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The FedEx Cup, Barclays & Liberty National: Monuments to Excess

By: Nancy Berkley


Sunday's final round of The Barclays tournament at Liberty National Golf Course in Jersey City, New Jersey, with Miss Liberty as the backdrop, had a great finish with a clutch putt by the winner Heath Slocum sealing the win. Tiger, Els, Stricker and Harrington all tied at second. There's much more to the story, however, and it's not about drives and putts.

The Statute of Liberty was the monument the TV cameras focused on. But the PGA Tour, the FedEx Cup, The Barclays and the unique course at Liberty National are all related to the monuments of excess that not only brought us this tournament but also brought our country to its knees these last few years. The fact that yesterday's final round was a good one is a positive omen.

Just in case you missed it on TV, The Barclays is the first of four playoff tournaments leading up to the winner of the FedEx Cup. This was also the first major tournament held at Liberty National, a three-year-old private course. It was designed by Tom Kite and Bob Cupp and sits out in the New York Harbor with fabulous views of New York City. See my review of the course at http://www.cybergolf.com/golf_news/liberty_national_women_golfers_will_like_it.

The course is unique in its combination of setting and style: flat to rolling terrain; tight fairways with heavily bunkered; tough greens forgiving only by the absence of unplayable rough surrounding them. It may sound like the typical tournament course, but it isn't. In fact, it's amazing anything was built on that site.

The land had been a dumping ground for hazardous waste for years. Only in the last decade have economically feasible methods been designed to "cap" toxic waste on landfills that will permit re-development. Environmental innovation and lots of money helped turn this toxic landfill into a tournament course. (Another high end course: Bayonne Golf Club is nearby but plans for a public course in the New Jersey Meadowlands have been scrapped in the economic fallout.)

When I interviewed Cupp at the opening of Liberty National, he explained the constraints imposed by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. Cupp showed me the course map and pointed out the streams and waterways that could not be moved due to environmental regulations. For obvious reasons, the TV announcers this past weekend did not want to spend much time talking about the site's history and toxic waste because environmentalists still challenge New Jersey's clean-up regulations.

Because of the site's constraints, Kite and Cupp had to be creative about the layout. As a result, the course has a more contrived feeling than older courses built before environmental supervision or newer courses in wide-open spaces. All that said, I would accept an invitation to play the course any day.

But as I watched the tournament these last few days, I was struck by how much the event was a product of its times.

The course opened July 4th, 2006. With a price tag of $250 million, it was one of the most expensive golf courses ever built, and with initiation fees at about half a million, it may still be the most expensive to join. But that was 2006 and the stock and the real estate market had been steadily rising for over three years. Life was good and getting better.

Paul Fireman, the owner/developer of Liberty National, had bought the land a few years earlier. Fireman was the founder of Reebok sporting goods, which in turn was bought by and merged with Adidas. Fireman had money and vision. He reminded prospective members that they could take the hydrofoil from their Wall Street offices and be on the course in 30 minutes, play a round and then head back to their office to close a deal.

At about the same time in 2006, the PGA Tour was also focused on growth and a new vision. "If only there could be a season-long tournament ending with a 'playoff' like they had in football?" mused Commissioner Tim Finchem. The answer was the FedEx Cup.

I was in the audience at a golf industry meeting in 2006 when the FedEx tournament concept was announced and explained. It was so complicated! Eyes were rolling.

As I think about it now, I realize that the original outline of the FedEx Cup shared the same qualities as the mortgage-backed and securitized transactions that were simultaneously feeding Wall Street. No one really understood the rules or the consequences of those deals either.

Only the bravest - and there were a few - could look at the security transactions and say they wouldn't work as planned. And only a few sports writers really came down hard on the PGA Tour and the Fed Ex Cup's mathematical computations.

The first inaugural FedEx cup was held in 2007. Players earned points all season and then had a chance to earn more points in four final tournaments and, finally at the last FedEx Cp tournament, there would be a winner. It was Tiger Woods riding the waves of fame. (The PGA Tour made changes to the format in 2008 and again in 2009 to fix some of the glitches. A few more adjustments might still be needed. If only we could fix the mortgage market as easily!)

And the prize for the winner of the Fed Ex Cup was $10 million. What excess! But this was August 2007. Think big! The market was still ascending. It should have been called the FedEx Excess. But by nature, golfers are optimistic. We were probably the last to predict that two months later in October 2007 the stock market would peak and then head downward into a national crisis.

Viewers of the Barclays heard little reference to the $10 million FedEx Cup prize - or any prize money for that matter. Excess is out of fashion. PGA Tour ads now feature its charitable contributions and players' good deeds.

From the beginning of the FedEx Cup tournament, the sponsor of the first playoff was Barclays Bank. Barclays, an England-based company, already had a New York presence. Little did they know in 2007 at the first Barclays FedEx Cup - held at Weschester Country Club, that the collapse of Lehman Brothers would triple their New York City presence when they purchased Lehman's asset management business out of bankruptcy court.

Summing it up: the four-year history of the FedEx Cup has the same key word as our economy: Excess. The good news is that economists are reporting that things are looking up. Hopefully, the Manhattan office buildings lining Liberty National's skyline will be filled with employees again soon.

But as I watched the final tournament round yesterday, I felt good. I was glad that they figured out how to turn those brownfields into green fairways. I was glad they did it years ago when big projects seemed possible and could be financed. Nothing like that would get off the drawing boards today in the United States. But as golf becomes an international sport, miracle golf courses will be built all over the world on land never meant for golf and in populations with barely any history in the game.

I have never golfed in Dubai or Hong Kong or Seoul, but maybe someday I will. And when and if that day happens, I know that I will remember The Barclays and Miss Liberty not only as monuments of excess, but that point in time when things started looking up.

Nancy Berkley, President of Berkley Golf Consulting, is a regular contributor to Cybergolf and an expert on women's golf. Her book, "Women Welcome Here! A Guide to Growing Women's Golf," published by the National Golf Foundation, is an industry reference for marketing golf to women. She is a resource for golf-industry trends and marketing advice on her website www.nancyberkley.com. She chaired a panel at the World Scientific Congress of Golf in Phoenix, Ariz., in March 2008, and was a guest speaker at the Northern California Business Women's Conference at Poppyridge Golf Course in Livermore, Calif., in June 2008. Nancy also consults with golf facilities on how to attract more women golfers and families to the game. She was a contributing editor of Golf for Women magazine and is the Chair of the Advisory Board of Golfer Girl Magazine, where she also writes a series about careers in the golf industry. Her articles also appear on www.ladiesgolfjourney.com  Nancy provides a Free Help Line on her website for those seeking marketing advice in the golf industry.