They’re not Pebble, Bandon, Kiawah, or Pinehurst. Common courses are the modest 9- and 18-hole munis and semi-private clubs that most golfers play. Although this one, contributed by A.J. Voelpel, is arguably not all that common.
By A.J. Voelpel
Special to ARMCHAIR GOLF
WELCOME TO BETHPAGE STATE PARK, home to more doglegs than Cruella De Vil’s closet.
It is here, obviously, where you’ll find the famed Black course—a two-time host of our nation’s greatest championship. What you may not be aware of is that the Black, such a prominent collection of 18 holes, hangs storm clouds over a neighboring course that’s nearly as difficult. A par-70 track that annually hosts the Long Island Open. I’m talking cold blood and broken hearts … all things colored Bethpage Red.
It’s no coincidence that the intelligence over at Golf.com included the Red in their list of “America’s Most Underrated Golf Courses.” And there’s no denying the Red’s claim to fame; it dons arguably the most challenging starting hole from Queens to Montauk. The brutal opener even runs parallel to the 18th of the Black, like a pre-bout stare down. Little brother has never shied away from a fight.
The 471-yard par-4 demands a ruler-straight drive into the short grass, avoiding the gnarly fescue to the left and Jones Beach to the right. The second shot will be long, unless Bubba Watson snuck in a celebrity shot. From 100 yards out, the fairway begins to climb up a steep hill—which is generally reserved for sledding in the winter—and ends atop a vast green. Club-catching rough armors a surface that runs primarily back to front. Take a five and run, because the Red starts barking on the next tee.
Okay, deep breath: The par-4 2nd turns swiftly right to left, the 3rd and 5th (the only par-5 on the front) swiftly left to right, and then the 6th fairway nearly makes a u-turn, without signaling, to a newly tilted green. No. 9—the No. 1 handicapped hole—plays just under 466 from the tips, and also bends sharply to the left. The tendency on the tee is to go right. Do that and you’ll face another humbling approach.
Long Back Nine
Exhale. After going out in just under 3,400 yards, the (dare I say) “simple” part is over. Now quickly inhale once again! The back nine tends to make babies cry; five of the six par-4s extend over 462 yards from the back tees. The loner is the split-fairway, 400-yard par-4 13th. If the wind isn’t howling, it’s your best chance for a birdie.
Both No. 10 and 11 turn directly to the right. The 466-yard 14th cuts to the left and the 482-yard monster 15th rises uphill and turns to the right. The 560-yard par-5 16th turns 90 degrees to the right also. However, if you carry the corner (about 285 yards), you’ll chop the distance in half. The second shot is normally a layup, especially with the delicate, lumpy green.
Dizzy yet? Well the par-3 17th offers a break from length and angle and is only a buck 60ish, straightaway. Two large bunkers guard the front of a fairly accessible green. A two is absolutely within reason.
A few years back, the 18th tee box was extended some 50 yards, being mutated into a daunting finishing hole, much to the contrary of the its Black counterpart. A downhill tee shot must carry at least 260 to have a mid-iron approach in. The amphitheater setting around the giant green was mentioned as a potential replacement finisher to the Black for last year’s U.S. Open. The putting surface runs quickly back to front, left to right, so position is key for a two putt.
With the remarkable condition the park keeps the Red in, it’s only a matter of time before a PGA or LPGA tournament stops by for a visit. In the meantime, make a visit to Bethpage for yourself. Play the Black in the morning and follow it with a dance on the Red.
Then go to sleep and don’t wake up for the next six days.
A.J. Voelpel is an avid golfer and the editor of West Islip Patch. He lives in Westbury, New York.
More common courses:
Mangrove Bay Golf Course
Balboa Park Golf Course
Desert Aire Golf Course
(Image: Joe Shlabotnik/Flickr)