“Locals bet on Black to win,” screamed the headline of a New York tabloid on the eve of the 109th US Open. The photograph accompanying the story was that of Tiger Woods. It’s debatable whether those clever newspaper dudes meant this to be a deliberate double play, but it’s probably a safe bet by the local gamblers, whichever way you choose to look at it.
Bethpage Black is a proper public course, just 25 miles from downtown New York, with a proper $60 a round public course green fee (2010 US Open venue, Pebble Beach, claims to be a public links but $495 for 18 holes suggests otherwise). The Black has a proper dilapidated wooden pro shop with flaky paint around the windows, chipped roof tiles, and rotten wood for walls, and scribbled notes stuck to the glass advertising half-hour lessons for $60 and large buckets of balls for $8. The starter’s hut, with its dirty plastic grill window, looks more like a booth that you queue up in front of to pay your fine and get your car back after it has been clamped.
The Black might be cheap but it’s certainly not shaping up to be cheerful for the world’s finest golfers. Frankly, as the masochistic locals are only to pleased to inform you, their course is bloody hard as nails. So much so, that there is a warning for foolhardy golfers nailed to the railings at the back of the 1st tee. It’s golf’s equivalent of the “smoking will kill you” message on cigarette packets. The placade reads: “The Black Course is an extremely difficult course which we recommend only for highly skilled golfers.” How’s that for calming 1st tee nerves? “It’s like what they do on ski slopes,” blubbed Henrik Stenson. “It’s a bit of a gimmick,” he added trying not to look scared. “This is probably the only golf course with a warning at the first tee,” trembled 2006 US Open champion Geoff Ogilvy. “I’ve seen lots of rules written down on first tees but I’ve never seen warnings.” Okay, it’s official: the USGA have got the players quaking in the khaki pants (and that’s not necessarily just in their trousers, either). The course measures 7,426 yards and there are seven par-fours over 450 yards long. The Black is a super-sized XXXL slog. “I hit a wood into those par fours in practice,” Ogilvy whimpered.
“And as for 3- and 4-irons; we’re wearing them out.” And the course is only going to get longer. Weather forecast for the week: Rain. Rain. And more rain. Come Sunday, the world’s greatest golfers could be sloshing around in the puddles of a muni for five hours in the pouring rain. Just like the rest of us, then, at the weekend.