The greatest aspect of this week's Barclays -- aside from being the opening event of the PGA Tour Playoffs for the FedExCup and aside from being the last event to collect Ryder Cup USA points -- is the venue its being contested on.
That venue? Bethpage Black, which is arguably the greatest public course there is. The Black has hosted the 2002 and 2009 U.S. Opens and will host the 2019 PGA Championship, as well as the 2024 Ryder Cup.
Is there anything better than a world-class course that hosts world-class events, yet is accessible to the public?
Since you can play Bethpage Black, we decided to chat with PGA Professional Rob Labritz this week about what you need to do to score well there.
And Labritz knows a thing or two (or three) about that, having won the 2008, 2011 and 2016 New York State Opens on the Black Course.
The most intimidating thing about Bethpage Black -- you know, aside from the sign just behind the first tee that reads "WARNING: The Black Course is an extremely difficult course which we recommend only for highly skilled golfers" -- is its length.
From the back tees, this A.W. Tillinghast design that opened in 1936 plays at a massive 7,468 yards from the back tees with a par of 71. If Bethpage Black were a ski slope (and, heck, some of the hills out there could be mistaken for ski slopes), it would be a triple-black diamond.
That's why the single most important part of having any kind of success at Bethpage Black hinges on what you do off the tee.
"You've got to drive it well," Labritz said. "It's an absolute must. Length certainly helps, but the main thing is you need to be in the fairway off the tee. It's crucial. There's so much trouble off the fairways between bunkers and thick, gnarly rough. The course is a beast. Your second shot on most holes is going to be a long one in. You need to be in the fairway so you can get as much club on that shot as possible to get close to the green. If you're in the junk, you're pitching it out and making the hole even longer than it already is."
If you drive it well and get your approach shots close to or on the green, Labritz has a shocking admission: "It's not that difficult once you're on the greens."
"Be in position off the tees," he said. "That's the moral of the story without a doubt. Then you have control over your next shot on a longer approach shot."
Outside of a few holes -- notably Nos. 3, 8 and 15 -- the slope in the greens isn't all that severe, Labritz said.
"You can make quick adjustments on Bethpage's greens," he said. "If you're seeing break and the ball just isn't breaking, hit them straight and I'm telling you, you're going to see putts drop."
When Labritz won the New York State Open toward the end of July, the rough was getting thick on the Black course. Chances are, that's a trend that continued into this week for the Barclays and one that any one of us could experience on a trip to play.
"That's the thing," Labritz said. "The turf quality is so good that they can do whatever they want with it whenever they want. That's why it's a great test. Condition-wise, it's not a stretch at all to say that most private clubs probably wish they could be like Bethpage Black."
So, what's it like to win at a track as special as Bethpage Black?
"It's awesome for a couple of reasons," Labritz said. "First and foremost, it's a public course, which is the kind of course I grew up on. It's also one of the most challenging courses tee to green that you'll step on. I've always prided myself on being a good ball striker. I work on the short game to be a more complete player. And, obviously, my work on the long game has paid off at Bethpage Black. It's a special, special place."
Labritz is 45 years old now, but often times finds himself thinking ahead to 2019 when he'll be 48 years old and hopes to be playing in the PGA Championship at Bethpage.
"That would be a good one to qualify for," said Labritz, who has already played in five PGA Championships. "It's always in the back of my mind and I'm always trying to prepare myself for those opportunities."
Rob Labritz, who has played in four PGA Championships (he was low-Club Professional in 2010 at Whistling Straits), is currently the Director of Golf at GlenArbor Golf Club in BedFord Hills, N.Y. He was also the PGA Met Section Player of the Year in 2008 and 2013, as well as the Westchester Golf Association's Player of the Year in 2002, 2003, 2008, 2013 and 2015. You can learn more about Labritz at www.RobLabritz.com and you can follow him on Twitter, @Rlabritz.