Friday, June 19, 2009

Black Pride: “The Public, Not the Pro, Rules at Bethpage”

Golf is the closest game to the game we call life. You get bad breaks from good shots; you get good breaks from bad shots - but you have to play the ball where it lies.
—-Bobby Jones

Long Island pride is running high right now. Bethpage Black. Farmingdale’s contribution to world-class golf. 2002 was the year the Open came to town, paying $3 million to spruce up the Tillinghast 1936 WPA project via contemporary golf course architect genius Rees Jones. A very quick 7 years later and the Open is back to the only public course on its roster. The NY Times has written several articles about the carnival atmosphere at the Black. Well, yeah. You got a problem with that?

The rain plaguing the play is seeming of Biblical proportions, which is too bad, but maybe to be expected given the origin of the town name: St. Matthew's Gospel (21:1). ''And as they departed from Jericho, a great multitude followed Him, and when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem and were come to Beth'phage, unto the Mount of Olives.'' And then came Moses. Robert Moses, the man who preferred cars to people but had the vision to create the New York State parks, including Jones Beach, ensuring that its pristine sand never became ravaged like the Jersey Shore.

Family Ties
My brother worked at Bethpage State Park for a summer when he was in high school. Those State park jobs are hard to get, and are mostly awarded to kids within the Machine as favors for State government donors. It seems there was some mistaking of our family last name for some major player in the Democratic party. . . .

It was a lucky break for my brother, who spent the summer driving around the Yellow, Green, Blue, Red, and Black courses (colors connoting the easiest to the hardest course) in the truck, changing out cups, and generally having a good time. He played a bit himself, having a young man’s golf phase.

Thinking about that brought me back to our family outings of miniature golf. Well remember, we lived in suburbia. The earliest game I remember I think I was about 6, playing a nearby course with my dad and brother. The windmill! The clown’s mouth! The pond!

I have such a vivid memory of that one particular Sunday that the 3 of us played. When we got to the end, I had the highest score! I was SO HAPPY that I had won. I couldn't believe it. Then they both told me that I had lost. I could not understand this. How could the higher number lose---that’s not the way it goes. It really upset me that what I thought to be true—high score wins---now wasn’t true. And that they had not told me about this when we started the game. I was completely crushed, as only innocence can be, sitting in the back seat of the car, crying all the way home.

And Later with Steed
After the crushing realization of miniature golf, I gave up thinking about golf until my BFF was working at Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club, at Duke University, many years later. For our birthdays we took a golf lesson with the club’s pro. It was an interesting peak into the traditions of golf teams in the South, and the only time I had hands-on knowledge of how complicated the swing is.

Given that the game was born in Scotland, it’s not so surprising that there’s an Avengers episode that is set on a course called "The Thirteenth Hole." Steed and Emma play through in a Cold War story about a Russian satellite that is over England every day at a certain time, which scientists are using to give secrets to the enemy.

My real Steed and I once enjoyed a quintessential Manhattan golf game. Artists Space, a nonprofit gallery in TriBeCa, mounted "Putt-Modernism," an installation of 18 playable holes of miniature golf created by prominent contemporary artists and architects, including Frank Gehry, Cindy Sherman, and Michael Graves. I found the score card to our eighteen holes the other day. I love its entreaty: “Please remember these are works of art!!” along side the more usual rules: 1 stroke penalty if ball leaves putting surface; Ball may be moved 6” from rail or hazard without penalty; 6 stroke limit per hole.

And then there were the scores: M.A. 57, Steed 49. This time at least I knew I had lost before someone had to tell me. And the tears were of a much more serious nature.


BFF said...

Having lived near Bethpage for so long, I found this fascinating. I had no idea the Open was played there. The Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club was fabulous and I enjoyed our try at golf immensely. I am equally glad that it was a passing phase. Miniature golf is much more fun.