Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Round #35: New York - Bethpage State Park (Black Course)

It was still raining when we departed from Freeport, Maine. The clouds finally thinned out and the sky turned sunny as we approached New London, Connecticut. We decided to take  the Cross Sound Ferry boat from New London to Orient Point on the northeastern tip of Long Island. It was a great decision: the boat ride was quite relaxing, we enjoyed a scenic drive across Long Island, and we avoided the traffic congestion & construction delays on the I-95 interstate highway into New York City.
 New London harbor

Long Island is an island in the southeastern state of New York, stretching northeast into the Atlantic Ocean. Long Island contains four counties, two of which are boroughs of New York City (Queens and Brooklyn) and two of which are mainly suburban (Nassau and Suffolk). The term "Long Island" often refers only to Nassau and Suffolk counties in order to differentiate them from New York City, though all four counties are on the island and part of the New York metropolitan area.
As of the 2010 census, Long Island had a population of 7,568,304, making it the 17th most populous island in the world, ahead of Ireland, Jamaica and the Japanese island of Hokkaido. Long Island extends 118-miles eastward from New York Harbor to Montauk Point and has a maximum north-to-south expanse of 23-miles. In spite of several trips to New York City, we had not previously seen much of Long Island aside from LaGuardia Airport and a portion of Brooklyn. We were pleasantly surprised as we drove inland from Orient Point; passing by vineyards, nurseries, berries, and fields of fresh produce. We were not expecting to see such a rural setting on the island. 
The evening was capped off with dinner at the Farm Country Kitchen in the small town of Riverhead on Long Island. The setting was a small house with very limited seating on an outside deck. You know it is crowded when the waiter has to move plates of food on the tables in order to pass between them. Excellent weather and a nice river view only added to the food we dined on: Napoli pasta, chicken artichoke, creme brûlée cheese cake. Our visit to Long Island was off to a great start!
Entrance to the Farm Country Kitchen

All of the customers were sitting in the outside deck on the rear of the restaurant

View from the deck

There was a good reason for rolling through Vermont & Maine regardless of the rain: Bethpage. The course I chose to play in New York was the Black course at the Bethpage State Park. It had not been an easy goal to attain thus far. In order to obtain a tee time I had to fax a copy of my driver’s license. Once I was registered in their system, I could request a tee time 48-hours ahead of when I wanted to play. Residents of New York were given preferential treatment as they could make their request up to 1-week in advance.
The target date for playing New York was originally the day following New Jersey. A last minute adjustment was made after learning the Plainfield Country Club in New Jersey was holding a tournament, causing me to delay my schedule by 1-day. Rather than adjust the entire schedule, I decided to play New York at the end of my swing through New England. 
My chances of getting onto the Black course at Bethpage were much better if I tried to play during the week. Playing the Sugarloaf Golf Club course in the rain on Tuesday meant I could travel from Maine to New York on Wednesday and play golf on Thursday. That was the plan.
I tested the reservation system earlier in the trip and it failed to recognize my registration. After re-sending a new fax of my driver’s license, I was assured that I was good to go. My apprehension was further heightened when I was told that the Black course had a daily limit of 96 players (which turned out to be false). I felt really good after making a phone call from Maine at exactly 7:00 PM on Tuesday night. The system recognized my registration and I was given a 12:33 PM tee time on Thursday afternoon. Don’t you just love it when a plan comes together? (I stole that last remark from Pat Pinkston!) 

Round: #35
Location: Farmingdale, NY
Golf Digest Best-In-State Rank: #7
Date: 28 Jun, tee off at 12:15 PM
Conditions: sunny, 3 MPH wind, 85 degrees
Yardage: 6,684
Lost balls: 0
Score: 92 on a par 71
The Bethpage Black course is a public course, the most difficult of the five courses at Bethpage State Park. Bethpage opened for play in 1932 and was referred to as the “People’s Country Club” in the late 1930’s. Over 15M rounds of golf have been played on it’s 5 golf courses since than. In 2002, the Black course became the first publicly owned and operated course to host the U.S. Open, which returned in 2009. Bethpage Black is set to host the first week of the FedEx Cup Playoffs (The Barclays) in both 2012 and 2016. 

In its July 2008 list of America's greatest golf courses, Golf Digest ranked Bethpage Black #26 overall, #6 of America's 50 toughest courses, and #5 in its list of America's greatest public golf courses. Now you know why I wanted to play Bethpage Black.
With five courses on sight, there was no shortage of players present when we pulled into a full parking lot. The park’s strict rules required me to show a picture I.D. 1-hour ahead of my tee time in order to “claim” my reservation. After paying the green fee and receiving a temporary wrist band, I relinquished my driver’s license to obtain a pull cart for my clubs (the Black course is a walking only course). I showed up early at the starter’s station where he checked my name against his list, accepted the paper greens fee receipt, and clipped off my wrist band. At that point the starter became very agitated with the group on the #1 tee box as they were missing their 4th member, who had not yet arrived on the course. He was very insistent that they must tee off to maintain the schedule at which point he threw me into the group to make the 4th player. I grabbed my driver and teed off. Before I walked off of the tee box he began complaining about my pull cart being on the tee box, which was not allowed at Bethpage. That rule was a new one for me; it will likely not be the last time I break some type of a rule on the golf course.

 Club house at Bethpage State Park

Starter's station for the Black course (Grumpy had gone home for the night)

After a quick departure from the tee box, introductions were made in the #1 rough while getting ready to make our 2nd shots. Manish was born in Punjab, India and lives in Woodbury with his wife & 10-year old son. He is self-employed as an importer of women’s clothing. I asked him how big his wife’s closet must be! His work requires frequent travel to India and China. He owns a house in New Delhi in a golf community; his son spends 1-month there each summer playing golf under the guidance of a $10/hour personal coach. Manish and his wife split the month with each of them taking 2-weeks vacation to be with their son in India. Manish was our local expert on the Black course with multiple rounds of experience under his belt. The entire group relied upon his instructions before playing each hole.
Steve was the 2nd member of our group. Born & raised south of Atlanta, Georgia he moved to New York City 15-years ago. After several years working as a fitness instructor, he opened his own Equinox gym on the Upper West Side at 77th and Amsterdam. One of his clients is Frank Oz, best known for creating & performing Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear in the Muppet Show as well as Cookie Monster, Bert and Grover in Sesame Street. 
Mike was the 3rd member of our group. It was his buddy who had not shown up on time at the course. Mike is a high school physical education teacher in his hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts. He works with inner city youth who challenge his ability to keep them motivated & engaged. During the summer school break he is involved with the People to People Ambassador Program. The good news was the program enables him to travel abroad: Greece, Italy & France were on the schedule this summer. The bad news is that he is teamed with three other chaperones charged with the responsibility of keeping 40-hormone charged teen-agers in line. That sounds like a tougher challenge than anything the Black course could throw at us.
Steve, Manish & Mike

Steve & Mike were not married; Steve has a girl friend and Mike expressed interest in being introduced to a girl playing in the slow-moving group directly in front of us (although it did not happen during our round). It is quite normal to encounter slow play on public golf courses. The many sand traps and long rough made this a very unusual public course; a sign by the 1st tee helped emphasize that fact.

The large sand traps, long rough and natural prairie grass presented more than enough challenge for me on the front nine. I could only manage a single par and with three double bogeys after failing to keep the ball in the fairway. It was very difficult for me to hit out of the rough; the only shot possible out of the prairie grass was to punch back out onto the fairway. The greens were rolling as fast as most private courses I have played on.
 354-yard par 4 hole #2

 View from the hole #2 green looking back up the fairway toward the tee box

 View from the hole #3 green looking down the 461-yard par 5 hole #4 fairway

View of 2nd shot from the rough on hole #4 

 423-yard par 4 hole #5

 502-yard par 5 hole #7

191-yard par 3 hole #8

The course plays long with tee shots that require significant on-target carry to reach the fairways. The afternoon heat and walking over hilly terrain only added to the difficulty. A good approach shot produced a birdie on the par 5 hole #13, but landing in the sand trap followed by poor putting on hole #14 produced a 4-over 7 on the par 3 hole.
 421-yard par 4 hole #11

 432-yard par 4 hole #12

 152-yard par 3 hole #14

430-yard par 4 hole #15 (view of approach shot to the green from the fairway)

The course is well set-up for tournament crowds. Crews were already starting to erect stands for the upcoming Barclays on holes #17 and #18. Elevated greens situated on the hillsides provide excellent viewing areas of the competition’s final holes.
 Constructing stands between hole #16 and hole #17 fairways

 195-yard par 3 hole #17

 View from the hole #17 green looking back toward the tee box

 394-yard par 4 hole #18

View of approach shot to the green from the fairway bunker on hole #18

We could have used a 2nd ferry boat to get off of Long Island at the end of the day. We expected to encounter heavy traffic crossing over Manhattan into New Jersey, but our expectations were greatly exceeded. An accident on the George Washington Bridge backed up traffic making the interstate look more like a parking lot than a high-speed expressway. We spent 1-1/2 hours traveling the 10-miles into New Jersey.
Side note: I have mentioned the Barclays tournament in blog stories related to New Jersey and New York. A newspaper article on June 28 reported that Barclays will pay $450M to settle charges that they manipulated interest rates on college & home loans.

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