Grass over garbage: Golf courses give landfill sites a second life

The Presidents Cup and Northern Trust at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, N.J., showcase the New York City skyline along the Hudson River. The private club's stirring views of the Statue of Liberty would be a fitting backdrop to an American victory.

It's hard to believe this beautiful grass playground was once a garbage dump. Tom Kite and the late Bob Cupp considered Liberty National a crowning achievement when it opened in 2006. The pros openly griped about some of its features during The Barclays, a FedEx Cup playoff event in 2009 and 2013, but they better get used to its latest version, which has been tweaked since those events. An agreement between club founder Paul Fireman, the chairman of Reebok, and the PGA Tour will bring 10 tournaments to the course over the span of 25 years.

Liberty National isn't the only high-profile course to emerge from a pile of garbage. In this photo gallery, we spotlight more than a dozen of them, including the famous Stadium course at TPC Scottsdale, developed from parts of an illegal dumping ground and "brownfield," a term used by the Environmental Protection Agency to describe a "real property, (where) the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant."

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Landfills get second life as golf courses

According to a 2003 article in the Chicago Tribune, at least 70 courses around the country have been built from former landfills and "brownfields." Others have opened since then, including two Jack Nicklaus municipal projects, Michigan's Harbor Shores Golf Club (site of several Senior PGA Championships) and New York's high-profile Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point, the Trump Golf-managed course that took decades to build in the Bronx. Trinity Forest Golf Course, the new host of the AT&T Byron Nelson set within the Texas Blackland Prairie eco-region southeast of downtown Dallas, rests atop two capped sites in the former South Loop Landfill. Courses carved from a quarry or built upon old mining sites will be featured in a separate story.

It's an expensive and complicated process to turn trash into someone's golf treasure. Tons of dirt must be used to "cap" the debris on the site. The methane gas produced by the decaying material underground must then be released through vents aboveground.

Architect Stephen Kay called transforming a former landfill 15 miles from Atlantic City into the McCullough's Emerald Golf Links a "complicated" task. The 6,535-yard par-71 course in New Jersey's Egg Harbor Township, spearheaded by township mayor James "Sonny" McCullough, took more than a decade to develop, opening in 2002. Kay routed the tees and greens around more than 150 metal hexagon-shaped methane gas vents. The ones he couldn't avoid, he hid with berms in the fairway.

Del Ratcliffe, the president of Ratcliffe Golf Services, manages two courses built on landfills in Charlotte, N.C., the Charles T. Myers Golf Course and the Renaissance Park Golf Course, which will be renamed the Harry L. Jones Sr. Golf Course next month. Both facilities have experienced problems with the ground settling due to decaying material underneath the course.

According to the Tribune article, "At one time, the (Myers) golf course was known for the amber-colored ooze that crept from the fourth fairway." Most recent reviews of the Myers course on Golf Advisor are positive with comments such as "Always surprised by this place," "Above and beyond," and "A GREAT FIND."

"Over the years we have learned a lot about the challenges of managing these unique facilities," Ratcliffe wrote in an e-mail. "However, the most important thing I think I have learned is there is still a LOT we still have to learn!"

Radcliffe indicated that SCS Engineers and architect Ron Garl are working to solve ongoing problems at Renaissance Park.

"(The ground movement) negatively affects a lot of things – from drainage to irrigation lines to breaking up the cart paths. In some instances, the settling has caused the contours of the greens to change dramatically. We are in Phase II of a very involved study process where we are seeking remedies for the problems," Radcliffe wrote in an e-mail.

Other facilities have reported instances where old junk flies out of the ground, along with the divot, when players hit shots. Most golfers are willing to forgive the issues that occasionally arise at these facilities - the bad smells and unearthed garbage. These courses have given new life to land once burdened with a grim future.

Consider the golf scene in New York. Where would it be without the Bayonne Golf Club, Liberty National and Ferry Point? New Yorkers likely wouldn't be enjoying the Presidents Cup this week, that's for sure.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed and photographed more than 1,000 courses and written about golf destinations in 20 countries for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfpass and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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Harborside in Chicago, with two awesome courses, is an excellent example of golf on a landfill.

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Eagles Nest in Toronto built over a landfill, awesome golf course.

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Grass over garbage: Golf courses give landfill sites a second life