Preparations have long since been under way for the U.S. Open's return to Bethpage State Park's Black Course in Farmingdale this June.
Farmingdale Village Mayor Butch Starkie and Trustee Ralph Eckstrand were also on hand to welcome USGA officials at Media Day. Photos by Denise Nash.
At a May 4 Media Day press conference, United States Golf Association officials and local politicians praised U.S. Open organizers and offered information about the upcoming event.
USGA President Jim Vernon said the organization took an historic step in 1996 when it awarded the 2002 U.S. Open to the Bethpage Black Course.
"It turned into a stunning success," he added. "The energy of fans from New York make any sporting event unique and special. It was then referred to as the 'People's Open' and it truly was."
Governor David Paterson touted the efforts of New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commissioner Carol Ash and her staff for "working tirelessly to put this together."
"The energy of the crowds made it [2002 U.S. Open] an instant classic," he added. "This is the fastest that the USGA has returned to a course."
Paterson added that no matter who wins the U.S. Open, New York has already won with the millions of dollars that will be spent here and the $5.5 million rental fee from the USGA.
Speaking on behalf of Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi and himself, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy said, "this is not only a boost to our prestige but to our economy as well."
Jim Hyler, chairman of the USGA Championship Committee, praised the continuous and cooperative efforts of Bethpage State Park Director Dave Catalano and Golf Course Superintendent Craig Currier.
"They have been very supportive," he added.
Mike Davis, senior director of Rules & Competitions, then provided a course layout with specific hole-by-hole descriptions.
"We want the U.S. Open to be a fair test," he added. "It's a brutally difficult course."
2002 U.S. Open champion Tiger Woods then joined the press conference via telephone.
Reminiscing about his time at the 2002 U.S. Open, Woods said, "it was exciting not just for the fans but for the players, just an incredible atmosphere and on top of that, the golf course was extremely difficult. It was bigger than we probably would have thought. It was a pretty big ballpark."
When asked about how the "loud crowd" affected him at the 2002 U.S. Open, Woods responded, "it was a great atmosphere. The fans were truly into it. I think everyone was having a great time. If you made a putt, people went crazy. It was fun to play in front of that, because it's always fun to play in front of people who appreciate shots and are excited that the guys are playing well."
While he didn't know when, Woods said he would be doing some "prep work" at Bethpage Black prior to the U.S. Open.
"I want to get a better idea of my sightlines," he added.
According to the USGolfA's website, www.usga.org, Bethpage State Park became the first publicly-owned facility to host the Open in 2002.
Regarded as the largest public golf facility in the world, Bethpage features five 18-hole courses centered around one clubhouse. Set on 1,476 acres of terrain, the park is operated by the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Built in the mid-1930s, Bethpage State Park was designed by architect A.W. Tillinghast and took over 1,800 workers to transform the land. The first tee at the Black Course touts a sign stating it is "an extremely difficult course which we recommend only highly skilled golfers."
The narrow fairways, high roughs, well-placed bunkers and small greens help to make this an extremely difficult course, as stated on the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation website.
The Black Course was refurbished in 1982, and again in 1987. Bunkers were filled with new sand and restored to their original shape. The USGA spent $2.7 million in 1997 to renovate the Black Course. Course designer Rees Jones ultimately transformed the course into the site of the 2002 U.S. Open. In 2009, Bethpage Black will boast three of the longest par 4s in U.S. Open history. The 525-yard seventh will be the longest par 4. All in all, players will be golfing on a 7,426-yard course.
According to the USGA, the restoration included:
Greens: refurbishing 18 greens, installation of irrigation lines and sprinkler heads, expansion of greens on holes 3, 8 and 15 by approximately 300 feet, reduction of green on hole 18 by approximately 1,000 feet.
Tee Boxes: all tee boxes for daily fee players were rebuilt, greens were laser leveled, positive drainage added, installed irrigation lines and sprinkler heads, hole 18 was extended by 40 yards by building a new tee box.
Fairways: all fairways now comprised primarily of perennial ryegrass, 400 gear-driven heads installed.
Bunkers: all bunkers restored to reflect original Tillinghast design and style, existing sand and filter cloth lines removed, 8,100 tons of clean, new sand placed in bunkers.
Sodding: 900,000 sq. ft. of sod installed around bunkers and adjacent to greens.
Rain Shelter: unique, historic rain shelter restored and upgraded, additional rain shelters added to other courses.
Tee Signs: silhouette tee signs, which replicate those used decades ago, have been fabricated and are complemented by wrought iron benches.
Maintenance Facility: a new maintenance facility was constructed, using state funds, to replace the one built in the 1930s.
Following this construction, the Black Course reopened for public place in June 1998.
The Black Course is closed on Mondays for maintenance. For weekday play it costs $50 for residents and $100 for non-residents. Weekend play costs $60 for residents and $120 for non-residents. The Red Course is $41 for residents and $82 for non-residents. Weekend play costs $46 for residents and $92 for non-residents. The Green, Blue and Yellow Courses are $36 for weekday play and $41 for weekend play. All golf reservations require a fee of $5. Bethpage State Park also houses the Carlyle on the Green restaurant (www.carlyleonthegreen.net or 501-9700), a golf pro shop (249-4040) and driving range.
The U.S. Open begins June 15 with practice rounds. Championship play commences June 18. USGA Officials recently announced that additional tickets would be available to the general public. Weekly Grounds Ticket packages are $400, Championship Round Tickets are $100 and Daily Practice Round Tickets are $40. These tickets are available at the will call facility at Bethpage State Park. For additional information on purchasing tickets for the 2009 U.S. Open, contact the USGA at www.usga.org/tickets or call 800-698-0661.