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The Art of the Bethpage Overnight - Part 1

By: Jay Flemma


Editor's Note: Have you ever wondered what it takes to "overnight" at Bethpage? In the first of several installments leading up to the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage, Cybergolf's Jay Flemma shows us how old-schoolers go about getting a weekend tee time at this storied muni. In this charming piece Jay and about 12 friends show how they've mastered the art of the "Bethpage Overnight."

It's old school, to be sure; but then again, I'm all about old school. Living just 20 minutes from Bethpage State Park's world-famous Black Course is sweet seduction, like a long, torrid welcoming kiss "hello" from a beautiful woman. Many quick pre-dawn drives have gotten me prime weekend tee times - sometimes even with a partner. Arrive before daybreak, secure a mid-morning tee time on the Black, retreat to the breakfast room for cereal, toast, bacon, coffee and a newspaper, then hit balls before approaching the starter with the fine, wide, satisfied smile of a veteran who knows he's up.

It's easy for a local to play Bethpage Black, but to the non-resident traveler, a day on the Black is a big-game hunt. It's a hallowed, mysterious and adventurous golf safari conjuring romantic images of the intrepid traveling golfer arriving at twilight the night before to get in line and sleeping fitfully in the car, agog with anticipation of hunting the elusive birdie. The nervous energy, a mix of the adrenaline, anticipation and the warm glow of good friends is only tempered by the heaviness of a meaty grilled dinner and multiple drinks. How many times over the decades has this ritual been celebrated by beggar and king alike?

Many of my golf friends from around the country have promised to join me for this unique, holistic experience, but precious few have actually been able to partake. So one Monday, knowing the coming summer weekend would call all of New York City to its unctuous "dance of the sand crabs" in the Hamptons, I rattled off this email to 11 of my closest, most stalwart golf friends:

To: The Lion, The Elder Statesman, Rambo, Santiago, Brother William, The Twig, Handle-Bar, Pocketwatch, My Mentor, His Son, and Steady, (hereafter collectively, "The Peanut Gallery").

Gentlemen:

You have all played golf with me on many occasions, but never together as a group. Moreover, while you all revere Bethpage Black, more than half of you have never played the course. This untenable situation must be rectified immediately. The time for committed action has arrived. Such stout golf hearts as you all possess - hearts of oak - I insist we enjoy each other's company on the Black this weekend.


I added a personal appeal to each one depending on their relation to me - college friend, a legal colleague, my mentor, or golf buddy - named that Saturday for the date certain, provided directions to the course, and concluded by instructing them to "bring food and libations you think everyone will enjoy. Significant others are welcome. We will convene in the far parking lot at 8:30."

Eleven variations on the reply, "Thank you, I shall certainly come," arrived promptly. I sat back from my desk, delighted as the last reply came in with the good news. Everyone could attend; I had batted a thousand. I would soon share this singular experience with my closest friends as they stared wide-eyed with wonder at one of golf's most fabled cloisters. Golf would once again work its magic on the hearts of good people.

Twilight Rendezvous

Santiago makes the perfect host and an invaluable assistant. A bon vivant like Santiago is an imperative in adventures like these, the kind that need top-flight organization (getting 12 weekend times on The Black surely qualifies). He lives a mere 3-wood from the fourth hole of the Green Course, owns an enormous grill and a spacious Coleman cooler, and drives a useful 4x4. More importantly, his oodles of Latin charm, penchant for the finer things in life, joviality and deep golf knowledge make him immediately accessible to everyone. Tall and burly with slumped shoulders and a dopey grin, he's part Phil Mickelson and part Chi Chi Rodriguez.

Moreover, Handle-bar, Pocketwatch, The Twig, and My Mentor are all lawyers like him, so they will take easily to his charm, color and intelligence. Sadly, his sports politics are predictably New York-centric. He roots for GYRK (pronounced "Jerk"): Giants-Yankees-Rangers-Knicks. College buddies from our first day and frat brothers to boot Santiago and I fell into our old routine like Terry Bradshaw and Lynn Swann. It was a mix of witty banter and masculine insults, but it was all good natured, if incessant, all weekend.

So Saturday arrived, bright, sunny and warm. Santiago bought off his wife with $400, told her to organize the "Widow's Shopping Junket" for the next day to entertain non-golfing wives, and picked up Britt and I in Forest Hills. Arriving half an hour early to stake out our space, Santiago wisely chose the back parking lot to maximize room and minimize intrusion. As the second car in the lot, we had space to spread out and make all the noise we wished. As it happens, this is also the correct parking lot in which to congregate to line up for access to The Black.

Red streaks were painting the sky as the engine died with a faint grumble and cough. My dad taught me an adage as a child that had never failed in my experience, "Red sun in the morning, sailor take warning, red sun at night, sailor's delight." Tomorrow promised to be clear as a bell and blue as a sapphire. As fate would have it, we had chosen to overnight during a full moon, so there was plenty of light for any night-putting, marshmallow-toasting or walks with Britt.

Ah, Britt. Heave a breathless sigh with me for the brightest star in the female firmament. Britt is devastatingly beautiful; blond hair cascades down the sides of her face serenely and gorgeous legs with the sleek lines of a feline move elastically in a graceful ballet. Her bedroom eyes capture you with promises of wild, passionate romance and slow, satisfying kisses. Her smile dazzles the room like bright sunshine. Part tom-boy and part glamour girl, she can kick-box and run half-marathons, and yet her kisses could calm Hurricane Katrina. She smells like strawberries when you are close to her.

Ha! Try resisting that! Just try!

But Britt is worth about $3 million . . . of trouble, that is. For beneath a "come-hither beauty" exterior that evokes nothing less than blind loyalty lurks a volcano of energy and a danger-seeking, troublemaking streak a mile wide. Many men have dashed themselves against the rocks for her, and I'm not just talking financially - although her monthly sushi and alcohol bills do tend to resemble small government defense budgets. Watching her turn men into mice with ruthless efficiency, one cannot help but be impressed.

Nevertheless, even armed with that knowledge, she's impossible to resist. You see it coming, you know what's happening, every fiber in your being screams warnings, but she's irresistible and then WHAM! The trap closes shut. As the song of the same name says, "The binding melts enclosing me, a sample in a jar." Oh well, at least this mouse can't grumble about the quality of the cheese in the trap. To paraphrase Nabokov: "light of my life, fire of my loins, pain in my ass."

All that could wait for the moment, though. I had other steaks to grill. Right now she was thoroughly enjoying a four-day weekend away from her legal job in L.A., trading barbs with Santiago and mixing the first of many margaritas with her "EZ-Chop" battery-operated blender ("a marvel of technology!" blithers the marketing literature. "Never be without a margarita again!") To her dismay, she was outvoted on music and the Grateful Dead joyously sang "Sugar Magnolia" at top volume, while Santiago and I grooved like dorky white guys as we set up the grill.

Santiago had outdone himself this time. The Weber was equipped with not one but two chimney starters, the latest in advanced gadgets for effectively slow-cooking meats with complex smoky flavors and falling-off-the-bone tenderness. What a fascinating modern age we live in.

"Dude," Santiago began, addressing both Britt and I with this rather pedestrian term as he poured "Quik-E-Burn" brand charcoal in the top of the chimney starter. "This is far better than lighter fluid. Petrochemicals don't exactly impart a well-balanced flavor and they'll give you a roaching headache."

"Roaching?" Britt asked, accentuating the word as if she was holding a dead fish between her thumb and index finger. She looked at me

"Yes, roaching," Santiago said, accentuating the word as if that explained everything.

"Roaching means . . . " I started.

"Yes, I got it without the subtitles," Britt finished. "Will I need a glossary to hang out with you guys this weekend? I mean, do you cause as much trouble as he does?" she asked Santiago while gesturing at me with her margarita.

"Oh, he excels at trouble," I volunteered.

"Oh, if you do say so yourself!" Santiago blurted with feigned umbrage. "Hello kettle?" He asked to no one in particular, holding his thumb to his ear and his pinky to his mouth. "Pot here . . . you left the skillet at my house."

"Ha!" laughed Britt, smiling widely and looking at me. We poured the rest of that batch of margaritas into our cups ("Never be without a margarita again!" quipped Britt), and stuffed one large rolled up sheet of the New York Post into the bottom of the chimney starter. Cindy Adams' face and gossip column charred and blackened as Santiago lit the paper just as The Twig and his family arrived.

The Twig is a noble, kindly soul. Wafer thin, the Twig needs only sneeze to fly backwards from his Manhattan office across the river into New Jersey. He's never broken 100, but he's also is one of the more pacific partners you could ever wish for. Chipper, intrepid and optimistic at all times, I'd rather play 1,000 rounds with The Twig (who shoots 121) than play one round with an expert who's a jerk. He has also been with me on several seminal moments in my golf travels, journeying to the hinterlands of North Dakota for our "Bison Tour 2006" of great heartland public courses and for the much more hilarious "Steel Death Cage Match" between "Captain Useless" and "Lady Godzilla," but that's a story for another day.

Twin pre-teen boys, an older sister, and a young, tall, thin woman poured blithely out of a Suburban with him. Twig's wife and daughter had a hotel for the night and would later drive off to await the rest of the wives for "Widow's Dinner," but would stay for a while. Of course, upon hearing that the buy-in for the shopping spree was $400, she gleefully prized two more Benjamins from her good-natured husband, who looked sheepish, then dug for his wallet. The twin boys expressed delight at sleeping in a tent with their dad. "You said we're roughing it, so they wanted in. They love camping," he reported, greeting Britt and Santiago.

Now Santiago may have been brought up in the lap of luxury (he vacationed at St. Moritz, you know), but it shocks me how much geek resides in his 6'2", 240-pound frame. When comic books from "Star Trek" or "Star Wars" get mentioned, he becomes King of the Nimrods, debating the most inane, mind-numbing gibberish with legal precision. I knew he was lost years ago when he looked up from some dog-eared, well-worn, grotesque-looking piece of glorified fan fiction and said, "Dude, Leia Organa Solo just had her baby." I couldn't find a rehab center to take him, but when he wants help, I'm here.

Anyway, upon learning that The Twig is chief counsel to a major comic book company, Santiago gleefully told him of his tradition to dress for golf in the colors of various superheroes. This always has the most unfortunate results. On the 4th of July, he horrified everyone by dressing up as "Captain America," sporting a "Star-Spangled Banner" golf shirt, red shorts, (RED SHORTS?!), red-and-white-striped shoes and an oversized star-embossed belt buckle. On another occasion he wore red, orange and yellow for "Iron-Man" and every time he hit a good shot he loudly warbled: "I…AM…IRON MAN! DA-da-DA-da-DA-da-DAH-IRON MAN!" and stomped around the fairway like a demented dinosaur. The Twig and he chuckled that tomorrow he was playing as "The Incredible Hulk" with a green shirt and purple pants. Ever the irreverent wag, I noted that "You'll look more like 'The Joker' and you play like him too," and had to dodge a vicious kick aimed squarely at my groin.

I had to jump into the road to get out of the way and nearly got clipped by a car. I heard the passenger yell, "Watch out for that chump!" as it slowed to a stop to turn into a parking space. Then he shouted, "Oh look, that chump is Jay! Why'd you miss?" and I recognized Handle-Bar and Pocketwatch arriving in Pocketwatch's minivan, out of breath with laughter.

It was a happy reunion. Years had passed since we had last had dinner together in Manhattan and it seemed like another life when I worked for them as a young lawyer. Brilliant lawyers they were; tough, talented, seasoned litigators, persuasive at oral argument, highly organized and probing when examining witnesses and deeply respected by judges. I often said their firm would thrive in New York without missing a beat.

They also had golf in their DNA. Handle-Bar, possessed of a moustache which Teddy Roosevelt would envy, regularly scores in the mid-70s and has a reverence for old, classic golf courses. His game is rock solid; flawless mechanics meld seamlessly with smart shot selection. If it's at all possible, Handle-Bar never makes mental errors on the golf course - just like in his law practice. Handle-bar is the kind of golfer who will go to the U.K. and play every day in a cold, pouring rain, sloshing up the fairway while every one else is in the clubhouse drinking Bushmills and lamenting, "We don't play in this crap in Florida." He'll quietly author a 75 all the while remembering the mantra, "Nae rain, nae wind, nae golf."

Pocketwatch is also one of the finest litigators in the country. In all the years he has practiced - over 20 - he has only lost one trial and had that adverse decision overturned on appeal. As a result, he has never lost a litigated case. I once knew a lawyer who said, "Show me a lawyer who never lost a case and I'll show you a lawyer who never had a hard case." Yeah? Well, he never met Pocketwatch, and Pocketwatch lived on hard cases. The most brutal, bilious bulldog of a litigator I have ever known gave Pocketwatch the highest compliment he could offer, concisely observing, "If I ever got in trouble, I'd want Pocketwatch to defend me."

However, if I ever needed someone to hit a golf shot to save my life, Pocketwatch would most certainly not be the choice. Known more for stubbed chips, three-jacks, and hooked drives, Pocketwatch taught me the term "mumble tank," as in, "I was in the mumble tank all day after five-putting that par-3 from two feet." That being said, few people smile through their golf pain with greater bravery than Pocketwatch. He's here at Bethpage ready to take his lumps and that dedication is good enough for me. Tall and athletic, we call him Pocketwatch because he wears a stopwatch-shaped time piece in the buttonhole of his suits, in the old manner in which lawyers did years ago, hearkening back to a time when lawyers were more civilized. Both embraces were warm and the smiles broad. We exchanged, "Long times" and "Look-at-you-nows."

Before the scene dissolved into further man-love, Britt broke it up with her mere presence. If the new arrivals' smiles were broad upon seeing me, you should have seen them when they looked at Britt! They stood up a little straighter and un-slumped their shoulders. They would have paid $10 each for a can of breath spray and a comb. Just as I predicted, they went from erudite lawyer to fumbling schoolboy at saying "Hello."

It happens all the time around her. Every Rob Schneider tries to convince her they're Brad Pitt.



Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, http://www.jayflemma.thegolfspace.com, Jay Flemma's comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America's great public golf courses (and whether they're worth the money), Jay, an associate editor of Cybergolf, has played over 220 nationally ranked public golf courses in 37 different states. Jay has played about 1,649,000 yards of golf - or roughly 938 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer (www.golfobserver.com), Cybergolf and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.