Bethpage MGC (Black & Red Courses)

Farmingdale, NY (Long Island)

(516) 249-0707-1/4040

1936, A.W. Tillinghast (although Golf Digest research proclaims that the Black was actually designed by then-Park Superintendent Joe Burbeck--an accomplished golfer--with Tillinghast as a "consultant"); 2002 renovation, Rees Jones
71/7065; 71/6556
75.4/144; 73.1/140

'02 Greens Fee: $42 walk only

Site of 2002, 2009 U.S. Opens
#5 on Golf Digest 2000 Top 100 You Can Play
#19 Golf World 2008 Reader's Choice poll

T&L Golf Review, Black Course: The famous sign posted by the 1st tee reads: "WARNING: THE BLACK COURSE IS AN EXTREMELY DIFFICULT COURSE, WHICH WE RECOMMEND ONLY FOR HIGHLY SKILLED GOLFERS." Most golfers ignore it. At a $42 greens fee, this is the Xanadu of American public golf (now rumored at $79 for out-of-staters?). Carts are banned on the magnificently renovated Black Monster. Long Islanders regard the Black and Red courses as a stronger combo than Winged Foot or Baltusrol, and apart from pace of play issues (6 hour rounds are common), they aren't kidding. The Red & Blue are both worthy companions to the Black, which is as penal as anything Tillinghast ever designed. The Black was Willie's swan song, however, since he lost his fortune in the '36 Depression, and probably his marbles. Washing his hands of golf, he moved to Beverly Hills and opened an antiques shop, stocking it largely with his family's art and furniture.

Bethpage Black also made #6 on Golf Digest's 2007 "50 Toughest Golf Courses in America" listing.  "At one time, the Black was what public golf courses were like when we were kids, with hardpan fairways, crabgrass greens and pockmarked tees. After being revamped by Rees Jones for the 2002 U.S. Open, it's in much better shape, but still big and brawny--a 6 1/2-mile hike over hill and dale where no carts are allowed--with massive bunkers and tiny greens, several of them hidden from view, even from the center of some fairways. The Black's magic is that it makes us all feel like kids again, inadequate to the task. It's New York tough."

Per John Feinstein's outstanding book Open on the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, the USGA and Rees Jones spent $3 million and 4 years restoring this course to it's former glory back in 2002. The results had PGA players raving about the conditions (the rough was rumored among the thickest many had ever seen), and creating a brutal but fair test of golf. The only major redesign was to the 18th, making it a more suitable closing hole for a major by adjusting the green and some fairway bunkers. The State of NY has pledged the cash to keep it in good condition, as the Open returned in 2009.

How To Get On: Per a 2009 article on www.GolfVacationInsider.com

"As for the "how," you have a couple options: 1) use Bethpage's tee time reservation system, 2) go the infamous route of trying to walk-on at the crack of dawn, which often involves camping out in your car, or 3) pay a huge premium to a little-known company that may be able to get you a tee time on your preferred day of play. Let's cover the first option first.

Before anyone can use Bethpage's reservation system, they must become a registered user. To register, you have to fax a copy of your driver's license AND write or type out all of the information that appears on the front of it, plus your telephone number (an email address would help, too), in case the image is unreadable via the fax.

If you're not a New York resident, you are also encouraged to include your Social Security number, which will become your reservation system account number. It's not required (they'll assign you a number, otherwise), but it will expedite processing. It usually takes between one and three days before you're officially "in" the system.

The number to FAX your materials to is: 516-753-0413. The tee time reservation line is: 516-249-0707. Again, out-of-state residents can only make tee times two days in advance of the intended date of play. (Note that when Bethpage says "two days," it means you can begin calling at 7 p.m. two days before you'd like to play. So, for instance, if you plan to play on a Saturday morning, you have to wait until 7 p.m. on Thursday night to make a reservation.) New York residents can reserve seven days out. Sometimes, it's good to call the night before you wish to play because there are often cancellations.

In addition to a $4 reservation fee, the green fee is:
Weekdays: $50 (NY residents) $100 (non-residents)
Weekends: $60 (NY residents) $120 (non-residents)

Your second option for getting on Bethpage Black, as mentioned above, is to try and walk on, as all of the first hour's tee times (which begin at 6:30 am), and one slot per hour thereafter, are made available on a first-come, first-served basis, according to the Bethpage brass.

Walk-on hopefuls typically arrive at Bethpage in the afternoon or early evening the day before they wish to play, backing their cars into the designated and numbered "overnight" parking spaces. At about 6:45 pm, a Bethpage official hands out wrist bands, one per car, which confirms the order for the next morning's ticket dispersement.

It is these tickets, handed out between 4-4:30 am, which allow you to purchase your round of golf. It used to be that only one player in the group needed a ticket, but now every person has to have their own ticket. [Note: If you want a caddie ($60 plus tip) or locker room use for the day ($10), pay for them at the same time as your green fee as you probably won't have time to get through the long cashier line again.]

Overnighters should consider bringing a tent or sleeping bag, too. Cars aren't conducive to sleeping, and, if you choose to bed down on the root-laden grassy area near the parking lot, you'll need more than your golf towel to stay warm and comfortable.
Better yet, get a hotel room nearby. Remember, only your car has to stay put to maintain your place in line. As long as you're back before the tickets are handed out in the morning, you're golden.

From our experience and stories from people we know, if you're one of the first few cars in line, you'll likely get out in the morning. Later arrivals will likely get out, too, but it probably won't be until the afternoon. Either way, if you go this route to get on Bethpage Black, you'll be spending a good deal of time just waiting around, so bring a good book and/or some good beer.

Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention one other option for getting on Bethpage Black, though it's better suited to those for whom money is not an object. NYGolfShuttle.com sells Bethpage Black packages that include the green fee and round-trip transportation from Manhattan for $750 ($400 per person for a foursome). At 15 times the in-state green fee, it is a huge premium, but convenience does have its price."

See also: at GolfChannel.com

Golf Magazine Review, Red Course: Ranked as their #3 Most Underrated Course in America:  "Bethpage's B-list course lacks the drama of the famed Black Course, but that has its compensations: the Red costs a fraction of the price, is a lot easier to get on, and offers a more than adequate test of your game. This A.W. Tillinghast design will exhaust your long irons and Rescue clubs, thanks to four par-4s on the back nine alone of 463 yards or longer."  A buddy of mine claims to have walked on the Red on a random Tuesday, paid half of what he'd have paid to play the Black, and says it offers every bit the challenges of the Black.

Per GolfChannel.com, the first hole at the Red Course (127/76.6) is an uphill, 460-yard beast of a par 4 and is unquestionably the most difficult opening hole on Long Island. No. 18 is also a stern test. From beginning to end, the Red Course is one of the most underrated courses in the country, bookended by two memorable par 4s.

The Green Course (121/69.5) was the first course to open at Bethpage State Park, and was redesigned when the Black, Red and Blue courses opened. Considered the tamest course at the park, the Green Course is recommended for the novice golfer.

The Blue Course (124/76.6) is a challenging layout, and paired with the Black and the Red makes up the trio of original Tillinghast designs at Bethpage. Some of the hills at the Blue Course are severe, and blind shots are common. The front nine is more difficult than the back. It was redesigned in 1960 to make room for the Yellow Course.

The Yellow Course (120/76.6) is widely considered the easiest of the five at Bethpage, but from the back tees it’s a formidable challenge. Some of the original holes from Tillinghast’s Blue Course can be seen from this par 71 layout.

Best Bar Nearby: Per T&L Golf , excellent food & drink are served in a paneled grillroom in the grand gabled clubhouse (also redone for the 2002 Open), or on a terrace with a sweeping view of the Black course.

Where To Grub: USGA staffers got fond of the excellent food and drink at B.K. Sweeney's (Bethpage), which is also a regular hangout for Bethpage golfers. T&L Golf says the best of Long Island eats include Mill River Inn (American, $$$$, 160 Mill Rd, Oyster Bay), French-country style dining room with fireplace, outstanding fried oysters and salmon mousse. OR, for lovers of steak, chops, and all things formerly 4-legged, hit Peter Luger ($$$$), a perennial Zagat pick for most popular restaurant on L.I.

Where To Stay: You'll likely be staying at Chez Buick the night before your round, but you can recover at the nearby Huntingdon Hilton , where the tour pros stayed during the Open.  For slightly more affordable surroundings, the USGA staffers stayed at nearby Melville Marriott .  If you'd rather opt for the B&B experience, elsewhere on Long Island you'll find East Norwich Inn (6321 Northern Blvd, E. Norwich, $120-$135). Roomy and tasteful, with an outdoor pool. OR, The Inn @ Great Neck (30 Cutter Mill Rd, Great Neck, $219-$359), an art deco fantasy in blond wood and lavender florals, suggesting the decor of a Jazz Age ocean liner. Marble bathrooms with oversized tubs.  American-fusion restaurant on premisis.

What To Read Before You Go: John Feinstein's Open isn't a flashy read; it's in plain language, not super funny, not alot of flowery descriptions or soul-searching insight. Despite all this, it's riveting; I ended up at the train shed twice after missing my stop because I was so into this book. If you love golf, it's a Must Read, and you'll be dying to play the Black when you're done with it. Feinstein had unlimited access to the USGA and course personnel, and the details are amazing. Set against the backdrop of post-9/11, you won't believe what it takes to put on a U.S. Open...