In which first holes are examined. Today’s is Bethpage State Park Red Course’s 471-yard first hole.
Bethpage State Park developed out of the ashes of the Lenox Hills Country Club during New Deal era public works projects. The Devereux Emmet design at Lenox Hills contributed elements that became the Green Course while A.W. Tillinghast designed three new golf courses for the park, named Blue, Red, and Black. During the 1950’s a fifth course developed by Alfred Tull split Tillinghast’s eighteen at the Blue into today’s Blue and Yellow. Today, aspects of all three designers remain with various touch-ups to the Black Course by Rees Jones and the park for the US Open in 2002 and 2009. While the Black is unquestionably the centerpiece of the facility, each golf course is a worthy companion.
Golfers walking to the Black or Green courses at Bethpage must first pass this opener on the way from the professional’s shop to either first tee. In a word, the hole is LONG. The exposed shoulder emerging from the far woods at the base of the approach to the green stands as the most distinguishing feature. The fairway extends from the base of the tee-side hill as a ribbon toward this exposed shoulder. Upon reaching the shoulder, it narrows to the right flanked by a single tree extending up the far ridge to the green. The bunkers on the closing holes of the Red and Black Courses present a wide frame to the overall picture that suggest width to accommodate errant play.
The green is perched in a small depression on the far ridge with little distinguishing characteristics and a slightly obscured right side. Interestingly, when the turf is dormant in the winter, this view does not suggest the presence of a golf hole.
Strategy and Tactical
The natural tendency for play from the tee is to split the difference between the base of the exposed shoulder and the lone tree to the right, essentially in the area of the group pictured on the hole above. While not apparent in the above photo, the forward tee obscures a large portion of the fairway from the middle and back tees which serves to further emphasize this strategy. The length of the hole also suggests the golfer should make every effort to ensure as much fairway is usable for a run-on approach to the green on the far ridge.
Close examination of the green, especially apparent after subsequent play of the hole, exposes a nifty use of misdirection as the green is much more accommodating to the long approach from the left side of the fairway, playing directly over the shoulder.
The photo above suggests that extending the fairway a few yards left could further rewards this strategy and that an extension several yards right would further punish careless play. The lone Black Oak in the photo is well in play from the right and serves to draw aggressive approach shots into the shoulder left.
Upon reaching the green, the golfer putts across a fairly benign surface with only a general contour matching the surrounding terrain and none of the internal contour found later in the round. The subdued challenge of the green complements well the difficulty presented in playing to the green and does not overly frustrate the player who hasn’t unlocked the strategy of the hole.
In many instances, the opening hole sets the pace for a round of golf: however, opportunities to take advantage of special terrain in the area of the opening hole should be encouraged. This opener accomplishes getting the golfer to the topography most utilized by the Red Course that happens to lay an awkward distance from the starting point. Despite the 471-yard card yardage, the tee shot plays significantly downhill and does much to cut some of the length. Even modest drives will grant the golfer an executable approach shot by taking advantage of the left side. The key to this hole is for the golfer to use the first two shots to place themselves in a position to get down in the subsequent two. With a wide open approach, this can patiently be accomplished with a well-placed Driver and mid-iron shot.