US PGA PRE­VIEW

Wel­come to Bel­lerive Coun­try Club, St. Louis, Mis­souri, home to the Green Mon­ster and host to the 100th PGA Cham­pi­onship. Ahead of the fi­nal ma­jor of the year, Tony Dear covers the six key talk­ing points.

Golf World (UK) - - FRONT PAGE -

Every­thing you need to know ahead of the sea­son’s fourth and fi­nal ma­jor.

When Robert Trent Jones was en­listed to re­lo­cate Bel­lerive Coun­try Club from the St. Louis sub­urb of Nor­mandy to its new home in Town and Coun­try dur­ing the late 1950s, his de­sign star was at its peak. In his ex­ten­sive 2014 bi­og­ra­phy A Dif­fi­cult Par, au­thor James Hansen noted that, by this stage in his ca­reer, Jones had earned the ti­tle of ‘Mas­ter Ar­chi­tect’ of mod­ern golf. His cre­den­tials were be­yond doubt, yet the course he cre­ated di­vided opin­ion.

Given the choice of where to build the new lay­out, Jones picked a prime piece of farmland 17 miles west of down­town St. Louis with rolling ter­rain, wooded hill­sides, and a me­an­der­ing creek. Know­ing that the course would likely host a US Open be­fore long, Jones cre­ated some­thing of a beast which, at 7,200 yards from the cham­pi­onship tees, was dubbed ‘The Green Mon­ster of Ladue Road’.

It was ac­tu­ally the club’s third home. Be­fore mov­ing to the 125-acre site in Nor­mandy, the mem­bers had played the game on a nine-hole course north­west of the city, be­gin­ning in 1897. Orig­i­nally the Field Club, it be­came Bel­lerive CC in 1910 in hon­our of Louis Gros­ton de Saint-Ange de Bel­lerive, an of­fi­cer in the French Ma­rine Troops in New France – the area colonised by France in North Amer­ica – and the last French gov­er­nor of Illi­nois Coun­try in 1765.

Quite why the mem­bers should have wanted to hon­our Bel­lerive re­mains un­cer­tain, but pre­cisely 200 years af­ter its in­cep­tion, Bel­lerive CC was cho­sen to host the 1965 US Open. Robert Trent Jones’ re­design had only opened its doors five years ear­lier, in 1960. Bel­lerive be­came the youngest and long­est venue in US Open his­tory, and few peo­ple liked it. The play­ers griped about the ‘raw’ con­di­tions and its un­suit­abil­ity for a na­tional cham­pi­onship. Jack Nick­laus said it put too much of a pre­mium on length, and the Press con­cluded only a few long-hit­ters had any chance of win­ning.

Twenty-nine-year-old Gary Player, a medium-length hit­ter us­ing fi­bre-glass shafts, proved them all wrong, fin­ish­ing tied with with Aus­tralia’s short-hit­ting Kel Nagle af­ter 72 holes, then beat­ing him 71-74 in an 18-hole play-off. It was Player’s first, and only, US Open vic­tory. He was the first non-Amer­i­can to win in 38 years, and he com­pleted the ca­reer Grand Slam… a year be­fore Nick­laus.

Player’s win gave the course a mod­icum of cred­i­bil­ity, but it wouldn’t host its next ma­jor cham­pi­onship for an­other 27 years, by which time the trees had grown and the zoysia fair­ways and bent­grass greens had at last set­tled. Still, few of the play­ers at the 1992 US PGA Cham­pi­onship had any­thing par­tic­u­larly pos­i­tive to say about the course which has rarely cracked US pub­li­ca­tions’ top 100 course rank­ings.

Smith Creek comes into play on nine holes, and there are two other wa­ter haz­ards to avoid. The bunkers, like most of Jones’ bunkers, are large and shaped like jig­saw pieces. Jones built huge greens with sig­nif­i­cant con­tours cre­at­ing ‘greens

‘Named af­ter the last French gov­er­nor of Illi­nois Coun­try, Bel­lerive was a 7,200-yard beast they soon dubbed “The Green Mon­ster”.’

within greens’. In a 1965 ar­ti­cle for the USGA’s Golf Jour­nal, the de­signer said the ar­eas in which the hole would be cut are ‘nec­es­sar­ily quite con­fin­ing’, adding that ‘the re­main­ing ar­eas of the greens are just as much a part of the haz­ards of the hole as are the traps, rough, and wa­ter’.

In his book A Dif­fi­cult Par, James Hansen says Jones was par­tic­u­larly proud of Bel­lerive and con­sid­ered it one of his best ever rout­ings. Be­cause of his fa­ther’s fond­ness for it, Rees Jones sought to main­tain the style and chal­lenge when hired to ren­o­vate the course ahead of the 2008 BMW Cham­pi­onship.

Rees repo­si­tioned and re­built all the fair­way and green­side bunkers, and tight­ened and re­graded most of the fair­ways, dra­mat­i­cally im­prov­ing the course’s drainage. “And most im­por­tantly, we made the small tar­gets within the large greens even smaller while main­tain­ing the dra­matic con­tours my fa­ther had es­tab­lished,” he says.

The big­gest changes Rees Jones made were to the 2nd, 7th, and 8th holes. At the 2nd he took out a stand of trees on the left and re­placed them with a lake to cre­ate a risk/re­ward tee shot. At the 7th he moved the tee to bring Smith Creek more into play, and at the 8th he moved the tee, took out trees to al­low balls to sail into the creek, and built a large bunker on the left of the fair­way. Thank­fully per­haps, that bunker has been taken out and the fair­way widened to give play­ers a bet­ter chance of reach­ing this long par 5 in two.

Now 58 years old, Bel­lerive Coun­try Club’s third it­er­a­tion has ma­tured nicely. Su­per­in­ten­dent Car­los Ar­raya has it in im­mac­u­late con­di­tion and it is ready for its third ma­jor cham­pi­onship – or its fifth if you count se­nior ma­jors. Maybe this time, com­peti­tors will give it a lit­tle love.

The dog-leg­ging 500-yard par-4 10th, a par 5 for mem­bers, will play a key part in de­cid­ing the cham­pion.

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