Liberty National Golf Club is not short on staggering panoramas. Though the course has received mixed reviews in past performances, the backdrop of Lady Liberty alongside the Manhattan skyline creates one of the more aesthetically unique experiences in golf.
And yet, it’s a vista away from ‘Gotham’ that could wreak havoc this week at the Presidents Cup.
For the 2017 event, the sequence of holes at Liberty National has been altered to ensure some of the more dramatic, exciting holes – such as the club’s par-3 14th, which sits in the shadow of the Statute of Liberty, the driveable 16th, and the 18th, which hugs the Hudson – see enough action during the matchplay format. (Perhaps coincidentally, these holes also have the most hospitality tents.) As such, the first hole for the Presidents Cup is the club’s 390-metre (427-yard) par-4 fifth.
For the modern tour pro, 390 metres is nothing to sweat about. This is especially true at Liberty National’s
fifth first, as the hole’s downhill slope allows the possibility of keeping the big stick in the bag.
But don’t be fooled by the distance. It’s the hole’s width, or perceived lack thereof, that makes this hole one of Liberty National’s toughest.
The hole’s fairway is guarded by a huge lake on the left-hand side. Though the water narrows to a stream 100 metres from the green, the hazard runs the entire length of the hole, putting the fear of the golf gods into anyone that favours a draw. Unfortunately, right is not exactly a safe play, as thick rough, trees and out-of-bounds guard this boundary. Parameters that led the hole to be one of the toughest at the 2013 Barclays (the most recent tournament hosted by Liberty National), with the field averaging 4.092 on the fifth for the week.
Of course, players at the Presidents Cup will have to battle an added element: a coliseum of spectators. Similar to other team events, the first tee is encompassed by a 1,300-seat grandstand. And as evidenced in past New York metropolitan golf events, fans in this part of the country are not known for their tranquility.
Combined, these features equate to “arguably the toughest tee shot on the course”, according to PGA Tour executive director Matt Kamienski. (And that’s not factoring in the added pressure inherent to representing your country on a global stage, or the nature of singular entities putting aside their individuality to compete in a team environment.)
By no means will the first hole be unfair. Alluded to above, a player can get away with a fairway wood off the tee, and the fairway measures 35 paces wide near the 150-yard marker. Conversely, given the hole’s obstacles – both off the fairway and in one’s mind – don’t be surprised to see some pale faces on the first this week.