- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 9, 2002

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. Consciousness comes at 4:55 a.m., triggered by a steady rapping and the bright light streaming through your driver's side window.
Your senses take stock of the situation before your mind fully awakens: You are reclining in your car and an authoritative male voice behind what must be a flashlight is ordering you to get out of the vehicle with a photo ID. The interior of the car smells like a still, and you can almost feel the Maker's Mark oozing from your pores.
Pure panic sprints ahead of coherence for two interminable seconds before realization finally arrives. DUI and nasty siblings DWI and PD vanish in a rush of relief.
You didn't black out. You camped out.
And you aren't about to be arrested and escorted to the bastille. You are about to be awarded with a tee time and escorted to Bethpage's famed Black Course.
The Black Course at Bethpage State Park is renowned for one primary reason. When it plays host to next month's 102nd U.S. Open, it will become the first true daily-fee public facility to play host to our national championship. That fact has prompted the media to dub golf's next major the "People's Open."
Some would claim that Open staple Pebble Beach broke the municipal barrier long ago. But those are the same folks who think making a tee time a year in advance and taking a $300 wallet-whipping constitutes daily-fee golf.
At Bethpage, any Joe Hack with $31 ($36 on weekends) and an unhealthy dose of determination can jack it up on A.W. Tillinghast's black beauty anytime. How? Because Bethpage has always blocked off a certain number of tee times for walk-ups. Currently, the six times from 8 to 9 a.m. are available on this first-come, first-serve basis.
Sounds simple and fittingly democratic, right? The process is actually rather sadistic and autocratic.

Tuesday, April 30
It's 11 a.m. when you roll into the parking lot at Bethpage, the day's plans casually constructed. You and your pal Bill, a Long Island native turned Alexandria lawyer, will play 18 holes on one of Bethpage's four lesser courses. Then you'll slip out for a few slices of serious pizza the folding kind made in a place where chains are still just for necks and dogs.
That should put you in the perfect frame of mind for Game 7, Islanders vs. Leafs. It might be just a first-round NHL playoff finale to everyone else. But to Bill and everyone else on the Island, it's good vs. evil, U.S. vs. Canada, gods vs. goons. After watching the game, you'll slide to the grocery store for a few supplies and then mosey back over to Bethpage around midnight to get in the walk-up car line for the Black Course.
That's your plan. Reality has a different agenda.
Immediately upon entering the lot, you notice that two cars already are backed into spots on the walk-up car line. You pull into the third numbered space, and while you're considering your options, two more cars pull into slots four and five. You go over to the first vehicle for some advice.
The window is down on the SUV, and a middle-aged guy named Jim tells you he arrived at 5:30 that morning, more than 26 hours ahead of his expected tee time.
"When the guys pulled out of the first space to play this morning, I backed right in," grins Jim, obviously a very sick individual. "I wasn't taking any chances. There are five cars here now, and they only guarantee times for the first six. I wouldn't go anywhere if I was you."
You and Bill take a minute to read the walk-up instructions posted on a huge sign in the lot. You learn that at a random time between 4 and 9 p.m., a supervisor will come by and distribute numbered bracelets, one to each car. Each morning at approximately 5, another supervisor will come by, check that you haven't tampered with your bracelet and issue tee time tickets and bracelets to everyone else in the car (maximum of four). You also learn that you are not to leave the car unattended at any time, or a ranger could come around and bump you off the line.
You feel like golf's version of Scrooge, grudgingly anticipating three nightime visits.
For your convenience, and you're sure to eliminate one more excuse, a porta-john is discreetly stationed behind a stand of pines just a lob wedge from the parking lot.
Great. Lovely. Perfect.
Your status as the third car should guarantee you a tee time at around 8:30 the following morning, a mere 21 hours in your immobile future. Just as this agonizing reality is starting to sink in, Marty from Manhattan in the fourth car decides to make friends.
Marty lives in a world of one. He wants you to know he played Isleworth in Orlando last week. He wants you to know that Isleworth is extremely exclusive. It's Tiger Woods' home course, you know. He only got on because he works for the "Today" show. He does lighting. He knows just how many watts make Katie Couric look 25 again. He's good golf buddies with Matt Lauer. He's a Rangers fan. He'll be rooting for Toronto tonight out of spite, no offense. He's a big hitter. He's played the Black Course before. He assures you it's "wicked tough." The rough will remind you of Laos. He asks your handicap and dismissively assures you that you won't break 90.
Great, 21 hours of Marty from Manhattan. Who needs talk radio?
You decide to take a stroll, give your ears some precious Marty-free minutes. But it starts to drizzle.
Lovely.
You roll up the windows, muting Marty mid-sentence and decide to have a snack. You realize that without your planned grocery run you have just a box of Pop Tarts and a fifth of bourbon. A colleague once joked of an 18-hour flight to Japan that it was long enough to get drunk, sober up and then get drunk again.
Perfect.


It took more than a dozen years of lobbying to convince the United States Golf Association to agree to bring its prized event to the Black Course. According to New York Daily News golf writer Hank Gola, the primary spokesman for the course was Metropolitan Golf Association executive director Jay Mottola.
In 1990, Mottola played golf in Florida with USGA executive director David Fay and convinced him to give the Black Course a closer look. Fay instantly fell for the traditional gem, designed by Tillinghast (see Baltusrol, Winged Foot, etc.) in 1935 and built with WPA men and money.
Fay pushed the Black Course through the proper USGA channels, and "Open Doctor" Rees Jones was called in to bring the somewhat neglected layout up to Open standards. In the spirit of the "People's Open," Jones waived his own fee but spent nearly $4million restoring the course, paying particular attention to the track's profusion of bunkers.
The result is a sleek 7,398-yard, par-71 beast that will provide the longest test in Open history when Tiger Woods and Co. arrive to do battle from June 13 to 16.

Wednesday, May 1
When your head clears at approximately 4:56 a.m., you realize the man behind the flashlight has come to distribute tee time tickets, provided your picture ID and bracelet match his clipboard vitals, which were taken by a different man just after 7:30 last night.
As you wait in yet another line to have your information verified, some of the night's more poignant moments creep through your pre-dawn hangover fog.
You remember the Leafs beat the Islanders, a point that was punctuated in painful fashion when Marty from Manhattan sat on his horn after every Toronto goal.
You remember bitterly that the sixth and final car did not arrive until 1 a.m., meaning you could have stuck to the original plan and spared yourself 13 hours of abject boredom.
You remember that two of Bill's friends, Rob and Gary, arrived at 3:30 a.m. after actually watching the game and catching a nap to fill out your foursome, freeloading on your perseverance.
You remember making a mental note to never again mix Pop Tarts and Kentucky's finest.
But most of all, you remember the little fascist who came by at 7:30, acted like he was doing you a huge favor by letting you sleep in his parking lot and strapped a bracelet around your left wrist with the neurotic zeal of Javert collaring Jean Valjean.
The circulation to the fingers of your left hand is still somewhat hampered as this newest Bethpage Nazi wrenches around your arm to check the numbers on the bracelet. Satisfied that everyone is properly manacled, he hands out tee time tickets, pauses for effect, and then drops this little bomb on the group with a self-satisfied smug:
"We had quite a bit of rain last night, so the superintendent still hasn't decided whether or not he's going to open the Black Course today. Don't worry, though. If we can't get you out on the Black, we'll get you out on the Blue Course."
The Blue Course? Is this guy kidding? That's like camping out in Krzyzewskiville and getting rewarded with tickets to a game between Durham CC and Raleigh Tech.
The Blue Course? You didn't sleep in your car, waste 21 hours of your life, risk gangrene of the left hand and listen to an eternity of unfiltered Marty for no stinkin' Blue Course.
No way, pal. The only Blue Course worth that much agony is at Congressional CC.
You decide right then that if these jokers close the Black Course and trot you out to the Blue Course over a few raindrops, you're going to risk your career and chuck dignity to the dogs with a silent but stern protest you'll show them a wet course by emptying your bladder on the first tee.

Some three hours later, sobriety and sanity have returned, along with the news that the Black Course is open. Joy.
After muddling through enough processing to make Ellis Island proud, you have been awarded an 8:17 tee time. The range is closed, of course. But with your left wrist still gagged, shag balls wouldn't do you much good anyway.
You wander over to the starter's shack at precisely 7:57 to check in and suffer through several more minutes of self-important bluster. When you ask if you can finally remove the bracelet, the starter tells you he will snip it off at precisely 8:16 "and not a moment sooner."
You put on your best earnest expression and tell the starter you admire his adherence to Draconian principles. He thanks you sincerely, obviously missing your sarcasm. But you let the moment pass because ultimate revenge is forthcoming.
Above the first tee of the Black Course is a warning sign, literally, explaining that the layout is for "highly skilled players." The sign was probably originally placed there with the best intentions, but after twentysomething hours of dealing with the Bethpage Gestapo, it comes off as snooty.
As your group is finally called to the tee box, you revel in the surprise in store for these super-serious folks. That surprise is Bill. Now, you won't find a better man than Bill. Or a more ardent student of the game. But the fact is, Bill only caught the golf bug two months ago. He's been studying Hogan's "Five Modern Lessons" and beating balls on the range like a madman, but he hasn't actually played on a real course ever.
So when Bill steps to the first tee of this year's U.S. Open course with the warning sign at his back and the omniscient starter at his side, you casually announce to everyone in attendance that he is about to hit the first live drive of his life. The starter blanches helplessly as Bill takes his practice swings, gouging up a bit of turf on his final pre-shot pass.
Then, to the astonishment of his now-riveted audience, he swings and belts a majestic high push off the tee that looks distinctly like one of Sammy Sosa's opposite-field dingers. Of course, his shot comes down some 100 yards right of the intended target, ricocheting among the corporate tents that line the adjacent fairway. But he hit it, baby, and a darned sight more solidly than some of the players who had preceded you on the box.
The rest of the round was anticlimactic after that titanic first blow. You are in no shape to play golf stiff, tired, hung over, etc. The highlights come at Nos.4 and 16, which you birdie courtesy of excellent approaches. The lowlights are many. Bogeys abound, and you put in more time toiling in the sand than Rommel on No.5, carding a round-quashing triple bogey.
Several things stand out about the course itself beyond its flawless conditioning and intense beauty. The greens are very flat for a major championship venue, the primary exception coming at No.15. The fairways, which you are told won't be tightened much more before the event, are very liberal for an Open setup.
The only real defense for the layout, aside from the traditional Open-length rough, is the raw, unadulterated tee-to-green distance. The average yardage from the Open tees of the six back-nine par-4s is 470 yards. Even modest hitters might as well take the week off. That said, prodigious hitters like Tiger, Phil Mickelson and David Duval are likely to tear the place apart. Expect the winner to finish double-digits in the red, galling the USGA sadists

You walk off the course just before 2 p.m. after nearly six hours of battle, a pedestrian 83 in hand. You grudgingly admit to Bill that you've enjoyed the Bethpage experience. And as you drive by the walk-up lot near the gate, five more hours in the car back to D.C. in your immediate future, the twisted truth dawns on you. Only a hopeless golf addict would notice with a sense of longing that the first space in the lot is still empty.


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