“The beauty is that this course does not favour a specific player”

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“The beauty is that this course does not favour a specific player”
Richard Humphreys
By Richard Humphreys

Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis, Missouri, is this week hosting the 100th PGA Championship. Golf course architects Rees Jones and Bryce Swanson discussed the course in a Twitter chat with the American Society of Golf Course Architects.

Bellerive Country Club began in 1897 with a nine-hole course in north St. Louis, before moving to Normandy in 1910, to a layout designed by Scotsman Robert Foulis. By the mid-1950s the club decided to move again. They invited golf course architect Robert Trent Jones to select a site from farmland west of St. Louis and prepare a design that would be suitable for championship golf. Jones’s long and challenging layout, dubbed the ‘Green Monster of Ladue’, opened in 1960. It became the youngest course to host a US Open in 1965, and has since hosted the 1992 PGA Championship, 2004 Senior US Open and 2013 Senior PGA Championship.

In 2005, the course closed for a year for a renovation by Rees Jones, to restore the original level of challenge set out by his father.

“A lot of changes had been made over the years that were not in keeping with Dad’s design,” said Jones. “We went back to his style while upgrading for the twenty-first century.

“Dad designed greens that were very large; he had to because in 1960 the ball was not travelling as far, he wanted larger targets for longer shots into the green.

“Bryce and I shrunk the greens by 1,000 square-feet or so but maintained the philosophy of valuing good approach shots, while maintaining the speeds of greens in today’s championship events.”

One of the more significant changes of the 2005 renovation was on the second hole, a tight par four with a sharp dogleg left around trees and a small lake. Jones removed the trees on the left and expanded the lake to stretch all the way to the green, creating a risk-reward shot.

Jones returned to the course in 2013, to help prepare for this year’s PGA Championship. He said: “It was a great pleasure to work with Kerry Haigh of the PGA of America. We made modifications with bunker locations and opened up the playing corridors throughout to give players more options.

“The biggest change was number eleven, modifications to give them flexibility,” said Jones. “It will likely play as a driveable par four on a couple days. We removed one bunker and relocated others. The full course has a conventional setup; fairways are 25-28 yards wide; there is four to five feet of intermediate rough, and then fescue rough. It will penalise some shots. In three-inch rough they will have a tough time stopping the ball on the greens.”

“The beauty is that this course does not favour a specific player. In recent US Opens, wide fairways or no rough favoured long hitters. Bellerive requires shot makers. Bryce and I worked with the club to create chipping areas around the course to allow for different reactions of the ball if a shot misses the green.

“The variety within the design is what to watch for. There is a nice mix of longer par fours and yet the par fives can be reached so players can make up a shot or two. The par threes have variety. Hole three is 155 yards, the sixteenth is the longest par three at 237 yards. There is a lot of opportunity to make up shots or learn how to recover if you miss the green short side. The course has an ebb and flow… players can be careful and get par, or attack holes seven or eleven, which are birdie chances. Because it is a par 70, we converted holes four and ten from par five to par four; with Kerry’s help. Bellerive will play 7,200 to 7,400 yards.

“It will be tight down the stretch; holes fourteen to eighteen are a great finish, a lot of things can happen.”

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