The grounds were created literally from something out of nothing. Therein lies the central theme of Liberty National Golf Club located in Jersey City, NJ’s second largest city and providing point blank mesmerising eyeball views of lower Manhattan along with the Statue of Liberty basking in New York Harbor with visibility from numerous vantage points on the course.
The 160-acre location was created from a former toxic Superfund site - necessitating roughly $250 million to create likely the most expensive course ever built on earth. The 60,000 square-foot clubhouse alone cost $60 million. The brainchild of Paul Fireman - the founder and former leader of Reebok - who eventually sold his company to Adidas for $3.8 billion - Liberty National was created to showcase a facility of the highest order.
Six million cubic feet of soil were brought in from other areas - equating to 200 truck loads per day for two years straight. In some areas of the site elevation was raised 50 feet to provide better overall views of New York harbor.
Opened in 2006, Fireman quickly jumped forward in seeking to host key professional events on the PGA tour. The club hosted the 2009 and 2013 Barclay events as the initial event to kick-off the annual FedExCup Playoffs but its initial entrance into the highest levels of competitive golf was not uniformly praised. Tiger Woods, along with several other players, did not have glowing comments for the Bob Cupp / Tom Kite designed layout. The feelings were fairly similar - the course was too narrow and often too penal as high fescue grasses lined many of the holes. The putting greens were also singled out for being excessive in contours and having little real opportunity in providing a delicate balance between outright difficulty and the rewarding of finely played shots. One player even mentioned jokingly how Lady Liberty had her back to the course.
No less than 74 alterations were carried out after the initial event in ‘09 because of player dissatisfaction. Liberty National is just the 4th USA course to host the event and with the competition entirely staged as a match-play contest - the layout has been re-routed to ensure the key concluding holes are positioned earlier and will see play. Instead of commencing play immediately near to the clubhouse the opening hole will be the 5th - a demanding par-4 with water looming in the drive zone and just left of the putting surface. The planned 18th hole is the original par-3 4th - with a massive viewing area for thousands engulfing the green. For the President’s Cup event - there will be grandstands on 15 of the 18 hole as compared to just nine when hosting the earlier Barclays events. Galleries will have limited roaming areas and with there being only a number of matches per day the best option will be likely to stay put at choice locations to observe the play.
To maximise the aura for the player’s the practice area has been flipped around - allowing the players to see the downtown New York City skyline and Statue of Liberty in the nearby distance. Clearly, no small detail being missed.
What is truly mindboggling is that Liberty National is smack dab in the epicentre of 20 million people congregated within a 50-mile radius of Time Square. When entering the grounds you are whisked away from the incessant pulse that permeates the local area. The golf course becomes an oasis away from the incessant rigours of daily life. Those who are members clearly reap the benefits as many often opt for the quick 15-minute boat ride across the Hudson River from lower Manhattan to a docking area that takes players right to the entrance of the club. Why take a limo and deal with bumper-to-bumper traffic when a water view taking you there is clearly more preferable.
When the matches were announced in 2014 the PGA tour signed a 25-year partnership with Liberty National to host no less than 10 events during that period. In 2019 and 2022 Liberty National will again serve as host to the start of the FedEx Cup Playoffs with The Northern Trust staged there. It is likely a return of The President’s Cup matches will take place at some point too.
The 7,328 yards / par-71 layout clearly has made strides from its initial coming out event in ‘09. The President’s Cup is nowhere near the emotional fever pitch that lies at the heart of The Ryder Cup matches but the PGA tour as its creator has smartly attempted to take steps with each event to ratchet up its overall impact.
Assuming the weather for the event is good there is little doubt the aerial views will be most impressive. Showcasing the Big Apple in close proximity to a Shangri-La hideaway will clearly be something to behold. For the International team which has won only once in the 11 previous encounters the goal of victory is clearly needed in order to demonstrate parity with its American counterparts. For the USA team the need to continue its dominance in the event is also important coming on the heels of a dramatic win at the ‘16 Ryder Cup matches last year in Minnesota.
While Liberty National does not have the long time aura of fellow Garden State courses Pine Valley and Baltusrol there is little question the Jersey City club is clearly desiring a greater role in American golf. How well Liberty National fares with the President’s Cup will play a key factor in determining if that goal is indeed on the fast track in becoming a clear reality.