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SportsColumnistsMark Herrmann

The story behind Bethpage Black's famed warning sign

An open question over the years was who and what inspired the sign, which warns golfers that "the Black Course is an extremely difficult course" and is recommended only for "highly skilled" players.

The sign displayed at the first tee at

The sign displayed at the first tee at Bethpage Black. Photo Credit: Peter Frutkoff

The emphatic “WARNING” sign that has cautioned a generation of Bethpage Black golfers against futile and numerous swings was originally posted to prevent the customers from slugging each other.

Such is the closest anyone can get to an official history of the sign, which will remain in place near the first tee during the PGA Championship this week. The world’s greatest golfers, of course, do not need to read that “the Black Course is an extremely difficult course” and is recommended only for “highly skilled” players. But the words are an enduring testament to the Black’s reputation.

An open question over the years was who and what inspired the sign. Dave Catalano, the retired park director who worked at Bethpage between 1967 and 2011, said he has heard people claim that there was a warning posted in the 1950s or 1960s. He doesn’t believe it. He agrees with Mike Asheroff, former deputy regional director of the Long Island State Parks Commission, who said the trademark placard stems from an altercation in the early 1980s.

“It was Memorial Day,” Asheroff said, recalling that he and then-park superintendent Eric Siebert were having coffee in the snack bar when they heard a row. “There was some guy teaching his wife to play golf, on Memorial Day, on the Black Course. We go out there and there is screaming and yelling and carrying on. There are about five holes open in front of this guy.”

A foursome behind the couple “had just about had it with this,” the former state official said, and hit shots toward the slow golfers. The husband turned around and fired golf balls back at the foursome, which escalated the situation. Police arrived. The slow couple was asked to leave and given a full refund.

“We get back to the clubhouse and I said to Eric, `We can’t just tell people they can’t play the course,’ ” said Asheroff, who now runs a Long Island-based travel tours business.

What they decided to do was discourage beginners or slow players from going out there. “I scribbled something down on a piece of paper,” he said. “Can I swear the wording was exactly what it is now? If not, it is damn close.”

In any event, he said, the park’s sign shop had it printed and installed in a few days. “It was no more or no less than trying to solve a problem,” he said.

There never was a formal record of the episode, and some longtime Bethpage golfers have various memories regarding a sign on No. 1. Catalano, a member of the executive committee for the PGA Championship, said that some people also have claimed that the 18th green used to be up closer to the clubhouse, but aerial photos of 1938 negate that. “People recollect all sorts of things,” he said. “I’m very confident that Mike’s is an accurate rendition.”

Flowers for sale

The grounds and luxury chalets at Bethpage Black during the PGA Championship will be enlivened by hundreds of flowering plants, which will not go to waste. The Metropolitan PGA Section announced that it will collect the plants — including Panola Pansy, Pennisetum, Yellow Broomsedge — and sell them on Wednesday, May 22 for the benefit of the Met PGA Foundation. The sale will be from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Bethpage State Park parking lot, near the tennis bubble.

LI’s Caron on a hot streak

Jason Caron, head pro at Mill River Club in Oyster Bay, had a strong finish at the national club pros championship May 1 and qualified for the PGA Championship. He didn’t stop there. On Tuesday, he won the Met PGA Head Pro Championship at Burning Tree in Greenwich, Connecticut, going 10 under for 36 holes. A day later, he was the medalist in a local qualifier for the U.S. Open, shooting 6-under-par 64 at Rockaway Hunting Club in Lawrence. Caron advanced to the sectional qualifier in early June for a shot to be in two successive major championships. So did Danny Balin, head pro at Fresh Meadow in Lake Success, who also is in the field this week and shot 68 in the Open qualifier.

Free beer, thanks to Koepka

Brooks Koepka hit a shot from Governor’s Island onto a moving barge this past week in a promotion for Michelob Ultra, earning free beers for customers at select (as yet unannounced) New York area bars this Thursday, during the first round of the PGA.

ACES

John Beisel, Swan Lake GC, 16th hole, 117 yards, pitching wedge

George Forster, Cherry Creek Links, 17th hole, 123 yards, 9-iron

Jay Sessa (of Garden City), Desert Mountain, Scottsdale, Ariz., 18th hole, 172 yards, 4-hybrid

Mike Walsh (of Garden City), Jonathan’s Landing, Jupiter, Fla., 12th hole, 151 yards, pitching wedge

Kathi Finnegan, Rolling Oaks GC, fourth hole, 92 yards, 7-iron

Joe Nacarlo (of West Babylon), Golf Club of Jupiter (Fla.), sixth hole, 160 yards, 3-rescue

John Higgins, Spring Lake GC, 13th hole, 129 yards, 8-iron

Mike Birmingham, Bethpage Red, fourth hole, 174 yards, 7-iron

Paul Borkowski, Bethpage Blue, seventh hole, 169 yards, 6-iron

Nicholas Prosa, Holbrook CC, third hole, 133 yards, 6-iron

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