Bethpage Yellow – Farmingdale, New York Guru's Rating: 7.7
Non-Resident Weekend Rate (w/cart): $60
Yellow usually means caution. And most people will be sure to give you a fair set of warnings when you tell them you’re headed out for a round at Bethpage: “Good luck getting a time out there! Best sleep in your car!” or the always upbeat: “Be sure to bring a towel and some sunscreen for your day at the beach in those bunkers!” But if it’s the eminently playable and accessible Yellow Course you’re about to tackle in Farmingdale, you can toss those caution flags aside.
Most recently known as the pro’s driving range and LIRR shuttle shortcut during the past U.S. Opens, the Yellow continues to shake its reputation as Bethpage’s “Beginner’s Course.” The Yellow is the newest and perhaps most obscure of the five Bethpage courses, the weird step-child in a family with more famous siblings. Designed in 1953 by Alfred Tull who incorporated some holdover routings from A.W. Tillinghast’s original Blue course, the Yellow exhibits a split personality over its two nines.
The front starts out mostly flat with open landing areas and nary a fairway bunker, making for some great early scoring opportunities. The simple routing on the front almost lulls you into a false sense of security (and a little boredom) until Tillinghast’s lasting impressions on the place start to sink in shortly after making the turn. Though Number 12 doesn’t look like anything more than a short par-4, it was once Tillinghast’s “Reef” hole on the original Blue course that offered players a risk/reward for going for the green. Over time, many of the risks have been eliminated but Number 12 remains the only named hole at Bethpage (Read more about the history of the Reef hole from our friends at Golf On Long Island). The relative simplicity of Number 12 quickly gives way to the challenging 13th, marking the start of Yellow’s more memorable and challenging holes that wouldn’t be out of place on either the Black or Red. Elevation changes, elaborate bunkering and sloping greens make for a challenging finish worthy of the Bethpage name.
While a few of Bethpage’s courses can come with frustrations, the Yellow stays true with playability and access. Tee times? Just call. Carts? Ride all you like. Diabolic bunkering and knee-high rough? Not really. The Yellow’s diverse layout won’t bowl you over and leave you walking back to your car pondering better ways to spend 5 hours on a Sunday (I’m looking at you Black!). Yet five hours (or more) is unfortunately what you’ll need to get your round in – this is Bethpage we’re talking about after all and slow play remains a sad reality. We’d really like to see some improvements made on this end considering how many rounds are played at the facility each year; perhaps more aggressive marshaling could do the trick. But if you do have the time (yet still no patience for a tee time on Black or Red), you’ll be rewarded with a fun day out on the Yellow.
Most Memorable Hole: Tucked into the back corner of the property, the par-3 14th (188 yards from the tips) cuts through a hollow with stately oaks and pines flanking both sides of the hole. You’ll need a well struck tee shot from the elevated tee for the long carry to a back-to-front sloping green framed by intricate Tillinghast inspired bunkers. Coming on the heels of the challenging 13th (see below), this pair packs a memorable 1-2 punch on Yellow’s back nine.
Most Challenging Hole: As previously alluded to, the par-4 13th is surely one of great holes at Bethpage, on any course. Weighing in at 429 yards from the back tees, this is Yellow’s longest par-4 and number one handicap hole for men. The fairway bends gently to the right as it skirts a heavily wooded area on the left-hand side with a deep 60 yard-long bunker standing guard in the right rough. A miss there will bottle up any hopes of par or worse yet, bring double into the picture. If you can negotiate the tee shot in good shape, a low to mid iron should be left for the approach to the sloping green tucked in between the trees.
Guru’s Tip: Try to commit to memory your playing partners’ names or at least write them down on your scorecard. Bethpage Yellow is a “locals only” kind of place – maybe its the starter that chats you up before your tee time or the diehards out playing all year round. Or maybe its the fact that while the tourists are snapping pictures in front of Black’s great sign, golfers are playing golf here…but whatever it is that gives the Yellow its great vibe can only be kept going if you’re part of the story. Remembering the people you play with can make for a great time during this round and possibly some great friendships for the next one.