Which is the best golf major? A question we ask each other on many occasions. But I’ve been to three of the four now, so I’m going to split it down into categories and decide which comes out on top in terms of the fan experience…
Best golf major: Travel
The Long Island Rail Road is the greatest transportation system ever invented. It isn’t just on time, it’s five minutes early. Every time.
You’re not rammed in like you’re cattle. There’s space to push out the legs. There’s so many carriages you worry you might derail as soon as you hit a kink in the track.
Think on LNER. This is how you do it.
The shuttle buses are lined up in row after row. There’s no hanging about. Security is tight but everyone’s polite. They are actually pleased to see you.
You speed to the course in about 10 minutes – and you won’t see another car. That’s because every road’s been closed to aid your passage. Remarkable.
It certainly beats three hours stuck in a Shinnecock traffic queue and the shambles that was Carnoustie’s tiny train station. Ever tried to fit a thousand people on a platform? Here’s a tip: don’t.
Best golf major: Merchandise
Golfing heaven, the PGA shop is thy name.
Shop isn’t an accurate word. This is a department store of leisure wear and nick-nacks. Look, there’s the Nike section, where I can buy Tiger’s Masters Sunday mock turtle neck emblazoned with the PGA Championship logo (I didn’t).
There’s an Under Armour stand, FootJoy are over there. Is that Ralph Lauren? Excuse me, I’ll just be a minute.
They’re flogging Ryder Cup merchandise – five years before the tournament’s even due to come here.
I thought the Open shop at Carnoustie was large but, compared to this, it’s barely a maisonette. There’s even a resident DJ mixing the decks.
This is still a close one, you could buy an oar and nautical compass at Shinnecock Hills after all, but the Bethpage bucket hat – emblazoned with the Black’s first tee warning sign – just tips the scales.
The Verdict: PGA
Best golf major: Food
You’re putting a lot of salt on that. Wait, now you’re smearing what on it?
No wonder America is the grip of a public health crisis. If you like grease layered on top of grease – and quite frankly, who doesn’t? – then you’ve definitely come to the right place.
My taste buds have yet to decide how to handle the Bavarian pretzel – all I can say is it’s like a mustard-coated doughnut – but I’d have had to consume my body weight in beef if tackling the grilled cheeseburger.
Portion sizes are not a thing at Bethpage, although diabetes is. God bless America.
Best golf major: Drink
Just what is frozen lemonade? That’s an ice lolly, right? So why are you pouring it into a glass? I’m confused.
Walking to the tent, a group of guys are lamenting the fact that it’s 9.45am and they are yet to drink their first beer.
Maybe they’ll think again when it’s time to open their wallets. You’ll have your own thoughts on the quality of Michelob Ultra and Budweiser but $15 – that’s just shy of £12 in old money – is pretty outrageous for a pint and small change.
The bottles are 11 bucks and they’re being vacuumed up like the only off-licence in the village is running short and there’s a hurricane on the way.
Things are going to get lively later on.
You might struggle to get hold of a good IPA at an Open, and the prices are hardly charitable, but at least a few beers doesn’t quite require a bank loan.
Verdict: The Open
Best golf major: Crowds
“Get in the hole!” Get in the sea, more like. The guy next to me has yelled out golf’s most excruciating phrase for each player in the threeball and is now standing back and admiring his work. We’re on the 13th hole. It’s a 600-plus yard par 5. Nothing is going anywhere near a hole just yet.
There’s a weird self-satisfied smirk on his face but I just want to grab Francesco Molinari’s driver and beat him to death with it.
The yelling’s annoying enough when it’s on the TV coverage but when you’re getting your eardrums blown out it can drive you to dark, dark thoughts.
New York sports fans are a unique breed – a whirling dervish of passion, joy, outrage and indignation that sometimes spouts all at the same time.
Q: How loud will it be on Saturday at @PGAChampionship? ????
— National Club Golfer (@NCG_com) May 18, 2019
You can’t debate them, theirs is the only opinion that matters, and when they’ve had a few too many beers (and that happens way too early in the day for anyone’s liking) it can get ugly pretty quickly. Just ask Ian Poulter.
But that passion has its plus points too. The roar when a big putt drops is ear-splitting. Only the Thunderclap at Le Golf National can top it for sheer hair-raising awesomeness.
There’ll be plenty of you out there moaning that “this isn’t golf” and there’s a lot to be said for relative silence and a bit of polite applause.
I’m a bit more towards the Happy Gilmore end of the scale and, if we can just root out and bludgeon the “mashed potato” brigade, the Ryder Cup here is going to be immense.
Best golf major: Grandstands
Aww, they’re quaint aren’t they? It’s like the big Royal Troon grandstand had children and they ran away while in short pants.
Nothing can beat that big yellow leaderboard and the engineering required to put quite so many people in one space like that can’t be topped.
This one isn’t even close.
Verdict: The Open
Best golf major: Course
It’s too long, moaned Bryson DeChambeau. I don’t like the rough. Tough luck, son. It’s a major, it’s meant to be difficult.
Having chunked a chip shot from the exact spot where Rory McIlroy failed to find the green from at the 1st on Thursday, there’s a perverse pleasure in watching the world’s best find the game just as difficult as we do.
Bethpage Black is a genuinely interesting course, although a pretty tough walk. The 4th, the easiest for the professionals this week, would make my best 18 for its look. The 15th is absolutely breathtaking when you gaze at it from the 14th green and plays like it wants you to quit golf.
But how can you go up against our classic links? Those stretches of sand that gave birth to the game will always win out, no matter how clever AW Tillinghast was with a bunker.
Verdict: The Open
Well what do you know? It’s honours even between the PGA Championship and the Open – a result that has been in no way contrived.
The PGA Championship may still have a way to go before it’s loses its tag as the fourth major but, as a spectator experience, it’s really right up there.
The oldest, though, wins out in a play-off (four holes, of course). It’s still The One.
What’s your favourite major? Let us know in the comments below or join the conversation on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Remember to keep up to date with all the action from Bethpage with NCG’s dedicated PGA Championship website.