JERSEY CITY, NJ. Initially when Liberty National Golf Club hosted its first professional golf tournament — the 2009 Barclays, the general feelings from many of the top players in the game, including Tiger Woods, was that modifications were needed in order to make the course more playable and suitable for top tier competitions.
The ownership of the club took to heart a number of the suggestions and the original Bob Cupp / Tom Kite design has been widely praised by players now for being both challenging and fair. With the shift from four FedExCup playoff events to three, The Northern Trust is more pivotal than ever in the race for the FedExCup, as only the top 70 will advance to the second Playoffs event.
The par-71 layout will play 7,370 yards and competitors in The Northern Trust will encounter a wide range of key holes playing a major role in determining what players contend and what player ultimately prevails with victory.
The following four holes bear close attention.
9th Hole / 474 Yards / Par-4
Generally the final hole on the outward side plays into the prevailing wind but weather conditions for this year’s event will likely mean a reverse situation with wind assisting the player. Ordinarily, downwind holes should not present issues but at the 9th it will have a clear impact.
The 9th provides the widest fairway on the course but a pesky creek crosses in the drive zone and for the longest hitters that will necessitate using a club less than driver.
Players able to keep their tee shot in the fairway then face an uphill approach. The green has fall-offs on all sides so any 2nd shot that cannot be executed correctly will then be challenged to escape with par.
13th Hole / 563 Yards / Par-5
The final par-5 encountered provides a tempting opportunity for those in contention to make a late move to possible victory. Crosswinds are typical at the 13th and it’s incumbent, as with many holes at Liberty National, to successfully find the fairway. The fairway jogs slightly to the right and a pond can impact both tee shots and those looking to get to the green in two strokes.
The pin is routinely cut nearest to the water and sometimes the best play is to finish just to the right of the green and have a fairly straightforward pitch to the hole. Eagles are certainly possible – so are double-bogies for the careless effort.
14th Hole / 150 Yards / Par-3
Pound for pound this could be the most feared hole at Liberty National — and that’s especially so when winds are blowing intensely. The 14th runs parallel to the shoreline and the skyline of both lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty are clearly visible.
During the 2017 Presidents Cup matches crosswinds were encountered from left-to-right and many players could not summon the courage to flight their golf ball deep into any pin cut to the far rear of the putting surface. Those who miss to the right will face a watery grave. Those pulling shots to the left will have to recover with a deft touch.
On its face, the 14th seems to be nothing more than pitching wedge or 9-iron shot. Those seeking to make a late round move have to assess just how aggressive a play they are willing to risk. In this age of power shots — the 14th is the quintessential examination where finesse and guile are central elements needed.
18th Hole / 490 Yards / Par-4
The closing hole at Liberty National is striking for its difficulty and the views it provides of the lower Manhattan skyline. The hole appears more manufactured than natural in its overall look, however, the hole rises 30 feet from tee to green.
Generally, the 18th plays with a favorable wind but for the final two rounds this year the likely wind will come from the opposite direction making it even more crucial for players to find the fairway. The landing area is bracketed by bunkers on both sides and anyone missing too far right likely means adding a six or more to one’s scorecard.
Even after finding the fairway the approach can be rather lengthy when encountering a headwind. The putting surface is well contoured with a range of devilish pin locations possible. Those not landing near enough to where the hole is situated can easily three-putt.
The 18th yields only to high quality execution and is a fitting climax to the opening round of the FedExCup Playoffs.
All photos courtesy: PGA Tour