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Thursday, November 17, 2005

Liberty National Golf Club - New York City Golf in the shadow of Lady Liberty

Remember this name: Liberty National Golf Club. You will see it again.

Reebok CEO Paul Fireman envisioned a private club just minutes from Manhattan where wall street execs could play nine holes after work or cut monumental business deals in an opulent club setting in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty.

Oh...and of course there's that pesky PGA/USGA tournament every developer dreams of having too...and the top 100 rating.

After walking the course today with Director of Golf Development Adrian Davies (an old touring pro) and Marketing expert Josh Zeide, it's fair to say Liberty National will make a valiant run to host a high profile event - perhaps a Ryder or President's Cup.
It will also make a ratings splash because it will fill its primary purposes well - it will be a great place for well-heeled business executives to conveniently play ay the end of the workday and it will look great on TV. There were some irregularities in the overall design strategy, but there were also some inspired moments. Let's review the tale of the tape:

Architects: Bob Cupp and Tom Kite. Bob Cupp has built a nice career building solid courses - he effectively blends building a great tournament venue and a solid strategic course to as much an extent as those usually mutually exclusive ends (in the 21st century) can be met. As for Kite, normally when I hear a touring pros name
attached to another designers work it means one of three bad things. Either 1) the designer needs the pseudo-star power attached to a star player's name (as happens frequently in foreign countries) because (right or wrong) the client doesn't think his name has enough cache; 2) the pro is going to make every Joe and Jane Citizen who plays the course try to hit some impossible shot shape only the pro could hit; and/or 3) we're going to get a course designed in the penal school or runway schools of architecture. Lots of doctrine of framing, but strategy light.

Luckily, Kite was actually concerned with strategy too and some holes are excellent. Moreover the routing had moments of genius - particularly regarding wind direction. The first four holes run in four different directions and only two consecutive holes run in the same direction twice...once at 8 and 9 and again at 15 and 16. Also, the
course runs out and back...it does not return to the clubhouse after nine.

The good about the course: They do NOT try to call it a links course as it is the far from links. The soil is spongy loam and will be more condusive to stick the pin aerial attack than a firm fast links playing surface. Even so, the soil was in excellent shape with healthy roots and good leaf. The nap was great length - meaning it will winterize well and should stay at a four and 1/2 star conditioning level.

The course gets four and 1/2 stars for setting also. Constant views of Lady Liberty
and the seaside. It's very pretty.

Two holes that stand out are 12 and 16. Twelve, a 437 yard par-4 has design reminiscent of 8 at National Golf lInks with its bifurcated fairway and bunkers directly
in the line of play. The 328 yard par-4 16th is drivable, but with water and sand in the direct line of flight, it's a perilous risk.

The par-3s are all postcards and offer interesting strategic risks. For example, in one case, fearing the water hazard on the left, the player aims right at a deep pot bunker on the other side of the green which puts him a worse predicament because now he's coming out of the bunker towards...you guessed it...the water hazard!

In a few places, there are some interesting chipping swales around a fistful of holes that will make for interesting strategic recovery shots. However, in a few cases, most notably 14 and 18, these areas are so small that I doubt many balls will filter and
instead will be gobbled up by the bordering water hazard.

The restaurant, clubhouse, gym and any other amenities will be ultra-high end. It's $500,000 initiation fee and $30,000 a year after that, but you will have everything you could wish for from a genie in a bottle. No expense spared.

Things I wish were different: Soooooooo many holes are claustrophobic. With fairways averaging 30 yards, its frequently penal, tight and "targety" (was that English?). It will be difficult to hit them in a 30 mph crosswind. The greens are "medium" size to use industry jargon, which means comparatively they are really tight targets. Most do not have much undulation, although one (see below) is an excellent standout example of a crowned green with fascinating chipping areas immediately adjacent.

They moved THREE MILLION CUBIC YARDS OF EARTH!!!!! Good aspect - they needed that much to raise the entire former dump sight out of the water in the first
place. It sits 50-60 feet higher than before the course existed. Bad aspect - the most interesting undulations are OFF the fairway...put those in play! Note: they are considering widening the fairways for ordinary play which would make for many more options, and fun uneven lies. Average players will need some extra room to play.

Also, despite moving all that earth, the entire sight only has a grand total of 60 feet of elevation change maximum. Last, you see Lady Liberty constantly, but it's never used as a target for a drive. How cool would it be to have a semi-blind drive where
the only thing you see and aim for is the Torch. Then you crest the hill and there's your ball in the fairway.

Lastly, some of the holes are too long. The par-4 6th alone is 521 yards. One more par-4 exceeds 500 and sandwiched in between is a 628 yard par-5. All told, the course is well over 7,400 yard par 70...which means it plays closer to 7,800. (For a good rule of thumb, look at the par of the golf course, for example, 70. Then look at the yardage and add 200-250 yards for each stroke under 72 and you'll see how it will play if it were a par 72.)

I think the course would be fine as a par 71, but many courses are too enamored with showing the USGA and PGA that they can keep the pros out of red numbers.

Anyway, the course will successfully attract a solid membership who will get what
they pay for and lots more. Its run for a tournament will be interesting to watch...it has alot of what TV golf likes...great aerial shots, a great natural setting and a tough test. As for cracking the top 100, I will bet it will make a great showing in next year's "New Private Course" rankings, but the rest is speculation.

Most importantly for day to day usage, If you are a rich flounder living in NYC with gobs of liquid cash and an insatiable golf jones, you may finally have a place to catch the ferry from wall street at 5:05 and be on the first tee by 5:35. The course will be tough on the pro, but may be even more punishing to amateurs. Bring more than a dozen golf balls...and your camera.

The third green (pictured abovet) has a crowned shape, pronounced contours and devilish chipping swales which defend par admirably without the need for elaborate bunkering.

However, the fifth hole (pictured next) is far to penal. Faux mounds guard the right and water guards the left. There is nowhere to miss.