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Bethpage kid Andy Wilson has a grassroots story

It started with a nice summer job outdoors, but now he's responsible for shaping the Black course that will host the PGA Championship.  

Andy Wilson checks the progress of the Bethpage

Andy Wilson checks the progress of the Bethpage Black course for the upcoming PGA Championship. Photo Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

It is only fitting that the person in charge of all the fairways, greens, tees and roughs at Bethpage State Park is a grassroots story in his own right. Andy Wilson was a Bethpage kid whose idea of an interesting summer job was working on a golf course.

“The job was outdoors, it was a nice atmosphere to work in. The people were great,” he said, thinking back to his first days at the park in 1989. Jumping ahead a few years, he recalled, “I graduated from Fairfield with an English degree and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it. I guess I was doing some good work in the clubhouse and people here thought I had a future ahead of me.”

He was convinced to go to Rutgers for a turf degree and, after it became public that the U.S. Open was coming to the Black course in 2002, joined the golf maintenance crew in 1997. Wilson worked his way up to being superintendent Craig Currier’s assistant, then his successor when Currier left for the private Glen Oaks Club in 2010, a year after a second Open.

So here Wilson is, an area native preparing the native grasses for the PGA Championship. He is learning from Kerry Haigh, the PGA’s course guru, just as he learned from turf specialists with the U.S. Golf Association and the PGA Tour (2012 and 2016 Barclays), and from Currier.

“I didn’t know how infinitely interesting the work was,” he said. “It was so much fun working with Craig, because every day, the course got better.”

Wilson was on the grounds for the massive pre-Open renovation when every tee box was resurfaced and all of the bunkers were refurbished. He never will forget the five years it took to get the Black in perfect shape for the 2002 Open, then having to switch to sheer desperation mode during the tournament week because of torrential rain.

The day-to-day decisions on the Black are done by Mike Hadley, Wilson’s colleague of 18 years who carries the official title as Black Course superintendent. But Wilson carries the responsibility for the shape of the park’s entire golf operation, particularly the 18 holes that will host the world’s greatest golfers this week.

He is the one who must oversee the PGA Championship’s first foray into May, after a switch from August. “Agronomically, May is a much better date for us, with our poa [annua] greens,” he said, adding a week-and-a-half before the tournament that he was hoping for some warm days to “make the rough more vigorous.”

During tournament week, he will supervise his staff of 25 along with a volunteer crew that will include 50 Long Island superintendents and greenskeepers from 18 states and a handful of countries. Among those helping to fill in divots will be his wife, Delphine Tseng, a wildlife expert and golf environmental consultant.

It is going to be another unforgettable ride. “It’s pretty special, especially here at a state park and a public course,” said Wilson, whose home address, like that of the club, now is in Farmingdale. “Two U.S. Opens, two Barclays, a PGA and a Ryder Cup (2024) on the horizon. It’s awesome.”

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