Much has been made about the gloriously gorgeous views of Lady Liberty on every hole of Liberty National. Make no mistake, however, this is a challenging golf course, one that will require distance, accurate placement and precise approach shots in order to garner a winning score. A uniquely American success story, it came from a wasteland that required persistence of vision and hard work to make it possible.
From Sordid and Toxic To a New Beginning
The site of Liberty National had once been a World War I ammo dump that had decayed into a wasteland of rusting tankers, abandoned cars, crumbling warehouses and areas of toxic contamination. If there was a place that lived the cliche' of New Jersey being a dump, this was it...one that hardly would inspire the design team of Tom Kite and Bob Cupp to create one of the newest shining jewels of American golf.
According to the Tom Kite design site, he was "underwhelmed with the site, but loved the location." Indeed, the property offered one of the most picturesque vantage points to view the icon that is the Statue of Liberty. Problem is, it had only a few feet of elevation changes and the land itself was hardly in condition to be sculpted into a championship golf course. "It was the junkiest piece of land I had ever seen," Kite told Sports Illustrated. "But if you could ignore the smell and the garbage, it was an unbelievably exciting opportunity because of the location."
To insure the safety of the public on the site, the site was first decontaminated of toxic and hazardous materials, after which the rehabilitated land could not be disturbed. To build a golf course atop that, it was covered in plastic to create a shield that would leave that area as it was. Above the shield, millions of cubic feet of clay followed by thousands of tons of sand were added, providing the raw material from which the two designers could set to work. From there, according to Kite, not a single square foot of the course was not man-made.
Kite added that this is no minimalists' course, and that course designers with that philosophy would have passed on the chance to build Liberty National. Then again, the site was not one that naturally cried out for eighteen flags and tee boxes in order to be what nature intended, a golf course. Instead, because of the checkered past and existing problems that still made the land sketchy, it was a course that needed to be made by man's hand if it was to exist at all.
When Kite and Cupp got started, Liberty National's property was no more than ten feet above sea level with only a two foot rise anywhere. By the time they were finished, there were some places with 52-foot rises, and overall a rolling area of hills and undulations that would serve as their canvas for the 18 holes to come.
By the end of their work, Kite and Cupp built a 7,400 yard course surrounded by knee-high grass, a plethora of water hazards, bunkers positioned imprecise drives and then offer a high risk and reward option, all leading to the signature Kite/Cupp lightning-fast multi-tiered green complexes where a wayward approach will make a three-putt a challenge.
This weekend, even for the best 125 golfers in the world, Liberty National will not be a course for the faint of heart, or one who laggardly wants to protect a lead. Nothing will be given or can be taken for granted at Liberty National, and for those who dare to do so, the price paid may be quite high indeed. Winning here will require courage and moxie, much as the immigrants who passed by offshore required when they arrived on the shores of the United States, also passing by the Statue of Liberty along the way.
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