Jersey City, NJ- The 2019 Northern Trust signals the opening of the FedEx Cup Playoffs and the final three weekends of the PGA Season. For the third time, this tournament takes to Liberty National Golf Course, in Jersey City. The course has also hosted the President’s Cup and serves as a luxury club for celebrities like Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Phil Mickelson, Justin Timberlake, Eli Manning, and Rudolph Giuliani.
The course has a unique history. It’s on a 160-acre plot of land with 4,000 feet of waterfront on the Hudson River that once served as a World War I munitions dump, a petroleum tank farm, and landfill. In the 1990’s, it was a festering eyesore blending in with a messy Jersey City.
Boston businessman Paul Fireman saw potential in the land and had a record of opening golf courses. Fresh off lifting Reebok to international prominence in the mid-1980’s, Fireman and his wife Phyllis bought a Cape Cod vacation home and Fireman applied for membership at the exclusive Oyster Bay Golf Club. He was never admitted, and Fireman believes it was on Anti-Semitic grounds. In response, he found and purchased a nearby struggling club and transformed it into the Willowbend Golf Club in 1992. He caught the golf managing bug and opened nine more golf courses over the next ten years, including three in Puerto Rico, the Ranch Golf Club in Massachusetts, and the Start Pass Golf Club in Arizona. In 1998, he and his son, Dan, were shown the land in Lady Liberty’s shadow by business partner Roland Bates. It took five minutes for Paul to see potential in the land and jump at the chance.
The team pictured a pristine golf course and retained the famed course design tandem of Bob Cupp and 1992 US Open Champion Tom Kite. The design duo had already been interested in the land since Kite had seen the spot shortly after his Major win at Pebble Beach. The combined effort of the billionaire, executive team, and design tandem took eight years to jump through New Jersey bureaucratic hoops, excavate the land, replace polluted soil, raise the plot 50 feet off the original base, plant thousands of trees, and develop a list of founding members.
The result is a 7,370 yard course with among the most spectacular views from any sports venue in the United States. From the 18th fairway, golfers and spectators are treated to a view ranging from the New York Skyline (primarily the Freedom Tower and Financial District), the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge. The skyline and Lady Liberty make regular appearances throughout the 18 holes of golf and make the place feel important. It’s a spectacle of a course and a favorite spot for fans and players alike. It’s a short walk from Liberty Park and accessible via both the subway system and ferries. It’s a prime location and pristine looking course.
“It’s a great looking golf course,” said Ben An. “The view is amazing. Every single hole of it, you can see the skyline and some of the holes, you can see the Statue of Liberty. It’s a different feeling to Pebble Beach; you have ocean and here you have skyline. It’s pretty cool.”
As for the golf that’s actually played, Liberty National has a unique form. It’s effectively an Americanized Lynx style course. The fairways and greens are full of rolling hills and the roughs are frustrating to work out of.
“The course puts a huge premium on driving the ball in the fairway,” said Tiger Woods. “Because of the mounding on the greens and around the greens, in order to get the ball close, you have to be in the fairway, and if you look at the guys who were in the top-five those last two playoff events we’ve had here, they were in the top-ten in driving accuracy.”
The course also requires good placement on the green with all the rolls on the putting surfaces. “It’s a tricky golf course,” said Ben An. “You have to be precise with the second shot, especially, not only with the driver. You don’t want to miss it in the wrong side.”
As expected, most of the holes on the course have water and many are defended well by bunkers. This is one of the most trap filled courses on Tour. This will require strong drives and a precise game to avoid the brooks, ponds, creeks, and sand.
“I love this place,” said Brooks Koepka. “I think there’s six easy holes where you really have got to make your birdies and then there’s about ten tough holes. You’ve got to position yourself well off the tee and then if you miss greens, the lines around the green aren’t exactly tight, but the grass, there’s no real root system. So you can very easily duff one and if you’re worried about duffing it, you thin it.”
This is the first PGA tournament here since the 2013 Barclays, now the Northern Trust. Adam Scott won that tournament by one stroke over Graham DeLaet, Justin Rose, Gary Woodland and Tiger Woods. Heath Slocum won the 2009 edition, the first PGA event on these grounds, by one stroke over Ernie’s els, Padraig Harringto, Steve Stricker, and Tiger Woods. The 2017 President’s Cup was also held here. The United States on the contest over the International Team 19-11 to retain the Cup.
With a major rain storm coming through on Wednesday night, including a tornado touching down 19 miles away in Springfield, NJ, the course will play a bit softer and quieter for round one. The tee times don’t change, but the spectator sections are not open until 10 am on Thursday.