The “People’s Country Club”. It is much more than a golf course to me.
I currently live and teach in Sarasota, Florida now, but I have had the opportunity to go back to my hometown of Bethpage this weekend and watch some great golf at the 101st PGA Championship at Bethpage Black. The course is not too far from our family’s house – about 2.5 miles – and I learned to play golf there. All the courses- Yellow,Green, Blue, Red and the Black are all great courses and are all available for anyone to play; however, the Black Course is walking only – so you need to not only be mentally tough but physically tough to walk the course – it’s a brute!
I had posted a few years ago when the US Open was here in 2009 (winner was Lucas Glover), that my family has a history with the course and Bethpage State Park. I will describe these memories to you as we take a walking tour of Bethpage Black.
I also had the pleasure to walk the course with my brother Steve Schiavetta and my Brother-in-law Bob Stratford. Steve and I arrived early and decided to walk the holes #1 thru #8 and to sit awhile at #8 and watch the players play through. The 8th hole is a long downhill par 3 over water – the only water that comes into play on the golf course. This course has been revamped over the years and the rough is long and thick – in the “olden days” if your ball landed to the right side of the green by the tree it would bank off of the hill and roll towards the pin. Not anymore!
We then met up with Bob and walked the rest of the holes. On TV the course looks hilly but in real life it is extremely hilly. As we were walking we were talking about the old days. Below is a pic of my grandfather, John Schiavetta. He was from Italy and he started here as a laborer in the 1930’s as part of the WPA project after the depression. He started out as a laborer and worked his way up to being the superintendent of one course, then two, then three – until he became superintendent of all 5 courses plus the adjacent polo grounds. He retired sometime in the late 60’s or early 70’s.
Here is John Schiavetta circa 1957 on the #2 tee of the Black Course. Notice how little the trees are!
He was a stickler for making sure everything was perfect. If there was a dead spot on a putting green he would rope it off until it grew back. I am sure the golfers weren’t happy about that!
Steve was around 10 years old when grandpa let him ride around the course in his yellow car with the official state park seal on it. It was the coolest thing that he remembers a big walkie talkie in the car and when they drove around the park everyone would wave and greet them. Steve thought that was so cool! Steve remembers my father, Daniel, saying that grandpa always told him and others that Bethpage was “the people’s country club”. Always said that, all the time to anyone that would listen…
I remember we almost lost grandpa one day. He was on the green course sitting in his yellow car when a golf ball flew into the driver side window and it him on the side of the head. The doctor said another inch and it would have hit him in the temple and killed him instantly.
The Black course was always hard. The rough was always rough. The holes were always long. These days it is lusher, longer and harder! There is no 9th hole coming back to the clubhouse as most courses are designed. The 9th hole is far away from the clubhouse. The 11th and 12th holes are the farthest away from the clubhouse. It was like you were in the middle of nowhere – there was nothing around. Just you and nature. It still is to this day. Even with all the people out walking and watching the tournament. When you were out there it is still very quiet and serene.
Making our way back towards civilization, we came upon the old white house that sits next to the 15th hole. This hole is the “corrale” hole. It once housed horses along the fairway. The “higher ups” at Bethpage wanted my grandfather to live in this house. He declined. I guess it was too close to work for him, but us kids sure would have loved it. Being by all this open space AND having horses nearby? That would have been fun. But I do recall it always had that horse smell when you played that 15th hole. I guess it was a good decision on his part.
We stopped by the old house and took a pic.
At the top of 15th hole when you walked toward the 16th tee, there was always and old man selling golf balls. He was a fixture. Here is the 15th fairway up to the green. He usually hung out to the left of the green where the spectator stands are located :
My father also worked for my grandfather. Sometimes he caddied, sometimes he worked on the course. There was one occasion where my grandfather “fired” my father – only for Dad to come back to work the next day. The golfer never knew that they were related! My father was very proud of his Dad. My father said that my grandpa’s greatest personal “satisfaction” (for lack of a better word), was that he was on a first name basis with Robert Moses,
Okay – the story was that my father was working on the greenside bunker of hole #18 Green course, and he buried a golf ball in the bunker that a golfer hit. The golfer saw the whole thing and marched him into my grandfather’s office. My grandfather then read my father the riot act, then “fired” him. And Dad went back to work the next day. 🙂
I can’t tell you how many times we went sleigh riding here! The first tees on the Green and the Black were the best, but also the 1st fairway on the Red and the 16th fairway on the Black were just as awesome. That is, if you wanted to walk that far to get to them.
When I started playing golf I made sure to get here before 4:00 pm before the Grumman employees would get here. They were located in Bethpage and they would come directly from work and line up to pay their greens fee, which I’m sad to say that at the time was $16 to play the Black and $12 or something like that to play the other courses. This was back in the early 80’s…
If you ever get out to play at Bethpage try to play them all! They are all great tracks and you will enjoy the beauty of each of them. Below is the 17th green:
I had a great time out on the Black walking the course. It brought back a lot of memories and made me realize again how proud I am of my grandfather’s contribution. I would have loved to have my grandfather and father be here to witness what is Bethpage State Park today. I am so proud to say that my family will always have a personal history with Bethpage State Park.
Steve & Bob – thanks for a great and wonderful day full of memories. Love you.
Love to you, Dad and Grandpa. Miss you.
Mary Schiavetta, PGA Professional. Hometown: Bethpage, NY