This is the latest in a multi-part series where our writers and editors wax poetic about their all-time favorite golf hole. Look for more entries throughout the holiday season. Enjoy!
I’ve been lucky enough to play many beautiful golf holes in my life. Elegant holes. Nuanced holes. Golf holes that, when you walk their fairways, make you think about the glory of the game that took you there. I rifled through many of those as I thought through this assignment, but each time my mind wandered back to the anthesis of them all: the 478 yard par-4 15th at Bethpage Black.
There’s nothing subtle about Bethpage Black. There’s literally a sign outside the golf course warning you away from playing it. The Black is big and bruising, and no matter how polished the course gets it always feel kind of tough. The Black is about as close as golf comes to a barroom brawl. But amid the endless pomp and circumstance that surrounds so much of the game, sometimes, it’s that’s exactly what you need.
Well, that’s the thought process going in, at least.
Unlike other courses, the Black doesn’t land one blow and then wheel away to give you time to recover. It just keeps coming at you, over and over again. The course is long and the rough is thick. Almost every green on the course is slightly elevated, and there are sneaky forced carries all over the place. Hole after hole of hacking out and clubbing up has an accumulative effect that wears you down, utterly and completely.
You think you’re through the worst of it after the narrow 608-yard par-5 13th, lulled into a false sense of security by the what-seems-like-a-pitch-shot-by-that-point 161-yard par-3 14th. But then you cross the road and see it: The monstrous dogleg-left par-4, which elevates up a hill so steep that local residents often sled down it in the winter. The drive is pretty straightforward, requiring a slight draw into a relatively unprotected fairway, but it’s the second shot that sticks with you. The sight of that hill from the fairway resembles less of a golf hole and more of a military fortification. The elevated, almost-blind shot at the green is surrounded by massive sets of bunkers short carpeted throughout by thick rough, which means the only bail-out area is long — not much help when you’re pulling everything in the bag just to get it there. Walking up that hill, after the preceding 14 holes, is the golf equivalent of a wobbly boxer just waiting to be KO’d. You’re hanging onto the ropes, hoping something will come to you.
It’s a big, mean hole. But there’s something about walking up that big, mean hole that gives you the necessary perspective on things.
Golf isn’t just a game of elegance or style or artistry. Golf is hard. Golf is really, stupidly hard. It’s a game of misses and a maddening examination of patience. It’s annoying — infuriating at times — and utterly unfair. It’s a test of will, determination, and fortitude. The 15th at Bethpage isn’t the most pretty or elegant hole around. It’s an unrelenting challenge to overcome. Sometimes that’s the memory that sticks with you longest.