World's Most Beautiful Courses: Bethpage Black

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Joe Rehor, PGA Head Professional at Bethpage- PGA.com

Beauty is subjective and in the eye of the beholder, but when the beholders are the PGA.com Advisory Board*, beauty is pretty definitive. We've asked officials at each course selected to tell us in their words why their course is an appropriate representative for The World's Most Beautiful Courses.

Is Bethpage Black one of the World's Most Beautiful Golf Courses? Yes it is. It is also one of the most demanding, most popular, most well-maintained and most accessible golf courses that I know of. Actually, maybe that's why we've been recognized on this wonderful list.

I've been here at Bethpage Black as the Head Professional and/or Director of Golf for 29 years. I can recall the days when the course, quite frankly, wasn't beautiful. When I started, there is no way that our course could have been mentioned in the same breath as some of the other incredible courses on this list. The design has always been great, but it took a yeomen's effort on the part of a lot of great people to elevate us to this next level. And today, after hosting one U.S. Open in 2002 and getting ready to host another next year, I can take a moment to appreciate how far we have come and what a true work of art we have now.

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Bethpage Black is both a beauty and a beast, often cited as one of the most challenging courses in the world. (Photos: Getty Images)

Bethpage Black is actually a series of contradictions that work out in an incredible way. Long Island's terrain is typically very flat, but here at Bethpage State Park, there are a number of dramatic elevation changes. We are a municipal golf course that hosts an incredible number of rounds of golf each year, but the conditions found on our course could compare favorably with any course in the world. We are one of the most famous courses in the world thanks to hosting the U.S. Open, but we're very much accessible for the average golfer. And we show up on many lists as being an elite golf facility, but our prices make us more affordable than a lot of golf courses that simply don't offer the type of experience we can offer.

The Black course is the highest profile course but we actually have five courses here -- and all of them operate out of one clubhouse. We are nothing if not efficient. And I really need to point out that all five are outstanding. I understand that this article is about the Black course, but it would be a shame to at least not mention that anytime you come play golf at Bethpage State Park, you are going to have a tremendous golf experience.

But back to the Black course. I stated earlier that we are accessible to the average golfer. That much is true. But I mean that as a reference to our price and commitment to daily-fee players. But if you are talking average golfer as in someone who struggles to break 100 at their home course, the Black course might not be really suited for you. In fact, we have a famous sign near the first tee that reads "The Black Course is an extremely difficult course which we recommend only for highly skilled golfers." We mean that. In 2002, Tiger Woods was the only player to break par at The U.S. Open held here. Even if your goal isn't to contend for the Open title, and no our course won't be in the same conditions that USGA might want for its premier championship, I promise you that this is as stern a test of golf as you might find anywhere. It's not unfair, it's just really hard. Oh, and if you're in average shape, this course might not be for you. Walking this course is a test by itself. And you do have to walk, we do not offer carts on the Black course.

The course opened in 1936, a design of famed architect A.W. Tillinghast. Mr. Tillinghast designed three and half of the courses here, and the way that the course just settles in naturally with the land around it is certainly one of the reasons for this Most Beautiful designation. Nothing feels forced here, your surroundings just fit the eye as you know they should This is a course that offers so much serenity, there's a very classic old-school feel to it. When you look around on this golf course, you don't see or hear cars, there are no houses on the course, you see trees, wildlife, and other golf holes. Remember, this is a state park -- a really nice park. So I guess you could say it is a walk in the park -- literally, not so much figuratively.

After the 2002 U.S. Open, some of the players told me that this was the finest course they had ever played. Of course that's a great honor to hear something like that from the best players in the world. But last year, our five courses hosted over 200,000 rounds -- and that's in a limited golf season. And each one of those rounds means something to me, I want everyone of those players to feel like visiting here is as fine a golf experience as they could ever have. And many of them do, and that's what makes being here beautiful.

* The World's Most Beautiful Courses is a list of courses selected by the PGA.com Editorial Advisory Board. The only prerequisites asked of the Board were 1.) they select courses open for public play and 2.) they not vote for their own course. The top 12 courses will be featured, in no particular order, other than the top vote getter which was selected by a unanimous vote.