Ogilvy: My two key holes at Liberty National

JERSEY CITY, NJ - OCTOBER 3: The 13th hole (Presidents Cup ninth hole) at Liberty National Golf Club, host course of the 2017 Presidents Cup in Jersey City, New Jersey on Ocotber 3, 2016. (Photo by Chris Condon/PGA TOUR)
Total Obsession
Building the 2017 Presidents Cup host course Liberty National
Co-designed by architects Bob Cupp and 19-time PGA TOUR winner Tom Kite, the grounds in which Liberty National sits on today had zero comparison to what once laid there before.

Editor’s Note: Eight-time PGA TOUR winner Geoff Ogilvy, a noted golf course aficionado, is an assistant captain for International Captain Nick Price at this week’s Presidents Cup. Ogilvy was kind enough to provide his perspective on host course Liberty National.

There are two things that, if history has anything to say, have proven to be very difficult.

The first is creating beautiful, natural looking golf on a completely man-made site.

The other is winning the Presidents Cup for the Internationals.

Time and time again, the crude hand of man has been a seemingly poor substitute for the artistic grace of mother nature. Creating environments that we find as pleasing as the real thing is obviously very difficult. While there have been some incredibly beautiful “man-made” golf courses built, by those like Mackenzie, Ross and Raynor, and more recently by Coore, Crenshaw, Doak and Hanse, most have been less than satisfactory and some downright ugly.

Not this time at Liberty National. This time great vision and skilled hands have been brought together to create something quite incredible. The vision is that of Paul Fireman and the skilled hands belong to course architects Bob Cupp and Tom Kite.

Sitting in the shadows of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty, it’s hard to imagine a venue anywhere better suited to host a big team event than Liberty National.  Twice the host to FedExCup Playoff events, Liberty is ready to star again, and this time to a larger perhaps more global audience.

It’s located on a long-abused piece of land on the Jersey shoreline that over the last century has housed an oil refinery, a munitions storage facility during World War II and was even an Italian internment camp at one point. Most recently it had been a landfill. Yes it truly was a dump.

It’s difficult to picture this history now though, as the property seems so well suited for golf. With a nice New England kind of style, it’s a course that’s very pleasing to the eye. With Lady Liberty and Manhattan as a backdrop, it’s tough to not get distracted. But with nice green fairways cutting their way through those terrific Northeast tall fescues, there is great contrast and texture, and a look for the most part that’s quite natural.

A lot of the holes are great but there are two I will highlight as ones to watch with interest during the week.

The 10th hole is perhaps my favorite hole on the course. It’s a really nice short par-3 that, to my eye at least, is the prettiest hole on the course. Helping perhaps is the fact that this also happens to be the first time during the round you get a really good look at the Statue of Liberty. It’s a thrill every time.

The green is small and tricky, making it is one of those hit-the-green-birdie/miss-the-green-bogey kind of holes. It’s a nice length at around 150 yards. Players get battered with so many 230-yard par-3s these days, it’s nice to have a 9-iron in your hand. Especially one in such a cool place. There can be no doubt the setting here elevates the experience for player and spectator alike. There are just not many experiences in golf like this one.

The next hole that I think is great, and should provide plenty of fun and excitement is the par-4 12th.

At around 325 yards it is a match play dream hole. There is water and bunkering down the right and bailing it left will leave no fun. It’s just a good drivable hole. It exhibits principles that the great short par-4s always do. It gives you a good reason to lay up and a good reason to go for it.

The tee position will dictate things a little and that makes it a cool hole. You can have two completely different holes in consecutive days. From the back, guys might lay-up and wedge on but move them up a little and everyone treats it like a long par-3 and goes for the green.

Match play makes it interesting. It’s likely the carrot will get dangled every day, meaning the guy who hits first kind of has to go for it, especially if you’re against big hitters. But if he goes in the water, does the next guy lay it up? Probably.

It will be interesting to see players go back to their bags. The second guy could be thinking lay-up but then the first guy knocks it on green, so he must pull driver.

That’s when golf can be the most interesting -- when there are multiple strategic decisions going on.

The hole is also right at the point in the match where you really don’t want to lose any holes. You never want to lose a hole, but if you lose the third hole you feel like you have time to make it up. If you start losing them around 12 and 13, well, you’re running out of holes to get it back. So it is a pretty important time of the match.

And match play is all about escalating pressure. It is when the pressure is too crazy that guys make weird choices. So I’m excited to see what goes on this week.

So on that note, if an actual real-life dump can be transformed by hard working talented hands into a beautiful natural-looking golf course, can the same formula work for the long suffering International Team?

Let’s hope it can.

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