On the heels of Tuesday’s major announcement, allow me to make a confession: I’ve never had a more fun time covering a golf tournament than the first U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, back in 2002.
It wasn’t the golf itself – Tiger Woods won, though it was hardly his most dramatic victory – but the spectators who created such a unique atmosphere, with the action outside the gallery ropes more closely resembling that of a raucous football game than a major championship.
Maybe I’m biased, having grown up about 20 minutes from the Black. Maybe I’m giving the crowd the benefit of the doubt; “raucous” can be flowery code speak for “loud,” “boorish” and even “downright obnoxious.” Or maybe I’m just taking it at face value, calling it a fun venue because, well, there’s no other way to describe it.
The rain-soaked 2009 edition of that tournament washed away much of the festivities, instead forcing fans to slog through the mud, witnessing history through the raindrops. And last year’s Barclays paled in comparison for obvious reasons, failing to match the frenzy of a major.
Even so, we did learn one thing: If there was ever a perfect course for the Ryder Cup, it’s Bethpage Black.
With the announcement that the PGA of America will bring the biennial competition to the muni in 2024 (along with the PGA Championship in 2019), anticipation for the event is already soaring.
After all, this is a blue-collar fan base which once lustily booed Sergio Garcia for the sole crime of waggling a few too many times over his golf ball. What will be the reaction when he’s actually competing for the opposing team? This is a crowd – not to its credit, mind you – which has endured a few of its own yelling at players before impact rather than afterward. How will that be controlled come 2024?
In an area that has at least two professional teams in every major sport, spectators bring a similar mentality to the golf course. What does that mean for the Ryder Cup? Well, if you thought the two U.S. Opens and Barclays were raucous, just wait. You’ll never see a more zealous – and perhaps overzealous – golf crowd than you’ll see at Bethpage Black in 11 years.
And yes, the atmosphere will be plenty fun, too.