A Detailed Guide to Bethpage Black Course
Finally, a golf course that’s open to the public and has hosted Major Championships!
If you thought that most venues chosen to host the U.S Open were ultra-private and exclusive to members only, in most cases, you would be correct. In the case of the Black Course at Bethpage State Park in Farmingdale, New York – it’s actually quite the opposite!
Forget about a “no cell phone policy” or having to pay monthly dues because none of the “country club” rules apply at Bethpage Black. This park is an enormous outdoor facility filled with loads of things to do, and best of all, everyone is allowed in.
There are five golf courses on the property, one of them being extremely well-known. It’s called the Black Course, and it’s the one we are going to focus our attention on during this page.
We’re going to tell you everything you need to know about the home of the 2002 and 2009 U.S. Opens.
We’ll take you on a tour through the most challenging holes, as well as cover the backstory on how and why it was designed to be so difficult.
We’ll also inform you that you’ll have a chance to see the best players in the world up close in personal at Bethpage Black Course for an upcoming PGA Championship and a future Ryder Cup!
It’s all exciting stuff when talking about this beast of a golf course that’s located in a public park just outside New York City.
Start with this table below of some key facts to give you a basic understanding of the type of golf course we are dealing with.
Bethpage Black Course – Key Facts
- Bethpage State Park – Farmingdale, New York
- Year Opened
- Owner/Operated by
- Public, Bethpage State Park
- Course Designer
- Robert Trent Jones Sr. (1960), Rees Jones (2007)
- 70 for the U.S. Open, 71 otherwise
- 7,426 (2009 U.S. Open)
- Host to
- U.S. Open (2002, 2009), The Barclays (2012, 2016)
- Official Website
A Public Park Is Established in New York
Let’s talk a little bit about the origins of Bethpage State Park. A key name is Benjamin Yoakum, a man who owned a large estate in Farmingdale, New York. To be exact, it was 1,386 acres of wooded hills that was about 30 miles east of New York City.
A short time later, he leased out the land to the Lenox Hills Corporation, who then built a golf course called Lenox Hills Country Club.
The Long Island State Park Commission stepped in back in 1931 to make sure that these grounds wouldn’t be split up into smaller parcels at a later time. All it took were a few documents and $30,000, and the land was turned over.
The town of Oyster Bay coughed up $20,000, while the County of Suffolk pitched in the other $10,000, completing the transaction. A couple years later in 1934, the Bethpage Park Authority was formed, and the plans for what you see today began to take shape.
There are five golf courses at Bethpage State Park, one of them being the old Lenox Hills Country Club which is now called the Green Course. The Yellow Course is known as the easiest amongst the five, and that was built in 1958 by Alfred Tull.
The man responsible for designing the Blue, Red, and Black courses was the legendary golf course architect A.W. Tillinghast.
The Black Course is undoubtedly the toughest of them all and is intended for only the low handicap players. It opened in 1936 as a 6,783-yard track, and given the equipment back then, it played extremely long.
After Sam Snead defeated Byron Nelson in a 1940 exhibition match at the Black Course, Nelson simply called it “an unfair test of golf.” If it was hard back then, imagine how tough it is now!
It has since been lengthened and played well over 7,400 yards during the most recent U.S. Open in 2009.
We want to tell you all about what makes this course so challenging. Follow along as we transition into a discussion revealing what Tillinghast had in mind when he created his New York masterpiece.
Illustrating the Layout
We aren’t trying to be cute, ladies and gentlemen. We are simply restating verbatim what the sign reads as players approach the first tee at the Black Course. You can tell a player a track is really tough time and time again, but when there is an actual sign that warns golfers of its difficulty, you know they mean business.
There isn’t one characteristic that stands out that causes the course to be so troublesome. It’s not like every hole has forced carry over hazards, and it’s not like the putting surfaces are the most undulating greens we’ve ever seen.
What makes it so tough is that there is simply no let-up the entire way around the 18 holes.
Forget about an easy birdie or a drivable par 4 at Bethpage Black. Believe it or not, there is only one par 4 on the entire scorecard that clocks in under 400 yards, and that’s the 389-yard 2nd hole.
On the flip side, 3 of the par 4s are over 500 yards. When the course is wet and there isn’t much roll, forget needing to hit your irons well. More times than not, the non-tour pro will need some type of fairway wood or hybrid club to even reach the par 4s in regulation.
Players will need to conserve their energy as they make their way around the golf course, especially by the time they reach the back nine. They’ll have to muster up whatever adrenaline they can find because the first three holes on the back side are absolutely brutal – and that’s being polite.
Start with the 508-yard 10th hole – an “absolute animal” of a par 4 if we have ever seen one.
We’ll foreshadow a little bit, but during the 2002 United States Open, it was a 265-yard carry just to reach the start of the fairway.
Add in the fact that some guys were teeing off early in the heavy fog, and you can conclude the types of harsh comments that were made regarding this particular hole. Here’s what the executive director of the USGA told GolfDigest.com
“It was never the length of the hole that was the issue. It was the carry to reach the fairway.”
When Mike Davis is admitting that the hole was poorly thought out and that it was designed prematurely, you know the struggle is real!
The 11th is supposed to be the “easy hole of the opening trio,” although players that miss the fairway will be lucky to not drop a shot here. Massive bunkers line both sides of the fairway, and the green is guarded by two more gigantic sand traps, eating up any mis-hit iron shots.
The hole generally plays between 430-450 yards from the tips, depending on where the pin is positioned on the green, and unfortunately, this is actually not even considered a long par 4 at the Black Course.
Do you want to see a long par 4? Look no further than the 12th. At 504 yards, this tee shot might actually be more demanding than the one players face on the 10th hole.
The dogleg left requires players to carry the left bunkers if they want to cut the corner and have a reasonable look at the green in two. Anything that peels out to the right, and you are looking at over 200 yards left, but don’t think for a second you are shooting into a wide-open green.
The putting surface is protected by bunkers on both sides almost as if two security guards were standing side-by-side, blocking the entrance into a National Bank. Any ball slightly left or right of the green will be swallowed by the “beaches,” and players are staring at a bogey or worse.
When it’s all said and done, Bethpage Black is no bargain, no matter how “qualified of an individual” you think you are. Not only do the 500+ yard par 4s eventually start draining your energy away, but the physical toll that just walking around the golf course takes on your body is excruciating.
Enjoying a few beers and having a good time with your buddies is a great way to approach the Black Course, but don’t expect to walk out of there some five hours later without your legs feeling like jello!
As tough as the “walk in the park” is and as arduous as the holes are, they become even tougher when the USGA steps in.
A Pair of U.S. Opens at Bethpage Black
How can we forget the 2002 United States Open at Bethpage Black? For the first time in its 107-year history, the U.S. Open would be held at a public golf course. If you were hoping for some drama, boy, did you get a handful of it.
The final group to tee off on Sunday afternoon was Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia, and boy, did the New York fans heckle Garcia to the max.
Garcia first got the fans on his bad side when he made comments alluding to the fact that the USGA would have suspended play had Tiger Woods been out there when commenting on their decision to not stop play early in the week when the course was flooding.
Secondly, and more notably, Sergio was given an earful from the spectators during his “pre-shot, waggle routine” that seemed to take an eternity each time Sergio was over the golf ball. Things boiled over on a shot in the 16th fairway when Garcia waved his middle finger at the crowd in disgust.
The combination of Tiger leading the tournament and everything surrounding Garcia and the patrons made this one electrifying golf tournament, and quite frankly, it was can’t-miss television.
Throw in the fact that fan favorite Phil Mickelson was mounting a Sunday charge, and we’re talking about one heck of a golf tournament.
When it was all said and done, neither Phil, Sergio, nor the rest of the field could catch up to “El Tigre.” Woods birdied 16 and 18 coming in, capping off a 3-stroke triumph in what was his second U.S. Open victory and 8th Major overall.
Tiger was the only man to finish the event in the red that week, posting a total of -3, 277 for the week.
Seven years after Woods won the first U.S. Open ever contested on a public golf course, the USGA and the world’s best players returned to the brute of a course nestled inside the confines of Bethpage Park.
A few changes were made to the golf course thanks to the expertise lent by famed course designer Rees Jones, and the course was in flawless shape.
The players took advantage of the soft conditions right from the get-go, with 13 men breaking par during Thursday’s opening round, including a 64 from Canadian Mike Weir. By the time Friday’s second round was in the books, three men had reached at least 6 under, including leader Ricky Barnes after gorgeous rounds of 67-65.
After Barnes and Lucas Glover matched with 70s during the third round of the competition, it appeared to be a two-horse race entering Sunday’s final round. The caveat here is that the majority of the final round was actually played on Monday, due to the course being absolutely drenched on Sunday.
What projected to be a duel between Glover and Barnes turned wide open after Phil Mickelson eagled the 13th hole to tie Lucas for the lead. Unfortunately for fans of “Lefty,” Phil bogeyed 15 and 17 coming in on his way to finishing runner-up, 2 strokes shy of Glover.
This was a huge deal for the 30-year-old Clemson grad. In fact, it was just his second win on the PGA Tour in his 8+ years grinding the circuit. Lucas Glover was the United States Open Champion, a concept that even Lucas himself had a hard time grasping. Glover stated this after his win.
“I just looked at the scoreboard to make sure this was really happening.”
The good news is that no matter what Glover does for the rest of his career, they can never take his name off the U.S. Open Trophy.
The U.S. Opens held at Bethpage Black were so successful that the PGA Tour knew they needed to make it back to Farmingdale, New York, on a more regular basis.
The result of this thinking was hosting a playoff event during the four-tournament FedExCup Playoff Series. Thanks to some strategic planning, the 2012 Barclays was scheduled to take place at the Black Course.
Indeed, the tour came back to the public course on Long Island in 2012, but this time, the course would play as a par 71. The difference was that the mammoth-sized 525-yard par-4 7th was converted into a 553-yard par 5, much to the delight of the participants.
The opening event of the 2012 FedEx Cup Playoffs at Bethpage Black was won by Nick Watney after the Fresno State alum fired rounds of 65-69-71-69. This was good enough for a three-stroke win over Brandt Snedeker, while Dustin Johnson and Sergio Garcia were another shot back, tying for third.
Add in the $1.44 million that was padded into his bank account for winning the golf tournament, and you can say that Nick had himself a pretty good week in New York.
Four years later, the PGA Tour once again decided to host their opening playoff event at the A.W. Tillinghast design, and again, they chose to set the Black course up as a par-71 track.
This time around, Texas resident Patrick Reed held off Sean O’Hair and Emiliano Grillo by the slimmest of margins to win what was his 5th PGA tournament at the time.
The win was huge for Reed. Not only did it propel him to the top spot of the FedEx Cup points list, but it also solidified his spot on the 2016 Ryder Cup Team, and boy, did he prove his worth at Hazeltine a few weeks later.
He got a check for more than one-and-a-half million bucks, not to mention the two-million-dollar bonus he received for ending the season third in the final standings. It’s fair to say that Reed wasn’t complaining about how the year ended.
Future Golf Tournaments on Site
It’s obvious how successful the turnouts have been each and every time the best players gather at Bethpage Black to compete on the big stage. Whether it was a U.S. Open or a FedEx Cup Playoff event, fans showed up in bunches to cheer on their favorite players in the world.
The great news for New Yorkers is that in 2019, another Major Championship is coming to Bethpage State Park. The PGA Championship, the year’s fourth and final Major, will be battled out at the Black Course from May 16-19 in 2019.
If you think that’s a misprint seeing the date of the PGA in May rather than August, you just haven’t been updated on the new changes.
The 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage Black will mark the first time that the PGA Championship will be played in the month of May since “Slammin” Sammy Snead won the 1949 Championship at Hermitage Country Club. If you won’t be able to make it to Long Island in mid-May, surely you have enough time to plan to be there for the 2021 Northern Trust (formerly known as the Barclays).
The PGA Tour will open their FedEx Cup Playoff Series at Bethpage State Park for the third time in ’21, and the fourth is already scheduled! The 2027 Northern Trust will also be contested at the Black Course.
If you think that’s all, then nobody has told you that the 2024 Ryder Cup is coming to the public golf course in Farmingdale.
If you thought the fans were boisterous during the previous two U.S. Opens at the location, wait until you see what happens when the locals get a few beverages in their system and start cheering for players from their home country.
The Rest of Bethpage State Park
We don’t need to pretend we are New York City tour guides and start giving you tips and advice on what to do when you are in the Big Apple.
What we will do is tell you all about what visiting Bethpage State Park is like, considering that anyone who can get there is allowed to take advantage of all the activities and sights that are offered.
We have made reference to the fact that it’s only about 30 miles or so east of all the hoopla in NYC, but we haven’t pointed out just how colossal the property is.
On nearly 1,500 acres of land between the border of Suffolk County and Nassau County is where Bethpage State Park lies, and there’s a lot more going on than people chasing around a white ball trying to get it in a hole.
While the five golf courses are synonymous with the park, there are also tennis courts and a polo field that guests flock to daily. There are numerous hiking and biking paths that are transformed into cross-country skiing trails when snow covers the ground during the winter months.
If you want to bring the family for a “day in the park,” there are a plethora of picnic tables and playgrounds, and there is even a designated area for horseback riding. If you can’t find something to do in Bethpage State Park, then clearly you aren’t a fan of the outdoors.
The Heritage Club at Bethpage offers one of the most elegant settings for a wedding that you can imagine. Plan accordingly because plans for a bride and groom to marry at the Heritage Club require you to book your reservation date well in advance.
If you are strictly interested in the state park because you want to test your golfing abilities at the Black Course, here’s what you need to know.
Getting a Tee Time at Bethpage Black
There are courses in the world that have hosted a U.S. Open, and others have hosted a FedEx Cup Playoff event. But how many have hosted both? And how many of those courses can the “average Joe” walk up to on a beautiful Saturday morning and play for just $75?
We’ll give you a hint and tell you that the answer to both of the questions is “none.” The Black Course at Bethpage will charge you $150 if you don’t have a New York State driver’s license, but it’s still a steal when you factor in the entire experience.
Those who are residents of New York have it easy when it comes to playing Bethpage Black. All they have to do is show up and ask to play, and they’ll squeeze you right in.
The best part is that once you play the Black Course and put your phone number in their system, you’ll have access to their “tee time hotline.” This enables you to simply call up at your leisure and reserve a foursome every month. You can make this reservation up to a week in advance, and you can do this every single month.
Summing It Up
The reason we get so amped up when discussing Bethpage Black is because it’s a course “for the people.” Don’t get us wrong; we can appreciate the exclusivity behind some of America’s oldest and most private golf clubs. There’s no doubt about that.
However, the fact that this track is just as great and brilliantly designed and you don’t have to be a tour pro or a Fortune 500 Company executive just to get out and play the course makes it distinct.
When fans watching a golf tournament know they can go out and play that same course, the engagement from them is off the charts.
We made sure we unveiled the layout of the course, focusing on the signature holes and the aspects that make the course so demanding. A.W. Tillinghast’s goal was to test players’ patience and will the entire round. There is no question that he most certainly executed on that behalf.
We talked about the two U.S. Opens and pair of playoff events that have been played at Bethpage Black. Now they’ll serve as a preview of what’s to come in the future.
We made sure to fill you in on what’s on tap in the coming years because the schedule of events on the horizon at the Black Course is one that would make any golf enthusiast overcome with joy.
If you haven’t had the chance to visit Bethpage State Park yet, it’s not too late. It’s open to the public, and the world-class players are coming back multiple times over the next few years.
The bottom line – it’s never too late to make a trip to Bethpage Black!