After the many nice compliments that have been lavished on the course this week, the best is still the unspoken one that we all know: Bethpage Black matters.
It matters to pros who appreciate playing in such a wonderful big ballpark.
It mattered from the start because construction helped put bread on hundreds of Long Island tables during the Great Depression.
It matters to the people who tend it and keep the trafficked municipal course looking like a private club.
“The amazing part about this place is, obviously it’s tuned up for a major championship, but it’s like this all the time,” said Seth Waugh, CEO of the PGA of America.
It matters to the people who play it, knowing they walk the same ground as the best players in the world.
It matters to the people who own the course, meaning everyone in New York State. There is palpable pride when a major comes to town.
It really matters that professional tournaments keep coming to the Black because the state gets the resources (substantial rental fees) and incentive to maintain all five courses.
For that, thanks are due to Ted Bishop, who is as responsible as anyone for this championship being here, for the Ryder Cup coming in 2024 and for the Black remaining as a place where pros rave about the experience.
Bishop was the PGA of America’s secretary, in line to be president, in September 2010 when he met at the park with state officials. The U.S. Golf Association had given up on Bethpage after two rain-drenched U.S. Opens. The PGA Tour had yet to hold its two FedEx Cup playoff events there (which turned out to be poorly attended).
“The future of championships at Bethpage, at the point we started talking, was obviously in doubt,” Bishop said from The Legends, the club in Franklin, Indiana, that he runs, serves as head pro and now is superintendent, too. “I knew about the concerns that everybody who loves Bethpage had, with funding and maintaining conditions going forward.”
Despite the USGA having pulled out, Bishop chose to dive in. His confidence was confirmed during a practice round for the 2010 Ryder Cup in Wales, when he was on the 18th fairway with Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler. “Just out of the blue,” he said, “they started talking about Ryder Cup venues and Phil says to Fowler, 'Can you imagine the home course advantage that we would have if they ever played this Ryder Cup at Bethpage.' "
Bishop sealed the deal in 2013 when he was president. He envisioned the excitement of this week.
But he will not be here to see it. He was removed from office by the PGA’s board of directors after a 2014 Twitter scrap with English pro Ian Poulter. Replying to Poulter’s criticism of Ryder Cup captains, Bishop called him “lil girl.” He explained in his book, “Unfriended,” that he had meant Poulter sounded like a young girl squealing in the schoolyard. Association officials found the tweet insensitive and ousted him.
Several people involved with this PGA Championship, including his daughter Ambry, a pro and women’s coach at St. John’s, urged him to attend. He declined. “I have no status as a past president and to be honest with you, I didn’t want to be a distraction,” he said in a recent telephone interview. “I guess I’ll kind of painfully watch it.”
Here’s hoping that someday he gets his due.
While we’re at it, here’s a tip of the cap to the USGA, which takes a lot of heat for its mistakes, but struck gold when it took the risk of coming to Bethpage first in 2002.
Mostly, this is an occasion to raise a toast to Bethpage Black itself.
“It’s a miracle that it was built in the first place,” Waugh said. “The interesting thing is, nobody ever says it’s unfair. It’s a great test, and it’s a happy place.”
It really matters, and always will.