#GodBlessAmerica. What can you say about a modern American golf icon that virtually bows at the feet of THE original American icon that hasn't already been said? It's hosted FedEx Cup Playoffs tournaments and more recently, The President's Cup. Want to find out how to get on this architectural marvel? Read on...
If you follow golf closely, chances are good you know that the entire site the course sits upon was once a polluted, mucky, disgusting waste dump.
Enough about New Jersey though, let's talk about the golf course...
HI-OOOOOO!!! Sorry couldn't resist. Full disclosure, I did live in Central Jersey for four years, so I'm allotted a certain degree of latitude with Jersey jokes.
With a reported final price tag of $250 Million, the land was cleaned up, Tom Kite and Bob Cupp (designers) got paid and the golfing world was graced with this incredibly unique course. Not so much unique in that you've never seen a parkland links course, but that you've never seen one in such a mesmerizing setting, i.e. Lady Liberty watching your approach on the 13th (above) or your tee shot on the 14th (below).
Just look at the photos. They describe it better than any person could ever type.
Clubhouse/Pro Shop/Practice Facilities
Did we mentioned the course construction costing upwards of $250M? Well, $60M of that was the clubhouse. To say its 'non-traditional' in golf clubhouse terms is the understatement of the millennia. I mean, look at this thing sandwiched between the 18th green and Ms. Liberty sitting out in the harbor. It looks more like a modern art gallery, but it is a perfect fit for the course and surroundings.
The pro shop has all the things you'd expect to find. The range has ProV1's. The locker room attendant already knows your name when you arrive downstairs. So does the valet and the check-in desk because the guy in the guard shack radioed ahead to let them know you were on the way in. It's special.
Don't drive? No problem. The club has its own water taxi. Members can schedule a pickup at their closest Manhattan pier and they'll ferry them right to the clubhouse in 15 minutes. Get sea sick? They also have their own helipad. So yeah, It's special.
Back in the locker room, you'll see names like Mickelson, Giuliani, Manning and Romano attached to lockers next to yours. Your attendant will let you know that a made-to-order breakfast is available upstairs or that a masseuse is available to loosen you up before you hit the range. Of course they'll make sure the shoes you wore in get shined up while you play too. Again... Special.
How's this for vitals (from the tournament tees): Par 72, 7387 yards, a 77.7 rating and a slope of 155. In short, it's difficult. In long, it's really difficult. If you are just playing once, it's not really going to matter what you score. You'll be in such awe of your surroundings that you might not remember a single shot (I don't - good thing I brought the camera).
So what kind of course are you looking at? "Parkland links" is the official proclamation the course claims on their website. There isn't a lot of land, so there are holes that run next to each other, but mounding between holes certainly provide each hole a level of privacy from their neighbor(s). You'll see plenty of fescue too, so let's run with that classification, but the scenery makes it so hard to keep your eyes down that who really cares?
If you are walking, I'm sure you'll have a lovely stroll with a caddie (complete with white coveralls). The land is mostly flat, but remember this is a 100% manufactured site, so you'll have a few humps and bumps to climb to tee boxes or between holes. If you're riding, you'll be in Cadillac golf carts that ride over millions of pavers in the cart paths. Check out the $1M+ hand-laid Belgian paver stone work in the paths below!
Since every hole would be considered a signature hole on most courses, it's hard to pick favorites. Per usual, I like to define a memorable three hole stretch that'll leave you with the clearest memories. Here that is a challenge since there are so many memorable holes. I also played it in a shotgun, so my natural order was a bit out of whack.
During the 2017 President's Cup, the holes were reordered so that the 18th would be more in play during the match play event. That's as good a place to start as any.
This hole is the east coast version of the 18th at Pebble Beach. No, there aren't waves crashing and its a different kind of scenery, but the home hole here is a looooong, uphill par four that plays along the harbor the entire way up to the clubhouse (490 yards from tips). It is a tough test, but not unfair. The fairway landing area is generous, but the seawall is intimidating.
Next we'll slide back to the par three, 14th hole. This scenic one-shotter would be a great hole at any course in the world. Waves in the tall golden fescue mimic the wake ripples crashing against the shore from the massive ships navigating the harbor to the right. It's the beacon in the harbor that makes the memory though.
This is the closest place you can be on the golf course to the Statue of Liberty. Again, I hope you brought your camera - this is a shot you'll want. Teeing off here is Jeremy Ito, known to college football fans as the guy who kicked Rutgers to the biggest win in school history with a field goal (and point to skycam!) to beat a highly ranked Louisville squad back in 2006.
Jumping all the way back to the 4th (where we started our round) is a par-3 that scares the crap out of you with the full carry, up a club to a perched green framed by dozens of skyscrapers peeking over the large mounds behind the putting surface that separate it from the double-sided practice range. This hole played as the 18th at the President's Cup. Thanks to the USA putting boot to ass the entire event, not many matches reached the drama this hole could have provided with a point on the line.
The pin placement you see below was by far the most difficult location imaginable on this severely sloping green. When attending a tournament as a spectator, one of the best vantage points is right above the flag on the ridge - giving you a shot of this entire hole, the range behind you and the following tee shot.
Speaking of which, the tee shot on the 5th doesn't give you much time to gather yourself. The same water you see above that fronts the fourth extends the entire length of the following hole along the left, first as the lake you see then as a creek. Making matters more challenging are the elevated tee that allows for more hang time. I'd rather not think about playing this course with a stiff breeze. If there is a saving grace, this hole plays away from the skyline, so the eye candy isn't as toxic. You just have this to stare at instead...
Your approach doesn't get much easier. The fairway narrows by 50% on the way in with the aforementioned creek left and a couple deep bunkers right. The green-side bunker is by far the better of the two. Steer clear of that cross bunker. If you can't tell, the rough is rough - your ball will just sink to the bottom. You could be looking at an extra shot just getting back to fairways.
The green has a number of pin positions available. None probably less fun than back left. This putting surface has about 3 feet of fringe then its a watery grave. While the greenside bunker is better than the cross bunker, a long bunker shot to the back corner would be in danger of going off the reservation.
If we started with the last, we'll finish with the first.
Imagine you just ate that big omelet and got a chair massage. You probably hit some balls to get loose. Your juices are flowing and now you've actually got to focus up. This is your first test: Stripe one down the middle with water that jets out into the fairway from the right with a 3-wood or hybrid. Not so bad, right?
Then you get this for your approach and you get a your first look at the things to come for the next four hours:
Nothing like a nice target par four to start the day. You have to carry the 3-bunker cluster in the rough just across the creek (that shouldn't be in play), then two more that are definitely in play and definitely deep in front of the green. The green plays like a redan from this angle. From another angle, quite different...
The pin placement in the front right (seen above) is easily the most accessible. I wouldn't want to see a pissed off superintendent put in the back left. Not only does it add a club or two to the approach, but it brings all the trouble into play. Again, this is just the first hole.
Have a great round and enjoy the experience!
Let's be honest, this story was just an excuse to look at some pictures, right? I hope you enjoyed the spin around some of the most notable holes in the fantastic collection that Liberty National offers.
If you made it this far, here's your reward - the chance to learn how to play this beauty. Other than the obvious of knowing a member, the club selects four non-member groups per year to host a fundraiser/tournament at the club. The prices will be high, but they're for a good cause and you will have a unique story to tell for the rest of your life. I'd like to personally thank Mr. Morris, Freddy Hill and the Jimmy V Foundation for the opportunity of a lifetime.
CRUSADER RATING: 10 STARS
Course played: 2010
Enjoy some of the best of the rest of Liberty National and thanks for checking us out.