Every Hole at Bethpage Black in Farmingdale, NY
Senior architecture editor Ron Whitten goes hole-by-hole on this sweeping flyover of the Black course at Bethpage.
Released on 5/7/2019
[Narrator] Ignore the warning sign
posted at the first tee.
Bethpage Black Golf Course may well
be extremely difficult,
and recommended only for highly skilled golfers.
But the Black is the rare public golf course
that's good enough to host major championships.
Bethpage Black has hosted the 2002
and 2009 U.S. Opens,
and now the 2019 PGA Championship.
It's a timeless design.
7,436 yards par 70 from the championship tees,
rank number 37 on Golf Digest's Hundred Greatest.
So forget about that sign.
All golfers good and bad, wanna play the Black.
The first is a straightforward dogleg
right par four, off an elevated tee.
Trees on the inside corner of the dogleg forces
to hit driver in order to see the green.
A steep front portion of the putting service
forces us to hit to the center or rear,
and the putt back downhill is swift.
Once we've holed out,
it's through a tunnel between Round Swamp Road
to the next 13 holes.
Two is the shortest par four in the course,
and the most graceful,
curving left through a valley,
between hillsides of oaks
to a well bunkered hilltop green.
The pros may use less than driver here
because there's no advantage
being too close to the green.
The steep topography
all but hides the view of the flag.
Don't go left on the second shot.
There's a steep bunker and a 10-foot deep
gully over here.
Clearly, a ridge of a hill was flattened
to create the par three third hole,
which is a long iron and wood over a canyon
to a diagonal green fronted by deep traps.
The green used to fall away on the back left,
but in 2015 Reese Jones had it regraded
to support shots.
Don't over club.
Beyond the green is a deep chasm.
There's practically no room
for spectators on this hole.
If the short par five fourth brings to mind
Pine Valley, that's deliberate.
The Black's design was a 1935 collaboration
between park superintendent, Joe Burbeck,
who lived on the property,
and golf architect, A. W. Tillinghast,
who served as design consultant for $50
per day for 15 days.
Tillinghast later wrote that it was Burbeck
who envisioned the Black Course be something
comparable to Pine Valley as a great
test of golf.
Thus the dramatic bunkering
on this hole, and elsewhere.
Most of it re-established and enhanced
by Reese Jones.
Five is arguably the best hole in the course,
requiring a drive that bites off what you dare,
over a vast scrubland bunker on the right.
Playing down the left side means the approach
into the elevated green will be blocked
by overhanging oak trees.
The shallow green has subtle pockets in it,
so even a three foot putt is no certainty.
The area beyond the green is a great
spectator vantage point to watch play
on five, six, and 12.
Six is a curious two level par four,
with a plateau fairway and a green
60 feet below it.
The fairway bunkers aren't that far off the tee,
so most players will bomb it over those bunkers
to the bottom of the hill,
leaving a wedge into the tiny green,
which has bunkers left and right,
both of them bigger than the green itself.
Seven normally plays as a 576 yard par five.
But for majors it's a par four played
from the back of the regular tee box.
The strategy on this dogleg right
is to cut the corner over another
scrubland bunker and have the ball run
as far to left side of the fairway as possible
to avoid overhanging trees on the right.
The green looks flat,
but there's some definite contour
in the back left portion.
A pond short of the eighth green
is the only water on the course,
and has been in play ever since Reese extended
the front of the green forward some 15 yards.
For majors, the slope dropping
down to the pond is shaped tight,
like at Augusta Nationals 12th and 15th greens.
A back bunker was discovered hidden in tall grass
when the course was first restored.
In 2017 Reese elevated that bunker
to make it more intimidating.
Nine is the toughest tee shot on the course.
Uphill, over gullys, in a corner bunker,
to a tabletop that only the longest
hitters will reach.
All others will be playing second shots
from a steep right to left slope in the fairway
to a flag visible on the horizon.
The ninth fairways ends some 50 yards
short of the green,
so distance control is crucial.
Flashy green side bunkers left and right
will wake anything short or off line.
The tenth fairway curls along right hand bunkers
giving wide berth to a string of dunes-like
bunkers on the left, installed by Tillinghast,
to fill a wide open expanse.
Again, the fairway ends short of the green.
This time with a steep swale before the shallow
putting surface which is fronted by steep bunkers
and backed by a relatively new chipping area.
Playing parallel to the 10th in the opposite
direction and sharing the same left hand rough
of imitation sand dunes,
the 11th has a bunch more bunkers
on the right,
and a far more complicated green.
It's tilted like the deck of a sinking ship,
with waves of sand around it.
A new pin position in the back left has been
created specifically for the 2019 PGA.
On the par four 12th,
the average golfer from the regular tee
is simply trying to avoid the huge bunker
in the left in order to leave a second shot
of around 200 yards.
But the average tour pro will fly it over
the far left corner of that bunker,
or even over trees, farther left,
to have a short iron approach into the green.
For them, this hole plays at the same length
as the par five fourth, but is much simpler.
The long par five 13th has two fairway bunkers
left off the tee,
then they throttle back some tour pros,
which then brings the cross bunker
35 yards short of the green into play
on the second shot.
If one lays up in two,
the cross bunker will hide the view
of the putting surface for the third shot.
For those going for it in two,
the green is rather small,
with a hillside of nasty rough behind.
So most will likely play 13 as a three-shot hole.
14 is a simple shot over a pit,
and a deep bunker to a big green
shaped like a triangle.
The farther right the play, the longer the carry.
Once you replace the flag,
it's down the hill and back beneath
Round Swamp Road to the four,
extremely testing finishing holes.
The toughest hole in two U.S. Opens of the Black
was the 15th, which is surprising,
because it has no fairway bunkers.
But the tiny green is positioned 50 feet above,
pinched in the hillside.
In the face of the hill,
are what Reese calls lethal bunkers.
And the two-tiered green is the hardest
on the course to putt.
16 is not as long as it looks,
because the tee shot will drop 60 feet.
But it's tight off the tee with the trees
left and right.
Although, there's actually plenty of room
at the bottom of the hill.
The fairway curves left,
but the diagonal green points to the right,
meaning the big right hand bunker will come
into play on many approach shots.
From the tee, it's hard to see much
of the putting surface at 17 because of all
the yawning bunkers.
The green, the widest and most shallow
on the course has distinct high left
and low right sections.
The hillside behind has been cleared of trees
to accommodate spectators.
Add to that gallery grandstands teed to green,
and 17 becomes a miniature Yankee Stadium,
during championship week.
When Reese Jones first redesigned the short
par four 18th in 1999,
he added 50 yards in length,
cut the green size in half,
and pinched the fairway with two massive clusters
of free form bunkers.
In 2018, he returned to remove the hour glass
nature of the fairway,
making it more uniformly wide.
It's purpose is to discourage use of an iron
off the last tee,
taunting pros into using a wood,
maybe even a driver to run the gamut.
After all, 18 is a small green,
designed for a short iron approach
and a potential birdie.
Champions don't lay up on the 18th hole.