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.
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.