Bethpage Black’s 15th hole – “Mount Olympus”
by M. James Ward
When concluding play at the short par-3 14th at Bethpage State Park's Black Course you descend downhill for a short walk across Round Swamp Road. Upon crossing the road you enter via a gate opening back onto course property and then you see what lies ahead.
Bethpage Black 15th tee - photo courtesy of the PGA of America
Although there are no official names for the holes at the Black, the 15th should be rightly named "Mount Olympus." The hole turns slightly left in the drive zone with the final 180 yards moving uphill. The green is literally perched on a high precipice, 50 feet above the fairway and you believe when you finally reach the green you will be in the company of Zeus. There are two distinct tiers on the putting surface and the green slopes diagonally from rear left to front right. Although the hole can stretch to 478 yards for the PGA Championship, for the two US Opens, held in 2002 and 2009, the tee boxes were set at 459 yards.
Bethpage Black 15th fairway - photo courtesy of the PGA of America
The most crucial element starts with the tee shot. Failure to find the fairway likely means no real opportunity to reach the green in the regulation stroke. For those hitting the green the key is being near enough to the pin avoiding massive breaking putts. Should one miss the green – either short, left or worse long – the penalties can be exacting.
Starting with the 2002 US Open, the fairway cut on the left side was extended further out, therefore putting players on notice to respect the penalty for missing on that side. How tough is the hole? After the first round of this year's PGA Championship the stroke average was 4.577 – with just four birdies made and Tiger Woods had one of them.
In major championship golf you rarely see severely uphill holes. The 18th at Augusta National is one that comes quickly to mind. However, the abruptness for the final 75-100 yards at the 15th at the Black is truly steep. Gauging club selection and marrying it properly with the appropriate trajectory is an absolute must.Bethpage's Black Course will return to the competitive scene in 2021 when hosting The Northern Trust event on the PGA TOUR – the opening event for the FedEx Cup Playoffs. And more importantly, Bethpage will host the 2024 Ryder Cup Matches. Count on the 15th hole playing a major role in that encounter between the American and European teams.