|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
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
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
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
"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
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
To achieve this goal, Currier is faced with a difficult
and challenging task. Normally he would mow the rough at 2Â½
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 3Â½ 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
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'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
"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