Bethpage Black amps up 17th hole for The Barclays

Phil Mickelson makes his way past adoring fans Phil Mickelson makes his way past adoring fans at the 17th green en route to the 18th tee during the first round at the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black. (June 19, 2009) Photo Credit: David Pokress

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Mark Herrmann Newsday columnist Mark Herrmann

Herrmann has covered the Mets and Yankees since 1988, and has been Newsday’s national golf writer since ...

When The Barclays comes to Bethpage Black in August, it will employ all of the same logistics and many of the same people that helped two U.S. Opens roll smoothly. The tournament also will borrow a little from the Phoenix Open, with a temporary stadium built around what figures to be a very loud 17th hole.

The par-3 17th at Bethpage was one of the most electric venues at the voluble 2002 and 2009 U.S. Opens. But chances are, we haven't heard anything yet.

For The Barclays, hospitality tents and skyboxes will be built near the green, and so will large sections of bleachers. More bleachers will be added behind the tee, giving the hole an enclosed look like the one that has become a trademark on No. 17 in Phoenix -- considered the noisiest spot in golf.

"We're hopeful. We could have 3,000 to 4,000 seats around that hole. So it should be a nice atmosphere, kind of fun," said Peter Mele, executive director of the tournament. Speaking generally of the first leg of the PGA Tour playoffs, to be held Aug. 23-26, he said, "It's going to have a different feel than the Open had."

The goal is balancing the stature and organization that marked those two majors with some new, more relaxed approaches.

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Attendance is expected to be capped at 35,000 a day, which is lower than the Open, but about 10,000 more than The Barclays' limit last year at Plainfield Country Club in New Jersey. Fans can park at Jones Beach and take buses or take the Long Island Rail Road to the Farmingdale station and board shuttles, just as they did for the Opens.

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The course will look pretty much the same, except on the scorecard. It will play at par 71 instead of 70, with No. 7 playing as a par 5 rather than a par 4. "Our rules staff says, 'Play it the same way everybody who comes out and pays their money plays it,' " Mele said.

Children will be admitted for free, as will active military members and their families. There will be other touches, such as the MasterCard hospitality tent, which will be open to anyone who shows a MasterCard. "This is an accessible golf course and we're going to try to run an accessible tournament," Mele said.

He added that elite players that tournament officials have talked to have been "over the top" in endorsing Bethpage. That includes Tiger Woods, who skipped the playoff opener once when it was held at Westchester Country Club. He is expected to play this time, 10 years after he won the Open on the Black.

Course superintendent Andy Wilson, who was on the staff of his predecessor Craig Currier for the Open, said, "We're going to hold ourselves to the same standard. We're probably not going to have the same amount of volunteers and staff, but we're going to try to get to the same conditions we had for the Open."

The major challenge will be keeping the place in tournament shape through two hot, busy summer months. Bethpage Black will close to the public on Aug. 6, and Wilson said those two weeks will help the course heal.

"So far, so good," he said, adding that PGA Tour agronomists have been on site a few times. "They're pretty happy with the place. We have a couple of the same goals. Now it's just a matter of meeting them."

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