[This flyover was updated on January 5, 2012.]
The Yellow Course at Bethpage State Park carries around a reputation as the park's beginner course. Sure, the hills are more dramatic on the Blue, the fairways more snug on the Green, and the flags farther off into the distance on the Red and Black, but judged on its own the Yellow is a solid course with a mix of demanding and attackable holes.
The Yellow Course is the "newest" of the Bethpage quintet, built mostly from scratch in 1958 by Alfred Tull, and partially from holdovers that survived the rerouting of A.W. Tillinghast's original Blue Course. At 6,085 yards from the regular tees, Yellow is the shortest course of the five. Only two of its par-4s reach 400 yards. It's a great course to get your feet wet before diving into the park's neighboring layouts. Perhaps a new title as Bethpage's "warm-up course" would be more fitting and a bit more flattering than "beginner course."
Like its Blue neighbor, the Yellow features a pair of returning nines. It also sports a mix of styles, a result of its absorption of some of Tillinghast's original Blue holes. Consequently the course is an inconsistent jumble of Tull and Tillinghast designs. After a front nine that contains only one single fairway bunker, the Tillinghast stretch of holes from #10 through #14 utilizes two of the course's largest sand complexes in its fairways. Bunkers in this portion of the back nine, irregular in shape and depth, are traced by tall, wispy grasses. From the 15th tee home, the characteristics fall back in line with the course's opening half.
Yellow's longest par-4 starts the round, a 411-yarder with a slight fade and downhill approach. The bunker midway to the green on the right side is the only fairway trap to be found on the front nine. The second hole is a touch shorter at 389 yards and plays straight out.
Rumors about flat fairways prove untrue about halfway to the hole at the 366-yard third. Drives with enough mustard to catch the downhill drop 150 yards from the green will earn plenty of added roll and a shortened approach. Those who stay on the top level of fairway will need to be smart about club selection on a shot to a green (pictured right) that only comes into view near the edge of the slope. Keep this in mind at the 474-yard sixth. Once again, the fairway slides downhill, its crest well within reach of a strong drive. A well-executed draw will run for extra yardage along the curving fairway. Downhill approaches make this green reachable in two.
Yellow's first half concludes with a blind tee shot to a fairway that opens wide and curves left. Use the line of trees on the left as a guide for cutting the corner, though it's best to keep drives on this 375-yard par-4 to the right side of the fairway. A tree pushes into the left side of the green's neck and obstructs approaches from that direction.
Yellow's demeanor briefly changes after the turn, suddenly temperamental and less forgiving. It's a Jekyll-to-Hyde switch that lasts for five holes, before settling back into its original personality. Not coincidentally, holes #10 through #14 are some of the best, and best-looking, holes at Bethpage.
The stretch begins with Yellow's longest hole, a 510-yard par-5 (524 from the tips). A cluster of traps on the right should remain comfortably out of play on most drives, and extra care should be taken to make sure of it. Getting caught up in the sand here is inexcusable. Second shots should remain on the right side to ensure the best angle on a short, slightly downhill approach. Long shots into the green are discouraged by two traps behind the surface and a slope drifting down off the left side.
The 12th is Tillinghast's "Reef" hole. It is a driveable par-4 with rough-covered mounds lining the right side of the fairway. It's followed by the Yellow's most intimidating hole, a 410-yard par-4 (429 from the tips) that appears innocent from the tee. There is an inviting landing area to the left of the course's largest bunker, and you'll want to take advantage of every yard of available space. Steering clear of the hazard is only the first objective, however. The approach to the green quickly narrows, and the putting surface falls off on all sides. Shots right of the green will slide off into rough, trees and hardpan lies. On the opposite side, a steep decline into no-man's land leaves blind, uphill recoveries from poor lies. The 178-yard 14th requires a tee shot over a valley. Its beautiful green complex (pictured left and below) features four deep bunkers that tightly hug the surface.
A downhill drive on the 475-yard, par-5 17th sets up the steady ascent over an uphill fairway that bends slightly to the left. Yellow's closing hole exposes itself to low scores with a wide-open, unprotected fairway that fades toward the green. End the round aggressively on this 347-yard par-4 where the rough is not a deterrent and trouble is almost impossible to find.
The putting surfaces on the Yellow are small and round. Breaks within the greens are generally subtle. There are a few exceptions, however, including the par-4 13th, where the front right edge of the surface slides quickly into the rough. Front pins are often stuck dangerously close to the crest, and putts from the left or back of the green could easily scoot off the side.
Aprons are closely mowed, making pins susceptible to running shots from the fairway or long putts from off the surface. Players who like to be creative with a short ground game will enjoy the firm and open entrances to the greens, especially in spots -- like the 13th -- where danger lurks just off the sides and backs of the putting surfaces.
During peak season, thick fescue-type grasses can gobble up your ball only a short distance from some greens. You may have birdie on your mind when lining up a short approach at the downhill third, but a bad miss left might be gone for good if it gets sucked into a dense patch of weedy rough. Then you'll have plenty more words on your mind, none of them pleasant. In the offseason (Yellow stays open year-round), these areas become much more playable.
Yellow's heavy volume of play makes pace an ongoing issue, but the conditions of the fairways and greens don't reflect the course's relentless foot traffic.
HOLE(S) TO REMEMBER:
#12 on the Yellow Course was once the fifth hole of the original Blue, a "Reef" hole popularized by Tillinghast. The classic Reef par-4 is typically reachable from the tee, but this potential reward is countered by the risk of a diagonal fairway hazard that may or may not curl around toward the green's side. For those that lack the desire or accuracy to challenge the hazard, a bailout area is available for a short second shot, albeit from a poor or obstructed angle.
Today, what remains of the Reef hole is a driveable, 300-yard par-4 with mounding in the rough but little else to dissuade aggressive drives at the green. This mounding forms the right border of the main fairway. Strong drivers can go for the green with little to fear -- the far end of the fairway is receptive to runners and a large bunker is too short and left to punish anything except pulls and hooks. An arm of the fairway -- the bailout area, though there is no hazard from which to be bailed out -- splits off around the right side of the mounds and will collect short tee shots, but the tall mounds will block any view of the green from this position.
(Read more in Closer Look: Bethpage Yellow #12.)
AREA(S) TO AVOID:
Any list of Bethpage's most challenging par-4s would have to include Yellow #13, a 410-yarder that may not twist players into the ground like Red #1 or Black #15, but its demand for precision can be overwhelming. The huge bunker that sits in the right rough is about 60 yards long and routinely swallows the par opportunities of the careless. Tall grasses frame the bunker's edges, and a weedy hump in the middle of the trap boosts the odds of a ball coming to rest under a lip. Suppose you find yourself with an awkward lie under a lip and the safest play is a blast to the nearest strip of fairway. Now you're looking at a potential long-iron approach into a smallish green that falls off in all directions. Any inaccuracy from that distance will likely result in a miserable uphill battle -- both literally and figuratively -- against greenside obstacles.
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