The storming of Bethpage 2011: Making plans for public golf's holy land
For years, I’ve considered Bandon Dunes to be the pinnacle of USA public golf. It may be so, but it is not the epitome of access. That designation falls to the five-course amalgamation on western Long Island, the two-time host of the USGA Open championship for men, the sacred font of everyman, Bethpage. Since I learned of the Black Course at Bethpage in the late 1990s, as the USGA engaged in planning and preparation to bring its signature competition there, I recognized a need to play a course with a first-tee warning. Since I realized that I, too, live on an island in New York, an island with a state-run public course that, quite frankly, stinks in comparison to Bethpage (not the least of the stench is that we only have 18, versus 90, holes) I have felt a kinship with this pentathlon, this five-pointed star of golfing goodness. In 2011, I plan to make the trek to L.I. and conquer this Everest.
Great fortune has bestowed on me the opportunity to make similar pilgrimages to specific areas of marvelous and unforgettable golf. Some have been one-stop shots (Bandon Dunes in Oregon and The American Club in Wisconsin) while others have involved a sojourn of sorts around a region (northern Michigan, sandhills of North Carolina, highlands and Williamsburg, Virginia.) At the time I visited Bandon, there were three courses on site; at The American Club, the two Blackwolf Run and two Whistling Straits courses upped the record to four at one site. At Bethpage, I’ll attempt to run the gamut of crayola colors and tackle the Yellow, Green, Red, Blue and Black courses over the course of four or five days.
The fingerprints of A.W. Tillinghast and Joseph Berbeck are all over the state park’s property. Tilly was recognized as the designer of record of three courses, with Berbeck taking a back seat as the foreman of construction. In recent years, Berbeck’s increased roll came to light and many give him equal credit for the brilliance of the Black, Red and Blue layouts. The neighboring Lenox Hills club (a Devereaux Emmet design) was purchased by the state, modified and renamed the Green course. As a nod to the novice, Alfred Tull was hired in the 1950s to build the Yellow course. A project that began as a Great Depression-era method of creating jobs for the unemployed, finished as an homage to golfers of lesser means.
I’ll step onto the first tee of each of the five courses with a high-tech carry bag, a sack of matched clubs and a pocketful of Pro V1s, Nike Tours or Bridgestone 330s. My shoes will be lightweight and strong and my apparel will be incredibly breathable and comfortable. No one will confuse me with a home-taught player, whose clubs come from a garage sale, shoes from Goodwill or Amvets, balls from the buy-one-get-two rack and clothes from a fishing tourney. He’ll be the guy who whips me and takes my money, right?
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