JERSEY CITY, NJ_ Golf at Liberty National Golf Club showcases a facility beyond the realm of what many can envision. The former Superfund site was a toxic wasteland transformed into an idyllic hideaway where only those with the deepest of pockets enjoy a haven that required in the area of $250 million to create. For many attending the event the focus will rest on the players from the USA and International squads as they seek to lay claim to ownership of the Presidents Cup. But, Liberty National is not the only course to call Jersey City home.
Tucked out of view is a 9-hole layout with far less of a dollar cost to create but whose mission is even more far reaching than the private layout with its lower Manhattan and Statue of Liberty views.
Skyway Golf Course is not exactly located in a bucolic environment. The constant hustle and bustle of the adjoining Tonnele Avenue is a never ending procession of vehicles of all types. The gritty area that makes up the west side of Jersey City is a hodgepodge of different usages — from manufacturing, to warehouses, to a slew of others all cramped up against one another.
Skyway occupies 65-acres of land formerly a landfill. The odors that emanated from the site were constant irritants to those in and around the area. Incredibly, years before that the site was a driving range — the only link, no pun intended, residents of Hudson County could venture to for a tiny connection to the game of golf.
In 2004/2005, Hudson County was considering options for use of the land after the completion of the closure of the landfill. Originally, passive open space and soccer fields were the uses being considered. The county executive — Tom DeGise — an avid golfer himself and understanding that Hudson County did not have a public golf course, asked that the feasibility of a golf course be studied. The Hudson County Improvement Authority engaged PS&S, a design and engineering firm, in conjunction with golf architect Roy Case, for this effort. After several years of design and permitting, the course was bid and constructed.
In order to understand the nature of daily life in Hudson County consider that the entire area encompasses just under 63 square miles. Within that area live a total of nearly 635,000 people. New Jersey is the most densely populated State in America with an average of approximately 1,200 people per square mile. In Hudson County — the density is 14,610 people per square mile — greater than even Bangkok in Thailand. To say open space is at a premium would be the biggest understatement one can possibly imagine. The residents of Jersey City are also a mixture of races with Whites, Blacks, Latinos and Asians having significant percentages. The poverty rate hovers just above 20% and while the community sports a 21st century vibe along the immediate coast areas fronting Manhattan – the other side of Jersey City faces the daily pressures besetting many major American cities with families and local businesses fighting to keep their heads literally above the waterline.
Skyway’s name comes from the prominent bridge one sees when playing the course — the General Casimir Pulaski Skyway Bridge. Opened in 1932 during the height of The Great Depression the namesake was a major contributor during the American Revolution and his Polish heritage was honored in various ways in America. While the views from Skyway cannot rival that of Liberty National the reclamation of the site has provided a foundation for positive environmental aspects to take root once again.
The landfill closure and site clean-up started in late 2009 and ran through 2013. The golf course construction started in late 2013 and was completed in June 2015. Total cost for the golf course was approximately $15.5 million. Architects Roy Case and Jeff Grossman created a playable and reasonably challenging layout. The premise of the course was not to be a strenuous layout worthy of the likes of a Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson, but one where people would get their first tastes of the game.
The par-36 design plays just over 3,000 yards from the rear black tees and has been created with an equal number of par-3, par-4 and par-5 holes. What’s not fully appreciated is that the daily wind pattern can wreak havoc on those not able to control one’s golf ball. There’s no impediments to block wind velocities that can add easily 2-3 clubs to any of the holes when encountering a headwind. Given the limited space available — there’s no practice range on-site and the clubhouse, while Spartan in character, is eminently functional for the most essential of needs.
How Successful has Skyway Been?
In the first full golf season in 2016 — roughly 43,000 rounds were played. To date in 2017 — 31,000 have been played and if good weather holds out for an extended period of time during the Fall months it’s possible the total rounds played could set a new record.
How Much Does it Cost to Play?
Realizing the sensitivity to one of golf’s tougher issues — the cost to play — rates for resident card holders are $35 and $45 respectively for 18-hole weekday and weekend time frames respectively. Lesser amounts are available for senior and junior categories as well for twilight play.
Skyway serves as the perfect counterpoint to what Liberty National provides. The former geared towards the masses — providing a possible connection to a game for a lifetime. The latter a private pleasure palace — akin to Xanadu of Citizen Kane fame.
Don’t anticipate a future US Open or PGA Championship at Skyway since there’s no likelihood the course can be extended to a full 18-holes. The facility wasn’t meant to be about luxury but practical necessity. Yet, with the golf industry going through a major struggle to stay vibrant with a new younger generation debating if golf is relevant to them the role Skyway plays could very well be the ticket for the game’s ascendancy.
The longstanding model for 18-hole courses is facing even more intense scrutiny — will younger customers of today show the desire or inclination like past generations to remain at a golf course for five or more hours? That seems unlikely. The Twitter and Instagram world is likely here to stay.
The juxtaposition of Liberty National and Skyway is a fascinating dichotomy. Each serves a clear need — each with a specific role. While the television cameras will show Liberty National in all its regal splendor this week — the majesty of Skyway comes from its simplistic yet enduring call to the unaffiliated player. “Build it and they shall come” — the famous phrase from the movie Field of Dreams — is alive and well at a 9–hole layout that carries a very loud and meaningful message to an industry in clear need for some meaningful momentum for growth.
Like its namesake — Skyway is indeed that bridge to link golf’s past with the strong potential for an ever promising future.