The iconic Statue of Liberty stands just over a mile from the par three 14th hole at Liberty National Golf Club where the course was laid out in 2006 across a former landfill site on the New Jersey side of New York Harbor. Built at a reputed cost of $250 million, the course hosted The Barclays tournament on the PGA Tour in 2009, an event won by Heath Slocum with an aggregate score of nine under par.
Before The Barclays returned in 2013, a number of interested parties – including founder Paul Fireman, construction company Heritage Links and architects Bob Cupp and Tom Kite – agreed on a programme of alterations to make the visually striking waterfront layout more “competition friendly” for the professionals.
This involved expanding and re-contouring twelve of the greens – allowing a greater number of pin placements – as well as repositioning a number of fairway bunkers, widening several playing corridors and adding an intermediate cut of rough to separate the bent grass fairways from the fescue primary rough.
Starting the final day six shots adrift of the tournament leaders, Adam Scott claimed the 2013 Barclays title when he carded a bogey-free final round score of 66 on the way to posting an eleven under par total of 273, edging out four other golfers – Tiger Woods, Justin Rose, Graham Delaet and Gary Woodland – by one shot.
In 2017, Liberty National hosted the 12th Presidents Cup matches, contested between teams from the USA and the International squad (rest of the world minus Europe). A crushing seventh straight Presidents Cup defeat for the Internationals was virtually sealed before the singles matches even started, but hats off to the International team for winning 7½ singles points on Sunday to avoid total embarrassment.
When many people watch the President's Cup Matches later this year few will really appreciate the monumental effort -- and money -- it took to create this 18-hole layout set at the door steps of the lower Manhattan skyline and presenting birds-eye views of the Statue of Liberty.
The site was formerly a dump for the host community of Jersey City. Not exactly a bucolic setting by any stretch of the imagination. Clearly, the tenacity to see this project through required determination and resolve. Having the wherewithal to spend $250 million -- no misprint -- to complete it -- also helps big time.
The facility is the brainchild of Paul Fireman -- the former owner of Reebok and now operating his own investment firm. Beyond the forthcoming President's Cup this year the club has hosted two Barclays events on the PGA Tour. Heath Slocum winning in '09 and Adam Scott doing likewise in '13. In both events -- Tiger Woods finished tied for 2nd.
During the '09 event there were numerous critiques from players who viewed the course in less than glowing terms. One player suggested it was a good idea the Statue of Liberty had her back to the course because she would not want to look at it. Given the feedback -- no less than 74 alterations were carried out on 15 of the 18 holes. Five greens were entirely rebuilt -- six others got major reconstruction. Some greens were moved, some creeks relocated. Trees were taken out, 13 landing areas were altered and 11 tee boxes were expanded or moved. And the desire to have dense 4-inch rough was scaled back. Ditto the desire to have choke points in the drive zones which were especially narrow.
Clearly, when you need to carry out that many changes -- something was amiss and in need of attention. On the flip side -- the desire to do something was a positive approach in making sure such criticisms would not resurface.
The main concern facing Liberty National is that the course looks like a layout more in tune with Florida or the coastal Carolina area. Before construction started the entire property had two feet of elevation change. Amazingly, to seal off the toxic material given the property's origin -- a layer of plastic was placed over the entire area. Then millions of tons of clay and varying levels and depth followed with another plastic liner and the golf course on top of that. To finalize -- four feet of sand were placed on top of the clay cap.
Water hazards were created and they insert their role on a number of holes. The mounding on the course was also created to provide hole separation and serves a role near several of the putting surfaces.
The routing for the President's Cup will commence with the 5th hole -- the final hole will be the par-3 4th -- providing for massive space for galleries to observe the action.
Wind is a big time factor when playing - course sits opposite New York harbor and there's little blockage to minimize its involvement at anytime.
There are a few holes that merit special note -- the "new" opening hole for The President's Cup gets things started in a solid manner. The 442-yard par-4 5th places plenty of pressure on the tee shot -- water lurking left for those who fail to pay heed. The pond encountered on the tee shot works its way to the putting surface as a continuous stream. The green is quite contoured and when placed in the far right rear area you need to be especially careful not to pull the approach.
I really like the stretch of holes encountered from the 9th through the 12th. The long par-4 9th features a creek running perpendicular and normally has players laying up before it. The 11th is a quality long par-3 and can play to a max of 250 yards.
The split fairway 12th is a strategic hole -- the left side provides the easier angle to the flag -- although the right side is more open to reach from the tee.
The par-3 14th is often talked about when coming to Liberty National. It's a fine hole -- playing to a max of 150 yards -- the small green a chore to hit when the winds are whipping about. The back right pin placement is quite dicey -- very small and tough to hold without the best of execution. It's also a scenic hole because the green is the nearest point to the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor.
The 16th provides a quality short par-4 -- water lurking right all the way. The dog-leg long par-4 17th reverses course and provides an angled target with deep bunkers protecting the right side.
Liberty National's actual closing hole -- another long par-4 -- measuring 508 yards and is fraught with a number of eye-catching obstacles with several bunkers in the fairway area and water to the right. Interestingly, there is a public walkway area that runs parallel to the hole although placed below and out of the view of players. Too bad the putting surface was not placed nearer to the water.
Hosting big time events gives Liberty National a clear platform to showcase what it provides. The changes made from the '09 Barclays were done well but the course is more of a creation fostered upon the land. In New Jersey the home of top tier courses -- Liberty National is an outlier. Clearly providing a golf challenge but one where the character is crafted to such a large degree by man's hands. Pushing a forced entity upon a former landfill site is always demanding. Liberty National earns respect for what it has achieved -- but I was hoping for something more visionary.
by M. James Ward