The majority of the golfing world that does not live in metro NYC knows of the Bethpage State Park Black course, the site of the 2002 and 2009 USGA Open championships and the future site of the 2012 and 2014 Barclays Championship on the PGA Tour. Folks have read of the monstrous layout, crafted by Albert Warren “A.W.” Tillinghast in the 1930s, the course that rises and falls in the Long Island hills, that demands physical and golfing fitness if one it to sign a scorecard with a smile on one’s face.
What most golfers don’t recognize is that four other courses, four other colors, accompany the Black track at the USA’s most enviable municipal golfing facility. The Red course was also designed by Tillinghast, while the Green course was laid out by the renowned Devereux Emmet. The Blue and Yellow courses were polished by Alfred Tull, who worked with Tillinghast, Emmet and Walter Travis to carve some of the hemisphere’s finest courses from the land. The Mouth That Roars, The Scrambler and I made a pledge to play these five courses plus others over the course of six days, to gain a better sense of the golf to be found in eastern New York state.
After a fine opening round west of the Hudson river at Paramount Country Club, the three wanderers crossed a few bridges and touched down in Plainview or Farmingdale or Bethpage or whatever you call it…the mecca of public golf that is Bethpage State Park. On Monday the 11th, we teed up at the Yellow and Red courses, walking all 36 holes.
To begin, the Yellow is one heck of a golf course! I came in with the notion that the Yellow was the pitch and putt, the beginners’ course, the easy one of the quintet. Wrong. Tull succeeded because he identified green sites, places for putting surfaces, then figured out the rest of the hole. The Scrambler marked on more than one occasion that a number of benign tee shots led to greens situated in hollows, groves and mesas, demanding accurate and solid approach shots.
After a quick bite to munch, we ventured toward the Red course, the one that the golfing intelligentsia are quick to knight the equal of the Black, or the second-finest course at the complex, or the underrated one. I’ll tell you this much: the Red course starts and finishes with better holes than the Black. The other sixteen holes are demanding, intricate, vital and memorable, but they are not the equal of their neighbor. The Red course is cursed by a large and flat segment of the course, encompassing holes 8-14. Unlike the Black, which also has its share of flat space, the green sites on the Red along this stretch don’t stand out, don’t repel shots, don’t present the same challenges. They’re good, mind you, but not at the level of their sister course.
How do I know this? Well, I shot 74 on the Red and 83 on the Black. I made nearly every putt I looked at on the Red (or at least enough to convince me that I am good) and not nearly so many on the Black, but my approach shots to the Black’s greens were more demanding and my misses, easily punished.
When the day was over, this Mo’ Golf was exhausted (36 walking holes), exhilarated (from a number of birdies and pars) and enthused (with the Black, Blue and Green, along with two off-site courses still to play.) I’ll be back tomorrow with more on the Black course.