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SportsColumnistsMark Herrmann

Tiger Woods' Masters win heats up interest in PGA Championship at Bethpage Black

Weekend tickets are expected to sell out as there was quick rush to see the golfing icon up close this coming May

A golfer teeing off on the 18th hole

A golfer teeing off on the 18th hole of the Black Course at Bethpage  where the challenge is to find the narrow fairway between the menacing bunkers.   Photo Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Until last Sunday, weather was the hottest (and potentially coldest) topic about the upcoming PGA Championship at Bethpage Black. All the talk was about whether it was a good idea to hold a major championship in the Northeast in mid-May. Then Tiger Woods won the Masters and suddenly tickets became hotter than the talk.

On Monday, the PGA’s final round was sold out, and sales for earlier days instantly picked up as part of the surge that Woods created by winning his first major title in 11 years.

“Well, it’s kind of a perfect storm,” Scott Reid, the championship director, said on Thursday before he and tournament chairman Charlie Robson brought the Wanamaker Trophy to Yankee Stadium. “Everybody was already excited about the PGA coming to Bethpage, but this kind of raised that intensity.

“We were sold out for Saturday [May 18] heading into the Masters and we were close to selling out Sunday. We were anticipating selling out Sunday anyway, but it literally happened the next day,” Reid said. “We’re certainly starting to see tickets move for the other days as well.”

He added that corporate hospitality sales were “already pretty much done” before Woods put on the green jacket but that “we have a few things left, mainly for the weekend, and this will help fill in some of that.”

Television ratings and just general buzz also are sure to spike because Woods, with his 15th major championship victory, is back on the trail of Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18. Reid said that was obvious on Thursday, when local club pros who compose the Metropolitan PGA met at Bethpage. “This makes them that much more optimistic, heading into their season,” he said.

“For the PGA of America, this all has an even greater importance,” Reid said, referring to the national organization of club pros, which runs the PGA Championship. “Tiger is bringing people back to golf who might not have paid attention to golf. I think that helps us as we try to grow the game.”

First things first, though. The vital aspect now is getting the grass to grow on the Black Course. Conditioning always was going to be a question once the PGA announced a switch from its customary August date to May, starting this year.

Kerry Haigh, chief championships officer for the PGA, walked all 18 holes Thursday and said the turf is ahead of where it was this time last spring and that the organizers were happy with where things stood last April.

“I’m very happy with what we saw today,” Haigh said as he was leaving the state park. “We’re obviously waiting for a bit more sunshine and a bit warmer weather. But we’re very excited about where we’re at and we can’t wait for it to warm up just a little bit and really getting the grass growing. It’s exactly as we hoped it would be, leading up to what we believe will be a truly spectacular championship.”

While many golf observers have been skeptical about holding a major on Long Island so early in the season, Haigh sees only positives. “What I’m expecting is that the rough, the fairways and greens will be healthier than they normally are in August, when you’re struggling to fight extreme heat and humidity,” he said. “With this date change, the potential for more wind or a more temperate climate can be expected. Any time you get more breeze, any course is going to be more testing.”

Haigh, a native of Doncaster, England who has worked for various tours throughout the world and has been with the PGA for the past 30 years, has seen all kinds of layouts. None of them was quite like the Black.

“It’s a spectacular golf course. I always say, when I get here, how grand it is,” he said. “Every hole, you stand and you see the bunkering and it’s just so awe inspiring.” Because the greens are not too severe, he will be able to keep them somewhat faster than he would at other venues.

He was reminded that Bethpage superintendent Andy Wilson said that every time Haigh visits the Black, the sky is gray and the temperature is low. Haigh laughed and said, “That’s part of the fun of the job, making great golf courses fun and exciting, no matter what the conditions are.”

ACES

During peak golf season, Newsday publishes holes-in-one made by local golfers. Please send details on Aces to mark.herrmann@newsday.com (and please be patient, there is a backlog dating to last September).

Tony Gamboli, Timber Point Blue, second hole, 125 yards, 9-iron

Alan Sloyer, The Creek, fourth hole, 127 yards, pitching wedge

Kris Solberg, Willow Creek GC,11th hole, 172 yards, 4-hybrid

Frank Rapuano, North Hills CC, 16th hole, 155 yards, 5-hybrid

Susan Ruiz, Woodside Club, third hole, 110 yards, 5-hybrid

Ed Bowers, Brookville CC, third hole, 180 yards, 5-iron

Ron Kogan, Pine Hollow CC, 11th hole, 117 yards, pitching wedge

Arthur Felsenfeld, Pine Hollow CC, second hole, 154 yards, 5-iron

John Scopaz, Island’s End GC, fifth hole, 180 yards, 5-rescue

Christian Tyler, Spring Lake GC, third hole, 160 yards, 7-iron

Charles Herrmann, Nissequogue GC, 17th hole, 154 yards, 9-iron

Fred Mignogna, Sumpwams Creek GC, first hole, 101 yards, pitching wedge

Linda McNally, Heatherwood GC, ninth hole, 147 yards, 4-hybrid

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