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Bethpage Black deserves another major

A flag on the Black Course of Bethpage

A flag on the Black Course of Bethpage State Park's Golf Course. Photo Credit: Newsday/Audrey C. Tiernan

It is almost impossible to look at the 18th green on the Black Course and not see camera flashes penetrating the dusk, illuminating Tiger Woods as he raised the U.S. Open trophy. You can't walk up the 12th fairway and not hear fans singing "Happy Birthday" to Phil Mickelson, or peer at the tall evergreens without remembering Lucas Glover's name atop the scoreboard that stood in front of them.

Bethpage Black does and always will have a major championship aura, and people who are on it for the New York State Open this week believe that it should keep having more major championship tournaments.

"First of all, it's a beautiful place. Walking this place is just spectacular," said Carl Alexander, the former Pine Hollow assistant pro who is among the contenders in the State Open at 3 under par through 36 holes.

"The history and tradition are pretty awesome as well - whether it be the Open here or the stories that a lot of guys like me have heard. My dad used to come here and play as a kid."

But the Open isn't your father's major these days. Bethpage is not on the schedule any time this decade and it doesn't appear to be anywhere near the front burner. At Pebble Beach last month, U.S. Golf Association official Jim Hyler was asked about returning the Open to the Black. He started his reply by pointing out that former superintendent Craig Currier has left for another job and that park director Dave Catalano is going to retire one of these years - which was not a solid endorsement, and which was a shame, according to one observer.

"I would say that Craig Currier's absence or my absence from Bethpage should have absolutely zero bearing on whether a major event should be held at this facility," Catalano said Wednesday, as the afternoon wave played amid increasing winds. "Each of us was one of the many cogs. The Black Course is looking pretty good right now with Andrew Wilson ."

Tarik Can of Manhasset, who shot 6-under-par 65 Wednesday, said, "There's no easy drive, there's no easy second, there's no easy putt. You have to be focused. It's a perfect one-shot golf course. It's a perfect U.S. Open golf course."

Alexander said the Black's rugged back nine (excluding maybe the par-3 14th) is reminiscent of a tough stretch at Pebble Beach.

"Every hole is a good hole, and some of them are really hard," he said. "You cannot fall asleep on one shot. That's really what it comes down to. It would be a great place for a Ryder Cup, a PGA Championship."

Charlie Robson, executive director of the Metropolitan PGA, which runs the State Open, said that officials of the PGA have played the Black and were "more than impressed" with it.

"This golf course deserves a major championship, or it deserves some test of the best players in the world. If that's the Barclays and the FedEx Cup, that's great. I think it deserves that or the PGA, the Ryder Cup or another U.S. Open," Robson said. "Politically, I'll stay out of the fray, but this is too good a golf course to wait another 15 years to be tested again."

One obstacle would be a perceived turf war between the USGA and PGA of America, but Robson pointed out that no one owns Bethpage State Park other than the people of New York. Catalano added that there is no reason not to have another major at the Black: "It is a great venue, it is among the top golf courses in the country. The facility has the capacity to host crowds of 45,000-plus. We're in a major metropolitan market. So tell me what's wrong with that picture."

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