I remember the first time I walked off the Par 3 third hole at Bethpage Black and made my way down the then-very rough rocky path and turned the slight bend to capture my first view of the incredibly dramatic Par 5 fourth hole.
I was either 14 or 15 years old and my jaw almost hit my shoe tops. I had never seen anything that dramatic on a golf course. Keep in mind that back in the ’70s the Black — and, for that matter, the entire complex — was a complete dump. The difference with Black, and also Red, was the architecture was so damn awesome that it allowed a golfer of passion to look past the then-horrific conditions.
Then and now, people who know I cut my teeth as a youngster playing public golf on Long Island, often ask me what is my favorite hole on Black.
That’s easy: All 18.
I played in the first New York State Open played on Black just after the first phase of the renovations were complete. I shot 75-75-150, +10, missed the 36-player cut by one shot, and still geeked like I played great. At that juncture it was also the first time that the Rembrandt called Black was ever in any type of playable condition. My love affair only became that much deeper with this grand old jewel.
I remember clearly as a kid that was trash everywhere. Rocks and even broken bits of glass could be seen shimmering on greens as well as in bunkers. In fact, the exact place that now is the site of the championship tee on hole number 9 was the resting place then of an old burned out rusted car back then. I’m telling you, the place was in a rough state.
That said, I remember like it was yesterday saying to my junior golf friends as we played there, “If they would ever put this track in great condition, they could play a major here!” My friends would laugh at me. Guess what, they aren’t laughing now.
Bethpage Black is without doubt the finest piece of public golf architecture on the planet. There isn’t a close second. If fact, I only rate a handful of layouts ahead of Black on my all-time great list.
As a golfer public or private club member, if you haven’t made a pilgrimage to Bethpage to pay homage, then put it at the top of your golf bucket list. If you do so, email me — I can steer you to the best Italian food in the Big Apple.
Tune in to the PGA Championship and feast your eyes as the best players in the world challenge perhaps the best championship venue ever in professional golf. If this were a world championship heavyweight boxing match, I would bet on Black over the field in a knockout.
Tom Patri is the President and Founder of TPGOLF. He is a former Met PGA Teacher of the Year as well as a former South Florida PGA Teacher of the Year and a Golf Tips Magazine Top 25 Instructor in America. He teaches at Esplanade in Naples, Florida, November-April and is The Director of Instruction at The Hawthorns Golf and Country Club in Fishers, Indiana, May-October. Reach Tom at firstname.lastname@example.org or (239) 404-7790