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Each hole is named for a tree or plant that is predominant along its fringes, a practice that recalls the property's prior life as a commercial nursery.
The most famous municipal course in America hosted the U.S. Open in 2002, and it was such a smashing success that the USGA decided to return there for the 2009 Open. The Black Course is one of five 18-hole layouts at Bethpage State Park in Farmingdale, N.Y.
A sign by the first tee warns, "The Black Course is an extremely difficult course which we recommend only for highly skilled golfers." Before the mid-1990s, this sign was taken very seriously, and as a result the waits were shorter to play the Black Course than any of the four others. (This may also be attributed to the walking-only policy on this very hilly course.) Today golfers flock to the track that tested Tiger and Phil and Sergio and all the rest, and tee times are difficult to come by, but not impossible. Here are a few tips:
Camp out. Tee times for the first hour of every day (generally beginning at 7 a.m., earlier in the summer), and one foursome per hour thereafter, are allocated on a first-come first-served basis. This has led to the legendary night patrol, those hearty golfers who sleep in their cars for the chance to get beaten up by the famously deep bunkers and impressive carries. (At least today those bunkers have probably been raked in the last few weeks; that was not the case in the old days.) If you're willing to sacrifice a comfortable night, and have the physical flexibility to work out the kinks quickly the next morning, simply arrive by 7 or 8 o'clock the night before and join the line; you will get on. Less hearty souls, keep reading.
Call in. New York state residents may make a phone reservation on Bethpage Black (516-249-0707) up to a week in advance. You will be required to provide your driver's license number, and you may make no more than one reservation per month. You'll also need a quick dialer and a lot of luck; the lines open at 7 p.m., and the times disappear in a matter of minutes. Nonresidents can call two days in advance _ Tuesday night for a Thursday time, say. If you don't get through, check back a day before you'd like to play; there are occasional cancellations, which must be made 48 hours in advance to avoid a fee.
Show up. If you're a single on a weekday, even in midsummer, your chances of getting out are close to 100 percent. On the weekend it's much lower, but as compensation there are the four other courses; the Red Course has hosted many state and regional events, and is an excellent test of anybody's game at 7,000 yards and par 70 from the back tees.
If you do get out on Black, you'll find a course that requires you to play every club in the bag, outstanding condition for a public course of any kind.
-- All text excerpted from "A Disorderly Compendium of Golf," by Lorne Rubenstein and Jeff Neuman (Workman, $13.95)
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.