Jan Bel Jan’s signature concept—”Scoring Tees”—could be the trick to making the 2024 Ryder Cup more fun to watch for TV audiences (while also lessening the American chances at victory). Here are three holes at Bethpage Black that could score big (and fun) with “Scoring Tees.”
Jan Bel Jan was announced as the new ASGCA President last week, making her only the second female president in the group’s history (behind our beloved Alice Dye). You won’t find many original designs under her name (although she contributed to a large number of Tom Fazio’s better-known numbers from her 20 years with his firm), but you will find something perhaps more relevant for the individual heading the largest collective of golf course architects in the world:
A drive to get people more people on golf courses.
Bel Jan, who—we may have mentioned—is female, has made waves through her push to attract women, children, and senior citizens to the game via “scoring tees,” an advanced tee box that makes birdie more realistic for the higher-handicapped. Imagine the random tee markers they set up for little kids in the middle of the fairway…but actually build a tee box in a strategic place to benefit those audiences. She considers distance, angles, and even the human self-conscious when implementing the idea—apparently men will not play from “ladies tees,” the aged will not play from “youth tees,” and the proud will not play from “speed tees”…but anyone will play from “scoring tees.”
But there are benefits beyond introducing the less-acquainted to the game: Bel Jan also reports that college coaches will take their teams onto her “scoring tees” to help focus on short, or low play.
And here’s where the concept could potentially sink the United States when the 2024 Ryder Cup comes along.
In the aftermath of the PGA Championship, many a (European) player implied that Bethpage Black would be better suited for scoring come 2024, to fit the matchplay format. And, somehow, the American Twitter base began to fall in line with that thinking. Which, from a patriotic standpoint, is stupid. Thin fairways and long rough—as detailed nicely by The Fried Egg—do not actually punish the long. Come 2024, the team will probably feature—among others—Brooks Koepka, Tony Finau, Harold Varner III, and Dustin Johnson should still be in the mix. I’m just saying, when you’re the home team, you maintain conditions that help you win.
But let’s say Phil Mickleson (the best bet for captainship) decides he wants to make an honest tournament out of it: How does one level the playing field, and boost scoring opportunities? As Egg noted in the above link, restoring Tillinghast’s 60-yard fairways makes shorter, more accurate players more relevant. But simply moving tee boxes up isn’t going the answer for many of Bethpage’s longest holes. The three-story carry to No. 15’s green doesn’t become easier when the tee box is brought down the hill at the other end. And shortening No. 5 means largely removing its iconic “great hazard” challenge from the tee. Most of the 4s at Black demand carries to the green, so we can’t just Weiskopf it up with drivable Par 4s.
Still, there are opportunities where—with strategic placement—Bel Jan’s signature tees could liven up several of Bethpage Black’s stiffest tests during matchplay—indeed making the holes about “scoring” and not just “survival,” as was on display during the PGA Championship.
But, seriously: We want America to win, so don’t actually take these ideas seriously you guys.
This is the most obvious, and easiest, change to make if you want to see more scoring at Bethpage (at least in stroke play): Just revert No. 7 back from a Par 4 to the Par 5 that the rest of us face on a day-to-day basis. Boom, eagles and birdies galore.
But that solution—while logical—might be too simple from an analytics standpoint. It may have played as the seventh-toughest hole during the tournament, but that doesn’t necessarily mean much when it was playing as the longest Par 4 on the course. What’s more striking is the relative centricity of the scores; its high scoring average didn’t come as the result of big scores, but rather a dearth of low scores. There were plenty of bogeys, but more relevant is that it allowed fewer birdies than any other hole. Only No. 12 comes within three units of No. 7’s 11.357 par-to-birdie ratio.
This suggests reaching the green in two was relatively easy, but getting within one-putt of birdie was difficult. Par for everybody! The equivalence of scores across the board suggests this will be a boring matchplay hole, regardless of its score-to-par.
Our solution: Set up a “scoring tee” 60 yards ahead of the current championship tees, shortening the hole to 464 yards. Part of this plan includes widening the fairway to envelop the area prior to the first fairway bunker on the left side. Hitting to this area will only take 285 from the tee, and produce the ideal line to the green (which doesn’t exist with the current setup). Still, that ideal line means a 220-yard approach. Big guns can consider a shorter approach by cutting the corner and, in the process, dealing with the green-front Wu-Tang bunker head-on. More options means more chance for diversity in score.
No. 12, as the second-longest Par 4 on the course, also played as the second-toughest hole during the PGA Championship. Compare that with No. 9, which is largely the same hole, but played 52 yards shorter for the tournament. Both dogleg left, and feature a large bunker at the corner, making the carry fairly blind.
The difference? The yardage, of course, but No. 9 also had the widest portion of fairway on the course at the right side of the cross bunker, ready and willing for conservative players, while No. 12 had a pathetic strip of bailout area, coupled with the course’s typical tapeworm-width fairways.
Our Solution: Why not give players the extra 50 yards by creating a “scoring tee,” and widening the fairway? It could be suggested that now No. 12 is a direct clone of No. 9. Ah, but we suggest widening the fairway toward the left, behind the bunker, rather than the right. No player will struggle to clear the cross bunker, but they will still be blind to their ultimate landing zone. Those who want the best approach to the green will need to come from the right. As the tournament already demonstrated, part of No. 12’s bite came from players who didn’t shape their tee shots enough, with overly-straight drives rolling into the rough along the right side. The newly-widened fairway to the left allows players to get closer to the green, if they’re willing to attempt a tougher approach over a large bunker.
Outside of No. 18, No. 16 may be the most boring hole at Bethpage Black, which is not to say it’s easy. It, like the soul-destroying exercise that is No. 10, requires nearly 230 yards of forced carry to find the fairway. And, unlike No. 12 and No. 5—two holes that at least have strategic elements tied to their lengthy forced carries, No. 16 just wants you to hammer it straight. This is boring.
And therefore we’re finally at the point where we suggest a “scoring tee” that creates a drivable Par 4. At Bethpage Black, our namesake, this is a heresy of sorts. But it’s the kind of sacrifice we make to satisfy score-hungry audiences like you.
Our solution: Angles are important here; you can’t just move the teebox forward. That’s still boring (less so, but hey). Instead, we’re going to move it forward and right, into the little peak of cartpath you see in the image. This will create a total distance around 300 yards; very reachable for the biggest hitters, but calling for a well-controlled left-to-right drive, probably rolling the ball to the elevated green. Located this far into the round, it is absolutely the place for a Dustin Johnson or Brooks Koepka to clinch a match with a bold blast from the tee.
Yeah, “scoring tees” at Bethpage are meant to even the playing field. But come on. This is America. We’re not just gonna give the Europeans equal footing here.