The best hole I ever played: The brutal but beautiful par-4 5th at Bethpage Black

The 5th hole at Bethpage Black.

A tee-to-green view of the 5th hole at Bethpage Black.

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Our knowledgeable crew of course raters have stuck pegs in the ground just about everywhere. But which holes stand out as the greatest they’ve ever played? We asked them, and they replied with love letters about their faves. This offering comes from Barry Hyde.

The journey to play Bethpage Black from New Jersey is a full day. Battling traffic on Staten Island, you wonder if the three hours you budgeted for the 95-mile drive is enough, as you must arrive at least an hour ahead of your tee time or risk forfeiting your reservation. I’m always relieved when I’ve checked in and paid my greens fee.

By the time you pass JFK airport, drawing closer to your destination, you’ve played every hole a number of times in your head. You’ve hit it solid off the tee on 1 to avoid humiliation. You’ve huffed and puffed up the hill on 15.

But if you’re like me, your mental energy is focused most intently on the 5th.

This demanding 478-yard par-4 is deep enough into your round that you can’t use the “I still need to warm up” excuse. You’ve also just enjoyed the friendly par-5 4th as a confidence-boosting canapé. As you walk to the 5th tee, your back is to the hole. Pirouette and have a look: this brutal but fair beauty is right in front of you.

A solid drive is critical, as you’ll need to bring your approach in high enough to carry the front of an elevated green. I prefer an angle from the right side of the fairway, which gives you better entry on your second shot. A bunker guards the left side of the green. Challenging the right side off the tee brings trouble into play; you’ll need to hit it far enough to fly the fairway bunkers. But it’s worth the risk. My friends often talk of the “charm” of running the ball onto a green. That’s not an option here.

The putting surface is more challenging than most of the flatter surfaces at Bethpage, but it offers backboards and slopes that make missing the green in certain places bearable. The bunkering is penal, but you’re generally better off in the sand than in the rough.

A bogey here rarely bothers me, in part because the halfway house sits just over the green — by then I’m ready for a cool drink. And a par is cause for celebration, a memory to savor on the drive home from this treasure of a course.

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