JERSEY CITY, NJ. The golf focus this week falls mainly on the world’s best golf professionals competing for top honors at the opening event of the FedEx Cup Playoffs — The Northern Trust — played at the ultra-manicured and ultra-private Liberty National Golf Club.
What’s interesting is that while the club is technically in Jersey City its real connection lies eastward across the Hudson River to the deep pocketed denizens of Wall Street rather than the clientele who inhabit the local community.
Interestingly, just over 4 miles away is another golf course — one that opened in June 2015 — and with an entirely different purpose and audience to serve.
The Skyway Golf Course at Lincoln Park West is Hudson County and Jersey City’s first public golf course. You read that right. The first and likely only one to ever open. Why? Hudson County is a cramped area — just 63 square miles with nearly 692,000 people occupying the area. Calculate the number of people per square mile and the figure comes to just under 11,000 people per square mile. To understand the cramped conditions, the State of New Jersey has the most people per square mile in America at just over 1,200. Hudson County exceeds that figure by over nine times!
Open space is certainly at a premium and the opening of a 9-hole course built on the site of a former dilapidated driving range and landfill was clearly pushing the envelope in terms of practicality. The 65-acres is maxed out to provide just the actual course with no adjoining practice area and the clubhouse is a simple matter-of-fact building with just the mere basics. The local neighborhood belies the traditional venues where golf courses are located. The constant hustle and bustle of U.S. Routes 1 & 9, provide a never ending cacophony of sounds that won’t ever be confused with the bucolic setting of 17-mile-drive on the Monterey Peninsula in California. The immediate area is gritty with a clear industrial vibe.
Over the years the site became a convenient dumping ground for any number of items. The transformation from what once was to what you see today provides unfathomable paradise — soothing and reinvigorating the mind and body. In such crushing congestion the wherewithal to simply absorb the tranquility and open space Skyway provides can be a cathartic moment of the highest sort.
The course is named for the Pulaski Skyway — an elevated roadway linking Jersey City and Newark — New Jersey’s two largest cities. To be clear, the off-site views provided at Skyway are nowhere near as majestic as the ones found at Liberty National but the intangibles at the public layout are even more noteworthy for the wider benefits derived.
Architect Roy Case designed the par-36 course with three par-3, three par-4 and three par-5 holes. The layout at 3,250 yards was not created to be something akin to the demands encountered at Bethpage’s Black Course in nearby Long Island. There’s sufficient challenge for the person just getting started in golf and even for those who have played numerous other courses will need to show clear skills in order to max out their potential score. It’s simply amazing to see how what was once a clear eye–sore has become nothing less than a shining star. The course is elevated and shaped by the use of more than one million cubic yards of imported fill material serving to cap the old landfill area below.
The environmental enhancements are no less important to show long term sustainability. The beneficial reuse of stormwater is anticipated to provide more than 75% of the course’s irrigation needs. The design of the course incorporates indigenous vegetation supporting the recreated wetlands and transition areas. The course plantings have been designed to be beneficial for the support of wetland, transition areas and the golf course.
But the full impact of the course transcends the gains made on the science side.
Skyway provides a community connection — a meaningful pathway for local youth to engage in a sport that for many was simply a game seen on television. The facility engages youth through a variety of programs put forward regularly in creating the foundation for future players. Yet the most important thing is getting young people to experience what it’s like to be on an actual course. The goals of making golf more inclusive have been clearly mentioned by many of the key organizations stakeholders throughout the golf industry but it is venues such as Skyway that push beyond a mere talking point into an action point of lasting impact.
The people who come to Liberty National are segregated from the rest of Jersey City. There’s no intersection. The layout where the best players in the world are competing lies on the far eastside of the NJ Turnpike and is meant to showcase the New York connection — not the real Jersey City one.
This weekend when the television cameras show glorious blimp aerial views of Liberty National and its closeness to New York Harbor, lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty — it is at Skyway where the real connection to Jersey City exists. It is important to always remember that golf’s foundation as a game has long been seen as elitist, sexist and white. Skyway is planting future seeds — recasting a sport into being something of consequence for a new generation. Jersey City is one of the most diverse cities in the world and there’s no question it has its share of urban issues to grapple with each day.
Skyway will never solve all the daily issues the broader populace faces. However, it does serve a clear role — giving those living in Jersey City and Hudson County a much needed respite and a means to build connections with new friends and lasting memories from playing this grand game of golf.
That pathway is indeed found at Skyway.