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The Beguiling Beast That Is Bethpage

One of the most acclaimed and respected golf facilities in the country is right in our backyard, its popularity evidenced by the crowds that swarm all 90 holes on a daily basis and the players that come from afar to camp out for a chance to attack the Black. Two of its courses — the Black and the Red — are highlighted year after year in Golf Digest’s “Best Courses You Can Play” list.

A New York driver’s license is all Long Islanders need to get a headstart on tee times through the park’s phone reservation system. Or show up at the course with your clubs and see what’s available. You’ll have five courses with different personalities to choose from.

The Black Course is the crown jewel of public golf on Long Island. It hosted the 2002 and 2009 U.S. Open Championships and is ranked #42 on Golf Digest’s list of America’s Greatest Golf Courses for 2013-14 (public and private). Since the first U.S. Open more than a decade ago, the “Warning” sign above the first tee and tales of groups sleeping in their cars for tee times have lifted the course to almost mythical status. Between the opening drive and the final putt, the Black is a grueling test of skill and endurance. Its enormous size dwarfs players unlike any other course on the Island, especially on the signature fourth hole and the uphill 15th, and its subtle angles require expert precision and accuracy. With no motor carts allowed, players must climb the fairways and trudge through the rough while conserving enough energy for the next 200-yard carry over fescue or sand.

Regarded by most players as the second stiffest test at Bethpage and one of the Island’s top tracks, the Red Course, at 7,092 yards from the tips, is nearly as long as the Black but not quite as demanding. The Red is known for its extremely lengthy par-4s, namely the 471-yard opener. Seven of them stretch longer than 460 yards from the back tees. The 18th hole, which features a stadium green, is considered the best finisher at the complex, so much so that the USGA explored ways to incorporate it into the U.S. Open layout prior to the 2002 and 2009 championships.

The Green Course is the Black’s pint-sized sidekick. The two courses play next to one another in relative obscurity on the east side of Round Swamp Road. Wide landing areas and very few fairway bunkers allow players to have some fun off the tee, though doglegs and some dramatic elevation changes put a premium on accuracy and club selection. The par-3 third plays straight uphill, with misses to the right usually careening back down the slope. The Green is the original Bethpage layout — first known as the Lenox Hills Country Club, it was absorbed into the newly built state park in 1932.

Many players consider the opening half of the Blue Course to be the toughest front nine in the park. The Blue features a stretch of holes that requires players to navigate steep hills and sharp turns, all while aiming at unseen or obscured landing areas. Its sixth hole, which tees off downhill before making a hard left back up the slope, is one of the park’s most brutal par-4s. Blind tee shots are common, and par-3s begin and end atop high ground crossed by deep gullies.

The Yellow Course is often regarded as the easiest of the quintet, though it might be more accurately described as the park’s warm-up layout. It contains some of the park’s peaks and valleys while also offering a handful of wide, flat scoring holes. Advanced players will find a challenge on the Yellow’s back nine from the subtly angled par-5 tenth through the elevated par-3 14th.