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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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Hidden Gem of the Day: Oak Hollow Golf Club in High Point, North Carolina

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These aren’t the traditional “top-100” golf courses in America, or the ultra-private golf clubs you can’t get onto. These are the hidden gems; they’re accessible to the public, they cost less than $50, but they’re unique, beautiful and fun to play in their own right. We recently asked our GolfWRX Members to help us find these “hidden gems.” We’re treating this as a bucket list of golf courses to play across the country, and the world. If you have a personal favorite hidden gem, submit it here! 

Today’s Hidden Gem of the Day was posted by GolfWRX member thejuice, who submitted Oak Hollow Golf Club in High Point, North Carolina, as his hidden gem of a golf course. In his description, thejuice charts out what exactly he loves about the course, and why the Pete Dye designed track is now going to be his go-to-stop in North Carolina.

“It’s a Pete Dye design that has a lot of the unfair Dye slopes in the greens, with the normal Pete Dye risk/reward setup on several holes.  I played it with some cousins during my family reunion and thought it was fantastic.”

“We normally play Starmount Forest (I’m a ClubCorp member), Grandover, or Bryan Park (both have 36 holes, and both are fine facilities), but I think I want to make Oak Hollow my preferred course when I go to visit my NC fam.  For the price, it just can’t be beaten.  I think we paid $40 on a Saturday morning (8 am tee time) and it was definitely worth more than that with several holes on a large lake and excellent fairways and greens.”

Sounds good, right? Well according to Oak Hollow Golf Club’s website, that Saturday morning rate comes with a cart, and should you want to play during the week, an 18 hole round will set you back just $33. They have plenty of specials listed on their site too, but the one that stands out the most is the 18 hole weekday walking fee, which costs only $17.

@rcausey25

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@HPCBison_Golf

Check out the full forum thread here, and submit your Hidden Gem.

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Hidden Gem of the Day: The Wilderness at Lake Jackson in Texas

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These aren’t the traditional “top-100” golf courses in America, or the ultra-private golf clubs you can’t get onto. These are the hidden gems; they’re accessible to the public, they cost less than $50, but they’re unique, beautiful and fun to play in their own right. We recently asked our GolfWRX Members to help us find these “hidden gems.” We’re treating this as a bucket list of golf courses to play across the country, and the world. If you have a personal favorite hidden gem, submit it here! 

Today’s Hidden Gem of the Day takes us to “The Lone Star State” and The Wilderness at Lake Jackson in Texas. The course was submitted by GolfWRX member pearsonified, who calls The Wilderness “the best value in Texas”. Pearsonified also believes that the course contains “perhaps the most memorable green sites” he’s ever seen as he went into full detail on why he believes The Wilderness is such a gem.

“This Jeff Brauer design is a RIDICULOUS sleeper with perhaps the most memorable green sites I’ve ever played. The par five 7th plays to a kidney-shaped green that’s nearly 70 yards long and features a few different plateaus. The long par three 16th—one of my favorite holes anywhere—is a classic Biarritz with a 5-foot-deep swale cutting right through the middle. Honorable mention goes to the short par four 11th which properly balances risk with reward and goads players to bite off as much as they can.”

According to The Wilderness at Lake Jackson’s website, a weekday round for a resident will cost $49, while for a non-resident the fee rises to $59. Although rising above the hidden gem “less than $50” rule, to play after 2 pm at the Wilderness will set you back just $44, and all of these rates include a cart fee.

@SilverStarGolf

@SilverStarGolf

@thewildernessgc

Check out the full forum thread here, and submit your Hidden Gem.

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Hidden Gem of the Day: Quail Hollow Golf Course in Boise, Idaho

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These aren’t the traditional “top-100” golf courses in America, or the ultra-private golf clubs you can’t get onto. These are the hidden gems; they’re accessible to the public, they cost less than $50, but they’re unique, beautiful and fun to play in their own right. We recently asked our GolfWRX Members to help us find these “hidden gems.” We’re treating this as a bucket list of golf courses to play across the country, and the world. If you have a personal favorite hidden gem, submit it here! 

Today’s Hidden Gem of the Day was posted by GolfWRX member PixlPutterman, who submitted Quail Hollow Golf Course in Boise, Idaho as his hidden gem of a golf course. PixlPutterman calls Quail Hollow a “target golfers dream,” and judging by his description of the 18 hole course, it’s easy to see why.

“Nestled in the foothills at the base of the Sawtooth Mountains. The course is kept in country club level condition and is very challenging. Its a target golfers dream, you can play it with about six clubs and you rarely “need” a driver. Greens are in great shape, and there are some great elevation holes. Pic (below) was taken from the Champion Tee on the 18th Hole. You basically tee off over two other holes, and the view is AWESOME.”

According to Quail Hollow Golf Course’s website, a weekend round with a cart at the course nestled in the Boise foothills will cost you $48, while playing during the week is just $44. Both senior and twilight rates come in at around $39.

@Ron_White

@fnf2017

Check out the full forum thread here, and submit your Hidden Gem.

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