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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Bethpage Black Celebrates 15th Anniversary With Golf Writers

Craig Currier, Dave Catalano, Jay Mottola
The Metropolitan Golf Writers Association observed the fifteenth anniversary of the selection of Bethpage State Park's Black course for the 2002 US Open with a golf outing and panel discussion featuring some of the principals involved in the decision and preparation for the event.

Betsy Wintenberger, Park Director, opened the meeting by recounting how she and other staffers at the time stood in awe of the amount of effort that went into preparing the course for the event.

Jay Mottola, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Golf Association, recounted how the Met Open led to the US Open. "We held the Met Opens in 1987 and 1988 at Winged Foot and Baltusrol," Mottola said. "The next year, we brought it to the Black. The pros in the Met PGA Section praised it, saying it was a good a course as either one of the two they had just played and would make a great US Open venue. It was easy for me to suggest it to David Fay."

Mottola pointed out that the USGA took a major risk by scheduling the event at the Black. "Some 80% of USGA revenue is connected to the US Open," he said. "To risk that the Black said a lot about the importance of public golf to the USGA."

The announcement energized the state park staff. "We had 27 full-time employees and a maintenance budget of $600,000," related Dave Catalano, who was Park Director at the time. "I was scared to death to compete with the other great venues that had held the Open. The best decision I made at the beginning was to hire Craig Currier as Superintendent." It's worth noting that the staffing and maintenance budget covered not just the Black course, but the other four golf courses at the state facility as well.

Currier added, "It's probably a good thing I was only 26 years old at the time. I don't know that I could do it now."  Course conditions were deplorable, he said. "It was a diamond in the rough, but it needed a lot of polishing. The course was totally overgrown. You couldn't see several holes because of the trees and bushes. Some of the bunkers had three feet of sand in them while the liners were poking through in others. You could lose a ball in some of those bunkers!"

He pointed out that, aside from hole 18, the other holes, routing, and even the bunkering wasn't changed for the Open.

Catalano explained that one goal of having the US Open at Bethpage was to elevate the entire complex, which has five golf courses and numerous other outdoor activities. "We set out to be the best public golf complex in the world," he said. "Each year since the renovation, we got an additional $250,000 in rehab money to make sure the other courses received the attention they deserve. The Red course should be a top 100 course. Currier added some distance to it and removed some trees to open it up, but it's otherwise intact as Tillinghast made it."

At 7100 yards, Currier added, "The Red is probably the best par 70 anywhere."

Mottola closed by saying, "The Bethpage staff and facility does so much more than host US Opens. They hold everything from the NY State and Long Island Opens to numerous junior events. They do so much for the game.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

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