FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- After Tiger Woods won the 2002 U.S. Open on the Black Course at the Bethpage State Park on Long Island, the A.W. Tillinghast design became one of the most celebrated and visited golf courses in the world. The venue quickly found its way onto the popular video game "Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003."
This is where Brian Harman first saw the track. The PGA Tour rookie from Savannah, Ga., would play the game for hours in high school on his Xbox, once shooting 15 under par on the Black Course.
"In Tiger's game, you can hit it 360 yards right down the middle of the fairway every time and that's tough to do in real life," Harman said.
The 25-year-old University of Georgia product obviously knew he wasn't getting the real thing. Later he watched his good friend, Lucas Glover, win the 2009 U.S. Open on a wet Black Course with a 4-under-par total.
But on Thursday, Harman shot a 6-under-par 65 in the first round of The Barclays in what is his first appearance in a FedEx Cup playoff event.
With 51 players finishing under par on Thursday, the Black Course yielded scores that resembled Harman's video game exploits more than what we are accustomed to seeing at this supersized venue.
"I think the biggest difficulty -- maybe not the difficulty but the most interesting thing was it's very hard to go out and play this course without thinking you're playing a U.S. Open," said 18-hole leader Padraig Harrington, who shot a course-record-tying 64. "You're going to need to be 12 under par at the end of the week, or who knows, but it ain't going to be level par."
It's Bethpage Black, where par is supposed to mean something, a place where bad shots are punished to the fullest extent of the golf laws and where a sign warns you on the first tee to beware that this a very difficult golf course.
"You know, I shot 3 under par, and I'm not even in the top 10," said Tiger Woods, who is in a tie for 14th. "So it's a little different deal."
Like most of the players, Woods was surprised at the golf course that he found on Thursday.
"Looking at the pin sheet before we played, I was surprised that some of the pins, how much easier they were, because we're used to seeing them [in the U.S. Open] tucked over there three or four from the side or up against the backsides or just over ridges," Woods said. "They gave us plenty of room, and when you get soft greens like this with plenty of room, the guys are going to tear it apart."
Rory McIlroy, the world No. 1 who shot a 2-under-par 69 on Thursday in his head-to-head pairing with Tiger, took the attitude from the first tee that he was playing the Humana Challenge or the Las Vegas PGA Tour event, where low scores can be plentiful.
"I didn't know if I was expecting it to be as low as it was," McIlroy said. "I don't think I need to change the strategy at all of hitting a lot of drivers and trying to be aggressive."
Perhaps Bethpage should opt out of The Barclays rotation. It might want to protect its reputation. And it still might show its ugly side over the next three days if the wind starts to blow and the greens get firmer.
Still, it's hard to imagine a Shinnecock Hills or an Augusta National hosting a regular tour event. I like to think that the Black Course is the people's public version of those venerable private clubs.
Pebble Beach regularly hosts a tour event and has also been the site of five U.S. Opens, but its reputation isn't built on being super tough. Pebble is a beautiful place more than anything. Torrey Pines was much harder at the 2008 U.S. Open than it is in the Farmers Insurance Open, but like Pebble, it's another beautiful place set near the ocean.
Bethpage is at its best in full character as a very hard and beastly course. Right now, it's in disguise.
"It seems like more than a regular tour event obviously, but just look at the field," Tiger said. "I think it's not quite the same atmosphere as a U.S. Open. We didn't have the same amount of people. But I'm sure by the weekend it'll build up and be pretty loud and boisterous again."