Review: Bethpage State Park Golf Course – Red Course

Course Name: Bethpage State Park Golf Course – Red Course

Designer: A.W. Tillinghast (1935)

Location: Farmingdale, New York

History: Bethpage State Park is the largest government-owned golf complex in the country, with five courses sprawling out from the clubhouse. Along with the Blue, the Red Course was the first to open in 1935 as a WPA project. Immediately used in the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship in 1936, the Red Course is the consensus second best and second most challenging of the five courses. Next to the Red Course is the infamous Black Course, a notoriously challenging U.S. Open venue. Ranked #5 public course in New York in Golfweek’s 2016 ranking, Bethpage Red certainly holds it own.

Conditions: 7/10, the greens were on the slower side but rolled true, while the fairways and bunkers were in marvelous shape. Some of the tee boxes (like the 7th) were kind of torn up but all in all conditions were very good.

Value: 7/10, for instate residents this course is a steal at $48. Out of staters like me have to pay almost double the price.

Scorecard:

Tee                     Par         Yardage         Rating          Slope

Blue                   70           7092              73.0               128

White                70          6555               71.5                126

Red                    70          6206              73.2                130

Best Score: 77 (White Tees), 7/22/2016 with Mike K., his firefighter friend, and person at course

Front 9 Best: 38 (White Tees), 7/22/2016 with Mike K., his firefighter friend, and person at course

Back 9 Best: 39 (White Tees), 7/22/2016 with Mike K., his firefighter friend, and person at course

Hole Highlights: A course without a bad hole, Bethpage Red is a fantastic design. If you like doglegs, this course is the course for you, as most hole have some sort of turn. I am not talking about ridiculous doglegs where you have to hit 5 iron off the tee and then 3-wood into the green; I’m talking about good long doglegs that require you to think and execute draws or fades accordingly. The hole that gets the most talk on the Red is coincidentally the first hole. At over 490 yards from the Blue Tees, this hole is much harder than the first on the Black Course and seems to belong on the Black. A scary downhill teeshot to a narrow fairway must avoid trees to the left and giant bunkered dunes on the right. The approach shot plays extremely uphill to a sloped green, making this hole a par 5 for many. Fortunately (or unfortunately) for us, we didn’t get to experience this tee shot as the hole was turned into an uphill par 3 to avoid Barclays construction on the adjacent Black 18th.

The second hole is where the doglegs begin. An extreme dogleg left, the hole is guarded by woods on the left and right, making a well-executed draw the play. Hole 3 is a great complimentary hole to 2 as an extreme dogleg right. For someone who plays a draw like me, this is a difficult driving hole and you are forced to either lay up straight or cut the corner. I hit 3-wood and barely got over the trees on the right. The fourth hole is a wonderful par 3. At only 160 yards, length is not the difficult part on this hole. A steep hill guards the left side of this green while behind this hole was a fence. Short of this hole lay a giant deep bunker, making right the only out if you don’t hit this green. One of only two par 5’s on this par 70, this par 5 5th was reachable with a good drive. This hole does play extremely uphill and to the right, and any drive on the right hand side of this fairway necessitates a layup. At only 350 yards, the par 4 6th looks easy on the scorecard but is much harder in reality. The most severe dogleg left on this course, straight drives over 240 will run through the fairway. To make matters more difficult, the green slopes hard to the left.

The 7th hole was the weakest hole on the front nine, and possibly the course. At 150 yards, this hole was guarded by bunkers on the left and right. After the 7th hole, Bethpage seems to change themes from a parkland course into a links-style course until about hole 15. At 380 yards, the 8th hole features a tight fairway lined with dunes and bunkers. The number 1 handicap hole on the course, the 9th hole is a beast at 460 yards (and into the wind when we played). This dogleg left is guarded by a massive bunker complex on the left that requires a 240 yard drive for those trying to cut the corner. A complimentary hole to 9, the 10th hole runs right along side it as a 410 yard dogleg right. This hole features a large bunker complex on the right side, and requires another deep drive to carry them. Several of my playing partners found the bunkers both on 9 and 10 and were none too pleased about it.

The par 4 11th is another very solid dogleg right. At 410 yards, this hole features tall trees that hang over the right side of the fairway. I remember my ball being in the fairway by about a yard on the right hand side and being more or less blocked out from this green. The green itself is guarded by a large bunker on the right and dunes on the left. The 12th hole was my favorite par 3 on the course. At over 200 yards, this greens is well-guarded. The 13th hole is to many the best design on the course. At 400 yards, this straightaway par 4 features a double fairway split by a giant bunkering complex about 230 yards right in the middle of the fairway. The left fairway is narrower and harder to hit but offers a much better angle than the right side, which gives you a blind approach shot. The long par 4 14th reminded me of the similar design to the 9th. You must carry the bunker complexes on the left side on this dogleg left in order to have a chance at par.

The course becomes more like the front 9 on hole 15. A behemoth 440 uphill dogleg right, this hole plays as a par 5 to many. Hole 16 is another shorter reachable par 5 and a fun one at that. A downhill tee shot of leads to this fairway which turns sharply right at about 260 yards. Tall trees line the right side, but are able to be carried because the tee box is so elevated. I remember cutting the corner here but being terrified of the 230 yard approach shot.  Terrible bunkers about 50 yards before the green caused me to lay up to try to make par the traditional way. I actually chunked my 8 iron lay up, and was left with another 8 iron in for my third shot, which I promptly stiffed for birdie. My playing partner went for the green in two and got up and down for par after missing the green right. This hole highlights the mark of a great par 5 – the ability to give a player options and make the player strategize. The 17th is a similar par 3 to 4. At only 145 yards, you must carry the ball to the green to avoid a deep bunker short. The 18th was a great finishing hole and believed by many to be superior to the Black’s banal finishing hole. At 400 yards, this downhill tee shot must avoid large bunkers on both the right and left side hands of this fairway. Your approach shot to this elevated green must avoid deep bunkers, which guard this green like a moat.

General Comments: The complex was massive, but the practice facilities were rather mundane. The large putting green was closed for the Barclays and the range wouldn’t allow you to hit more than driver. The clubhouse was modest, and there wasn’t much in the area of amenities on the course. Pace of play was okay when I played but can get pretty backed up as the course is constantly full. I must remark that like all classic courses, the greens on this course weren’t absurdly sloped and offered plenty of variation. With that being said, I don’t think I had a straight putt all day, as there was plenty of subtle breaks. I will also mention that the Red Course has no water hazards but is still a challenge. This a hallmark of a great design.

Verdict: Every serious golfer should try their hand at Bethpage Black, but given the difficulty getting on, Bethpage Red should not be seen as a consolation prize. The design of Bethpage Red is pure Tillinghast and rivals any course I’ve played.

 

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