JERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) — Tiger Woods missed an uphill 5-foot par putt on the par-4 third hole in his pro-am round Wednesday at Liberty National, then took the ball and tossed it up the steep slope and watched it nearly roll off the front of the green.
He didn’t have to say a word to convey his feelings, instead rolling his eyes and flashing a bemused look as he headed for the next tee.
After finishing his round, his first look at the $250 million course a couple of par 5s from the Statue of Liberty, he still had that you’ve-got-to-be kidding me look.
“It’s interesting,” Woods said.
In a good way?
“It’s interesting,” Woods repeated.
He struggled on the undulating greens on the long, tight, links-style course before spending about 45 minutes on the practice green in preparation for the start of play Thursday in The Barclays.
“They are tough. They are going to be severe this week,” Woods said. “If the wind blows like this, it’s going to be tough – tough to get the ball close. Some of the more severe greens actually are the longest holes. And the holes that are 480 and above, it’s going to be hard to get the ball close, but everyone’s got to play them.”
Twenty years ago only a deep-pocketed dreamer could have imagined playing golf on the old oil refinery site, then dotted with empty tanks and 12 rotting warehouses – one controlled by the Gambino crime family.
“The first time we showed up here, it was a nightmare,” said Bob Cupp, the course architect who teamed with Tom Kite to design the layout. “We were pretty sure any travesty known to man was on this property.”
Paul Fireman, the billionaire Reebok founder and chairman, brought in Cupp and Kite in 1992. After seemingly endless environmental studies and red tape, they broke ground in 2003 and opened the course in 2006.
“It was all worth it,” said son Dan Fireman, looking over a Hudson River inlet from a dining table in the $60 million clubhouse. “It’s everything we ever hoped for.”
Nearly three million cubic yards of clay and soil were hauled in – 200 trucks a day for 18 months – to cap the toxic site and sculpt the scenic course.
“Everything out there is 100 percent created,” Kite said. “There’s nothing out there that’s natural. The big thing in golf course design right now is there’s some minimalist design, finding a great piece of property and touch it as little as possible. This is light years on the other side of the spectrum.”
The property was covered with plastic and millions of tons of clay, followed by another plastic liner, a 4-foot layer of sand, and finally soil.
“In essence, we have built an umbrella over the oil tanks,” Cupp said.
When they finished, they had a 160-acre layout with 4,000 feet of waterfront and magnificent views of the Statue of Liberty, Manhattan skyline and Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani and Patriots owner Robert Kraft were founding members and Phil Mickelson, Giants quarterback Eli Manning and LPGA Tour player Cristie Kerr have joined the ultra-exclusive club.
“I do a lot of outings here and I wanted to develop a relationship with the club,” Mickelson said. “This is the ideal club. It’s right by Manhattan. The practice facilities are great and the golf course is fun to play, so it was a natural to join.”
The location and views attracted the PGA Tour.
“Location-wise from a television standpoint, it’s probably unique in the world,” PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said. “I think it’s going to be an absolute stunning presentation on HD television.”
Mickelson had a lot more fun on the tricky greens than Woods.
“I love it because I think the shots around the greens have been very well thought out,” Mickelson said. “I think the greens have movement to them, but it’s subtle movement. It’s not these big humps and hollows that modern architecture seems to have.
“The rough doesn’t go right up to the edge of the green. There’s a lot of shaved areas that extend out. There’s a lot of movement, so you get different lies, and I think around the greens it’s very well thought out. I think it’s hard, though. It’s a hard golf course. Tee to green it’s very demanding.”
Liberty National is a big change for the tournament after 41 years at Westchester Country Club and one at Ridgewood Country Club, both traditional, tree-lined courses.
“You know, you can like blondes and redheads. You don’t have to be so exclusive that you only like blondes,” Kite said. “Brunettes are pretty good, too.”