15 May GolfPass Grass Guru – Bethpage Black Course
PGA Championship • Hole 14 • Par 3 • 161 yds
The 101st PGA Championship is being hosted right in our back yard at Bethpage Black. Probably the most well known and established course in our area. It’s one that us commoners can trek out to on the cramped LIRR, whilst the rich and powerful flock to their country clubs. Wykagyl, Shackamaxon, Ridgewood, Baltusrol, Winged Foot – all private and all built by the illustrious A.W. Tillinghast. And those are just some of the better known of his designs in the area. In fact, Tillinghast has designed more private country clubs in the northeast than I can count alone on my fingers and toes. I’d actually need at least 5 more people to help me count.
Amongst the Winged Foots and Baltusrols of the area, there is one course that us Average Joes can play. One course where we can schlep it out to, sleep in our cars, work all week and look forward to golfing once in a blue moon. That one course is Bethpage Black. Our lone sentinel of Tillinghast design and PGA splendor that has been left for us hackers and duffers. We can measure our chops and fulfill our fantasies of walking where the pros play. It’s our lone bone thrown to us by the powers that be to keep us from burning down the Shackamaxon’s of the world.
Bethpage Black is a hulk of a course and even though it’s the PGA Championship and not the US Open, it will still be a menace to the golfers. The bunkers here are each works of art and Tillnghast, their Picasso. I live for sweeping and swelling bunkers that seem to flow over the landscape they have been built on. Every hole on Black exhibits his deft hand and fitting them in. Golf is a sport of accuracy and risk. At Bethpage, every hole will require both as all 18 green complexes are well guarded by numerous bunkers. This week, the bunkers on holes 4 and 5 will probably be the ones up front. The Guernica and weeping woman of the course, with more subtle but equally spectacular bunkers being outshone, like my pick for bunker of the week, the green side right sand trap on hole 14.
This three-fingered gem swallows all balls that fall short of the green. Nestled in the most perfect, low spot spanning two thirds of the green front, this bunker shines. Although, I think they are raking them horribly this week. The Australian Method? C’mon. There’s a small army of interns and greenskeepers there all week, and I know the weather is not looking up, but this is Bethpage we’re talking about. I want missed shots to be eaten by bunkers. I want the golfers who made the cut to feel like the they finished Ranger school. Personally, I could rake all 78 bunkers in 3 hours not a problem. Give me a crew of 3 guys and we’re done before the sun comes up. Smooth sides to me is like playing football without tackling, sure it’s nice not to be hit, but that’s not the game. I’m cancelling all smooth bunker faces from here on out. Even with the smooth faces, the 14th right sand trap is formidable. Unfortunately, the expansion of the green will lead to an easier out, but it won’t detract from the aesthetics of the bunker.
This PGA Championship will be a real test. I know the weather won’t be great, but I’m telling you it’s worth it to walk the grounds of Bethpage. Go admire the bunkers. Seriously. Hop on the LIRR, and see how the Black is supposed to be played. Not like when you and your buds with three beers and twice as many balls attempt to grind out 110’s.
Cover Photo: PGA Championship
Eric MacPherson knows a lot about golf, but even more about grass. Having worked in golf for what seems like forever, and going on to graduate school in turfgrass, he’s able to walk mow a green, and change the shaft in your favorite driver. He’s worked on some of the east coast’s primer golf clubs doing everything from washing carts to building brand new putting greens. He’s also volunteered at several high profile Tour events including a major and the President’s Cup. The only thing he likes more than pushing a walk mower on a beautiful crisp morning, would be teeing it off instead. Shoot Eric a message at firstname.lastname@example.org.