Can't get a tee time on the Black Course at Bethpage? Opt for the Red instead and I guarantee you won't be disappointed. It may not have the aura of the U.S. Open around it, but the Red Course is just about as long (6,555 vs. 6,684 yards from the white tees), a little tougher to score on (par 70 vs. 71), and every bit as much of a Tillinghast gem, with fluid, natural bunkering, several back-busting elevated greens, and enough dog legs to populate a greyhound track.
There are differences, of course, mainly because Rees Jones hasn't put his hand on the course. Most notably the greens are smaller and there are fewer bunkers, making the Red a little less punitive. It doesn't have quite as many dramatic elevation changes, either, although several of the holes, notably the first and eighteenth, will make you look around for the chairlift as you approach the green. One notable difference: the 18th on the Red is much more challenging than the closing hole on the Black. If they toughened up the fairway bunkers on the Red, it would be far and away a better hole.
Both courses have seven par fours of over 400 yards, and both total about the same yardage on them - just over 3,000 yards. The par threes on the Black are stronger and certainly more memorable in addition to being at least a full club longer. The best one-shotter on the Red is the fourth hole, 171 yards to a green protected by a moat-like bunker.
The opening hole on the Red is a 459 par four monster that's nearly impossible to reach in regulation without a gargantuan drive. The green sits atop the same hill as the Black's 18th and 16th tees, which gives you some idea of how elevated it is. The closing hole on the out-going side is another killer: 449 yards that bend left around trees and an expansive bunker complex off the tee. The green is surrounded by four very serious traps, too.
Perhaps the most interesting hole on the Red Course is the 13th, where a bunker stretches down the middle of the fairway from about 200 yards off the tee nearly to the green. You have to choose the route you want--right is a wider landing area than the left but leaves you with an approach shot over a huge greenside bunker--and hope for the best. The green is small and heavily contoured, too.
One final note: the Red Course is kept in just as good condition as the Black, with fast, true greens, near-perfect fairways, and clean but tough rough. Like all the courses at Bethpage, the Red is a testament to how good public golf can be.
Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a romantic thriller about blood diamonds in the Congo