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Courses | The Legend of Bethpage Black


Uh-huh. Two thousand to the black course, Bethpage state park on Long Island became the first ever publicly owned and operated, golf course to hold the US open. It was a rousing success. The course was brutally hard the Long Island fans even in bad. Weather turned out in droves, they adopted Phil Mickelson chosen favourite and Sergio Garcia probably is the opposite of that in tiger. Woods, survive the test best he was the only player shoot under par for the tournament ever since the legend of Bethpage is only continued to grow the rowdy crowds, the impossible fescue, the warning signs behind the first tee in two thousand nine the majors returned to Bethpage. Phil Mickelson contended again. And he came up short again while Lucas Glover took down the win, but it was the fans and the venue that starred this week, a major championship returns to Bethpage Black for the PGA championship preview for golf. Magazine Paul Rogers headed out to Bethpage to play the course himself and to remind us what all the fuss is really about. Paul. Thanks for joining us. It's my pleasure Dylan. Paul. Let's start at the beginning for for you at least not for the course. But tell me about the first time you ever set foot in Bethpage. Black. Sure. I was nineteen years old of sophomore in college and made the golf team at Brown. And in those days back in the early nineteen nineties the Ivy league championship was played on the black. I had heard about it. I grew up in Manhattan learned the game on Long Island. And I'd always heard stories at Bethpage never been out there. So we rolled in the team fan and knocked it around in the practice round. And then the next thing I knew I was standing on the t- with thirty six holes to play on Saturday, and then eighteen more than ext. It was all I could handle to say the least. Yeah. I mean what is that? Like for bunch of college kids, to, to tackle, Bethpage. I mean, I think you know, outsiders probably know that it has a reputation for being difficult. But you know what is, how does that manifest itself? Well beyond difficult, and I should just say one more thing since you mentioned what is like college golfers to play it. I think the college games changed tremendously in the last twenty five or thirty years, I only speak for my teammates in the we were solid players, but we didn't show up with AJ a resumes, and plus two handicaps if you could break eighty made the team and at Bethpage. If you thought you were gonna break eighty you might be fighting to break eight or nine yeah, it was like, no, other course I ever played. First of it's, it's just announced by scale. These stand on the first to you that famous sign which says the black courses, extremely difficult course. Recommended for highly skilled golfers own warnings. And you look down from the elevated, I t, and there's this tiny tongue of fairway curling to the right. Well as anyone knows elevated tee. It's hard to hit a fairway period. But this varies particularly narrow and, and the rough was just so thick that you had to chop it out. And the scale of the bunkers was just something I'd never seen before. When we got to the fourth thi this is classic. I said, in my piece it's like inhabiting a landscape painting classic climb. It can be played as two shots or three. If you play your second shot whole high to the right off the green, so you have a little pitch in you look out, and there's a bunker off to the left in the landing area, and then this massive cross bunker that keeps climbing this hill. And so the angle becomes very tough on your second shot, and you just feel like the composition is that of a painting and you're just this small person. I'm reminded of Hudson river school paintings from the antebellum era, and how they tried to really celebrate the American landscape and how it was different from England. And this felt a little bit like that man is a small small piece of this beautiful natural scene. That's wonderful. And how many times have you been there over the years and how's your perception changed? Oh, it's a really good question. I played eleven competitive rounds on the black a level. That's good. Yes, but, but what made what made me so interested in the black and writing the story, is it. I really had to experiences there had the experience of the college kids, showing up in team sweater missing his girlfriend, putting off his schoolwork and hoping to shoot a decent score and maybe just maybe getting hot for weekend and making all conference. Well, you don't just get hot for a weekend best phase unless you have serious serious game start a place to find your. What's that feeling said it's not a place to maybe find or golf game? God. No, my second experience with the black is a public or I'm a lifelong New York City resident I live in Brooklyn. Now I live for years in Manhattan, and villainous. You probably know yourself. It is a heroin struggle to try to play public course golf. When you live in the five boroughs hardly bother got some courses van Cortlandt, and the oldest public golf course in the country, it has charm so to others, but I like the leapfrog over them and get out a little bit into the suburbs with fewer crowds, and faster greens, and a little bit more breathing space. So I had this second life at best paid starting starting my thirties, and going on almost twenty years now of showing up their solo. And as I did it. I. Took in the place in such a different way. We weren't just rolling in their T ended up thinking of ourselves getting glares from the publishers who are angry that the college kids in the college tournament had taken a block of ti-time now I was one of the regulars, and so it was a fabulous experience. I mean, I there was the challenge of trying to kill the whale of coming back when I had more of a head on my shoulders when I knew something about course management and had a little more sense of technique and trying to put up a good score here. So every time I went back on that I t, I thought, maybe this is the time I'm gonna put it all together. And so that's been this need personal struggle and challenge. But then there's a whole other element to Bethpage, which is just people say, it's the people's country club and the first of all, there's a culture of singles, I'd like a little bit to playing. Basketball. You just you show up on your own and you get in a game. The black is walking on which is wonderful and, you know, the people are there, either, because they've made some pilgrimage from from far away or they're hardcore there's the Nassau players club, which is really the hard core within the hardcore it's a club without real estate at Bethpage these guys can really really play. And then there's a whole other assortment of locals who, who come and play the course. And when I think about Bethpage I consider it a macro microcosm of New York. Really the settlement patterns of long islander all on display their twos, Irish Korean Americans African Americans southeast Asians. We think so much about golf in America, at least. Exclusive game and enlarge respect. It is, and particularly in the New York suburbs because you can't stretch your arms out in Westchester county or in places in Bergen county or NASA, and not come upon a, a golden age club. But if you have the misfortune of loving this game in wanting to play public course golf or meeting to the options are so few. And that's where Bethpage comes in got five eighteen hole courses, the black red the blue green yellow ninety holes all fanning out from the same clubhouse massive parking lot. And so I just I really do love that communal aspect of it is there. It's a celebration of the Commons. And to give a little more context, because you do touch on this in your magazine story, how did this place? Get started out of this brilliant, golf park outside of New York City, I get stub. Well, the key initial figures, Robert Moses who is this larger than life, New York, Robert Caro wrote the definitive biography of him called the power broker before K removed onto LBJ another towering figure, and Robert Moses was in New York state parks Commissioner he held similar roles within your city and he came up with the idea of creating a park out here on the Nassau Suffolk County borders, so he acquired through eminent domain lenox hills country club and existing golf course, on the site, most of that is now the green course, but Moses also commissioned, three other eighteen hole courses to be built what use this. Well, this was in nineteen thirty four that the park was founded, and then the Bethpage state park project became a works, progress administration project as part of FDR's new deal. So there were federal funds that were placed in it. And the black was the crowning jewel of this project. The clubhouse was looks like a, you know, a glorified park building of cedar. Shingle, brick was part of this works, progress administration project, and the black opened in nineteen thirty six and had the site not had three courses on it already. The New York state parks and Moses until enhanced couldn't have built, such difficult course because it would have scared golfers away. But by virtue of there being fifty four holes already the black could be the alternate path. And I was talking to Reese Jones for this piece in Reese, redesign, the black or restored, I should say the black cleaned it up if we wanna use simple language for the two thousand two US open. And that was a herculean project of its own Reese, maintains, that Bethpage Black was tilling has pine valley and for those of us who were fortunate enough to played pine valley. The number one ranked course in the world and the black, I think there's truth to rhesus statement, given the scale of the property, the daring use of San the massive bunkers and the memora- -bility the holes. So. That's in a nutshell how how the place got started. Yellow course fifteen added later on. And I believe parts of it will serve as the driving range in the PJ championship. Let's talk about that seminal moment in two thousand and two and the preparation that went around hosting the US open at Bethpage because this big deal at the time this is the first US open golf course, to be, you know, held on a publicly owned publicly run golf course. So how is the, the major championship hosting side changed things for Bethpage? Well, it had a tremendous impact. It was a visionary idea by David Fay, the former executive director of the US J to bring the US open, Bethpage, it was really unthinkable at the time because Bethpage was so untamed. It had great bones with these broad hillside and tremendous shop values, if we think of land is being the first element of great golf course that page black hat, but there were bushes growing in the bunkers, there were car tires on the perimeter of the property and some places it was completely overgrown. So not only was this course seven thousand yards at a time when that was really long and had brutal rough. It was just camped. So when Reese came in and cleaned up the place he really transformed the black, and then there was this ripple effect on the other. Courses. So it's a huge impact, but there's also been a psychological impact because all these pens of thousands of golfers who play Bethpage, and maybe the hundreds or thousands of us, call it home, we now have ownership of a major championship venue. And you know, Pebble Beach it hosted the US open for years, and while public cost five hundred dollars or more to play, so. Not exactly fair to say it was public or Pinehurst number two similarly, high greenfee, so Bethpage became the first truly public course to host the open Torrey Pines with follow. But it's, it's transformed the place and giving us all an even deeper pride of place, but spects strikes musically important this, this celebrate. Tori nature of, of hosting the US open, at Bethpage Black because they said, attendance records that you're in two thousand two people showed up in droves. They, you know they got on some players, what Sergio Garcia was the victim of some of their heckling. And Phil Mickelson was the opposite. They, they kind of carried them all the way to the finish line. Well, not quite all the way to the finish line. But as close as he was meant to get at that point. But just there was a way that, you know, all of New York or at least all long island's seemed to. To, to take ownership of the event and celebrated as their own. I think you're absolutely right. And John Feinstein captured a lot of this in his book, the open. In fact, he told a wonderful store, and wishing you all the details of Scott McCarron driving in to Bethpage and getting stopped by police officer. Mccarron. Okay. What am I doing driving wrong way? The officer leaned in his window and said, hey, I got to ask you, and I'm not sure the whole, I think it might have been number four. When you play for do you go for the green in two? Or do you play it off to the right? We've never seen anything like this before. And I I'm with you the Tigers victory in two thousand two was the ultimate validation. We knew he was the best player in the game. And every was in black and red holding off. Phil answered you fill was the people's choice. And as you said, Sergio really was going to the target of the hecklers, because he was doing all that gripping and re gripping at the time and, and New Yorkers don't suffer fool, or so that was tremendous. The weather was miserable and to, and it was miserable again, in two thousand nine so in a sense, it was really most unfortunate because the black in show, it's best it played wet rather than dry and firm and fast in two thousand nine the open at the final round had to be played on Monday when people were back at work. But if you think about it, maybe the poor weather was fifth. Inning for the black because nothing comes easy there, it's not easy to get t time. It's not easy to play the course and it wasn't easy for the pros either there was actually a controversy as I recall in the two thousand nine US open Thursdays around was a washout. I showed up there really early with two friends, and we hiked all the way out to try to find tiger who was on the front side. He would have been on seven or eight at the time and it's quite a long walk. All we manage to see was Frederick and hit a pitch out from the stones to the right of the fifth fairway. When firing. And so the whole day was washed out and governor Andrew Cuomo got an fight with the USDA over whether Thursday ticket holders should get a rain. Check won't baseball, you always gotta rain. Check the game was rained out and necessarily the US. Jay said no, they later consented. So there was a power struggle there. I'm hoping for good weather. This time. Around and it will also be very interesting to see tiger return, of course. So he wanted to, to. But as you made clear still was the people's choice. So was a people's choice again, in two thousand nine and actually if you go into the clubhouse best page there is many photos of Phil as there are tiger. But as we know Tigers in this wonderful beckoned phase or third or fourth phase of his career now he's embracing fans and his playing partners in a way he never had before. And so it might be really gratifying to see him come to Bethpage, and take it all in beyond just as feely stare tiger and Phil, both do have their, their roots involved with playing public golfing, and they've both talked about it being important to them. They've both you know, maybe, maybe that's something you have to do is a golfer, you have to sort of pay lip service to the public. Courses even though that's not where they spend most of their time, but it will be interesting to see their reception, and it's interesting you brought up the weather at both the previous major championships here. It's unpredictable the June weather in New York. And now we're diving into Mayweather in New York. And sure enough, it looks like it could rain. So we could see, you know, something a little bit wet and wild out at Bethpage, but I wanna get into the reporting of your story because you gotta you gotta real tough assignment for this one. We magazine century. Well, this is true to Scotland. This is true, but we, we, we sent you out to play Bethpage as a civilian, and take me through that process because, you know, people have heard a little bit about you go if to post up early get there early, etc. But what does it really like what's the process like to go play, Bethpage at as a citizen? It is. It's quite a process that you might call it tortuous. I compared it in my piece to the alternate side of the street parking rules in New York City, which to visitor make no sense whatsoever. And to locals who understand them. They're still burns them to say the least. So Bethpage is famous for people sleeping overnight, in their cars, and I can attest that the Mr. true, and the tradition continues. There is an online reservation system, which was started a couple years ago. Now that replace the automated phone line, which was impossible I used to play with people, and everyone had a different story. How do you get through on the phone line, at seven PM seven days before the day US to? One guy worked at a trading firm, Wall Street, and he'd ask co workers to stay late and all use their speed dials at seven AM. So they could try to win book him time now. There's the online reservation system. But good luck in the peak of the season. What it takes to get on the black on a Saturday or some other prime-time is quite an ordeal. You pull in and rather than park near the clubhouse, you've gotta find this remote corner of this ocean, like parking lot. And there's a helix of line with numbered spaces. You have to back your car in and depending on when you get there, they may be seven cars, thirty one sixty cars head of you. And you always know how many because you're pulling into a number spot. And then you sit there and you wait now you may wait overnight or if you get there four in the morning. Wait a couple hours and at an appointed hour. Sometimes it's five and sometimes six AM park department employees comes by, and all the cars, pull out. Of course, you have to be backed into the spot or your lose your spot. And then you, you slowly get in this line and the parks tendon hands out what we call bakery, tickets up to four per car. Just as if you were waiting with your grandmother, at the bakery. And you as a little kid got pressed the lever and, and, and pull the, the raffle ticket, like stub number seventy nine so. You wait you get these tickets. And then you pull your car over to clubhouse. And then you wait. Again, everyone who's ticket holders stands crowds in front of the front door to the clubhouse often. There's an expert renamed Paul wispy strong commanding voice, and he barks out the numbers and threes, fifty four fifty five fifty six. So what time is it? What that what time is it now at this point? Good question. Now it's just before dawn, now, it might be six AM. And people get really restless. If your number's called and you're not there. Okay. So then you go in there. And you wait in the walk up line snaking queue in the clubhouse, that might be fifteen or twenty minutes. And you're ANSI because there are five TV monitors behind the counter, and you can't really see them until you get until it's your turn. You get to the counter. And then you see black red blue green yellow and all the time for foursomes threes and twos and singles, and that's the moment of truth, and you choose your course and you choose your time. So let's save gone through that whole process. Okay. I've shown up at four AM or three AM stayed in my car for a couple of hours gotten. My bakery. Ticket wait in front of the clubhouse waited in the walk up line inside the clubhouse, now, the best, I can get nine AM on the black. So I've got three more hours to. That's what it's like in the peak season, and heaven help someone who show. Shows up at six AM and things got I got up so early. I must be way ahead of the game here. I'm gonna walk right out and he goes to the clubhouse. But he hasn't received one of those tickets because he wasn't in the overnight Q, not only confused. He's out of luck. And he's. When he figures things out or one someone fills man, he may or may not get a time before noon. So really as competitive. It is, and so many, my hours dealing in spent in those lines. So when you went out to, to report this story, how'd you do? How did I do? It was early in the season don't show. I showed up shortly before that, magical, our when the tickets are handed out. But I've had other occasions. One time, I was the sixty third in line, and I was just kicking pebbles passing the time it might have been four thirty in the morning at this point driven forty miles from Manhattan past the Guardia airport in between the eighteen wheelers on the Long Island expressway. And so now I'm standing in the parking lot and out of out of the shadow of a streetlamp comes guy, and he says, hey, brother, wants to talk to you over in car number four, and I thought what's happening here. And so. Followed him. We went to the car, and I thought are they trying to sell me drugs? Trying to rob me, it turned out this, the guy would have pulled me aside, was only three that day they're fourth had backed out and so they had only three guys in their car. For some reason they like the way I looked, I was the only guy alone in the parking lot. They thought let's do a favor. And so I got an their car and now I was fourth in line instead of sixty third car, I was fourth and I got a, a low number and, and off, we went so a rare case of, of Jaren deputy overnight, struggle do have a defining favorite moment, in Bethpage Black's history. Whether it's your own personal history or from watching the pros, take it on. Well, I, I would answer that is to say. I think that the best moments in best page history all very personal not just for me. But for everyone who goes out there, and that's the beauty of the place. We all have our, our catalog of historic moments out there historic going to cells in our pal. And I really don't think the Tigers victory or Lucas Glover's victory in two thousand nine or whoever wins this year, barring historic feet will rival these personal milestones on the black. I was thrilled the first time I saw the place and I was, I was thrilled to break eighty for the first time in about forty six years old, and that day, also memorable for me because I was playing with one of my two brothers and a couple of buddies and one of them collapsed, we were walking because black walking only a hot day. There was no water in the water coolers, we were all dehydrated by the seventeenth hole, and the hike up to the teas often up to the green really never stop the whole way around barely flat hole on the golf course. And so that day when I'm in route to shooting seventy eight which for me was like sixty eight. My brother's buddy, Ricky collapses in this giant bunker short of the seventeenth green. Now, my brother Al who likes to make the most of a moment, does friend hunting the San Rick couldn't get up had Charlie horse and he tried to get up slipped in the sand and just like a Sahera puncture. And so, my brother starts screaming man down and rather than going to help us Ren who is the man down. So it was probably would probably be that day when I finally beat some of my old old demons from the college tournaments and witness to collapse in my, my brother's friend, the course takes flash. All right, Paul, this is this is the money question. The toughest part for any writer to, to condense down and crystallize into one thought. How do you define what it is? That makes Beth Pige so special. Well. It's not only memorable golf course. It's also true with the people's course and in America, we can say that about. So few places to go to Britain in Ireland, golf is in the water there and you see grandmothers putting evenings and dog walkers going across the fairways. Whether it's in Saint Andrews or slog. Oh, we don't have that in America. Maybe we have in a few towns and for Mont and the odds small community here and there, but we certainly don't have it outside big cities. And so. The, the democratic nature at page to me is, is, is what stands out above all. But if it weren't a great golf course if the reputation weren't earned there'd be no sense. Celebrating the communalism of the place either. It's not, of course, the pros are going to enjoy. It's not scenic. I wouldn't call particularly fun. I doubt it's going to be very fast. It's a slog I spoke to metropolitan PJ pro just last week was played the black play competitively for years. And you said, you know, his lowest moments playing the back reminding when he was getting into force, it, just beat you up in so many ways left, you weak and you barely had your feet under you. Any said he now sees it differently. He rolls with the punches. And if you have to pitch out and still have a mid iron or long iron into the green, so he's playing for bogey, which is gonna feel like par. It takes his medicine. And he goes about, and does it the, the, the Mr. real about this place. Not only sleeping out in your cars, but about ten handicaps playing twenty anti caps out there and the Proser. As good as they play as long as they hit it. I expect they'll have their hands full and New Yorkers would have nothing else. Well, Paul, I think that that's a perfect place to leave it. So thanks for coming on telling us a little bit more about what makes Bethpage so special. Oh, it's been fun Dylan. Thank you. S Russ, you're golf dot com will be out of PGA championship. Oh week will be hoping for the rain to stay away. And we will be hoping for some good storylines coming down the stretch. I'm Dylan to chair, the golf dot com podcast. Thanks for listening.

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