A Course With a View Is Built on Major Hopes
By DAMON HACK
Published: August 8, 2005
A thousand yards from the Statue of Liberty and steps from the Hudson River is a strip of land that once lay dying on the shores of Jersey City. Petroleum and waste snaked through its underbelly, rendering the land an eyesore.
"Awful," the professional golfer Tom Kite said recently, seated where ruin and decay once reigned. "It was a terrible piece of property. Flat as a table, ugly, abused and mistreated. But what it had was location, location, location."From that cavity, the lush and very private Liberty National Golf Club has sprouted across from the Manhattan skyline. This $150 million project by Paul B. Fireman, the property's owner and the chief executive of Reebok; his son Dan; and the golf-design tandem of Kite and Bob Cupp is creating a buzz less than a year before the first players tee off.
The club is set to open July 4, 2006, with a founding membership that includes the former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and the New England Patriots' owner, Robert K. Kraft. And already the course is anticipated to be a one-of-a-kind experience that may one day challenge courses like Shinnecock Hills on Long Island and Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J., site of this week's P.G.A. Championship, as a host for golf's most prestigious tournaments.
Built on 160 acres and covering 4,000 feet of waterfront, the course stretches 7,400 yards from the back tees, with small rivers running through it and a $1 million cart path built with Belgian stones.
The clubhouse will feature a menu from the restaurateur Tom Colicchio of Gramercy Tavern and Craft. The course will offer a 15-minute luxury yacht service from Manhattan and, for those with quicker needs, a helipad.
Each member will have a custom-made set of clubs that will always be available at the course, a kind of thank-you gift for joining a club with an initiation fee of around $500,000.
But what separates it, members say, is the view from the ground, a vista that no parkland course or ocean links can claim.
"There is nothing more dramatic than lower New York Harbor, the Empire State Building and the shape of the Verrazano Bridge," said the founding member Kenneth G. Langone, the chief executive of the securities firm Invemed Associates and former director of the New York Stock Exchange. "Can you imagine having that view as the last shot you see on the last hole of a major tournament?"
Kite, when asked if he felt the course could stand up to the demands of a major championship, said Liberty National qualified on several fronts.
"It has plenty of teeth," he said. "It's all you want. It also lends itself to do great things on it, like the blimp shots you see at a major championship, the pan-in, pan-out shots at Pebble Beach."
But Kite, the 1992 United States Open champion and former Ryder Cup captain, said it could take time.
"There is no way you can shortcut history," he said. "You have to build it. Obviously, we feel we can make it happen."
The New York area has been awarded several major golf events in recent years, including the 2002 United States Open at Bethpage Black, the 2004 United States Open at Shinnecock Hills and this year's P.G.A. Championship at Baltusrol. Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y., will play host to the United States Open in 2006, and Bethpage Black will welcome it again in 2009.
The competition is fierce for these events, as it is for the international Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup competitions.
The United States Golf Association, for example, which has its United States Open sites scheduled through 2012, receives invitations from courses from around the country. The association chooses several to examine and considers space for grandstands, concessions and merchandise tents, as well as a city's hotel space, parking and security.
The Presidents Cup, which will be contested in September at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Lake Manassas, Va., evaluates similar factors as well as others, including the weather, the amount of daylight, the roads and the city's infrastructure, said George Burger, the general chairman of the Presidents Cup.
"It's very similar to getting a political convention in your city, or a Super Bowl, and it's a distant cousin to an Olympic bid," he said.
But the golf course itself is crucial. And while Liberty National has yet to open, it has built-in qualities that may already make it a contender for golf's marquee events, Burger said.
"It's the credibility of the architects, the credibility of the membership and the credibility of the site itself," Burger said. "When you get that good of a design, a great property and good members, those are the new courses that will be contenders for majors. The only thing it lacks is history. But given the site, that may be something that will get it over the hump."
Billy Getty, a founding member who has started his own company specializing in golf course development, said of Liberty National: "There are only so many golf courses that if you walk to the middle of it blindfolded you'd immediately know where you are. Being able to use the Statue of Liberty as alignment is incredible, but also, since 9/11, things resonate emotionally more than they did. I don't think anyone will escape the butterflies in their belly seeing the Statue of Liberty and the replacement for the towers being erected."
Fireman, who opened the private course Willowbend on Cape Cod in 1993, has been involved in the Liberty National project for more than five years, from the property's filthiest state to its shiniest.
"We cleaned it up spotless, and it required a lot of money," Fireman said. "I'm sure everybody who builds a golf course and spends a lot of money thinks something special will happen to it. I'm looking to have a good experience for the membership and the people that visit. With New York City, you can't get a more dramatic picture. I think history will find its way."
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company