99 Quaker Meetinghouse Road,
New York (NY) 11735,
- +1 516 249 0700
Bethpage State Park, Farmingdale, New York
Welcome book in advance
Joseph H. Burbeck, A. W. Tillinghast
When the USGA announced that the 2002 U.S. 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 U.S. 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.
The 102nd U.S. 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.
Only one player bettered par in the 2002 event and only five players broke par when the U.S. Open returned to the State Park in 2009. Only time will tell how tough the Black will be set for the 2025 Ryder Cup matches.
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 his consultant. 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 call 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?
Didn't live up to the hype IMO. Legit VERY difficult if you don't hit a long tee shot in the fairway. Rough is very unusual - sticky grass with spotty think fescue. Didn't feel compelled to take my pics or want to come back.
Upon arrival at the massive carpark I wondered if I’d mistakenly arrived at a Walmart. On the long walk to the clubhouse things improved as the audacious “Welcome to the people’s country club” sign came into view. This surely beats the better known “warning” sign? Once inside, I paid the (relatively) modest green fee and entered the retail delights of the pro shop. The guys behind the counter knew some golfers by first name. Where to start? I plundered tat & swag like it was an episode of Dale Winton’s Supermarket Sweep. At this point the experience struck a fine balance between a busy corporate operation that almost felt like it could be a golf club.
I’d been sweating over this tee time for a week, checking the online booking system every 6 minutes. Nothing doing. It’s one thing to champion a public golf oasis amongst a desert of private clubs, but it may as well be Paradise Cove if I couldn’t get on. It was looking like a night spent in the carpark queue. Not something I was looking forward to (despite my usual semi-intrepid & careless nature) because I’d wrecked my back during athletic misadventure the day before at Yale.
And then it happened. 9pm on my final night in New York and some Crazy Fools (surely the collective noun for those opting to give up a coveted slot at Bethpage Black) decided to cancel their 11:20am 4-ball for the next morning. It was the only spot showing and perfect for me to make a 7:00pm flight out of JFK. Elsewhere in New York 2 others were likely also silently celebrating. The Golfing Gods were either finally smiling on me or didn’t want to miss setting me up for a fall at this infamous test.
At the starter’s hut I was met by the more famous infamous sign and my two playing partners. They were unacquainted locals who regularly checked the tee sheet and could drop work commitments as golf became available. Nirvana. We’ll call them Chas & Dave because I can’t remember their real names. Brief intros and then off we went. I pulled out my driver and gingerly punted my first Bethpage Black Metal wood of the day down the right side. The first hole is really nothing special, at least not considering this is a (take your pick) US Open/PGA/Ryder Cup venue. Still, it might be a highlight on an average course: An elevated drive to a fairway that doglegs right to a smallish green benched into a gentle slope.
10 minutes later Dave was in for his par and I was gratefully holing out for my bogey. As Chas was lining up his 12 footer, Dave was already disappearing from sight down a tunnel & headed for the second tee. Before casually stroking it home, Chas looked up and called over no need to wait for him. Humming Taylor Swift’s “Welcome to New York, it’s a different soundtrack” to no one in particular, I waited for Chas. When we all caught up at the second hole, Dave was on a call, making some deal or other. He put his phone down on the tee box and ripped his drive away. We followed suit. I liked this hole better than the first. It was less forgiving and had a more interesting shot up to a semi blind green, perhaps the first example of the all or nothing nature of the course.
I do have a nice Garmin sports watch, but more often than not I simply check the yardage on the tee marker, decide it’s not correct, and then randomly select a soon to be regretted club. Therefore my first par of the round at the 3rd was no mean feat if you are as useless at depth perception as I am. Club selection for this fairly shallow green that angles away right to left is crucial and dependent on pin position. Chas & Dave both airmailed and the up & down from the slope was no picnic.
Then we came to the Par 5 4th hole. The sense of recognition almost floored and I risked collapsing under the weight of my grin. An attractive hole & so often my Bethpage nemesis from the Tiger Woods video game series. I’d finally get a chance to either get one back or compound historical performance. The strategy on this hole is simple & ideal. No real width providing multiple options or routes, more a case of deciding to go for it or not. From the back tees, I find it hard to imagine reaching & then holding this green in 2. My strategy was to play it as a 3 shotter, which became 4 courtesy of a fairway bunker. But another 2 putts for bogey and I felt quite satisfied. The hole is a beautiful monster and one I could probably play all day without a birdie. It would leave me a uber-cross between Bill Murray’s characters from Caddyshack & Groundhog Day.
At this point I’ll depart the hole by hole descriptions and leave them to the experts. The family breakfast won’t make itself and this is a fine place to speed things up. Much of what follows from the 5th onwards is very good golf. There’s plenty of variety in the challenges ahead, but they are linked together by the word challenges - a need to keep hitting good shots from tee to green over the expansive property. It wasn’t all hitting bombs - the 9th was one of two holes where I drove through the dogleg and should have clubbed down. 10 & 11 were nice changes of pace, flatter, where you could be at Royal Worlington or a Walton Heath-erless. The Par 5 13th was another stout test and the short 14th felt like doing a bungee jump as you hit your elastic cored ball across a valley to a shallow green with death all around.
At this stage Chas was now taking a video call for a work meeting. The 15th was definitely another death or glory highlight that was worth the green fee alone. Probably rivaling the 4th in terms of memorability. The bunkering throughout never fails to capture your attention, and often your ball. The 17th was perhaps the pick of the Par 3’s, where a double bogey effectively meant I would not be breaking 90. The closing hole is undoubtedly picturesque & recognizable, but misses something. After Dave holed out on 18, Chas & I quickly consumated our own bogeys. We shook hands and turned to Dave to do the same but he was nowhere to be seen. He’d vanished in a puff of smoke like a magician doing a disappearing act. In fairness I’d conversed them both to death so he was probably desperate to make like Houdini & escape back to his office.
To Ryan’s earlier insight, I am a Neanderthal in many things & so welcomed the challenge that this course asks. You have to keep making good swings which makes a change from infinite variety where you often get let off the hook, or penal golf with watery graves. Have I mentioned that I didn’t lose a ball? To paraphrase Frank Sinatra, if you can make a score here, you’ll make one practically anywhere. The rough was at times sticky, although I was assured, nothing like it can be. Word is that the test on the greens is relatively simple in comparison, and this is probably true. But I didn’t find them boring - they had enough tilt and every now and again even had some internal contours. The way things are going with a European exodus to the LIV Tour, I’m and get another Crack at the Black sooner rather than later by making the 2025 Ryder Cup team. The experience goes down as one of my favourites and the course is burned into my mind as a rather unique creation. Despite the absence of water, a classic LCD Soundsystem track comes to mind: This is one pool in which I’d happily drown. Bethpage Black, I love you and you’re not bringing me down
Bethpage Black is a very odd duck. For those who like hard golf courses, it may be the acme. Of interest unless the pins are placed close to the edges, the greens are rather tame. I have been fortunate to play the course with the Metropolitan Golf Writer's Association numerous times whereby the course is set up with an historical set of pin positions from a previous major event. I have the experience as a member of Lehigh CC in Allentown, PA, which has putting surfaces that share the characteristic of using the periphery of greens to test the best players, in fact, Lehigh has better designed greens (Flynn) than the Black in any regard.
What is notable about BB is the absolutely mindless homogeneity of fairway cuts where one sees the old-fashioned dual cut (making fairways seem even more narrow than the 22-28 yards parallel-edged as the BB setup offers) which also has the grave misfortune of creating rough bunkers. Bunkers 30 yards from play in some cases so that the course can be a mindless beast for elite bombers of the ball who can swing a wedge at near 100 mph to play smash-and-hack golf. Thee is nothing more boring - nor dare I say easier to set up. Give me the mission to test the greatest players so no-one breaks par and I can give it to you in spades.
BB has become very stylized over the years with large boring bunker shaped, elevated greens, 4-6" bluegrass rough and all this does is suck out any hint of joy and stretch rounds to over six hours.
This course is described elsewhere hole by hole, yard by inane yard, blow by tiresome blow, soI'll offer zero hole descriptions.
BB has a massive scale few courses in the world possess, however it is wasted in a New York State of mentality where macho man thrashes macho man day in and out.
I would like nothing more than to see a more sane set up so that there is little fun re-injected into this monolithic boring setup currently in place. It would of course cease to be what its raison d'être currently is so what would that do?
It would make it a far better golf course, it would also elevate it to the Top 10 courses in New York State - where it currently is but does not deserve to be. As it stands, maybe they ought to offer a hot branding iron for those who finish - "I play Bethpage Black". Maybe brand those those hitting every fairway and green ...
Still go play it. 3 balls or 5? Depends on what you want it to be, currently it's about 3.5 for me. It needs a lot of work and redirection, it is the epitome of where golf has gone wrong with the equipment issue.
I share your issues on Bethpage Black -- the greens could use a bit more sophistication and I concur with Tom Doak that the exclusion of a top tier short par-4 is a crucial missing element. And then you have the incongruous par-4 18th. Mike Davis wisely wanted to have the final hole for the '02 and '09 US Opens be a combination of the 18th Black and Red holes. It never happened. A pity.
It terms of the lengthy rounds -- the issue is that players for many years -- my first time at the Black goes back 50 years -- attempt to play a course where they have been forewarned about the obvious perils. Management deserves the hit on this one -- little done to really police those who can be easily spotted. Alas, speed of play is nothing more than a talking point -- not an action item of emphasis.
I hear your frustration and can only hope something is in the works via the PGA of America / Kerry Haigh with the Ryder Cup Matches set in 25. The Black can and should be more engaging than what's there now. No doubt about it.
Slow Play is a terrible disease and BB is a milieu that exacerbates it, maybe as no other*. Being a rough and tumble LongIsland public where men are men and some are animals, New Yorkers are sometimes a sad lot of selfishness - the core of what slow play is - selfish golf.
"I've paid my money and I'm going to grind out every shot. This is my time and place to be like Tiger (or whomever)."
*However, to be fair Torrey Pines is also such a cauldron and to a lesser extent Whistling Straits and every other course where the "Best" play. This is among the places where the dreaded caddie can make a difference (You know as well as I that a double-bag is NOT a caddie, it's a baby-sitter or a cheerleader) to speed up play, but here maybe risking a beating from some of the clientele.
I just played TPC Sawgrass last week, same deal - 5:30 after backing out the 1:30 rain/lightning delay on a 75* dew point day well in the 90*F range. TPC Sawgrass as BB have some remarkable holes, Whistling Straits and Torrey - not so much.
Slow play can never be justified. BB having 22-25 yard wide razor-edged straight fairways are nonsense for day to day. BB can get rid of 2-3" of that stupid unplayable bluegrass rough.
But at least the greens ARE simple.
Cheers, my friend
There is no question that slow play is a selfish act -- wrapped around the cocoon mentality of "I paid my money, and I can take as long as I please. It is not simply a New York mentality but throughout the USA.
People also play the wrong tees and have a far higher assessment of their golf game abilities. The Black makes short-change of such ill-equipped people. Golf, at any course, can never be enjoyable when rounds go beyond five (5) hours.
I concur in regards to the presentation of the Black. The lining of fairways with suffocating rough only adds to the death march. When someone pays $10 or more dollars for a sleeve of balls -- they will enlist the services of the FBI to find their ball.
The Black would gain immeasurably by widening the fairways and providing more engaging playing angles with the approach shots.
The issue is that since the course is public -- there's no feasible way to push people off paying the layout when they clearly don't have the ability level to do so. The only way to combat the slow play would be increasing the space between tee times -- to as much as 12 minutes per group. Then there would need to be course personnel stationed accordingly and having a hole-by-hole time sequence to keep matters from becoming gridlock.
With the '25 Ryder Cup coming to BB - I can only hope the folks at the park and someone like Kerry Haigh at the PGA of America will give ample thought on how to truly resurrect the Tillinghast genius at the layout. The Rees Jones fingerprints have only obscured what can be a real gem.
The ending hole is simply unacceptable as a closing hole. Mike Davis did suggest a different ending - using the 18th of the Red -- but that failed to materialize.
The 18th should be a true capper to the round. It is simply lack luster and in the same vein as the finale at Cypress Point.
Tom Doak was quite correct -- a superb short par-4 or two is lacking at the Black. Fortunately, the greens don't have the terror-inducing pitch and slope found at Winged Foot. Then rounds would be even longer.
I have played the Black in excess of 200 times in a lifetime and thoroughly enjoy the mandated walking policy. The key is having a clear vision -- one that accounts for the inherent Tillie style.
The character of the course is present -- it's the truly impactful soul that's missing now.
“Going viral” has never been my preferred version of journalism, so I humbly beseech you read the entirety of this post — and maybe a few other of my posts to hopefully confirm some semblance of know-how — before attacking the writer for this review. It contains shocking blasphemy:
Bethpage Black, as it stands, deserves better but not in terms of ranking. If anything, the course is far too highly ranked. Rather, it deserves better in terms of iteration.
I frequently recommend my friends in the GCA world check out the work of Ryan Farrow, a shaper who does frequent work for Coore & Crenshaw. During 2019, he created telling maps overlaying the Black fairway corridors of the ‘50s over the current setup. A summary of his findings: The average fairway width shrank from 52 yards to 30, and total acreage dedicated to fairways shrank by 60 percent.
The final 50 years of the 21st Century is often referred to as the “Dark Ages of GCA” because many architects dedicated attention to “protecting par” rather than creating stimulating architecture. The past few decades have seen dozens of celebrated restorations that brought Rosses, MacRaynors and, yes, Tillinghasts back to prominence. The nickname “Open Doctor” is not used with friendly intent, at least in my conversation circles, when describing Rees Jones.
So why does Bethpage Black, realistically the standard-bearer for outdated, penal golf receive a reprieve from critics? I can only reckon that there are too few willing to stick their reputation out and disagree with the Golf Digests and GOLF magazines of the world. Multi-Major hosts tend to inspire cult followings, and frankly Bethpage is making considerably more money by slapping the infamous “WARNING” sign on every piece of merchandise than by selling the legitimacy of its Tillinghast design.
At the risk of decapitation, I’ll stick my neck out.
Ron Whitten wrote a questionably-reported feature suggesting that Joseph Burbeck was the designer of Black, and not Tillinghast. Truth be told, Rees Jones is the current designer at Black...Tillinghast’s brilliance lies buried in wrist-shattering second cut.
Some readers will accuse me of calling for a “softening” of Black, and I would counter that proponents of Golden Age golf course architecture would call it “strategizing.” I wouldn’t dare make it any shorter than its current 6,700 “middle” tees. But I would absolutely restore Tillinghast’s intended fairway widths. Would these offer more birdie opportunities? Absolutely not. But they would offer the wiser/weaker golfer (myself included) the opportunity to at least attempt bogey golf, and the braver among us to suffer for attempting otherwise.
You know...in the same way that other strategic masterpieces of Tillinghast’s day and age operated.
As it stands, Bethpage Black is the case exemplar of “caveman golf”: Hit shot or die. Repeat. None of the nuance I, as a non-Neanderthal, crave when conversing with a great course. Contrary to beliefs of the dark ages Jones arose from, great golf is not black and white...it is 50 shades of grey, without fetishizing sadism.
That I still gave Black this rating reflects just how much faith I have in its potential. Black surely possesses the best part of the Bethpage property (this plot, Mr. Whitten, may be thanks to your beloved Burbeck) and I will throw Jones a bone and acknowledge his recreation of Tillinghast’s monumental bunkers restored an aura difficult to match in these United States. I only wish that he would have seen fit to give the fairways similar thought.
I’m the odd bird who doesn’t necessarily take ocean views into consideration when weighing architecture by itself, and because of that I believe that the potential for America’s greatest public course may lie in these hills. As it stands, however, I don’t believe it to be in the Top 10, contrary to what most publications would have you believe.
And that is a hill I may die on. Go ahead and throw those stones.
100% agree that restoring width would improve this golf course - for the benefit of 99% of golfers. A great bucket lister, but doesn’t sound like much fun as it is.
However, it would seem they are attracted to the US Open like a moth to a flame - with the associated sizzle of being an infamously tough course that the public can play. This must be a choice they have made, a niche they wish to occupy, rather than a careless accident.
But if they did restore significant width - and bearing in mind the greens are known to be fairly flat - how could they retain the challenge for the touring pros? Or are the 2 goals mutually exclusive?
"Retaining the challenge for touring pros" is an important concept in the ongoing battle between the the vocal minority of "woke" GCA fanatics (myself included, with the term used less than endearingly) and the greater majority of professional golf fans / the USGA / PGA. The idea of "protecting par" has been around for eons...but I think the bigger question is whether protecting par is necessary at all.
I frequently use the term "post-architecture" to describe the professional game. These golfers, to their credit, are beyond good...better than course architecture can account for without "shenanigans." So why bother? The best score wins, regardless of how low it is. If the best two scores are -24 and -23, you've still witnessed a fine competition. Unfortunately, viewers are more likely to associate an "E" winning score at the U.S. Open as better than the -24.
But as we've both suggested, those same viewers are beyond eager to get thrashed by the same course as their hero, and wish I could blame the Bethpage complex for owning that brand.
I am in transit today and about to catch a flight -- will just add the following with more to come. I have played the Black over 200 times in a 45-year period. Quite extensive and played the course when grass grew by accident -- and not by design there. I can also remember having a hammer with me -- an actual one -- and banging tees into the concrete-like tees !
I have also covered over 100 majors since 1980 and seen the world class professionals play up close countless times. The only way one can tame them is when you have an alignment of wind and firm conditions. The players are THAT good. The most memorable major that comes to mind is when the '13 Open Championship was played at Muirfield. The course was in ideal conditions -- quite firm and a bit of a breeze blowing. Ask Mickelson is most glorious moment in golf -- it's in Scotland -- and not this past May at Kiawah.
If one doesn't have firmness and wind -- the pros will go to town. Check out Jason Day's -20 at the Straits Course during the PGA in 2015.
In regards to the Black -- the fairways have been wider prior to the updating of the course that took place with Rees Jones.
The main deficiencies of the Black are fourfold -- the finishing hole is a big time dud. There's been a few ideas. I often thought how a "new" finishing hole could be added with the 18th green on the adjoining Red Course.
The second concern is that the greens are mainly vanilla in character. No question, when the two Opens were played in '02 and '09 -- the USGA had them running beyond 13 on the Stimp. One need not get silly but the Black is deficient when held against Tillie's gem at WF / West and what one sees at the revamped Ross / Hanse effort at OH / South. Give the Black those type of greens and the character of the layout would certainly rise.
The other missing element is in having a vintage short par-4 of real character. To use a baseball metaphor, the Black is akin to Nolan Ryan in his prime. You can expect serious "heat" with pitches topping 100 mph -- with no real changes in terms of pitch type or velocity. That is what the Black provides. Failure to hit the tee shot consistently means your likelihood of success is nil. You also have the other element missing when the Black is discussed -- hitting quality approach shots to elevated targets. The Black has numerous examples of this -- commencing at the 2nd and highlighted by the world class 15th hole. Just to illustrate how good the world class players are -- Dustin Johnson birdied the hole four consecutive days during the '19 PGA Championship. That is beyond mindboggling! When one is hitting to elevated targets you need to be in the fairway and with the proper angle of attack. It also means the need to choose the right club because of the added elevation involved.
The Rees Jones involvement clearly changed the fundamental character of the Tillinghast / Burbeck involvements.
The Black will host the '25 Ryder Cup and there's time to put the course in a different alignment with its fundamental character front and center. I am confident Kerry Haigh - assuming he is still in the position he occupies when the matches are held at the Black -- will do what's needed to provide the layout with its aura front and center.
Ryan's point on the nature of the terrain found at the Black is 100% spot on. The famed Manetto Hills of Nassau/Suffolk counties which the Black straddles can be enhanced and the shotmaking challenges bolstered.
I have long been a fan of the Black but no course is beyond being improved. The discussion Ryan started is a fair game matter.
To add my 2 cents worth to this fascinating discussion. Low scores are not only the purview of professional golfers. In 2021 the Tennessee state amateur title was won by with a score of 27 under par at Council Fire in Chattanooga, which is a fine golf course. The mid-amateur championship at Oak Ridge Country Club, another fine golf course, was won by a 53 year old golfer at 23 under par. These scores simply stagger my imagination. It reminds of something Tom Doak once said, and I paraphrase from distant memory, that you can build a course that is fun to play and you can build a course that will challenge excellent golfers, but you can't do both on the same course. I agree that wind, firm conditions, and possibly enough rough to impact the flight of the ball are the only things that can keep great players from low scores. You can't build a golf course long enough to challenge them, and you can't put enough hazards in to affect their game.
Bethpage blew me out of the water. It is hands down the best course I have played up to this point in my golfing life. I would say this course is a drop everything you are doing and make your way to Bethpage as soon as possible. The price, the experience, the wow-factor, the conditioning, everything about it was incredible.
Known as the "People's Country Club" Bethpaage really is a truly remarkable experience and place to play golf. And the warning sign really does mean business. Try not to miss fairways or else you will struggle to make Par. It is a tough but wonderful golf course.
Can't wait to go back and pair this with the Red course and maybe a private club or two in the area if I am lucky.
Bethpage Black is a treat to any municipal golfer. The reason behind this is based on my upbringing in municipal golf. No matter the level of quality courses one has played, this will be on every golfer's top 10 courses. The history, environment, and envy that it produces to private clubs is the one reason why this course is a true national treasure.
It is rare for a course with expectations like Bethpage to exceed them, but I can say with 100% confidence that Bethpage did just that. The first thing you notice while playing Bethpage is the scale of the property.
Although many of the corridors are large, the fairways are not. Instead they are squished by the infamous rough, that is thicker than anything I’ve experienced before. Any shot hit into the rough will almost certainly require a layup.
The bunkering is extraordinary and demanding, especially on holes 10 & 11.
Almost every green is an island in a sea of sand and rough, which requires you to carry your shot all the way to the putting surface. This is where I believe much of the Bethpage’s challenge comes from as most of the greens are extremely flat.
The conditioning of the course is superb with grass everywhere, however, the greens are quite slow by championship standards but still run true.
Bethpage is a public course with very reasonable green fees, but it is difficult for out of state golfers to secure a tee time. That being said everyone should add it to their bucket list of courses as it lives up to the hype.
Favorite Hole: #4 (view from 3rd green is one of the best reveals in golf)
Other Notables: #6, #15, #17
Bethpage Black will beat you to your knees and you will still want to go back and play again. Conditions are always great year round and is very affordable for anyone looking to play.
As the Open was coming to the Black, I desired to finally give it a go. At the time playing as an out of state player created either a pay too much to a service or go get a parking spot in the lot. So I drove to the lot and parked and got spot 7 at 5:00pm the night before I desired to play which was the next to last day the course was open for play prior to the open. There are just 6 4somes so being 7th meant I might miss. After chatting with all the drivers parked ahead of me I realized one was going to play the Red. The starter comes out at about 5am and whoever is standing next to the car parked gets a bakery chit numbered and the first 24 will have the first 6 tee times. My son drove up and met me just before 5am so we were good to go. We got in line and paid and the sky opened up and it poured. If you recall that first open at the Black the course was crazy wet. My son and I played with two young men who were good players and those 3 wished to play the full course. So I joined. 7600 yards of wet ball plugging debauchery. The course is a wonderful array of challenging holes. Predominantly the greens are relatively flat. It's a course which is special and I'm so glad I got to experience the full monty.
Plenty have raved appropriately. Falling in love with this home course has been the best abusive relationship of my life. I just can't quit Beth.