left side pinches the sloping,
right-to-left fairway forcing the utmost in perfection off the tee. Not to
forget the trees down both sides of the fairway. Clear the trap on the corner
of the dogleg and you'll have a reasonable shot at birdie, but only the
longest of hitters will attempt this play. Two massive bunkers guard the large
circular green in the front.
A brutal stretch of holes starts the back nine, beginning with the 10th. The
second of three par fours that stretch over 500 yards, this monster requires a
long carry just to reach the fairway, however this was shortened since 2002.
The hole is straightaway, however the greens sits off to the left. Seven
gigantic bunkers guard the landing area, putting enormous pressure on your tee
ball. The fairly flat green is dominated by two large bunkers guarding the
entrance to the surface. Any shots with long iron will most likely end up over
the green, where a new chipping area has been established, allowing for a
somewhat easier up-and-down. Make par here and you've gained on the field. In
fact, in 2002, only three players that finished in the top-10 of the
championship made birdie on this hole during the four days.
Similar in style with the previous hole, the 11th is reminiscent of the
Scottish links across the pond, where the wind sweeps through the exposed
land, creating havoc with your shots. The tight fairway is again guarded by
deep traps and if you're lucky enough to miss the sand, the thick rough will
certainly claim many errant tee shots. Although not as long as No. 10, this
par four features the most severe putting surface on the course, as it slopes
steeply from back to front. Phil Mickelson had little issues with this hole,
as he birdied it three of the four days en route to his second-place finish.
At one time, the 12th was the longest par-four in U.S. Open history, but now,
even with its additional five yards, it's just the third longest on this
course at 504 yards. During the previous Open, this was the second hardest
hole on the Black. No surprise, as this hole doglegs sharply to the left with
a huge cross-bunker to carry, some 260 yards from the tee. The green is
slightly elevated, but features one of the largest putting surfaces on the
course with a tier splitting the front and back. Par here would be great, and
even bogey is not so bad. Tiger Woods was one of the few players to par this
hole all four days in '02.
Depending on the wind conditions, the par-five 13th could be a birdie chance,
as players head down the stretch. During the 2002 U.S. Open, competitors
rarely made bogey, in fact, Jose Maria Olazabal made birdie all four days.
This time around, that might change, as the hole was lengthened 51 yards, as
Jones added a new teeing ground. The fairway bends to the right, so players
must be careful not to drive through the short grass, as the rough is
extremely difficult. With the added length, the cross-bunker down the left
side certainly comes into play, not to mention the trap that sits 30 yards
short of the green. The putting surface is sloped from back to front with a
right green-side bunker, but players should be able to gain one back.
At 158 yards, the 14th will definitely give up plenty of birdies, but with an
enlarged green, distance control will come into play. The putting surface
slopes from back to front with a new tier in the rear to confound the player.
Sand on either side of the green will keep the player honest. Shigeki Maruyama
aced the shortest hole on the course during round two in '02, as he tied for
From easy to impossible greets the players at 15. One of the most demanding
holes on the Black with the most difficult green, the 15th plays to 458 yards
to a green that is perched on a hillside, 50 feet above the fairway. Missing
this green to the right, left or short will prove costly, as the two-tiered
green slopes severely from back left to front right. The key to taming this
beast is the tee shot which must split the narrow landing area, one of the few
holes without fairway bunkers. Woods was one of the few players to finish the
four days without making worse than par (3 pars and 1 birdie).
Another demanding tee shot is required on the 16th from an elevated tee to a
narrow fairway that bends ever so slightly. Eleven yards were added to this
par-four, stretching it to 490 yards. With the elevation, a mid-iron should
suffice to a fairly receptive green. The circular putting surface has sand
right and left, but the area itself is benign. The 2002 champion nearly lost
the championship on this hole, as he made two bogeys in four days.
One of the most devilish holes on the course is the par-three 17th. A medium
to long iron will be played to an hourglass-shaped green that is quite wide at
43 yards, but very shallow and with little of the putting surface visible. The
green side bunkers were all shifted closer to the green in the reworking of
the course by Rees Jones back in '02. Club selection with the U.S. Open crown
on the line will be critical, especially with the stadium-like atmosphere
created by the grandstands and hillside in the rear. Scott Hoch aced this
beauty during the final round, as he tied for fifth, however, Mickelson's
chances of a U.S. Open title fell by the wayside with a bogey here on Sunday.
All aspects of the final hole were strengthened for the 2002 Open, as the tee
was pushed back 33 yards. At 411 yards, the 18th is not the longest, but
certainly the most pressure-packed hole on the Black. The drive from another
elevated tee must negotiate between enormous clusters of bunkers to a fairway
that is just 16 yards wide. The second shot then rises to a green that slopes
gently from the back, but only partially visible from the fairway. Birdies can
be made, as evidenced by Tiger's back-to-back threes in the first two rounds,
but with the title on the line, try to swallow that apple in your throat.
OVERALL: A course that was a beast before Jones got to it is now a complete
test of golf that requires every club and shot in your repertoire. Although
the fairways are slightly generous (when not holding a U.S. Open), missing one
will cost you at least one shot and before you know it, breaking 90 or 100 is
out of the question.
How tough can this course play? Ask the best player in the world.
"If [Bethpage Black] was set up the way we played the Open every day, I don't
think anybody would play golf anymore," added Woods.
Although the course went through extensive changes the past several years, the
layout remains intact, a Tillinghast gem. Greens were enlarged to establish
additional pin placements. New teeing grounds were added to lengthen holes and
formulate a sterner test, and the conditioning of the venue was improved to
heighten the beauty of the Black.
Woods praised the layout, saying, "I think the golf course played extremely
fair in 2002...it was right in front of you, come and get it."
The Black is in better shape than in 2002, but experiencing this great tract
is not easy. The price of admission is quite reasonable, with a top price of
just $60 for locals. It's getting a tee time that's next to impossible.
Stories of golfers sitting in their cars overnight or calling for hours on end
are not uncommon, so you'll have to be creative.
What makes Bethpage Black even more unique is the fact that it is a "walking
only" course, as golf carts are not allowed. You'll have to grab a caddie or
hoof it on your own, but either way, it's worth the price of admission.
The Black is truly a must play for the avid golfer, one of those "whatever it
takes" kind of venues. For the player who is not as avid, play a different
course at Bethpage, because your experience on the Black could be very
humbling. Hence the warning on the first tee.