Techno-linguistically speaking, El Negron translates as the intimidating black one, so it is a fitting moniker for “that course.” If Monday proved to be a warm-up and Wednesday was a cool-down, Tuesday was the show, the main event, the reason for being for the Bethpage Binge. The Black course, host to the 2002 and 2009 USGA Opens and future site of the Barclays Championship (2012 & 2016) of the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup, is an immortal’s course, a true Valhalla.
They say that the tee sign on the Black is the beginning of the intimidation. If so, you are weak…man up and accept the challenge
The other omen, they claim, is the intimidation from the gallery of golfers waiting to tee off behind you. Forgeddaboutit…stay focused and aim at the left edge of rough/fairway. Since the trees came out on the left, you have more room there and a better look at the green. In truth, this is the easiest hole on the golf course, so settle in to your stance and hit a good one.
The Black is all about length and topography. If the hole isn’t hilly, it’s long, unless it’s both. The second hole, for example, is not overly long, but is a constant ascent from tee to green. The fourth hole, the most glorious inland hole in the world (no, I haven’t seen them all) makes you feel ant-sized as you tee off from on high, descend into the valley, then rise and rise again to the green. By the way, after you tee off, take a look to your left at the unused valley…local architectural buffs claim that A.W. Tillinghast, the architect, eschewed the use of this corridor to create his greatest par five hole…cool. Holes five and six demand just as much from your fitness as your golf swing and mind…If you’ve ever thought of playing with a half-set of clubs, the walkers-only Black might be the place to start.
After a respite from the fairly-flat seventh, you do the up-down, down-up thing again at eight and nine. Pack plenty of water for this hike, friend, for you won’t return to the clubhouse until 18th green. There is, fortunately, a sustenance house at the sixth tee/ninth tee meeting, for those who forgot to stock up pre-round. Holes ten through thirteen return to the “fairly flat but oh my God how long” motif first encountered on hole #7…a word about seven: it’s a par five for us, a par four for the professional, but it’s a bear for both.
Fourteen, the final hole on the far side of Round Swamp Road, is a par three whose former green is missed by purists. From 2002 to 2009, the course added a front-left tongue to the putting surface, eliminating a bunker and adding potential pin positions. In either iteration, the hole extends a certain opportunity for nervousness, a la the one felt on tee number one.
The final act, holes 15-18, is played out on the opening stage, the meadow below the clubhouse on the near side of Round Swamp. You’ve not seen a hole like #4 and you’ve not seen a hole like #15, either. Although the green was softened during that same 2002-2009 period, the hole is pretty darned tough! In fact, it rivals the first at the Red course for toughest on-site par four. The bunkers that precede the hole just might make it the toughest.
The descent from on high on sixteen is breathtaking. The ball hangs in the air for an eternity then (hopefully) finds the fairway for a run at the green. Like #1, the 16th offers an opportunity to utilize the ground game. In fact, the day we played the Black, the hole was cut four paces onto the front of the green, nearly necessitating a risky play along the turf for a chance at birdie. The penultimate hole is a slightly-uphill (this makes all the difference: add one club!) par three to a green surrounded by beach. From behind and either side, you see how wide the green is…missing left or right won’t be a problem, AS LONG AS you make the proper club selection on the tee.
The moments from this view
to this view
passes in an instant, so seize the opportunity to reflect on the round of golf, the epic journey that you’ve completed. And, if you’re like this guy, Christopher Whitcomb (aka The Mouth That Roars), you’ll get it up and down for par on your last hole at Bethpage!