You have to be careful about what you say at Chili’s restaurants on Long Island.

Last Monday, flanked by Mo Golf and Scrambler after a day of golf on Bethpage Red and Bethpage Yellow, I told them I needed a lot of practice on my sand game. To paraphrase, I said something to the effect of “when I get in a bunker I just swing and hope. I could use a lot of practice.”

Apparently, Bethpage Black was listening.

Tuesday morning our trio took to Bethpage Black, the most demanding golf course I have ever played. Most of you know the course as the occasional host of the U.S. Open. Tiger Woods won there in 2002 and Lucas Glover won in 2009. I simply looked to  survive in 2011.

The course is as beautiful and demanding as it appears on TV during the U.S. Opens. Perhaps it’s even more impressive as there aren’t thousands of fans blocking out some of the course’s unique features. The course is long with tons of elevation change. The famous sign welcomes you with a message that only expert golfers should bring their game to Black.

An expert golfer, I am not. I enjoyed more sand practice than I could have hoped for Tuesday morning. I found bunkers on 9 of the 18 holes. I found multiple bunkers on a couple of those. At one point I contemplated just tossing the rake into my bag as a 15th club. I imagined the bunkers chuckling at me as I strolled by, “did he say he needed to spend some time in the sand?”

Unless you consistently hit the ball long and straight, Bethpage Black will find ways to eat you up. Misses to the right and left are compounded by cleverly placed bunkers and strong rough. On most holes, if you’re not landing the ball on the green you’re landing it in a bunker or thick, thick grass. The experience can beat you up but it also can leave you a bit wiser for the effort.

Scrambler told me your score doesn’t matter when you play a course like that, but I can’t agree. You record the scars and the stars and all the numbers in between when you play golf. I’m not ashamed to tell you that most my scores were double bogeys, one was a triple, there were a few bogeys, one question mark and one par. I even managed to hit two greens on the first hole (a wayward second shot hit the green on the first hole of Bethpage Green).

Walking Bethpage Black with guys like Mo Golf and Scrambler is also a lesson in golf course design. These guys live and breathe the architecture that goes into building golf courses. They taught me something almost every hole about why bunkers and trees were where they were and why that made Black so special.

I appreciate the architecture that drives golf courses, but playing a track that echoes of such greatness ignites a different kind of fire within me. Walking those fairways and glancing back at the pro tees reminded me of how much I desire to be a great golfer.

My scores, my swing – they’re anything but great. But golf is a journey,  and I still believe my love affair with the game is in its early stages.

My loop around Black humbled me. Still, I take pride in acknowledging my lone par came on the 18th hole. Despite all the bunkers, mishits and just trying to hit it far enough, I still believed I had a par in me atop the 18th tee deck. You can beat me up, drive me to curse, but I never give up on myself or the game.

This trip to Black was magical, but it was filled with too many bunkers and bogeys. My game needs worlds of work, but I promise the results will be better if I ever make it back to Black.

Heck, I’d even tell you that in a Chili’s.