Restoration expert and Weir Golf Design partner Ian Andrew played Bethpage Black last fall on a trip to Long Island. As I’ve never played the state park course that will host this week’s U.S. Open, I asked Andrew to sum up his experience and give us a flavor of what to expect.
1) You played Bethpage last year “ give me your initial impressions.
Bethpage is the hardest course I have ever played “ much harder than Pine Valley. Every single shot is contested and every miss is punished by rough and bunkers. What makes it even tougher is if you miss a fairway but get a decent lie. You face a long iron or wood out of thick rough and over super-deep bunkers. The best way I can describe Bethpage Black is relentless. It simply begins very hard and gets harder as it goes. It slowly grinds you down till youre physically and mentally exhausted by the end of the round.
2) Some say it is the best public course in North America. Your take?
It is a great course “ one where I really admire the routing “ but definitely not the best. The problem is all the penalties add up to a very one dimensional test of golf. There is not enough variety in the lengths of holes “ particularly the fours. There is no variation in the challenge “ it just keeps coming at you all day. The very best courses offer you more variation in your round and in your day “ Pebble Beach has more variety and more opportunity to have some fun. This is simply a well designed and beautiful torture chamber. It is a must play.
3) What are the key architectural features that will influence play and that people should pay attention to?
The biggest factor is the rough is thick and heavy. One subtle thing that wont come across on TV is that some of the greens slope at an angle to the fairway and because of this the greens are hard to hit without a cut or draw. A slightly miss-hit shot will skip through the green and look like a miss “ where if they were on the wrong side of the fairway was likely a great shot. Some of the elevated greens like the 5th and 15th are so tough that anything on the green will draw applause from me (on the couch).
4) What was your favorite element of the course?
But my favourite element is the scale of the course “ its enormous. The corridors between tree lines are so large that there is only one of two places where a player has any real risk of finding trees. The contour in the land is huge. But the real key was Tillinghast building his bunkering with enough size and depth to fill all that open space. His bunkering is large enough to create wonderful serpentine fairways through these wide corridors. Through the scale and placement of the bunkering he has developed lots of carry angles and strategy from the tee. He then bunkered at the greens reinforce the emphasis on position of the tee “ and also built it in a size that fits the scale of the place. The one thing about everything being on such an enormous scale is it is often tough to calculate carry distances because your eye is easily thrown off by the enormity.
5) Pick a winner other than Tiger.
It will be someone who is very patient. I like someone like Geoff Ogilvy.