A few weeks back, I was able to grab a Tuesday morning tee time at Bethpage Black. I even cancelled a trip to a local muni to make the trek to Long Island, and let me tell you – it was worth it. If you ever get the chance, get out there and play it – you won’t regret it. Here was my experience:
(Before you read on, no this is not a shot-for-shot recap of my round. God, that’d be brutal. But I do want to take you through the first tee shot because, in my opinion, that’s a huge part of the golf experience. Anyway…)
I’ve been lucky enough to play a lot of competitive golf against a lot of talented athletes in my life. I’ve had to tee it up on the first hole in front of hundreds of people, including players way out of my league. But I have never in my life been more nervous for a first tee shot than this day at Bethpage.
I couldn’t sleep the night before. I went over it in my head again and again. It’s not a complicated hole: downhill, slight dogleg right, no water, no OB, no real threats. But for some reason, being up on that first tee had me shaking in my spikes…12 hours before I even pulled into the parking lot.
Once I got there, the nerves just worsened. I might have hit 40 range balls in 10 minutes trying to get comfortable. (It didn’t help that drivers weren’t allowed on the range.) But I felt like I was prepared enough. Well…I thought.
What I did NOT know at the time is that at Bethpage they announce your names when you take the tee on Black. No it’s not like on Tour (“Now on the tee, from Jupiter Florida…”), but it’s also not just a, “9:45, you’re now on the tee.” It’s in between, and just personal enough to bring all the nerves right back…
“The 9:45 time of Chris, Mike, Michael, and Nick, you’re now on the tee.” GULP.
Then you have to walk down a few steps to the tee, right past that damn sign that might as well read, “Turn around dumbass, you’re nowhere near good enough to even look at this course.”
Since we were there during COVID-19, there weren’t many people milling around like there is normally from what I’ve heard, so the “gallery” wasn’t much, but the first tee still feels like a stage perched up on a hill below the clubhouse and above the course.
I had the (mis)fortune of going last in my group. After three decent pokes out towards the fairway, I managed to get my tee in the ground, placed my fresh pearl on top, took a deep breath, and swung….
Pushed it right into the rough. Whatever, we’re off! What lay ahead was 18 holes of some of the most fun I’ve ever had on a golf course.
THE NUTS ‘N BOLTS
The way this course rolls up and down hills and meanders through wooded areas makes you completely forget that you’re on Long Island. There is at least one element on every hole that is either way above or way below the rest of the hole – the tee, the fairway, or the green.
And because it’s such a long course (we played the white tees at about 6,600 yards), you’re hitting long irons into par 4s where the green might be 20-30 feet above the fairway. And you so very rarely are hitting straight down a fairway. They run on an angle from the tee, squeezing your landing zone, making you second guess how aggressive to make your target line, or where to bail out.
Speaking of fairways, I’m hardly ever in those, so let’s talk about the rough. It’s high. Really high. Like, take-a-sand-wedge-from-200-yards-and-hack-it-back-into-the-fairway high. The first hole rough isn’t bad, but I think that’s just to suck you in – make you think, “oh, this isn’t going to be bad.” HAH! You’re screwed.
The day we played, the fescue was pretty low, so it was actually more beneficial to miss the fairway by a bunch, because you were likely to catch a better lie in the trimmed fescue cut.
I’ve also heard Bethpage described as “big shouldered” and I had no idea what that meant until seeing it in person. All the bunkering and mounds and undulations are so LARGE that it looks like everything is right on top of you, when in reality it’s 300 yards away. You might aim for a bunker (they’re everywhere) off the tee thinking you’re going to fly over it, only to realize that it’s greenside 400 yards away, but with a 15-foot face.
Just like everything else, the greens are immaculate, too. Even though a lot of them are elevated, most of the greens are on the larger side. The toughest thing is they aren’t as undulating as the rest of the course. With a few exceptions, they have a ton of subtle breaks that sometimes go against the rest of the hole. If you pay attention, they can be manageable, but the difficulty lies in getting your ball to the actual putting surface.
All in all, it’s just a great experience to get out on a perfectly manicured course you’ve seen on TV hundreds of times, and try to recreate shots you see the big boys play. I can’t wait to go back.
MOST MEMORABLE HOLES
Holes 15, 16, 17 & 18 are such an incredible way to end the round. After walking a treacherous 14 holes of up and down hills, the last four give you absolutely no relief. But boy are they beautiful.
15’s green and 16’s tee lie up on a hill with their respective fairways below. #17 is an awesome par 3 with a green hidden and surrounded by bunkers. The whole thing backs up to the base of 18’s elevated tee. And then your approach on #18 brings you up the same hill you teed off on #1.
You see all of that laid out in front of you as you walk up to the 15th tee and it is GORGEOUS. I damn near had to pick my jaw up off the ground.
MOST UNDERRATED HOLE
There was something about #5 that was just so quintessential Bethpage. It’s a long par 4 at 423 yards from the whites, and it plays even longer. Even though the tees point straight at the green, the fairway runs diagonally from left to right
You have to pick the perfect line to land your drive in the fairway and keep it there. Too far left, and you run through the fairway into the rough, and most likely can’t reach the green because of a few trees poking out from the tree line. Take a tee shot too far right and you come up short, either in a large waste area or caught up in the rough with a long iron into the elevated and well-protected green. Classic A.W. Tillinghast.
BETHPAGE’S HIDDEN GEM
I want to say #8 is an awesome little par 3, but in reality it’s 190 yards from the white tees. The tee is elevated so it plays about a club-and-a-half shorter to the green tucked down at the base of the ninth tee box. The green is protected by a huge tree on the right, bunkering long and left, and a pond in front. The false front of the green is shaved right down to the water’s edge, so anything over the pond, but short or just onto the green will probably end up wet. A picturesque hole if I do say so myself.
That’s it. I really do hope you get out there to experience it. It was cathartic. And if you get the chance and need a fourth, hit me up.