Review: Bethpage State Park Golf Course – Blue Course

Course Name: Bethpage State Park Golf Course – Blue Course

Designer: A.W. Tillinghast (1935), Alfred Tull (1958, Redesign)

Location: Farmingdale, New York

History: Bethpage Blue was the first A.W. Tillinghast course to open at Bethpage State Park, predating the Red Course by several months and the fearsome Black Course by a year. In 1958, Alfred Tull was hired to build a Yellow Course and in the process had to take some land from the Blue Course. The resultant course is considered the third or fourth best at Bethpage, firmly behind the Black and Red.

Conditions: 7/10, Like the Red Course, the Blue is a little rough around the edges but in overall good shape. The greens roll true and the bunkers, fairways, and teeboxes are usually well-maintained.

Value: 8/10, The prices at Bethpage State Park are very un-New York and the Blue Course is especially great because out-of-staters pay the same rates as New Yorkers at $38 to walk weekdays and $43 to walk weekends. 9-hole, twilight, senior, and junior discounts are available as well, and make this one of the best values around!

Scorecard:

Tee                           Par         Yardage         Rating          Slope

Back                        72           6693              72.3               130

Middle                     72           6426              71.1               127

Forward                   72          5782              74.3               126

Hole Descriptions: Most people remotely familiar with golf have probably heard of Bethpage Black, but most casual observers might not be aware that Bethpage has five public golf courses. While the championship Black is clearly the best and the one to play as a tourist, all five courses were touched by famed architect A.W. Tillinghast and are certainly worth a play at some of the best prices in golf.

When I was working in New York for a month, I had a random afternoon off and decided to trek out to Bethpage to see what tee-time I could get last minute. Upon arriving, I discovered the Black Course was closed for the day. While Bethpage Black is one of my favorite courses, this was probably for the better because the fearsome Black Course is not simply somewhere you play on a whim. It takes days of mental preparation and the walk alone makes you sore for the next week. If I lived in Long Island, I would play it at most once a month. The other courses, however, are courses I could rotate through every day. I loved the Red Course a few summers ago and wanted to try the Blue Course next, as I’d heard it’s the third best of the group.

After playing the Blue Course, my impression was a positive one. Although not nearly as dramatic as the Black or even the Red, the Blue Course holds it own with some very strong holes and more challenge than I expected. From the Tips, the front nine plays a prodigious 3450 yards and is considered one of the most difficult nines on Long Island. While the greens are tame like the other courses at Bethpage, I can count at least nine elevated greens with a whopping seven of these requiring a carry over a valley. Architecturally, I think it’s worth noting that only three holes remain fully intact (1, 15, 16) from Tillinghast’s original Blue Course and much of the original course is on land East which is now the Yellow Course. While Tull created some great holes, there are definitely shots on the Blue that feel a bit off because of his reconfiguration. Despite this, it’s hard to find a better $38 course in America and I can’t wait to complete the Bethpage experience with the Yellow and Green soon!

The opening hole is a Tillinghast original, but truthfully isn’t one of the more memorable holes on the course. At 432 yards, this long, straightaway par 4 plays level with trees lining both sides. A tiny green guarded by a massive bunker left is all there is to this otherwise uneventful hole.

IMG_8283
The straightforward par 4 1st

At a lengthy 451 yards, the 2nd hole is a beast but isn’t even the longest par 4 on the front! This is a truly excellent hole with an intimidating teeshot to an elevated fairway that slides right. Tree overgrowth on the right has made this teeshot exceedingly difficult and pretty much requires a fade to find the fairway with driver. This fairway progressively narrows with trees down the left until you reach a large, relatively flat green guarded by a bunker right. Par is an excellent score here.

IMG_8284
The dogleg right par 4 2nd

The 3rd hole is the first par 3 but offers no respite at a level 195 yards. This is a nice one-shotter to a shallow back-to-front sloped green defended by a giant false front and deep bunkers short on either side. I don’t think it’s at all a stretch to say the 4-4-3 opening stretch at the Blue Course is more challenging than that on the Black!

IMG_8285
The par 3 3rd

At just 493 yards, the downhill par 5 4th hole offers an excellent scoring opportunity for the first time at Bethpage Blue. Running along the edge of the property, this sweeping dogleg right plays even shorter than its distance from an elevated teebox. In order to hit driver and reach the green in two, longer hitters will need to cut the corner over the right trees here, as OB lines left the entire way and straight shots can be punished. This fairway exhibits excellent land movement, with this approach playing downhill to a large, back-to-front sloped green lined with a bunker short left.

IMG_8286
Straight drives might not be found on the dogleg right 4th
IMG_8287
The approach at 4

After such a brutal start, the golfer is again rewarded on the 5th hole with a short 306 yard par 4. This hole plays slightly uphill and to the right and features a very generous fairway that runs out at about 250 yards. This approach will be somewhat blind to an elevated green guarded by a deep bunker short left. Anything worse than par here will be very detrimental.

IMG_8288
The short par 4 5th

While the 4th and 5th provide good scoring opportunities, the excellent 6th hole is a deserving number 1 handicap as a 462 yard par 4! This is an absolutely brutal hole from start to finish beginning with a tough teeshot to a fairway that slides hard left at about 240 yards. In order to reach the green in regulation, you need to cut the corner somewhat, but those who fall short will lose their ball in the trees. Those who play it too safe will find a well-placed bunker on the right side of the dogleg. From the fairway, this approach plays at least one club extra to an elevated green guarded by a false front and bunkers on either side. There’s potential for a big number on this hole that again feels like something you’d see on the Black.

IMG_8290
The dogleg left par 4 6th
IMG_8291
The uphill approach at 6

The 7th hole is another strong one as an 186 yard par 3 over a valley. This green is large, back-to-front sloped and guarded by bunkers left, right, and long. While a beautiful hole, the final two one-shotters also play over a valley and become a bit repetitive.

IMG_8292
The par 3 7th

At a lengthy 565 yards, the par 5 8th hole is by far the longest on the course. This lengthy hole plays as a tree-lined dogleg right with the dogleg occurring at only about 175 yards. This is a true three-shot hole with a lay-up to a fairway that slopes downhill and stops about 50 yards short of an elevated green. While the hole has changed substantially, this is an original Tillinghast back-to-front sloped green with bunkers on either side.

IMG_8293
The par 5 8th
IMG_8294
The excellent approach at the 8th

In rearranging holes, Tull definitely swung and missed a few times and there’s no better example than the 360 yard par 4 9th. This is by far the worst design on the course and quite frankly one of the worst holes I’ve ever played. The view from the teebox is not clear at all on this downhill dogleg right with a tall tree on the right side of the fairway at 200 yards. The fairway to the left of the tree is basically non-existent and there’s an awkward patch of dirt to the right of the tree that allows you to cut the corner. I have no idea what the ideal line is here, but I’d love to personally take a chainsaw to this tree. This hole is horrific tee-to-green, but the elevated, back-to-front sloped green salvages the hole slightly and is the original 18th green on Tillinghast’s old Blue Course.

IMG_8295
What are you even looking at on the 9th teebox?!
IMG_8296
The “approach” at 9

Unlike the Red and Black Courses, the 10th hole is directly next to the clubhouse, making the Blue Course a better candidate for 9-hole rounds. The 10th hole runs parallel to the 1st and is almost a carbon copy as a straightaway 381 yard par 4. Trees run down the left the entire way while a large bunker lines the right fairway at 250 yards. This circular green is defended by a bunker short right.

IMG_8297
The par 4 10th

At 200 yards, the 11th hole is the longest par 3 at Bethpage Blue and another strong hole. This one-shotter also plays over a giant valley to a large, elevated green defended by a bunker short left.

IMG_8298
The long par 3 11th

At just 473 yards, the 12th hole is the shortest par 5 at Bethpage Blue. While certainly reachable, this hole features a somewhat awkward semi-blind teeshot to a fairway turning left at 220 yards. This approach once again plays over a valley to a perched back-to-front sloped green.

IMG_8299
Trees down the left prevent many from cutting the corner
IMG_8300
The approach at 12

The 13th through 16th holes have a decidedly different feel from the rest of the course on flatter, less dramatic land and I was surprised to discover that the 15th and 16th are Tillinghast originals. The 13th hole is a shorter par 4 at 362 yards. Those who play a hook can leave just a pitch in by cutting the dogleg left corner, but the majority of golfers will need to lay-up off this tee. This approach plays to a slightly back-to-front sloped green guarded by three bunkers short and on either side.

IMG_8302
The par 4 13th
IMG_8303
The approach at 13

At 400 yards, the 14th hole is the longest par 4 on the back 9 and another nice dogleg left. While treelined on the teeshot, this hole opens up nicely after the dogleg with a slightly uphill approach to a large green guarded by bunkers on either side.

IMG_8304
The par 4 14th

An original Tillinghast, the 387 yard 15th hole is a strong par 4 with a tight fairway lined by a crossbunker down the right at 230 yards. This large, relatively flat green is well-protected with fescue-draped bunkers short and on either side.

IMG_8305
The flat 15th offers very few visuals from the teebox
IMG_8306
The approach at 15

The final par 5 at Bethpage Blue is another Tillinghast original in the 501 yard 16th. This long, skinny hole features plenty of danger on both sides the entire way with bunkers at 200 yards on the left and bunkers at 270 yards on both sides. Those who stray far offline will need to contend with fescue and sporadic trees. This circular green runs slightly back-to-front and is lined by cavernous bunkers on either side.

IMG_8307
The par 5 16th

Tillinghast’s original 17th featured the current-day green but used the 11th green as a teebox, resulting in a more diagonal, longer par 3. Tull’s new teebox plays 175 yards and features a more direct angle over the valley. This is a pretty hole with two deep but contrasting bunkers short and right of a back-to-front sloped green.

IMG_8310
I would bet Tull substantially altered one of these bunkers (probably the left one)

Whereas Tull seamlessly edited the 17th to make it so that the casual observer wouldn’t notice the changes, the closing hole is quite awkward like the 9th (although not quite such an abomination). This 364 yard par 4 was originally a dogleg left playing from the current-day teebox to the 9th green, but is now a dogleg right with a semi-blind teeshot to a fairway that ends at 230 yards. From here, the fairway drops severely with a patch of rough and then rises towards another back-to-front sloped perched green.

IMG_8311
The semi-blind 18th teeshot
IMG_8312
The closing approach

General Comments: The Bethpage complex is huge, but the clubhouse and practice facilities are fairly average with a short, matted driving range and two small putting greens. Like all courses at Bethpage, pace of play at the Blue can be quite poor and it certainly wasn’t great the day I played.

IMG_5256
Bethpage’s range could use some TLC
IMG_3761
The Bethpage clubhouse

Verdict: Although not nearly as dramatic or architecturally pure as Bethpage Black or Red, the Blue Course is another solid public offering at the legendary Bethpage State Park. The challenge, conditioning, and tremendous value make it a strong choice for those of all golfing abilities to enjoy on a regular basis.


2 thoughts on “Review: Bethpage State Park Golf Course – Blue Course

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s