I love Bethpage State Park. The park could possibly be one of the greatest places on earth. I itch to get back there day by day. To those familiar with my tastes in golf courses, you may know that I firmly believe the Red Course to be every bit as good as the Black, and in some subtle ways superior. There are those who ardently disagree with me, but that's okay - that's what makes this game wonderful.
I've always been fond of matching up two courses hole-by-hole and will probably beging to do so more often in this blog as a method of comparing, contrasting and disecting architectural features. Done right, it can be quite useful in assessment of a golf course.
Here goes for Bethpage Black and Bethpage Red.
The Black's first wins for atmosphere (especially as the first group out - I still get chills thinking about being the first to break the silence on the Black on October 14th, 2004 and splitting the fairway down the middle), however, outside of that and a decent green, the Black's opener is fairly benign. Though, to be fair, the hole does require a well aimed tee shot in order to have a shot into the green and one must execute perfectly to cut the corner, but most decent golfers will have no more than 7-iron into the hole.
The Red's opener is a brute. 470 yards of a brute for the tips, to be precise. While bunkerless (though a sliced ball may find the bunkers that pinch the Black's 18th fairway), both shots require execution near perfection. The ideal tee shot finds the left side of the fairway which has the green view obscured by a mound about 100 yards out with the green about 40 feet above the fairway. Hitting a running, long iron into this green is the ideal play for the approach. Perhaps the most endearing part of the hole was realized this past March when I played Bethpage Blue. With the flag out of the green and the grass dormant, someone unfamiliar with Bethpage would not be able to tell a golf hole was even there - that's as natural as it gets.
Red wins: Red 1-up
The Black's second hole is often villified as not being up to the standard of the rest of the course. I find this to be a baseless claim mainly made by people who feel the Black should be all about bombs off the tee. While the second can easily be reduced to a 3-wood, pitching wedge proposition this is hardly an indictment. Double Bogey lurks on both shots as going through the fairway or too far left leaves an awful angle into the green. Once on the green, two putts are fairly easy to come by as the green is one of the flatter on the course, but often times, the player is over aggressive for the birdie.
The Red's second is another villified hole and perhaps with more reason than the Black's. Like the Black's this is a dogleg left where driver may not be the best play. Unlike the Black's the hole is fairly flat and non-descript.
Black wins: All Square
The Black's third is a good long par 3 with a devlish fall away green. The long to mid iron approach must land short and hopefully hold the back of the green. Front right is a good bailout as any of the front left bunkers are a difficult up and down proposition.
The Red's third is a very strong par 4 dogleg right with a dip in front of the green that can hamper the long hitter off the tee. The green has a good amount of movement in it and with the recent green expansion, holes can be tucked in corners like the days of yore.
Hole Halved: All Square
The Black's fourth is an all-world par 5 that really has no comparison. It could possibily be one of the best "second shot" par 5s in the game of golf (I put the 13th at Augusta as a Par 4.5). The glacier bunker is formidible and the green will give you nightmares with a misstruck approach.
The Red's fourth is a decent mid-iron length par 3 that serves its purpose quite well. Don't miss left or long (on the 18th tee of the Black). Perhaps the best feature of the hole is the view of holes 15-18 of the Black course.
Black wins: Black 1-up.
The Black's fifth is another all-world hole, this time playing to a par 4. The oblique bunker that messes with the tee shot is one of the best uses of such a bunker I've seen and the method by which a golfer challenges the hazard can reap many rewards on the approach. The sheer horizontal elasticity of the hole is incredible as well, and in the two times I've played it there has been two vastly different results. The green sits like a fortress above two bunkers from the fairway and forces near perfect execution.
The Red's fifth is an excellent par 5 with a premium placed on the angle off the tee (no line of charm on the Red, Jay? ;-)) . The golfer is forced to fight instinct and play the long way down the outside of the hole to even have a shot at the green in two. Too far right and the hillside and trees force the golfer to a bad angle from about 140 yards out on the left. Another restored green with a lot of movement awaits the golfer.
Black wins: Black 2-up
The Black's sixth invites the golfer to really wallop a hard drive down the left side as this may be the most open tee shot on the course. The green sits like a pancake wedged between two Tillinghast pastiche bunkers and is usually approached with anything from 6 iron to wedge, depending on the line off the tee. A good hole and a good breather after four and five.
The Red's sixth is also fairly wide, but with trees lining the hole on both sides. A sharp dogleg left - the instinct is to play left, but dips, swales and the valley through which the fifth hole plays awaits the slightest hook. The best play is 3-wood to the outside of the corner which yeilds an open shot to the green. Two restored bunkers await an overly aggressive approach as the green actually feeds away from the golfer. I've speculated that at one point the trees down the left were much lower and sparse, giving the golfer a view of the green from the tee. Since the green "faces" the tee box this could have been a way for Tillie to tempt the player into biting off more than the player could chew.
Red wins: Black 1-up.
The Black's seventh is a relatively easy par 5 with a difficult tee shot compounded by a bunker similar to the fifth hole's. This hole is actually played from a forward tee for the US Open and played as a par 4. The green is one of the more undulating on the course but the second (and third) shots are some of the easiest.
The Red's seventh is a mid length par 3 (a club or two longer than the fourth) that would probably fit well at a bunch of other Tillinghast courses. The hole follows the scheme of a lot of the par 3s at Bethpage (3rd and 14th on the Black, all four on the Blue, 11th on the Yellow, 12th and 17th on the Red) of having the tee and green on high points across a valley. This does get redundant (especially on the Blue), but is appealing on this hole.
Hole halved: Black 1-up.
The Black's eighth is a drop shot par over a pond to a severly sloping green. A bunker compounds the back left. I've hit 5-iron to the green both times from the back tee into a breeze and have parred the hole both times. It's non-descript, but effective.
The Red's eighth is a short par 4 that begins an excellent stretch of holes on the plain portion of the property. Avoiding the bunker off the tee is key and will leave the golfer with a wedge to a tiered green. It's non-descript like the Black's but fun nonetheless.
Hole halved: Black 1-up.
An interesting par 4 on the Black with a VERY exactly tee shot. The new back tee places the carry to the top of the hill to something like 295 yards (I have VERY mixed feelings on both the efficacy and decision making for this new back tee). Don't reach the top and you have about as much of a hook lie that is possible without rappelling equipment. I think the hole will be better from the old back tee (I have yet to play the new one).
Stand on the ninth tee on the Red and let your golfer's instincts take over. Everytime I play the hole, my eyes scan for the best angle to hit my tee shot and they inch perilously close to the tree line and bunkers at the inside of the corner each time. Did I mention this hole is 440 yards from the tips? The green is something else too, pinched off by bunkers but allowing a well struck rolling shot on (unless you cut the corner, navigate the bunkers and avoid the trees effectively where you'll probably be treated with a 5-6 iron approach).
Red wins: Match All Square
Second Nine coming up in a bit.