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June 14, 2002

by Bill Hogan



Playing the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black has created quite a stir - historically speaking. It's the first time in 102 years that the tournament host is a state owned and operated municipal golf course.

The only problem is, I don't think Bethpage Black can still be considered a municipal course. The USGA announced that the Open would be played at the sixty-six year old public golf facility about five years ago and then proceeded to implement millions of dollars worth of renovations. They laid a million square feet of new sod and dumped nine thousand tons of sand into the bunkers.


Muni bunkers typically contain just about everything except sand. (And rakes - which makes sense, no sand, no need to rake).

If the USGA really wanted to challenge the game's best players, they should have left the fairways, greens and bunkers as they were. Let's see these guys blast out of a greenside "sand" trap when the ball is resting on a rock and stuck to an old Almond Joy wrapper. And then figure out a way to putt around the dandelion that put down roots halfway between their ball and the hole.

I wonder what kind of reaction a player would have after blasting a 250-yard drive down the middle of the fairway only to find the ball sitting in a patch of dirt and gravel. Now that's municipal golf.

Put a Mustang engine in a Pinto and it's no longer a Pinto. Put actual sand in the bunkers at a municipal golf course… you get the idea.

This year's championship has been dubbed "The People's Open" because the course is accessible to anyone with thirty-nine dollars in their pocket and thirty-nine hours to kill.

I've read many accounts of avid golfers (I should probably say fanatic golfers) camping out in the Bethpage State Park parking lot for a day or two in order to secure a tee time on the Black.

Twenty-four to thirty-six hours sitting behind the wheel of a suped-up Pinto with three other guys drinking beer, eating nachos and sweating. Can you imagine what the inside of that car smells like after day one? How about day two?

Sore back, stiff neck, golf shirt pitted out, morning breath (from yesterday) and starting day three in the same underwear – LET'S PLAY SOME GOLF!

These guys are "just happy to be playing the Black". They have no expectation of playing well and seem to revel in the entire two day experience.

I don't get it. But then, I'd never stand in line overnight for World Series tickets - or Brittany Spears tickets for that matter. And I never really got the fascination with Woodstock. Rolling around in a muddy cow pasture for three days listening to rock music.

There are way too many public courses that I can play the morning after a good night sleep, a hot meal and a shower to subject myself to that kind of ordeal. I like to approach the first tee thinking about putting my drive in play, not the pain and itch of a growing hemorrhoid from sitting on a vinyl bucket seat. Maybe to play a round at Augusta National, but Bethpage Black?

The designation of this championship as "The People's Open" may be a good omen for one of the few amateurs that managed to survive grueling local and regional qualifying tournaments to earn a spot in the field.

It may offer them some glimmer of hope where normally none exists for an amateur competing at the Open Championship. History is certainly working against them.

In 1933, Johnny Goodman became the fifth amateur to win the U.S. Open. It was really no big deal at the time, amateurs had captured four of the previous ten Open Championships. (Of course, it was the great Bobby Jones that won all four).

Unfortunately for the amateurs playing the Black this weekend, Johnny Goodman was the last of their kind to win a U.S. Open. Even Jack Nicklaus could do no better than second as an amateur finishing two shots back of Arnold Palmer in 1960.

Of course with Tiger prowling the fairways and greens at this municipal course even the most accomplished professionals may have to settle for second best – again.

But if ever there were a time for a modern amateur to make his move, it's at "The People's Open" at Bethpage Black.


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