Liberty National (Photos courtesy Liberty National)
If the goal of most top junior golfers is to get to the PGA Tour, then it makes sense that their training ground should look like the Tour. That will be particularly true this week at the AJGA’s Polo Golf Junior Classic. The event, in its first year with a new player-requested format, will be played at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, N.J.
Two years ago, Liberty National hosted the Presidents Cup. In six more weeks, it will host the Northern Trust, a FedEx Cup series event. This week, the course with the scenic view of lady Liberty and the New York City skyline will look a lot more like the former than the latter. The Polo is testing out a new player-requested format featuring match play instead of stroke play.
“The AJGA approached us with the idea of going match play and really replicating the Dell match play event on the PGA Tour,” said Lee Smith, managing director at Liberty National. “As somebody that really wanted to make the event unique and really have it stand out amongst the tour for the juniors, we were all for it.”
Historically, the Polo, an AJGA invitational (i.e., the most coveted of AJGA starts), had been a match-play event played in late November. It changed to stroke play in 2017, but this week the Polo will be played as a round-robin style match-play event. It’s a unique format (the first of its kind since 1978) that was borne of feedback shared from player representatives Rachel Kuehn and William Mouw.
“A lot of players voiced to me they wanted an opportunity to play in a match-play tournament,” Kuehn said in an AJGA press release. “It is fun, exciting and allows a player to express more emotion than he or she normally would. This different style of play also provides an opportunity for players to be more aggressive in their style of play and gain experience that will serve them in future USGA and NCAA tournaments.”
Liberty National will do it justice – club founder Paul Fireman wants to make sure of it. After the club signed a three-year contract to host the Polo, Fireman made the mission clear: When players are on this property, they’ll feel like they’re on Tour.
“We felt like not only is the golfing experience important, but the stuff that’s outside the ropes for the kids is extremely important and the best way for us to do that was to kind of replicate what a PGA Tour event – and I use the word spoil – but how well taken care of those PGA Tour players are when they arrive on site,” Smith said.
There will be a player’s lounge with ping pong tables, milkshakes and smoothie machines, and a designated media area and press center.
“Add in the tournament conditions of the golf course and I think they’re really going to feel what the guys only six weeks later are going to feel,” Smith said.
Because the Polo features match play, Liberty National will be routed the same way it was for the Presidents Cup. Smith calls it a versatile course and hopes the setup will allow for plenty of birdies. Players will start their day on the par-4 fifth with the idea that matches are more likely to reach the closing stretch that way, particularly the par-4 18th.
“I think that will be exciting for the juniors to get in that setting and kind of feel that amphitheater with bleachers and hospitality on your left and the Hudson River on your right,” he said.
Branching out from the PGA Tour to junior golf is part of Liberty National’s mission. Though it’s a private club, the idea is to create opportunities for as many different factions of golf as possible. Ideally, Smith said, some of Liberty National’s most iconic holes will become memorable – like the famous holes golf fans know from places like Augusta National.
That starts with junior golf, but down the road it might include an amateur event, a senior event or a women’s event. Later this year, Liberty National will host the Barstool Classic Tournament, the end of a . Smith calls it golf’s everyman event.
“We’re trying to create opportunities for all of those golfing silos to have access to Liberty National as a venue.”
How the new Polo Junior format works:
An initial field of 64 players (based on the Rolex AJGA Rankings) will begin the event and will consist of 32 boys (Polo Division) and 32 girls (Liberty Division). They will be further divided into eight groupings of four players each to compete in three guaranteed singles matches, to be played June 25-26. The top eight Polo Division boys and Liberty Division girls from each group after pool play will advance to single-elimination matches, to be played June 27-28. Match play champions for the Polo Golf Junior Classic at Liberty National will be crowned on Friday, June 28.
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ABOUT THE Polo Junior Classic
Sixty-four top junior golfers will be invited to
in a round-robin style
match play event. Based on the Rolex AJGA
an equal field of 32
boys (Polo Division) and 32 girls (Liberty Division)
be divided into eight
groupings of four players each to compete in three
matches. The top eight Polo Division boys and
Division girls from each
group after pool play will advance to single-
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