In 2002 Bethpage Black became the first publicly owned course to stage a US Open, now it will get the chance the host its first PGA Championship before the Ryder Cup comes to town in 2024.
The facility will only be shut down on May 5, just 11 days before the major begins, and the public are allowed in up to May 13. Imagine saying the same of some its fellow major venues.
Charlie Bolling played on the European Tour in the 1980s and, after working with private clients the past few years, he now finds himself as the head pro at Bethpage. So who better to set the scene for the second major of 2019?
What would you tell your friends if they were coming for 36 holes at Bethpage?
The Black is obviously the marquee course but what’s interesting is everybody loves the Red. The Red is a great course but my second favourite course on the property is the Green.
They’re in pretty good condition, there’s more money invested in the Black because it’s the marquee course so, condition wise, the Black is pristine pretty much all of the time. The other courses are a little bit more municipal.
How many rounds are played on the Black per year?
The number over the five courses is around 225,000. I would say with the build-up to the PGA the Black is probably less than the others, probably around 30,000 a year.
Is May in the New York area good for golf?
It’s a good time for golf but we haven’t had the growing weather to get the rough up, it’s been wet. It’s been raining, raining, raining. When it comes to scoring, the wet conditions will make the course a little more forgiving for the players. But May can be a windy month so if we get high winds, that could be problematic for the players.
Andy Wilson oversees all five courses but then there is a superintendent for each course who report to him. I played the Black this week and the greens and fairways are better than I’ve ever seen them. I’ve been around the facility for a long time because I’ve been here in New York for 30 years and I would play in the New York State Open every year.
Will May play easier than the US Opens?
Both US Opens were plagued by weather. The 15-day forecast is just solid rain. Right now, its 51 degrees with a high of 64, the soil temperature is still mid-50s and good growth occurs in the 60s. We need some good weather but the forecast isn’t that good.
How would a 10-handicapper get on off the back tees?
They wouldn’t break 90 from the back tees, they should break 100. If you’re playing the tees that the pros will play in the championship, it’s just a whole lot of par 5s for a 10-handicapper.
The 12th hole from the back is a 515-yard, par 4. It’s a big course, the guys hit it so far and there’s a lot of forced carries at Bethpage.
There is some tremendous bunkering. The noteworthy aspect of the design is the cross bunkering. There are forced carries on a lot of holes and some well-placed bunkers, so the forced carries that are at 290-300. There’s a lot of guys at the top of the food chain who can hit the ball far enough.
But, when the temperature drops from 85 degrees to 60, the ball doesn’t go as far.
Brooks Koepka said recently that it’s all about placement and you don’t always need driver. Would you agree with that?
If Koepka thinks he’s coming in here and not hitting a lot of drivers, I don’t agree with that. When he gets here, he will see that this is a tremendous driving course.
They play the 7th as a converted par 4 from a par 5. It’s such a sharp dog-leg that some guys don’t hit driver because they don’t want to hit through the fairway, and it is downwind.
I think Koepka is going to hit driver a lot. On the front nine, the only par 4s that he won’t hit driver on are 2 and 6 – he might hit it on 6 and he may or may not on 7. He will hit driver on 9, 10, probably 11, definitely on 12, 13, 15, and 16, then 18 is not a driver.
What’s your favourite hole and why?
My favourite hole is the 4th hole which I would say this is arguably the best par 5 in the world without a water hazard.
It’s the cross bunkering on the second shot for the mere mortal, which is quite significant, the bunkering near the green and then the green complex is narrow from back to front.
It requires a perfect distance to hold the green. If the greens are firm and somebody is coming in with a fairway wood or a long iron, it can be a real challenge to hold the green.
What are the greens like?
Quite flat but this week for example they had them Stimping at about 14 for an event. On the Sunday of the US Open in 2002 the superintendent at the time told me that they were 16 on the Stimp.
The interesting thing about flat-ish greens is that when you increase the speed like that, they become a little less flat.
What are the shots that the players might not fancy?
For the average golfer the 12th tee is exceedingly challenging. It’s probably a 60-degree dog-leg left that has a cross bunker on the corner that runs diagonally for 40 or 50 yards.
If you can cover it on the left side, then you shorten the hole tremendously. If you can’t cover it then you have to play so far right that it turns it into a par 5. That’s the hole that they’ve lengthened to 515 for the PGA Championship. I think it used to be about 500 or 490 in the US Opens. That’s a tee shot that you’ve got to come up with.
In 2002 players were struggling to even reach the 10th fairway…
In that US Open when the north-easterly wind moved in on the Thursday and the guys starting on the 10th tee had a 252-yard carry to the fairway because they do split-tee starts for the US Open.
So, it was dead into the wind, typically the 10th plays downwind. Nick Price, Corey Pavin and a handful of other guys couldn’t reach the fairway. The rough was so high that even if you flew it 251 yards, it wasn’t getting to the fairway.
So, they were aiming for the walking path and trying to hit that.
What will your role be during the week?
I will be managing range operations which isn’t as easy as you’d think. There are a lot of things that are easy, like giving the pros the balls and taking videos of their swings, stuff like that.
The challenge is that there are around 15 ball types. After the pros hit the balls, they have to be picked, cleaned and sorted and that’s the part that can be a challenge.