News & ToursJune 21, 2009

On the bright side of this mess, perhaps now they'll do something about that 18th hole

There is a silver lining in the Mother Nature-fueled disaster that is the 109th U.S. Open.

The blue-haired mother-in-law of finishing holes has been exposed. Wait. Why be cruel to the blue haired and mother-in-laws?

Bethpage Black's 18th is nothing more than 411 yards of muck and slop. And that's just the architecture part.

2009USOpen18rearview.jpg

This week's epic rains also exposed the closing par-4 as a drainage disaster. Mercifully, consensus is building that the hole must be overhauled before Bethpage hosts another U.S. Open.

All week we've been reminded that the landing area sits at the lowest point of the course. To the naked eye the first fairway sits below and yet it's draining just fine. So unless there are massive soil differences between the two, the only way to explain the discrepancy: faulty design.

That's because the re-shaped 18th was the one hole significantly modified in the Rees Jones remodel that led to Bethpage receiving the 2002 U.S. Open. Bunkers were shifted and the landing area reshaped.

The large, goofy puzzle piece hazards installed by Jones now swell slightly above the fairway and just enough to entrap water. Despite "dry wells" installed post-reconstruction by superintendent Craig Currier and every effort imaginable this week to keep the landing area playable, the shoddy shaping has created a situation so soggy and silly that the USGA's Mike Davis confirmed to GolfDigest.com that he will be moving tee markers up for final round play.

The move serves two purposes. It should allow most of the field to drive past the fairway bunkers and the wetland masquerading as a fairway.  Playing 45 yards shorter with a forecasted North wind helping, players may even take a crack at the green. Anything to

shorten the time and agony of watching this mule.

But No. 18's issues are not relegated to agronomic disfunction.

Capping off a grand, sprawling and often heroic design, the uninspired conclusion is unfair to the Bethpage Black. After 17 holes of maximum golf, players have lay-up on their minds when faced with the cramped landing area and little reward for a longer tee shot.

It's The Godfather with an alternate ending.

Instead of Michael Corleone taking out the competition, he's reconciling with them over Sunday brunch.

Thankfully, there are solutions.

A restoration of the original Tillinghast-Burbeck bunker configuration would open the door to a much needed regrading. This could introduce new sandy soil and the novel concept of surface drainage. Because the pre-Jones hole featured intriguing strategy: bend it around the left bunkers and open up a nice angle into one of the more interesting

greens on the course.

"It was very neat," said Davis who said he sees lots of "cool" stuff in the historic aerial photos of the course.

Another option is to ignore the Black's finisher altogether and play the neighboring Red Course's home hole. The 463-yarder plays uphill to a beautiful amphitheater setting. Davis and the USGA contemplated but ultimately decided against using it so that Black Course customers could experience the entire U.S. Open course.

Asked again about the dreaded finisher during Sunday's weather delay, Davis wondered how Red No. 18 was draining. He's already told state officials that the USGA is thrilled with the Black, but would like to revisit the severe 15th green, add a shorter 9th tee that could turn   the hole into a sensational risk-rewarder, and re-think the dreaded finishing hole.

Even the drunks would support a change.

After Thursday's rainout, I was minding my own business on the way to the Long Island Railroad when a group of inebriated frat boy types stumbled loudly onto the shuttle bus. One dude could barely stand and naturally, took the open seat next to me. As he rambled incoherently about life, soccer and world peace, his eyes locked in when talking

about the finishing hole.

"It's like, wrong," he said. "Man, it just doesn't fit with the rest of the course. Am I wrong?"

No you aren't, big guy. Not about this.

-- Geoff Shackelford

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