Back in aught-two, by crackey, I made my first trip to Bethpage Black for the U.S. Open, the first "Peoples' Open" hosted at the venerable municipal course in Farmingdale, N.Y. Weather was shaky, golf was marvelous, Tiger won, I was hooked on Bethpage. I returned in 2009 for the second "Peoples' Open" -- No one jeered Sergio, weather was worse, golf was marvelous, Lucas won, I remained hooked.
Do you know what it's like to come back to a place without tents, barricades, souvenir blimps and all the other trappings of a major championship? It's pretty cool. I had that opportunity last week, fulfilling a promise I made in January to play all five courses at Bethpage.
All told, we played the five golf courses at Bethpage in three days. We had 36 holes on Monday (Yellow and Red) and Wednesday (Blue and Green) and a single round Tuesday on the Black. As warm-ups go, the Green and Yellow courses are less-demanding walks, but as challenging as the Blue. The Red is in a unique class, being nearly as good as the Black, but not as demanding a walk as its big brother.
I continue to be amazed at how hilly the property is. Bethpage spreads its topography evenly among all five courses. Granted, the Black probably occupies 30 to 35 percent of the total acreage, but there are incredible ascents and descents on the other courses, too. One ironic point is, the four par three holes at the Black are equaled or surpassed by par three holes at the other courses. Numbers 3, 8, 14 and 17 are fine, one-shot holes, but they are met by the 14th on Yellow, the 4th on Red and the 3rd, 11th and 15th on the Green.
Another interesting irony is, the Black is sorely lacking for great, short par four holes. Perhaps its the nature of the Beast, but the Black is all about distance, so a driveable, two-shotter was not in the plans. In contrast, the 12th at the Green course is one of the most memorable, attractive, challenging and thought-provoking holes on the property, measuring all of 289 yards from tee to green via the dogleg (the direct route is shorter.)
As a New York state resident, I was able to show my driver's license and pay $43 on three courses, $48 on a fourth and the worth-it $70 rate on the Black. $50 per round downstate was pretty affordable, especially when you consider the expected quality of the Black and Red layouts and the unexpected value of the Green, Blue and Yellow tracts.
While not equaling the in-town setting of the golf courses of St. Andrews, I propose that Bethpage, nevertheless, is the closest the USA has to that auld towne in Scotland. The Bethpage courses are steeped in tradition and salted with just the right amount of championship history. With affordable lodging nearby, you might consider these five munis for your 2012 golfing itinerary.