Behind Bethpage State Park's handsome clubhouse, the Black Course shines as the star, its "Warning" sign attracting the attention and camera flashes of first-time visitors. On the Black's left, the Red Course draws curious onlookers and waiting players with its formidable opener and challenging 18th. Meanwhile, to its right, the Green Course simply starts with a short, downhill par-4 before it crosses the street, turns away from the Black and meanders its way around the woods in solitude.
The Green Course, once the Devereux Emmet-designed Lenox Hills Country Club until it was absorbed into the new state park in 1932, is the original Bethpage layout. Three years before the Blue and Red and four years before the Black, the Green offered a winding layout and scenic views to public golfers. As noted in William Quirin's "America's Linksland," A.W. Tillinghast modified the course as part of his role as a consultant in the design of the park golf courses. Today, it's one of only five Long Island public courses to receive 4-1/2 stars from Golf Digest in its Best Places To Play listing.
Though some describe the Green Course as a "mini Black," the two have little in common besides the hilly real estate east of Round Swamp Road. At 6,378 yards from the tips, Green is nearly 1,100 yards shorter than its brawnier neighbor. But unlike the Black, it sports very few fairway bunkers -- in fact, you can count them on one hand. Green is a shotmaker's course that allows players to recover even if they can't ignite fireworks off the tee with accuracy. Both, however, offer a secluded feel that can't be found on the Red, Blue and Yellow courses. And if there is one aspect of the course that is truly a miniature version of its Black Course counterpart, it is the downhill opener.
Playing inside the hard-right turn of the Black's opener, Green #1 is 80 yards shorter than its neighbor, its bend to the right much less severe. The downhill tee shot is just as dramatic, and a well-executed one to either side of the fairway leaves anything from an 8-iron to a wedge into the green. Across the street, a recent regrading of the putting surface evaporated much of the fear factor that existed for players standing in #2's fairway or front bunker. What once was a left-to-right slope that churned stomachs like the first drop of a roller coaster is now a softer, barely recognizable shell of its former self. Now players on the 367-yard second can clear the wide front bunker and attack the pin more aggressively, though the green is still tilted noticeably toward the back right. On the bright side, early-round logjams on the second tee have dissipated thanks to the new surface.
Keeping on the topic of roller coasters, it's up, down and a hard turn to the left over the Green's next few holes. The 133-yard third earned a spot in Newsday's Dream 18 for its uphill shot to an invisible green surrounded by trouble. Any shot to the right will either be beached in a side trap or roll down the slope to the perimeter fence. Another bunker sits front left, and to the left of the green, the rough slopes up toward the fourth tee. Unless you stick one on the flat green, you'll be working on some form of tricky short-game recovery shot. It's back down the hill at #4, a picturesque 344-yard par-4. Deep drives along the right side set up the best angle into a green bordered on three sides by sand. Shortcuts abound at the flat 387-yard fifth, which curls left around a pond. Bite off a chunk of the fairway by aiming over the water to the far end of the short grass; a powerful and accurate drive can leave no more than a wedge.
There's a long way to go before the turn, thanks to a pair of 500-plus-yard par-5s. Like most holes on the Green Course, neither par-5 throws out any fairway obstacles. The path to the pin is laid out like a smooth green carpet. With all that space, however, it's easy to overlook the benefit of maintaining angles by keeping shots to the right on these left-leaning three-shotters. Drives to the left are OK, but the treeline and greenside traps will be working against you. The same can be said for the 337-yard eighth, where proper angles and accuracy carry extra importance given its surprisingly tiny putting surface.
A huge hill (pictured above) looms to the left of #9, dwarfing the green at the end of the 532-yard par-5 and cramping the already heavily bunkered target. On top of that hill sits the 10th tee. For walkers, this is the first of three strenuous climbs on the back nine. From this height and only 328 yards away, the green appears to be in play, but two bunkers in its neck say otherwise. Two holes ahead, the surface is farther inside striking distance, for some, on the 279-yard 12th -- but given the trees, bunkers and a dramatically tiered green, it rarely pays to go for the glory.
A climb up to #13 tee reveals a sweeping view of a 553-yard par-5 with a very slight bend to the left. The third and final ascent is up to the 15th tee, the starting point of the Green's lengthiest par-3. Take an extra moment to consider the wind and the drop before pulling a club, even though there are no hazards long or short.
A gentle fade works best on the 17th and should leave you in position away from the water hazard and short of the cross bunker with a middle iron to the green. The teebox subtly points you toward the left side, where water and a patch of trees are major obstacles. Once back through the tunnel to the clubhouse side, the Green Course concludes with what some consider the best finisher at the complex. Its green, cut into the middle of the hillside that leads back up to the clubhouse, is defended by a dangerously deep bunker on the left and the uneven nature of the sloping terrain on the right. Imprecise approach shots could leave anything from a daunting recovery effort out of the sand to an extra-delicate chip from a bad lie above the hole.
Despite its heavy daily traffic, the Green Course is maintained just as well as, if not better than, the rest of the courses at Bethpage. Greens roll smoothly, fairways are lush and rough is evenly cut and playable. Combined with the relative shortness of the course, the hilly terrain and the varying styles of holes, the excellent conditions make it a fan favorite and a popular pick for those who can't get on the Black or Red.
Of course, popularity at Bethpage leads to long, stop-and-start rounds that can stretch into five-hour territory, especially on weekends. And since #9 is about as close to Republic Airport as it is to the clubhouse, Green is not a destination for abbreviated nine-hole rounds.
From the tees, there is very little for players to be wary of besides, on some holes, a dense treeline. Of the 14 par-4s and par-5s, only four have a fairway bunker within reach of the most powerful drives. A water hazard between #5 and #17 collects right-handed hooks and pulls. Almost all of the sand on the Green Course is in place to protect the small, sloping greens.
Just as the distance between the back nine and the clubhouse prevents nine-hole ventures, the extreme elevation of three back-nine teeboxes might dissuade some players from walking the course. #10, #13 and #15 each require grueling anti-gravity hikes. Hey, you can always save energy and be a kid again by rolling back down the hillsides.
As noted on this site in the past, the elevated #3 green is susceptible to heat stress in the summer months. In the event the hole is closed to allow the green to recover, the ninth hole is often split into a par-3 and par-4.
HOLE(S) TO REMEMBER:
On the Green Course, the playing areas are usually roomy and hazard-free off the tee, which makes it easy for players to get careless and hinder themselves with poor approach angles. The closing 18th reads like the moral of this story.
Even though out-of-bounds closely borders the left side of the fairway, the view of the 18th from the tee is wide open. That's because the right rough is uninterrupted by obstructions, save for a few small and avoidable trees. While instinct says to keep the ball in play and err right, your irons will try to convince you of the importance of finding the center of the fairway. They're the ones, after all, who will be digging your second shot out of a potentially poor lie from the right rough as you blindly aim them toward a hidden target. The rough-strewn hillside leading up to the clubhouse blocks most glances at the elevated green.
And they're also the ones responsible for a high-trajectory approach with a soft landing in case you stray too far to the left side. The farther left you go off the tee, the more dangerous the deep greenside bunker becomes. Though the hole feels safe from the tee, its difficulty increases with every ball revolution away from the center of the fairway.
AREA(S) TO AVOID:
The two tiers of the 12th green are separated by a steep ridge that can be an asset or a major burden when the flag is in the middle of the green at the foot of the slope. Some players might enjoy using (or being saved by) the backstop potential of the slope, as it trickles shots back down toward the hole. But targeting a center pin, the worst mistake you can make is sending a shot to the upper tier or beyond. The next putt or chip will be nearly impossible to keep close to the hole, and a scoring opportunity on the 279-yard par-4 will be wasted.
99 Quaker Meeting House Road, Farmingdale 11735
(516) 249-0707 (info and reservations)
 William Quirin, America's Linksland: A Century of Long Island Golf, (Michigan: Sleeping Bear Press, 2002), p.181-182
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