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Black Magic

May 06, 2002
May 06, 2002

Table of Contents
May 6, 2002

Black Magic

God bless the muni golfer. God bless the hack, the chop, the
scrape. God bless Joey Threejerk over there, trying to hit a
seven-iron with one foot on a sprinkler that won't shut off and
the other on his bag of Cheetos that he's keeping from the
pigeons. God bless the guy who regrips the ball retriever, has a
scorekeeper on his belt and gets the 39-cent pickle out of the
jar in the pro shop.

This is an article from the May 6, 2002 issue Original Layout

Mostly, God bless the USGA, for finally bringing the U.S. Open to
the people, to a real muni, golf's chophalla--Bethpage Black on
Long Island, N.Y.

Pebble Beach? That ain't no muni! What muni that you know costs
$350 to play? And let's face it, you'll probably never play Open
courses like Winged Foot, Olympic or the Country Club, unless you
suddenly grow a numeral after your name like, say, Gloucester
Pennington IV.

But if you're willing to sleep with the other members in your
foursome, you can play Bethpage Black. For $31. Tomorrow.

All you have to do is get in the "car line" at Bethpage. It's
been going on for decades, and it's rougher than a sandpaper
facial, but it's worth it. Here's what you do:

Show up in the parking lot no sooner than 24 hours before
tee-time tickets are handed out at 5 a.m. At least one of your
group must be in the car at all times, and everybody has to be
there when the tickets are distributed. No covering for buddies
who couldn't get off work in time. People have tried standing a
bag of clubs in the backseat, putting a windbreaker and a hat on
it. Never flies.

Once when Mickey Walsh, an operations supervisor of the course,
was giving out the tickets to a carload, he noticed one guy was
either dead or a mannequin. So Mickey said, "Sir, if you'd like
to play the Black, please raise your hand." No hand, no ticket.
The next week the same carload came back, dummy in tow. But this
time, when Mickey asked, the dummy raised its hand! Turns out the
guys had rigged a string to the dummy's arm.

"You guys are too good," Mickey said with a laugh. Still didn't
give them the fourth ticket.

It's golf. It's camping. It's tail-waiting! People come in every
kind of vehicle, even Winnebagos, and park in a designated area.
One guy just stood in his parking place all night. He didn't own
a car. Just him and his clubs, no lawn chair, no TV, no sleeping
bag. Just stayed in his parking space all night. God bless him,
too.

Some guys try to park their car, go home for a decent night's
sleep and then sneak back before five. That doesn't work either.
They've come back to find their car wrapped in toilet paper.
Except for mulligans, chops hate a cheat.

Only 24 players in line make it onto the Black, and the six
foursomes must tee off between 8 and 9 a.m. All other tee times,
with the last one at 1 p.m., have to be reserved up to seven days
in advance through a computerized phone system that's harder to
crack than the Defense Department.

When you finally get to the 1st tee, the drool trickling down
your chin will tell you the wait was worth it. "We drove five
hours, waited 11, played for five and then drove back in six,"
says Bob Ternes of Waynesboro, Pa. "And we'd do it again
tomorrow."

Could be because Bethpage Black is just about the most
meticulously groomed grass this side of Cheech's glove
compartment. It will be all you can do to keep from stripping to
your Hanes and rolling around on the 1st tee box.

But the Black is long, hard and has more bunkers than Kandahar.
It may be the only course in the world with a huge sign on the
1st tee telling you to turn back: WARNING--THE BLACK COURSE IS AN
EXTREMELY DIFFICULT COURSE WHICH WE RECOMMEND ONLY FOR HIGHLY
SKILLED GOLFERS.

Of course, when it's finally time to stick the peg in, "you'll
probably play like hell," says Frank Navarra, the starter. "They
all do. They've been living in their car for the last 26 hours.
They're stiff and sore, and they haven't slept. But, hey, they're
on, right?"

And during the Open next month, when Tiger shoots 63 on the
Black, you'll have the inalienable right to sniff and say, "Big
deal! Whaddya think he'd shoot if he had to spend the night in my
damn Taurus?"

COLOR PHOTO: DANA FINEMAN/SYGMA It will be all you can do to keep from stripping to your Hanes and rolling around on the 1st tee box.