JERSEY CITY, N.J. — The cynic will see Bob Cupp and Tom Kite’s design re-routed for this week’s Presidents Cup and assume that the new hole sequencing was designed around hospitality tents.
Cynics rejoice! It’s all about the money!
Except that the move actually makes Liberty National a better match-play golf course.
While the club’s normal 18th hole is now the 14th and the new finishing hole is a 193-yard, par 3, there is more to the new sequence than giving fat cats guaranteed golf action. The move makes Liberty National better.
For starters, the course will open with quite possibly the meanest, craziest start in team golf history. With a tee engulfed by grandstands clad in white dressings, the specter of a loud start is superseded only by what awaits on the 423-yard first: a lake-guarded fairway. While normally not the way you want to kick off any golf course, in foursomes we may see some very quick second-tee arrivals.
The finishing stretch, however, is what normally matters at a championship venue and the PGA Tour has crunched the numbers to find most matches end by the 15th or 16th hole. In the Presidents Cup played, only 38 percent of matches have made it to the last.
Instead of finishing before the glass-and-steel clubhouse overlooking New York Harbor, the 490-yard, 14th figures to be a key test in matches that nearly all will play. This also means all but blowout matches will pass through the driveable par-4 12th, normally the 16th hole for Liberty National members.
What does this leave for the final four holes?
Not much, which is the point. The best golf holes have been played. Not that the finishing four are bad, they just aren’t as match-play friendly as the previous 14.
A forced layup at the 398-yard, 15th will be all about the layup.
A stern par 3 at the 16th features a boldly contoured green that will be very hole location dependent in producing drama.
The 395-yard, 17th does not exactly stand out as a great match-play hole and was probably best played less.
And the par-3 18th?
Given the short and tortured history of one-shotters to finish off rounds — Congressional and East Lake’s par 3s were both demoted after unsuccessful runs — this one does not have a high bar to overcome to be the scene of fun match-play moments. Playing slightly uphill to a long, well-bunkered green set at an angle, the hole is nice at 193 but appears more fun at the 163-yard tee roped off by the PGA Tour setup team. There is a bite-off-more-than-you-can-chew element that could make for intriguing scenarios in both four-ball and singles play.
“I think it brings a different element to that finish,” Team USA Captain Steve Stricker said. “I think a little bit more nerve wracking for the players, I think when it’s going to come down to either tied or one-down or one-up kind of thing.”
Translation: players will sense that aggressive plays had better happen given the relatively straightforward nature of the hole. But knowing there is a need to be bold and executing under the different pressures of team match play is another thing entirely.
This is assuming, of course, that a match has crossed the 38-percent threshold and arrived at this picturesque amphitheater setting.