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A Reunion of Sorts at Bethpage Black

Thu, 05/23/2019 - 15:21
There was a decent showing of East Enders
Duane Bock, an East Hampton High School Hall of Famer who caddies for the world’s 24th-ranked touring pro, Kevin Kisner, said at Bethpage Black last week that it was nice being near his hometown again.

On the East End we are blessed with some of the most well-known and challenging golf courses in the world, the names of which are revered by those who know. Shinnecock Hills, with its history, the National Golf Links, with its quiet reserve, and old school blue-blood Maidstone — these are just three of the iconic courses that come to mind.

But farther to the west, Long Island’s landscape is also ripe with wonderful layouts meriting worldwide admiration and first-class reputations. Tops on that list for many is Bethpage Black, where Brooks Koepka on Sunday won — by two strokes over Dustin Johnson — the P.G.A. Championship.

(Given his U.S. Open win last year at Shinnecock, Koepka is the only pro ever to win two different majors on Long Island.)

What makes the Black particularly special is that, unlike many courses, it is open to the public. Nestled in Bethpage State Park, the course, one of five there, was designed by a famous golf course architect, A.W. Tillinghast, and was opened in 1936. For $130 you can play a round. Want to ride in a golf cart? Forget it. They are prohibited.

You can also hack it up at Pebble Beach in California, another course open to the public, but a round there will set you back $525 — a rather sizable difference. But don’t let the relatively cheap price at Bethpage Black fool you: This is a monster of a course.

There is even a sign in large print there, behind the first tee box, cautioning those who dare to play it. That placard reads: “WARNING: The Black Course Is an Extremely Difficult Course Which We Recommend Only for Highly Skilled Golfers.”

I wish Shinnecock had had a sign like that when I was invited to play that legendary course last May before the U.S. Open began. Shinnecock’s able grounds crew may still be resodding the divots I sprayed that fateful day. After five holes I threw my scoring pencil into the tall sea grass alongside the fairway. It was that bad.

Wisely, the P.G.A. did not invite me to play the Black course this spring. Perhaps I’d been blacklisted at Bethpage Black, which was fine with me. I’d rather stick to the comforts of Montauk Downs or, my favorite, the Sag Harbor Golf Club, where I can whack away in peace knowing that nearby are plenty of duffers with similar skill sets. Bad golf loves good company.

The drive to Bethpage, on the Nassau-Suffolk border, wasn’t a bad one, the weather, for the first time this spring, cooperated, and there was a decent showing of East Enders, among them Joe Bolomey of East Hampton, who at Wednesday’s practice round told me he’d once shot a 77 at the Black and was “thrilled to see the pros live and up close.”

Moreover, Bolomey is looking forward to 2024, when Bethpage Black will play host to the Ryder Cup. In 2026, the U.S. Open is to return to Shinnecock. 

Duane Bock, a native of East Hampton who caddies for the world’s 24th-ranked pro, Kevin Kisner, said alongside the putting green last Thursday that he’d seen “a few familiar faces,” and was happy to be near his hometown again. 

Unfortunately, his golfer, who won the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play tournament in March, did not — as was the case also with Tiger Woods, the tournament’s big draw — make the weekend cut. 

A former Sag Harborite, Bob Bubka, radio’s “Voice of Golf,” who lives now in Houston, was looking forward on Friday to a visit from his brother, Tom, an East Hamptoner.

Bob Bubka logs so many miles covering professional golf — 3.3 million tuned in to listen to him from around the world last Thursday — that he has to remind himself where he’s broadcasting from. Consequently, he had a sign up on the glass of his broadcasting booth at Bethpage’s media center that read: “From the P.G.A., I’m Bob Bubka.”

His travel schedule is hectic. The week before, he’d been at the Byron Nelson Classic in Texas, next month, he’ll be at Pebble Beach for the U.S. Open, and in July he’ll be in Northern Ireland for the British Open.

The P.G.A. Championship marked a special milestone for him. “It’s hard to believe, but this is the 125th major golf championship that I’ve covered.”

“One hundred and twenty-five championships. You know what that means — it means I’m getting old,” he said with a smile, as this writer wished him many more.

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