There are two public venues on Long Island that stand above the rest: Bethpage State Park and Eisenhower Park. Both have multiple golf courses designed by such renowned architects as A.W. Tillinghast and Robert Trent Jones. Built long before the existence of golf destinations as we know them, each facility reflects the simple, hard-working virtues that personified late-19th-century New York. In short, all of the courses are challenging, but with numerous tee boxes and simple routing, theres something for every type of golfer.
Bethpage State Park
There are five courses on this giant property, each designed by A.W. Tillinghast. They are simply named: Black, Red, Blue, Green and Yellow. Situated on 1,500 acres of rolling terrain on Long Island, Bethpage State Park is the largest public golf facility in the country. Throughout its storied history it has hosted more than 18 million rounds, and averages 300,000 annually.
Not surprisingly, the Black Course is the most difficult, with a slope/rating of 148/76.6. In 1997 Rees Jones redesigned the course to bring it up to modern U.S. Open standards, but he didnt diminish the original quality bestowed upon it by Tilinghast, who is also credited with the design of Winged Foot, Baltusrol and San Francisco Golf Club.
There is almost no out-of-bounds at the Black Course, and only one hole (the par-3 eighth) has water. In typical Tillinghast fashion, each hole is routed in such a way that there are no secrets, it's right out there in front of you. If you hit it straight you will have a chance to post par. Spray it, however, and you'll find yourself hacking out of the rough or one of the many deep bunkers that dot the course. Its a mind-numbingly simple design philosophy that wears on you unlike most other courses youll play.
Bethpage head golf professional Joe Rehor remembers one player in particular whos intimidated by No. 4.
I remember at the 2002 Open, Tiger Woods went for this green in two in the first round, said Rehor. Although he was successful, he told me afterward that Id never see him try to hit that green in two again. Its just too dangerous.
Another hole at the 2002 U.S. Open that had players talking was No. 10. At 508 yards, this monster of a par 4 requires a 260-yard carry to reach the fairway. With the hole playing into the wind during the second round and the course very wet from heavy rains, the fairway was unreachable for some of the shorter hitters in the field. To ensure the problem doesnt occur again, the USGA brought the fairway back about 35 yards. Even now, its one of the toughest par 4s youll ever play.
While the Black Course gets all the attention at Bethpage, the Red, Blue, Green and Yellow courses are impressive in their own right, particularly the Red Course.
|Bethpage State Park|
How to get there
From Manhattan, take I-495 E to 135 S. Take exit 8 toward Bethpage. Turn left and follow the road through a roundabout to the main entrance.
How to play it
Book a tee time by calling (516) 249-0700. Read about how you can walk-on at the Black course here.
After playing the Black course the clubhouse bar is a great place to share a pint and lick your wounds.
Most people who have played both the Black and Red courses will tell you that the Red is very comparable to the Black. Give the Red Course a Rees Jones U.S. Open makeover and it could host the U.S. Open too, the first tee starter at the Red course said.
The first hole at the Red Course (127/76.6) is an uphill, 460-yard beast of a par 4 and is unquestionably the most difficult opening hole on Long Island. No. 18 is also a stern test. From beginning to end, the Red Course is one of the most underrated courses in the country, bookended by two memorable par 4s.
The Green Course (121/69.5) was the first course to open at Bethpage State Park, and was redesigned when the Black, Red and Blue courses opened. Considered the tamest course at the park, the Green Course is recommended for the novice golfer.
The Blue Course (124/76.6) is a challenging layout, and paired with the Black and the Red makes up the trio of original Tillinghast designs at Bethpage. Some of the hills at the Blue Course are severe, and blind shots are common. The front nine is more difficult than the back. It was redesigned in 1960 to make room for the Yellow Course.
The Yellow Course (120/76.6) is widely considered the easiest of the five at Bethpage, but from the back tees its a formidable challenge. Some of the original holes from Tillinghasts Blue Course can be seen from this par 71 layout.
Rates at Bethpage State Park: Black - $60, New York resident. $120, non-resident. Red - $46, resident. $92, non-resident. Blue, Green, Yellow - $41
Located less than 20 minutes from Bethpage in the heart of Nassau County, Eisenhower Park sits on property once owned by Salisbury Country Club, host to the 1926 PGA Championship won by Walter Hagen. Additional public space was purchased by the county, making Eisenhower Park larger than New York's Central Park.
|Eisenhower Red Golf Course|
How to get there
From Manhattan, take I-495 E to Northern State Parkway E to Meadowbrook Parkway S. Make a left onto Stewart Ave. and take to park entrance.
How to play it
Book a tee time here or by calling 516-572-0427.
The Palm Court Restaurant at the Carltun Hotel has a private cigar club, spacious wine cellar and live jazz.
It's also a public golfer's paradise because of the price. The weekday rate for residents is $36 and for non-residents $45. On the weekends, the rates increase slightly to $41 and $49, respectively. That's less than half of what it costs to play Bethpage Black.
'It's one of the all-time best values for a public golf course,' said Kestner.
And the course is a lot friendlier than the Black, says Kestner, who also played in the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage.
'If you enjoy shooting a real high score you'll like the Black,' joked Kestner. 'I don't know too many golfers who like that. The 15-handicapper can shoot 85 on the Red Course at Eisenhower, but he's not going to break 100 on the Black. It's going to play five to 10 shots easier, at least.
The White Course (6,932 yards from tips, 6,409 middle tees) was designed in 1950 by Robert Trent Jones, whose list of notable course designs include Spyglass Hill and Hazeltine National Golf Club, site of this year's PGA Championship. Jones also designed the Blue Course, which is the shortest of the three layouts (6,026 yards from tips, 5,705 yards from middle tees).