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Bethpage Black: How hard is it?

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I had the thrill of playing the Bethpage Black with my “A” foursome just before the 2009 U.S. Open. Lucky for us the very back tees were covered for protection, but to get the full experience we played as far back as allowed. Our low single-digit handicap group finished beaten and battered by one of the most relentlessly difficult courses that WE had ever played. No one broke 80, but thankfully no one broke into the 90s either.

One of my mates summed it up perfectly: “I have never played so many par-5 holes in my life!” he said. 

Bethpage Black is rated as the 12th most difficult of the 47 courses played by the PGA Tour so far in 2016. This rating is based upon the average score relative to par. Oakmont is 1st at 3.56 strokes over par, while Bethpage was a mere +0.749 strokes over its par of 71. For perspective, only 21 PGA Tour courses had a scoring average over par. Nos. 22-47 all gave up something to par and the Plantation Course at Kapalua, the easiest, had an average score of -3.195 strokes below its par of 73.

The 4th hole at Bethpage Black. (David W. Leindecker/Shutterstock.com)

The 4th hole at Bethpage Black (David W. Leindecker/Shutterstock.com)

The Black was not a lost ball kind of hard for the Tour. The long fescue grass makes it a lost-ball course for the rest of us, but Tour players enjoy a cadre of volunteers carefully watching errant drives and quickly marking their position with small flags. There is also very little water at Bethpage Black.

So what is so hard about it?

To illustrate my points, I will compare the recent performance for the field of the 2016 Barclays to the average of all the 2016 PGA Tour events to date in the graph below. This comparison is not exactly apples to apples, as the Barclays field — the first of the FedExCup Playoffs events — is the best 125 players on Tour.

How_hard_is_Bethpage_Black

Length

At 7,468 yards, Bethpage Black is 227 yards longer than the average course played on Tour this year. This naturally caused the length of the average approach shot to be greater. Note in the graph the decrease in the percentage of 151-175 yard approach attempts and the increase in the ranges outside 176 yards.

Design

The A. W. Tillinghast signature cross bunkers require a decision off every tee as to how much to bite off. Then precise execution is needed to avoid them. The best players in the world found the fairway sand 30 percent more frequently than is usual on Tour, and their scores from these bunkers were 50 percent higher (+0.3 strokes vs. +0.2 strokes).

Fescue

A ball in the fescue was in many cases a driving error requiring an advancement to return to normal play. In ShotByShot.com terminology, this is referred to as a No Shot Driving Error. These unfortunate results were 77 percent more frequent than the 2016 Tour average, but the resulting score was only 3 percent higher.

Rough

The length of the rough, combined with the longer average distance of the shots, saw the approach accuracy fall by 25 percent (31.5 percent of shots successfully hit greens vs. the 41.5 percent average of the 2016 season) and the resulting score from the rough doubled (+0.21 strokes vs. +0.11 strokes). This difference was no doubt exacerbated by the number of elevated greens. It is much more difficult to hit and hold an elevated target from the rough.

While the short-game shots were slightly more difficult and the putting results slightly worse than the 2016 Tour averages to date, the real teeth of Bethpage Black is in the long game. This course should be on every single digit’s bucket list, and I highly recommend it. When you get the opportunity, I also recommend that you bring your A game, carefully choose the appropriate tees, bring an extra dose of patience and a capable and eager forecaddie.

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In 1989, Peter Sanders founded Golf Research Associates, LP, creating what is now referred to as Strokes Gained Analysis. His goal was to design and market a new standard of statistically based performance analysis programs using proprietary computer models. A departure from “traditional stats,” the program provided analysis with answers, supported by comparative data. In 2006, the company’s website, ShotByShot.com, was launched. It provides interactive, Strokes Gained analysis for individual golfers and more than 150 instructors and coaches that use the program to build and monitor their player groups. Peter has written, or contributed to, more than 60 articles in major golf publications including Golf Digest, Golf Magazine and Golf for Women. From 2007 through 2013, Peter was an exclusive contributor and Professional Advisor to Golf Digest and GolfDigest.com. Peter also works with PGA Tour players and their coaches to interpret the often confusing ShotLink data. Zach Johnson has been a client for nearly five years. More recently, Peter has teamed up with Smylie Kaufman’s swing coach, Tony Ruggiero, to help guide Smylie’s fast-rising career.

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Joey5Picks

    Sep 28, 2016 at 3:49 pm

    Score relative to par isn’t a good way to measure a course’s difficulty. Average score is. Take two courses with similar hazards, green speeds, etc. Course A is 6500 yards, par 72, the average score in a tournament was 73.5. Course B is also 6500 yards, par 71, average score of 73.5. Which is more difficult? They’re the same. It took an average of 73.5 strokes to complete 18 holes. The only difference between these two courses is a 480-yard hole is called a “par 5” on course A, but a “par 4” on course B.

    It’s always hysterical when players complain about 500-yard “par 4s” in the US Open. What’s the difference? It’s the same hole. Lowest score wins.

    Here’s a good read on the subject: http://www.golfdigest.com/story/when-an-easy-par-5-is-a-hard-par-4-and-its-the-same-hole

  2. Steven

    Sep 14, 2016 at 2:08 pm

    The Black is on my bucket list. Thanks for preparing me for a tough day. Maybe I should play some easier resort courses first . . .

  3. Smizzle troll

    Sep 13, 2016 at 7:41 am

    Please go away. You are only funny to yourself and your comments are distracting for these articles that people have taken time to post. I am sure that you will love that I commented about you because that is what trolls like you feed on but again, go find something else to do.

  4. Ronald Montesano

    Sep 11, 2016 at 9:51 pm

    That’s a bizarre angle in the first photo, of the 4th hole. No one would take that line. The hole is so different than portrayed by that image. Plus, it’s just a little bit lime, no? Dude went Photoshop-crazy on that one!

  5. 518TitleistX

    Sep 10, 2016 at 7:09 pm

    I played the black from the whites which played about 6850 yds on 7/31/16. I birdied 7,10,12,17 and 18 and shot 78. I’m currently a 4.7 cap trending to a 4.2. Not bad when considering I doubled 6 and tripled 13. I played 14 through 18 one under.

    • wheres the beef

      Sep 12, 2016 at 3:44 pm

      Play it from the blues and your 78 turns into a 87. 78 is respectable, but 6850 yds is not terribly long and that’s when the Black is not for the faint hearted.

  6. MD

    Sep 10, 2016 at 12:07 pm

    They need to restore the fairways to where they were before the US Open. There are bunkers now 10 yards in the rough. It would be a better course.

  7. Mac

    Sep 9, 2016 at 11:38 am

    Try playing the course in the rain or in the colder seasons. It’s almost impossible to play.
    It’s easier for the Tour Pros as they play in the summer time when it’s drier and they also cut the fairways way shorter than for the public, and as rightly pointed out, spotters find their deep rough balls

    • devilsadvocate

      Sep 10, 2016 at 9:57 am

      It rained when tiger won the US open there… Also tighter fairways are harder to hit because the ball rolls out into the rough more frequently

      • Mac

        Sep 10, 2016 at 11:52 am

        I think you got that mixed up with 2009 when Glover won, when they stopped play numerous times.
        But, if you look at the average scores for the Pros for both tournaments you’ll see the tremendously high scores.
        Eldrick just did what Eldrick was able to do back then

    • Jerry

      Sep 11, 2016 at 11:10 am

      I played at the end of April in 50* temps with rain and wind from the tees one set forward of the tips. Shooting an 85 that day made me feel like I robbed a bank! Early in the season the fatigue of walking without a caddy took its toll on me. I sincerely hope to play there again soon because at $130 for an out of state player for this level of a course is one of the best values in golf, if not the very best. Thanks to my work and the amount of travel that I do, I play at the best courses wherever I am, and I can stress enough how great of a course this is for any amount of money, let alone $130. The only way the value was better was that I expensed my round and my partners round because he is one of my best customers, and he had the time of his life!

  8. Greg V

    Sep 9, 2016 at 9:04 am

    The forward (Red) tees are listed at 6,223 yards. That’s all the Black that I need.

    • Michael Scott

      Sep 9, 2016 at 9:27 am

      THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID!!!

    • Smizzled

      Sep 9, 2016 at 10:23 am

      Greg, you should maybe work on hitting the ball farther.

      • gvogelsang

        Sep 9, 2016 at 7:35 pm

        For my age, I hit the ball far enough.

      • devilsadvocate

        Sep 10, 2016 at 10:00 am

        Wow that’s a disgusting thing to post … Do u feel a little bit better about yourself?

      • Smizzled

        Sep 10, 2016 at 12:20 pm

        Troll

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Courses

Kingston Heath: The Hype is Real

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We touched ground late in the afternoon at Melbourne Airport and checked in very, very late at hotel Grand Hyatt. Don’t ask about our driving and navigating skills. It shouldn’t have taken us as long as we did. Even with GPS we failed miserably, but our dear friend had been so kind to arrange a room with a magnificent view on the 32nd floor for us.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

The skyline in Melbourne was amazing, and what a vibrant, multicultural city Melbourne turned out to be when we later visited the streets to catch a late dinner. The next morning, we headed out to one of the finest golf courses that you can find Down Under: Kingston Heath. We had heard so many great things about this course, and to be honest we were a bit worried it almost was too hyped up. Luckily, there were no disappointments.

Early morning at Kingston Heath C) Jacob Sjöman.

Here’s the thing about Kingston Heath. You’re driving in the middle of a suburb in Melbourne and then suddenly you see the sign, “Kingston Heath.” Very shortly after the turn, you’re at the club. This is very different than the other golf courses we’ve visited on this trip Down Under, where we’ve had to drive for several miles to get from the front gates to the club house.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Nevertheless, this course and its wonderful turf danced in front of us from the very first minute of our arrival. With a perfect sunrise and a very picture friendly magic morning mist, we walked out on the course and captured a few photos. Well, hundreds to be honest. The shapes and details are so pure and well defined.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Kingston Heath was designed by Dan Soutar back in 1925 with help and guidance from the legendary golf architect Dr. Alister MacKenzie, who added to its excellent bunkering system. Dr. MacKenzie’s only design suggestion was to change Soutar’s 15th hole from a 222-yard par-4 (with a blind tee shot) to a par-3. Today, this hole is considered to be one the best par-3 holes Down Under, and I can understand why.

I am normally not a big fan of flat courses, but I will make a rare exception for Kingston Heath. It’s a course that’s both fun and puts your strategic skills to a serious test. Our experience is that you need to plan your shots carefully, and never forget to stay out of its deep bunkers. They’re not easy.

The bunker shapes are brilliant. (C) Jacob Sjöman.

Kingston Heath is not super long in distance, but it will still give you a tough test. You definitely need to be straight to earn a good score. If you are in Melbourne, this is the golf course I would recommend above all others.

Next up: Metropolitan. Stay tuned!

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Courses

Barnbougle Lost Farm: 20 Holes of Pure Joy

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Another early day in Tasmania, and we were exploring the Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw-design, Barnbougle Lost Farm. The course was completed in 2010, four years after the neighbor Barnbougle Dunes, resulting in much excitement in the world of golf upon opening.

Johan and I teed off at 10 a.m. to enjoy the course at our own pace in its full glory under clear blue skies. Barnbougle Lost Farm starts out quite easy, but it quickly turns into a true test of links golf. You will certainly need to bring some tactical and smart planning in order to get close to many of the pin positions.

The third hole is a prime example. With its sloping two-tiered green, it provides a fun challenge and makes you earn birdie — even if your tee and approach shots put you in a good position. This is one of the things I love about this course; it adds a welcome dimension to the game and something you probably don’t experience on most golf courses.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

The 4th is an iconic signature hole called “Sals Point,” named after course owner Richard Sattler’s wife (she was hoping to build a summer home on the property before it was turned into a golf course). A strikingly beautiful par-3, this hole is short in distance but guarded with luring bunkers. When the prevailing northwesterly wind comes howling in from the ocean, the hole will leave you exposed and pulling out one of your long irons for the tee shot. We left No. 4 with two bogeys with a strong desire for revenge.

Later in the round, we notice our scorecard had a hole numbered “13A” just after the 13th. We then noticed there was also an “18A.” That’s because Barnbougle Lost Farm offers golfers 20 holes. The designers believed that 13A was “too good to leave out” of the main routing, and 18A acts as a final betting hole to help decide a winner if you’re left all square. And yes, we played both 13A and 18A.

I need to say I liked Lost Farm for many reasons; it feels fresh and has some quirky holes including the 5th and the breathtaking 4th. The fact that it balks tradition with 20 holes is something I love. It also feels like an (almost) flawless course, and you will find new things to enjoy every time you play it.

The big question after trying both courses at Barnbougle is which course I liked best. I would go for Barnbougle Dunes in front of Barnbougle Lost Farm, mostly because I felt it was more fun and offered a bigger variation on how to play the holes. Both courses are great, however, offering really fun golf. And as I wrote in the first part of this Barnbougle-story, this is a top destination to visit and something you definitely need to experience with your golf friends if you can. It’s a golfing heaven.

Next course up: Kingston Heath in Melbourne.

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Courses

Barnbougle Dunes: World Class Golf

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We arrived to Launceston Airport in Tasmania just before sunset. Located on the Northeast Coast of Australia’s island state, Tasmania, Barnbougle is almost as far from Sweden as it gets… yet it immediately felt like home when we arrived.

Launceston Airport, Tasmania. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

The drive from the airport was just over an hour, taking us through deep forests and rolling hills before we arrived to Barnbougle Golf Resort, which consists of two courses — The Dunes and Lost Farm — a lodge, two restaurants, a sports bar and a spa. Unfortunately, it was pitch black outside and we couldn’t see much of the two courses on our arrival. I would like to add that both Johan and I were extremely excited about visiting this golf mecca. We later enjoyed a tasty dinner at the Barnbougle Lost Farm Restaurant before we called it a day.

The locals at Barnbougle Dunes. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

The next day, we woke up early and got out to The Dunes Course as very first guests out. Well, to be quite honest, we weren’t actually the first out. There were a few locals — Wallabies, lots of them — already out on the course. The natural landscape at Barnbougle is fantastic and my cameras almost overheated with the photo opportunities. After two intense hours of recording videos and producing photos both from ground, we headed back to Lost Farm for a wonderful breakfast (and view). After our breakfast, it was time to try our luck.

“Tom’s Little Devil.” Hole No.7 at Barnbougle Dunes. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Before describing our experience playing the courses, I would like to mention about Richard Sattler, a potato farmer and owner of Barnbougle. In the early 2000’s, Richard was introduced to U.S. golfing visionary Mike Keiser, who had heard about his amazing stretch of farmland in Tasmania and came down to visit. Mike convinced Richard that Barnbougle (which at that stage was a potato farm and still grows potatoes and raises cattle today) might be perfect for creating a top quality golf course.

After an introduction to well renowned golf architect Tom Doak and the formation of a partnership with former Australian golf pro and golf architect Mike Clayton, the development of the Barnbougle Dunes Course commenced.

The walk between the 4th and 5th holes. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Featuring large bunkers dotted between fun rolling fairways shaped from the coastal dunes, Barnbougle Dunes offers the golfer some tough challenges, in particular on the first nine. This is indeed a course that will entertain all kinds of golfers.

After our round, we looked back at some fantastic highlights such as playing the iconic 7th hole, a short par-3 called ”Tom’s Little Devil,” as well as the beautiful par-4 15th. We were just two big walking smiles sitting there in the restaurant to be honest. Lets also not forget one of the biggest (and deepest) bunkers I’ve seen at the 4th hole. The name of the bunker is “Jaws.” Good times!

As a small surprise for Johan, I had arranged a meeting after our round with Richard Sattler. Richard, ever the farmer, entered the car parking just in front of the clubhouse in a white pick-up van with a big smile un his face. We talked to Richard for almost 30 minutes. He is an extremely humble man and left such a warm impression on us. Richard explained the Barnbougle story: how it all began and the property today.

To me, this is a high-end golf destination offering something very unique with two world-class courses in Barnbougle Dunes and Barnbougle Lost Farm, both ranked in the top-100 greatest golf courses by Golf Digest and Golf Magazine (U.S.). With the courses located just next to each other, it’s probably one of the best golf resorts you can find down under and a golf resort that I would like bring my hardcore golfing friends to visit. Everything here is exceptional with the resort providing spacious rooms, comfy beds, good food and spectacular views.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Barnbougle Dunes is a real treat to play for any golfer and will leave you with a sweet golfing memory. Compared to the golf courses available on the more remote King Island, Barnbougle is accessible (given Tasmania is connected by better flight connections) and the hospitality and service at is much more refined.

The golf resort is one of the absolute best I’ve been to. I can also highly recommend playing Barnbougle Dunes; I had great fun and you can play it in many ways. Tomorrow, we will be playing and experiencing the other course at Barnbougle: Barnbougle Lost Farm, a Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw course with 20 (!) holes.

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