PGA Championship 2019: 10 reasons why Bethpage Black is so hard

May 15, 2019

As the PGA Championship field readies for the year’s second major, players are prepping themselves for battle with Bethpage Black, one of the world’s most notoriously difficult golf courses.

“This is going to be a long week the way the golf course is set up and potentially could play,” Tiger Woods said in his pre-tournament press conference on Tuesday. “This could be a hell of a championship.”

You know all about Bethpage Black’s first-tee “Warning” sign by now. You’ve seen the stats for majors at Bethpage — at the 2002 U.S. Open, just Tiger Woods broke par, while in 2009, just five players finished the week in red figures. But what is it, exactly, that makes the Black Course so hard? Here are 10 factors that make golfers shiver when they set foot on the grounds of Bethpage State Park.

1. IT’S LONG

Bethpage Black is long. Specifically, it’s 7,459 yards and boasts just one par-3 under 200 yards and one par-4 under 400 yards (and one of its two par-5s clocks in at over 600 yards). Even Dustin Johnson thinks it’s long. “You have a lot of long to mid-irons in your hand,” he said on Tuesday. “There’s only four holes where you can get a fairly short iron in your hand. So that’s the difficult part of this course.”

The par-4 10th hole at Bethpage Black.
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2. IT’S A PAR 70

This goes hand in hand with No. 1, but consider that everyday golfers play Bethpage as a par 71 (and from much shorter tees). Turning No. 7 from a par-5 to a par-4 doesn’t inherently make the hole any easier; it just makes players’ scores one shot worse relative to par. Enter D.J. with his practice-round description of No. 7: “I played it all the way back, and I hit a good drive and I had 231 hole,” he said. Two thirty-one! For Dustin Johnson! That’s no joke.

3. IT’S ROUGH

There was talk that the event’s move to May would prevent the rough from growing up enough for a proper major championship test. Matt Fitzpatrick has something to say about that.

4. IT’S MAY (AND WET!)

It’s been raining quite a bit, which is hardly surprising — that’s what it does in New York in the spring. Rain means receptive greens, which should prevent any “they’ve lost the golf course” proclamations a la Zach Johnson at Shinnecock last year. But wet also means long. This course is 7500 yards to begin with and, as Brooks Koepka pointed out on Tuesday, “Wet, it’s going to be playing about 77. That’s a long golf course. You’re going to need to be able to hit the ball far and hit it straight.” Easier said than done.

5. IT’S LONG ISLAND…

It’s hard to say if the crowds make Bethpage hard for the everyday golfer; that would depend on the company you keep. But it’ll definitely make things interesting for players in contention on the weekend. Just ask Sergio, who flipped off this Long Island crowd back in the day, or Greg Norman, who challenged one fan at Shinnecock to a fight in the parking lot.

Garcia, for one, says he’s learned how to deal with it. “You’ve just got to realize that it’s New York and they’re a little bit louder and if you take it the right way it’s good fun,” he told GOLF.com on Monday.

6. IT’S HILLY

Take a peek at No. 15, which played as the most difficult hole the last two times Bethpage hosted a major championship. The 457-yard par-4 is long, but plays plenty longer thanks to a green that’s perched some 50 feet above the fairway, with a two-tiered green that slopes from back to front. Nearly every hole has its ups and downs, leading to more calculations and challenges than players would normally face.

7. THE BACK NINE STARTS FAST

GOLF.com’s own Jeff Ritter ranked Nos. 10, 11 and 12 the third-, seventh- and second-hardest holes on the course, respectively. The brutish par-4s ensure that players begin the back nine with a grunt. No. 10 is 502 yards with a bunker-filled tee shot and a sloped green. No. 11 is “only” 435, but has a tight landing zone and two bunkers guard the green. And No. 12 is a 515-yard dogleg left with a blind approach shot. The hole yielded just 20 birdies in 2009. Hang on for dear life through this stretch.

8. THE PRE-ROUND ROUTINE SETS YOU UP TO FAIL

This one doesn’t apply so much to this week’s pros, but you’ve heard legend of the Bethpage tee time process — parking overnight, lining up in the dark, registering bleary-eyed for an early morning ticket. How would you play anywhere if you’d spent the night in your car? Make sure to break out this excuse when pros inevitably better your personal low score at Bethpage by 20-30 shots this week.

The par-4 18th hole at Bethpage Black.
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9. IT’S SANDY

Bunkers, bunkers, bunkers. “Eight acres of sand” is how the PGA of America’s Kerry Haigh described it. They intimidate on tee shots. They guard greens. They’re broad and they’re deep and they pack a major punch. There will be plenty of laying up on par-4s this week, and plenty of tough up-and-downs, too. You can thank the bunkers for that.

10. IT’S A HIKE

PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh said it best. “That warning sign is for real. It’s a big ol’ golf course, and you’ve got to be ready for it. It’s tackle football, both playing it and walking it.” It’s easy to make fun of “walking” being hard, but combined with the mental grind of prepping for and taking on a major, players will be worn all the way out by the time Sunday afternoon comes around, and jealously eyeing John Daly’s golf cart.

Waugh summarized the course’s complete test on Tuesday. “The interesting thing is, nobody ever says it’s unfair. They say it’s a great test, and it’s a happy place. It is hard, but it’s fair and it’s in front of you and you understand it. You can’t beat it—but you can understand it.”

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