Bethpage Preparations For 2009
U.S. Open Hitting Home Stretch



April 6, 2009

By David Shefter, USGA

Farmingdale, N.Y. - Just inside the makeshift trailer that acts as the championship office for the 2009 U.S. Open a piece of paper pinned to a cubicle with large black numerals signifies the countdown to this year's event at Bethpage State Park's Black Course.

It's the number 74.

It is the first day of April, and just 11 weeks remain before the world's best golfers converge on the 1,500-acre property that includes five state-owned golf courses, including the nationally recognized Black (the others are the Red, Blue, Green and Yellow).

A crisp spring breeze permeates the air. Temperatures are in the upper 40s, and the parking lot is less than a quarter full.

But there's still plenty of activity on the premises, from the workers applying paint to the back of the massive clubhouse to those erecting the many tents that will temporarily occupy the area for the U.S. Open.

 

A new tee at Bethpage Black's third hole now makes the par 3 play 232 yards. (John Mummert/USGA)

A few hearty souls occupy the practice range, hitting balls off the mats. U.S. Open participants won't be subjected to the "public" range as a makeshift practice facility will be created on the first hole of the Yellow Course. With the Red Course opening on April 1, four of the five layouts now are accepting public play, and despite the chilly temperatures, golfers are eager to hit the links. The Black Course remains days away from accepting its first golfers of the season. It will open April 11, with limited reservations from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. It will close just after Memorial Day weekend on June 1.

Far away from the clubhouse, more activity takes place around the maintenance area. Located behind the Black's second and 13th greens and the tee for the par-3 third hole, this compound is in a constant state of motion, with mowers, trucks and staffers moving about. Maintaining a 90-hole facility is no easy task. Throw the impending U.S. Open into the mix, and the challenge is multiplied.

Craig Currier, Bethpage's veteran superintendent, has already endured this exercise once. While the second go-around brings plenty of challenges, Currier appears more than ready to tackle the Black Course's second U.S. Open in seven years.

As he maneuvers his truck around the 7,426-yard venue, one can see that the Black has emerged from the winter unscathed. Some late-March rains, coupled with a few days in the 60s, have "greened" up the fairways, tees and green complexes.

"The greens are healthy," said Currier. "We got through the winter, which had me worried. In 2004, we had a lot of ice damage. [Had we had the Open that year] we would have been in big trouble."

The winter of 2009 wasn't all sunshine and lollipops. A few snow storms did hit the Greater New York area, but the preventative maintenance of Currier's crew helped keep away any possible damage to the greens.

For the past year and a half, the key focus has been on restoring the Black's bunkers, starting with those situated near the greens. Over the winter, all the fairway bunkers were touched up.

"We've raked and cleaned them," said Currier. "It's all brand new sand. Over the years, they had gotten contaminated with rocks. We did extra drainage on them. They are looking good."

As spring slowly morphs into the growing season, the next step for Currier is getting the rough exactly how the USGA wants it for the U.S. Open. Since going to the two-tier cut for the primary rough, Mike Davis, the senior director of Rules and Competitions, and Jim Hyler, the chairman of the Championship Committee, are striving for what could be called consistent inconsistency within the second cut of primary rough.

The philosophy is that a shot into the second cut of primary rough could leave a lie good enough to hit a 3-iron or bad enough to force the player to have to wedge out to the fairway.

To achieve this goal, Currier is faced with a difficult and challenging task. Normally he would mow the rough at 2½ inches during the spring, but if he cuts that low the grass could get too tight. "We'll probably start at that, and then I will probably get it up to 3½ to 4 inches," said Currier. "I'll let it get a little longer and thinner. I'm hoping it kind of thins out."

Molding Into Place

Davis and Dave Oatis from the USGA's Green Section plan to meet with Currier sometime in mid-April to discuss the graduated-rough cut lines. Once those are determined, the staff will mow to the proper height specifications.

Other course modifications have already been established. A new tee has been constructed on the par-3 third hole, lengthening it to 232 yards. The fairway on the 504-yard, par-4 12th hole has been widened to 26 yards to the right of the fairway bunker to give shorter hitters better angles to the green. They have added a collection area at the picturesque par-5 fourth hole to allow players to go for the green in two, a strategy rarely utilized in 2002. They have brought the fairway back on the par-4 sixth, giving competitors the option of using driver off the tee.

"The last time the only option was to hit an iron off the tee," said Currier, who loves the changes made to the course. "I think the course is going to be better this time."

Another significant change from 2002: the carry from the 10th tee to the fairway has been shortened to 224 yards. Several golfers in 2002, including 1995 U.S. Open champion Corey Pavin, could not reach the fairway from the tee. By the middle of June, the native grass between the 10th tee and fairway will have grown to "at least a foot," Currier said.

Currier's biggest worry is Mother Nature. It's the same anxiety any superintendent has prior to a golf competition, especially a major championship with the cache of the U.S. Open. To get the desired "firm and fast" conditions, the weather must cooperate.

"We're pretty much ready to go," said Currier, who along with his capable staff will have some 100 volunteers from around the globe assisting him the week of the Open. "Once it warms up a little bit and everything starts [growing], it's going to be good.

"Knock on wood, as long as we don't do anything to kill it, we'll be in good shape."

And with each passing day, Currier can feel the buzz building. Things should really take off once the Masters ends on April 12. By then, the Black Course will be officially open to the public, albeit on a limited basis, and people's attention will turn toward the second major of the season.

"We're all excited," said Currier. "[The U.S. Open] will be here and gone before you know it. [The preparation] is certainly easier the second time. I am just hoping for good weather."

David Shefter is a USGA Digital Media staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at dshefter@usga.org.



  





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