Getting a tee time on Bethpage Black will never be easy.
But landing one of the toughest tee times in public golf did get easier.
You can now book online tee times for the famed major championship municipal course on New York's Long Island and other munis run by New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. The state's old antiquated phone reservation system that caused so many headaches for golfers was phased out in 2018.
The change that took affect in March 2018 couldn't have come at a better time with majors in back-to-back summers - the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Course last June and the 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage Black on May 13-19. This is the first year the PGA Championship moves from August to May.
I have fond memories of playing Bethpage Black in 2015, even though the course ranks among the toughest I've tackled and its annoying check-in process was the perfect example of my No. 1 pet peeve in golf. Since it's on everyone's bucket list, here's how to get on:
How do you book online?
To book, simply go to the parks and rec website. Select the facility you want to play and then sign up and log in for an account and pick your tee time. There is no booking fee. Green fees for non-residents are $130 weekdays and $150 on weekends. New Yorkers play for $65 weekdays and $75 on weekends.
The system still favors state residents over out-of-towners. State residents may book a reservation one week in advance stating at 7 p.m. for all courses at Bethpage. Non-residents may make reservations five days in advance starting at 7 p.m. for all courses. Reservations for the Black Course are limited to once per 28 days. For instance, if you make a reservation for a tee time for July 1 on the Black Course the next reservation tee time you can make a reservation for is July 29.
You can also make same-day reservations through the online system. You can only reserve three hours out. For instance, if you look online at 8 a.m., you will only be able to reserve a time starting at 11 a.m. If you have any questions or problems registering, call the front office at 516-249-0700 or email BethpageSP@parks.ny.gov.
The word "reservation" is the key to the above policies. The first hour of tee times every morning are open on a first-come, first-serve basis. If you want to spend the night in the parking lot to snag one of these tee times, someone will knock on your car window about 4:30 a.m. to give you a ticket guaranteeing a spot. Just don't fall back asleep and miss your opportunity.
What's the golf experience like at Bethpage Black?
Despite its lengthy tournament pedigree, Bethpage Black is the most affordable of the six public courses to host a U.S. Open. Bethpage hosted rowdy U.S. Opens in 2002 and 2009 with The Barclays following in 2012 and 2016. Upcoming are the 2019 PGA Championship, 2021 and 2027 Northern Trust and the 2024 Ryder Cup.
Part of the savings on green fees comes from the lack of bells and whistles regarding the entire experience. Golfers still have to check in like I did: Walking into the front door of the clubhouse into a Department of Motor Vehicles-style setup, jumping in one line for advanced reservations and another for walkup tee times. If you want a pull cart or caddie or range balls, you pay for those separately in the pro shop. Make sure you guard all your receipts because you'll need them as proof of purchase for the starter.
The clubhouse is a little bit of a maze to navigate. I bought a shirt in the large pro shop. The Heritage Club at Bethpage, a restaurant-bistro, opened earlier this year, replacing the Carlyle on the Green after a new vendor took over catering operations. I love the bar and lounge the best. I think I heard 10 different accents when I ponied up to the bar for a pint.
As for the golf, the sign at the first tee says it all: "Warning -- The Black Course is an extremely difficult course which we recommend only for highly skilled golfers."
The renovation by Rees Jones in advance of the first U.S. Open made everybody's prospects for scoring bleak. The par-71 routing plays extra long at 6,684 yards from the whites and 7,468 yards from the blues. The elevated greens and heavy rough make walking and playing a slog at times.
Imagine a putting green on top of a four-story skyscraper. That's what it's like trying to hit the 15th green in regulation, one of four par 4s on the back nine longer than 420 yards from the whites.
What other New York state park courses offer online tee times?
Bethpage is the headliner among the state park courses, ranked among the best collections of municipal golf in the country.
There are plenty of others on the online platform. The Montauk Downs State Park Golf Course I played during the same trip is well worth the three-hour journey to the eastern tip of the island, one of the closest points to Ireland on the eastern seaboard. Others are Battle Island State Park Golf Course; Beaver Island State Park Golf Course; Red Course, Black Course, Yellow Course, Blue Course and Green Course at Bethpage State Park; Chenango Valley State Park Golf Course; Dinsmore Golf Course; Governor Alfred E. Smith/Sunken Meadow State Park Golf Course; Green Lakes State Park Golf Course; James Baird State Park Golf Course; Rockland Lake State Park Golf Course; and Soaring Eagles Golf Course at Mark Twain State Park.
Tee times at Bonavista State Park Golf Course; Indian Hills State Golf Course; Robert Moses State Park Pitch and Putt Course; Sag Harbor State Golf Club; Saratoga Spa State Park Golf Course; Springbrook Greens Golf Course; St. Lawrence State Park Golf Course; and Wellesley Island State Park Golf Course are currently not available online.