The U.S. Open returns to Bethpage State Park’s Black Course in Farmingdale, N.Y., for the second time in seven years, June 18-21, with Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) Class A member Craig Currier becoming just the second superintendent to host more than one U.S. Open at the same facility.
Paul Jett, CGCS at Pinehurst (N.C.) No. 2 was the first, hosting in 1999 and 2005.
“I think it’s going to be even better than the first time,” said Currier, who has directed golf course management operations at Bethpage’s five courses for the past 12 years. “We’ve had another seven years to get everything ready and just the way we want it. In addition to the actual playing surfaces, the entire facility is dialed in. Last time, people were wondering if a state park could actually pull it off. Now that we’ve been there, done that, I think everyone is a bit more comfortable. The only thing that I really worry about is the weather. I just want it to be dry the week of the championship more than anything.”
Bethpage State Park became the first publicly owned facility to host the U.S. Open in 2002. Built in the mid-1930s, Bethpage State Park was designed by architect A.W. Tillinghast. The first tee at the Black Course touts a sign stating it is “an extremely difficult course which we recommend only highly skilled golfers.” The Black Course was refurbished in 1982, again in 1987, and then the USGA spent $2.7 million in 1997 to have Rees Jones renovate it in anticipation of the 2002 U.S. Open.
“I can’t say enough about the guy,” said Jones about Currier. “He’s no excuses and all solutions.”
The greens and tees were rebuilt and laser leveled as part of the 1997 renovations. A new irrigation system was installed, as well as additional drainage, and the bunkers were restored to reflect original Tillinghast design and style, including all new sand. A new maintenance facility was also constructed, using state funds, to replace the one built in the 1930s.
The Black Course was merely tweaked in preparation for this year’s U.S. Open. The changes amount to about 225 yards of added length in the form of new championship tees on seven holes, some recontouring of fairways and new or renovated fairway and greenside bunkers on seven holes. Currier also attempted to make the rough less thick by reducing fertilizer and overseeding.
“No. 4 is a great short par 5, but not a lot of guys went for it in two because the collection area behind the green fell straight away from you,” Currier said. “If you hit it long, you were down over the road. We kind of rebuilt that area to hopefully hold shots a little better with the thought (that) guys will actually go for it in two now. On 10, we actually added a new collection area behind the green, so now anything long is going to end up 30 to 40 feet from the green.”
A lifelong Steelers fan, Currier grew up outside of Utica, N.Y., and played basketball and golf at Mount Markham High in West Winfield, N.Y. He earned an associate’s degree in turfgrass management and a bachelor’s degree in plant science from SUNY-Cobelskill. An 18-year GCSAA member, Currier worked as an assistant superintendent at Garden City (N.Y.) Golf Club and Piping Rock Club in Locust Valley, N.Y., before arriving at Bethpage in 1997. He also did seasonal work with the grounds staff at Augusta (Ga.) National Golf Club from 1994-95.
Currier proposed to his wife, Joanna, at the Bethpage maintenance facility following the final round of the 2002 U.S. Open. They now have a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Ryan, and nine-month-old son, Gavin. In addition to overseeing a staff of 160 that includes 100 volunteers the week of the championship, and keeping up with the demands of a famously popular state-owned municipal golf facility that averages more than 275,000 rounds annually, Currier also has found time to provide tours and presentations for students from The First Tee program, and achieve Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary certification.
The USGA will set up the Black Course at par 70, 7,426 yards, with the Kentucky bluegrass/perennial ryegrass/fine fescue rough cut at graduating heights starting at 1 1/2 inches closest to the fairway, 2 1/2 inches six feet out, and four inches 20 feet out. Currier will have the bentgrass greens rolling at 14 feet on the stimpmeter. The Black Course will boast three of the longest par 4s in U.S. Open history this year. The 525-yard seventh will be the longest par 4.
For more about Currier’s preparations, read GCM Editor Scott Hollister’s U.S. Open preview from the June issue of GCSAA’s official magazine.
The Golf Course Superintendents Association of America is a leading golf organization and has as its focus golf course management. Since 1926, GCSAA has been the top professional association for the men and women who manage golf courses in the United States and worldwide. From its headquarters in Lawrence, Kan., the association provides education, information and representation to more than 20,000 members in more than 72 countries. GCSAA’s mission is to serve its members, advance their profession and enhance the enjoyment, growth and vitality of the game of golf. The association’s philanthropic organization, The Environmental Institute for Golf, works to strengthen the compatibility of golf with the natural environment through research grants, support for education programs and outreach efforts. Visit GCSAA at www.gcsaa.org.