2017 Presidents Cup: Liberty National transforms from trash to treasure

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2017 Presidents Cup: Liberty National transforms from trash to treasure

Courses

2017 Presidents Cup: Liberty National transforms from trash to treasure

JERSEY CITY, N.J. – There’s an insider’s adage about golf courses, that 90 percent of what makes it work on the surface lies buried underneath. Never has that been truer than at Liberty National, though the figure is closer to 99 percent.

You won’t see any of the site’s toxic past during the Presidents Cup. Instead, viewers will be treated to emotional images of the Statute of Liberty, Upper New York Harbor, the Manhattan skyline and the Freedom Tower. As a backdrop to a golf match pitting 12-man teams from the U.S. and the rest of the world outside of Europe, that makes for a powerful setting.

Just ask Paul Vermeulen, vice president of agronomy for the PGA Tour, whose job it is to make sure the course fits the highest standards of conditioning for the week. For all the time he has spent on site with course superintendent Greg James studying the turf, Vermeulen has found it impossible not to be looking up.

“I don’t know anyone who can go around that place and not feel inspired and not feel emotionally transported,” he said.

It’s not just the sense of history hanging in the air. It’s also a knowledge of what lies buried deep below. Such as a century of industrial and petrochemical waste, thanks to a history that included an oil refinery, rusted rail tracks and warehouses, and stints during World War II as an ammunition dump and prisoner of war camp.

Liberty National, a 2006 design by Bob Cupp and Tom Kite, is a 160-acre engineering miracle of land capping, venting and reclamation. Owner Paul Fireman of Reebok fame spent $250 million to rehabilitate the wasteland for golf. Construction by the firm Heritage Links involved covering the wasteland of oil and industrial debris with four million cubic yards of fill. (That’s enough to fill an entire football field to a height of 1,875 feet.) The hauling required “200 truckloads of dirt per day for two years straight,” Fireman said. Reclamation enabled tidal marshlands to thrive. Twenty acres of nativized fescue areas now teem with wildlife.

Liberty National is already tournament tested, having been home to the PGA Tour’s Barclays in 2009 and 2013. For the Presidents Cup the hole sequence has been altered, with rounds now starting on what used to be the fifth hole (427-yard par 4) and then working around in succession to conclude on the former fourth hole (193-yard par 3). This makes for a more demanding opening tee shot than the former first hole (a mere lay-up) and provides for maximum spectator access near the clubhouse for what will prove to be holes 13-14-15.

Two curiosities of the revision result. The course will now end with a par-3 – though fewer than half of all matches will get there. There’s also something of an asymmetry in the par-71 course, measuring 7,328 yards. The nines total par 38-33, with the front measuring a stout 4,232 yards and the back only 3,096.

The undisputed gem out here is the 10th hole, only 150 yards to the smallest (3,000 square feet), most tightly bunkered green on the course. The hole has all of the intimacy and subtle terror of Troon’s famed “Postage Stamp” eighth or Merion’s miniscule 13th hole. Aligned south to north, it’s exposed to winds from either side and bears special attention because of the proximity of the harbor along the right side, with the Statue of Liberty providing a stirring emotional presence just over the shoulder of approaching golfers and right in front of stands for 4,000 spectators. It’s possible in a golf tournament to overuse certain beauty shots. Not here.

(PGA TOUR)

Raters Notebook

  1. Routing: 6

Out-and-back, non-returning nines. Pretty good green-to-tee connections. Over the years, planted saplings have grown and symmetrical mounds have been taken down – enough to convey an emerging maturity to the site.

  1. Quality of shaping: 8

The hardest thing in golf design is making constructed features look natural. The tie-ins here are at least well to the green fill pads. There’s a bit more contrivance evident in the fairway corridors.

  1. Overall land plan: 6

Visually intense, with an array of imagery and backdrops variously inspiring and bewildering. The ¾-mile of harborside frontage is simply captivating, as are the views of New York landscape icons such as the Verrazano Bridge, Statue of Liberty and Manhattan skyline. The space-age clubhouse introduces an intense futurism into the mix. More mundane are the nearby highway down the west flank (where the mounding draws attention to the effort at hiding) and the apartment complex at the far south end. Proposed development of a new three-hole stretch along the shoreline will go a long way toward improving all of that by taking the holes near the residence units out of the loop.

  1. Greens and surrounds: 8

A4 bentgrass, average size at a modest 4,270 square feet, with steady movement in multiple directions throughout. Tight approaches into putting surfaces with roll-down mowing into bunkers and surrounds creates attention-getting, ground-game integration.

  1. Variety and memorability of par 3s: 8

Besides the unforgettable little 10th hole, two of the last three holes in the President’s Cup routing are par 3s, with the uphill 193-yard 18th especially stern when the hole is cut way left.

  1. Variety and memorability of par 4s: 6

Good range of offerings, though when players of this class can hit 3-irons 250 yards there’s not a lot of worry about missing fairways, especially with the light rough. There’s an engaging risk/reward short par 4 at the 325-yard 12th. Toughest drive comes at the uphill 14th, 490 yards amidst a crosswind with water lapping the entire right side.

  1. Variety and memorability of par 5s: 5

Winds on this shoreline site vary, with the morning breeze coming from the west and the afternoon breeze hauling in from the ocean to the southeast. That especially will shape play on the par 5s, two of them running east – the 538-yard second and 563-yard ninth – and within easy reach in two for morning play, but marginally more demanding in the afternoon.

  1. Tree and landscape management: 6

It’s a credit to the capping program that the trees grow at all, given what’s deep underneath. They add a lot by way of contrast and strategic interest. The fescue areas also provide much-needed textural framing.

  1. Conditioning and ecology: 9

Superintendent Greg James, on the job since 2005, oversees flawless L93 Bentgrass fairways, 26-yards wide in the landing areas. There’s no intermediate cut, just mildly trimmed (1.5-inch) low-mow Kentucky bluegrass rough that will make for easy recovery for the matches. A great touch is mowing into bunkers so they’re in play for a rolling ball, not just a flying one. With the fescue areas and coastal marshes, you can bet there’s a whole lot more birdlife out here than when the land was a dumpsite.

  1. “Walk in the Park” test: 8

Rarely has an entirely manufactured course created so pronounced a sense of unique place.

Overall: 6.7

An amazing setting in which to play golf, with the story and imagery more impressive than the shotmaking.

(PGA TOUR)

Scorecard

Par 71, 7,382 yards (77.7 rating/155 slope)

Hole  Par  Yardage    Hole  Par   Yardage

1        4      427             10      3      150

2        5      538             11      4      481

3        4      467             12      4      325

4        5      611             13      4      445

5        4      474             14      4      490

6        4      496             15      4      398

7        3      225             16      3      219

8        4      431             17      4      395

9        5      563             18      3      193

38      4,232                  33      3,096
                                     71      7,328

Liberty National

100 Caven Point Road
Jersey City, N.J. 07305
Libertynationalgc.com
201-333-4105

Private club: Individual and corporate memberships open upon inquiry.
Walking always encouraged; caddies required before 3 p.m.

 

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