At the recent US Open media preview day, USGA senior director of rules and competitions Mike Davis discussed the preparation of the Bethpage course for the forthcoming championship.
“This US Open venue is going to be long, one where a player is absolutely going to be able to have to move the ball out. He's going to have to hit approach shots that are high and soft,” he said. “My guess is you'll see the average player here use his driver a minimum of eight times, and that doesn't always happen in US Opens because of the penalty for hitting it offline. Here, you've got to use driver, so you can come into some of these greens with something less than a three wood.”
“Bethpage is not one of those golf courses where you're able to bounce the ball into the greens very often,” he went on. “So many of the greens either sit up in the air or there's rough and bunkers in front of the green, that somebody who's going to do well at Bethpage has got to be able to fly the ball to the green and have it stop. And that's not always the case. Certainly at Shinnecock Hills, the bump and run is favoured, but here, it’s going to be more aerial.
“Another thing unique to Bethpage is its big, deep bunkers. So players in this championship are going to encounter some bunker shots, whether they are in the drive zone or around the greens, that they typically would not get at a US Open. It's not uncommon at Bethpage to get a 30-40 yard bunker shot around the green.
“The putting greens for the most part relative to other US Open courses are pretty flat. What we are able to do when you have flatter greens is get the green speeds faster. So I think that it's fair to say that you're probably going to see a few more putts made, because the greens roll so true, and there are not a lot of humps and bumps like a Winged Foot or an Oakmont.
“A few years ago, we were getting to the point where the roughs were so thick and so consistent that every single time you got in the rough, you knew what you had. It was the same lie everywhere. So we sent out a memo a couple of years ago to the superintendents saying, if what you think we want is thick, perfectly consistent rough; you've erred in your thinking. We want some inconsistencies. Where a player gets in the rough, he looks down and has to figure out what's going to happen with that lie. We think that takes more skill.
“We are mixing up teeing grounds, because we think part of the US Open test is course management. The other by product of this is that we are able to use more aggressive hole locations that we would not use from a long tee. The putting greens we will have very fast. They will be somewhere in the range of thirteen and a half and fourteen and a half on the Stimpmeter. In terms of US Opens, that's right up there almost at the top. For the most part, these greens can handle that speed with one exception, the fifteenth green, which has a lot of slope on it. In fact, I've woken up a couple of times in a cold sweat at night thinking about that green.
“We really do try to make the bunkers hazards. The players love to get in bunkers at a tour event; they are not going to want to be in the bunkers at Bethpage. We purposely soften up the sand so that they get less spin. And, yes, sometimes they do get a fried egg. But it was really refreshing, last year to hear a player say: ‘I don't want to get in the bunkers this week. I have a better ability to recover from around the greens in the grass than in the bunkers.’ Bunkers are supposed to be hazards, and I think we are getting them back a little closer to that.
“If we are lucky enough from Mother Nature, we will get a firm Bethpage. For the most part, this golf course drains exceptionally well because it's a sandy, loose soil. If we get that, we can control the firmness by how much watering we do. And really, along with wind, firmness is the other element of the game that really separates the great players from the good players, because you have to think about what happens when your ball lands instead of just throwing darts everywhere.”