FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — Bethpage Black. The name alone is fearsome. And in case you haven’t heard, there’s even a warning sign on the first tee: “The Black Course Is An Extremely Difficult Course Which We Recommend Only For Highly Skilled Golfers.” Say what? This is golf, right? We’re not about to sail down a double-black-diamond ski slope. And yet, the sign is no joke. The course’s brutality is legendary, and, as we’ve seen through two rounds of the 2019 PGA Championship, even the best players in the world have a tough time playing well (unless of course your name is Brooks Koepka).
So what does that mean for the rest of us? What would a 15- or 20-handicapper, an Average Joe (a player admittedly not “Highly Skilled”) shoot at Bethpage Black? Well, the Black Course is public, so some who have played it might already know the answer. But what about when faced with the conditions like the pros are seeing this week?
The general consensus of the pros I spoke with is that an average hacker has absolutely ZERO chance of breaking 100, or even 120. Sound crazy? Let’s break it down.
Bethpage Black is playing 7,459 yards this week. The USGA rating from the back Blue tee is 77.5/155. So before an Average Joe even tees off, he needs to adjust his expectations. A scratch player would be doing pretty well to just break 80, according to the rating. So a 15-handicapper should really be playing to a par of say, 85, which would make breaking 100 a really good day.
Club pro Rob Labritz made the cut on the number this week. He’s won three New York State Opens at Bethpage Black and has seen first-hand how difficult the course can be. “I play in the New York State Open Pro-Am every year,” he told me. “And I play with amateurs that range from 3-handicaps to 36-handicaps. One year, I had four mid-handicappers — I’ll say 12 to 13 — and they didn’t make anything better than a double bogey, amongst the four of them, the entire round. And that was with the tees playing up a little bit. It is one of the hardest golf courses that you can step foot on lengthwise, and penalty-wise.”
Length is generally the first element of the course players cite when asked what makes it so hard. So let’s say your average drive is 240-250 yards. Right off the bat, there are likely seven par-4s that you’ll struggle to reach in regulation — and that’s if you manage to keep it in the fairway.
“As soon as you miss a fairway, you’ve no chance,” says English pro Eddie Pepperell, who is ranked 33rd in the world but missed the cut after firing 76-75 (11 over par). “A 15-handicapper wouldn’t break 120. Not even close. The greens are so raised, and there’s rough in front of all the greens, so you can’t miss the fairway and still get to the greens. The rough surprised me, how thick it was.”
The second important aspect of the course’s insane difficulty? Elevation. Lots of it. Teeing off to a fairway below just to then hit an approach back up to an elevated green. The fairways are undulating, so uneven lies are the norm. The bunkers are huge, deep and penal. Not to mention the heavy rough and tall fescue that awaits an errant tee shot or approach.
“There’s no easy holes out there,” said Joel Dahmen, who posted rounds of 70-72. “There’s no easy shots. There’s no way a 10-handicap would break 100 out here. Even if they had spotters to find every ball, they’d be making doubles left and right. I don’t think they’d make a birdie.”
Pat Perez, who fired 68-73, was even more emphatic. “A 20-handicapper would not break 200,” he said. “Impossible. They would never finish. I don’t think there’s enough daylight. The rough is very thick, it’s very long, if they got in the rough and couldn’t get out of the rough, they would never get to the green. And when they do hit the green, they’re running 14 on the Stimp with a lot of slope. It’s just very difficult. There’s a lot of disasters out there.”
To receive GOLF’s all-new newsletters, subscribe for free here.