The immediate area around the “Big Apple” is not burgeoning with quality public golf courses. For many New Yorkers the solution is to drive a few miles east onto Long Island where Bethpage State Park certainly does its part in filling the void. Bethpage State Park is one of the most popular and cherished public parks in the nation. Located in suburban Long Island in close proximity to New York City, Bethpage is a mecca for public golf featuring five 18-hole regulation golf courses, including the world-renowned Black Course. In addition to Bethpage Black hosting the United States Open Championships in 2002 and 2009, it was also the site of The Barclays PGA Tour events in 2012 and 2016. In 2019, Bethpage will host the PGA Championship and the Ryder Cup in 2024
Bethpage State Park was developed from an estate owned by the Yoakum family and other properties. The Yoakum family leased their estate to the Lenox Hills Corporation which subsequently used the property to build the Lenox Hills Country Club.
Before teeing off on the Black (alongside the opening tee of the Green course), you are minded to read the sign at the starter’s hut: “The Black Course is an extremely difficult course, which we recommend only for highly skilled golfers.” Never a truer word! Because the Black Course is owned by the state of New York it is a public access course which means that they run A LOT of golfers through the course each day. Also because the course is SO long, SO difficult and prohibits golf carts, the rounds can be excruciatingly long.
The first couple of holes, par-4s that dogleg in opposite directions, one downhill, the next uphill, may have you wondering what all the fuss is about. But at the par-5 4th any doubts are banished, the wow-factor kicks-in and it’s full throttle for the rest of the round. Not only does the layout provide a very enjoyable walk in pleasant woodland surroundings, it will also thoroughly test your game. Superb fairway and greenside bunkering, plenty of elevation change, fescue grasses and ball grabbing rough around the greens, all see to that. There are flatter stretches and others with plenty of elevation change. Some holes are relatively wooded, others more open. Encircling the entire layout is tranquil woodland.
“Tillie’s” layout builds to a wonderful four-hole closing stretch (on the west side of Round Swamp Rd). Here the greenside bunkering seems to take on even more ferocious proportions, especially at the final devilish duo. The Black’s par-3 17th is one of the world’s most fiercely bunkered “short” holes; from the tee you don’t see the green, just the bunkers. The par-4 18th, which comes back up to the clubhouse alongside the first hole of the Red course, is one of the best elevated-tee to elevated-green straightaway par-4s you’ll ever play.
With approximately 15,000 golf courses of all different types and sizes in the United States, the Black Course at Bethpage State Park has consistently ranked among the top 100 Greatest Golf Courses in America per Golf Digest for nearly twenty years (highest rank #26).
Laid out in two nine-hole loops that set-off from the large Bethpage clubhouse (or to be more precise the parking area), the Blue is a popular course for both 18-hole and 9-hole rounds. It is generally regarded as third in line of the five Bethpage courses, with the Red course (aka “Black-light”) bordering the Blue’s closing four-hole stretch to the north. To the south of the first three holes lies the Yellow course.
Best hole: The par-4 6th is often regarded as one of the toughest on the entire Bethpage complex. Requiring a draw from the tee, the hole heads downhill from the tee, then back-up to a well-bunkered small circular green.
The Red Course
The out-and-back Red course, which opened a year before the Black, is the classiest of the “other” four. In terms of length, and quantity and quality of bunkering, the Red makes an excellent foil for its more revered sibling. The long and testing par-4 1st first hole (one of very few straightaways in the layout) even gets to share a group of fairway bunkers with the Black’s finishing hole.
Known by some Long Islanders as “Black-light,” the Red course heads down and away from the large clubhouse, the start of an enjoyable tour of the northern section of Bethpage State Park’s golf courses and woodland. Tree-lined and relatively lightly bunkered for the first seven holes, the layout’s middle section is considerably flatter, more open and more heavily bunkered. On occasions it almost hits the sand volumes of the Black course ….. almost!
This elegant Tillinghast-designed layout possesses many excellently crafted parkland holes. Apart from the almost bunkerless straightaway opener, most holes dogleg to left or right. If not tree-lined, the holes are stylishly defined by bunkers.
Best holes: The wonderful short par-3 4th played to a pudding-bowl green, and the excellently bunkered elevated-tee to elevated-green par-4 18th.
The Green Course is the first course to be opened at the Bethpage facility back in 1934. It was originally called the Lenox Hills Course, back when Bethpage State Park was still the Lenox Hills Country Club. The course was modified by A.W. Tillinghast to allow for the creation of the Black, Red, and Blue, and to bring the finish of the 18th hole closer to the clubhouse. With a par of 71, slope of 121, rating of 69.5, and running 6124 yards from the back tee’s, it is far less grueling than some of the other courses at Bethpage.
The Yellow Course was opened for play in 1958. The Yellow, with a few steep slopes, is considered by many to be the easiest of the five courses. It can be a challenge to the novice and casual golfer but, when played from the Championship tees, can be a true test of a golfer’s skills. Some of the original Tillinghast holes from the old blue course may still be seen on this course.
Approximately 300,000 rounds are played annually on the five courses at Bethpage, all of which start from the Clubhouse area. Note that if you’re not a NYS resident you will have to pay 150 USD to play a round on the black course ($75 for a NYS resident).