Bellerive Has Served as Major Course Before, but Nature Making Play Tough
My mind wasn’t really calibrated for another major so soon after the men’s and women’s British Opens, but here we are at the final one of the year, the PGA. In recent seasons, the PGA has taken things off the beaten track, and tried out new courses and new ideas. While Bellerive isn’t a new course or idea, things are a little different this year. For anyone who has experienced Missouri heat and humidity, feel free to send up a collective groan. These days, it’s worse. High heat and unspeakable humidity are forecast for all four days of the tournament. Then, of course, there is Bellerive itself.
St. Louis has a distinct personality. It is a fun city, but is seldom listed on the PGA Tour. Tiger Woods, for example, has never entered an event here. The name is taken from Louis St. Ange de Bellerive, a French commander in what was once the Louisiana purchase, land the U.S. bought from a country that didn’t rightfully own it. However, the purchase of the farm land where the modern course stands was all on the up and up. With well over a hundred members and a nine-hole course, the club did exactly what was needed for upgrading – call a Scotsman. Robert Foulis answered the call, and the Bellerive Country Club was born. The most recent incarnation was designed by Robert Trent Jones, and the “Green Monster of Ladue” was opened on Memorial day of 1960. This should trigger an assumption that the gold standard for course design was met, but for some it is somewhat of a disappointment. Writer Kyle Robbins reminds us that it was built from soil found in the banks of the wetlands of the Mississippi River, and that the course tends to feature straight drives at the pin, wide fairways, and fairly flat greens. Masters champion Patrick Reed sees it a little differently. A natural draw artist, the course holds more than its share of dog legs left. Despite the humidity that have left the course soggy, and despite the storms coming in for the week, the long hitters still hold the advantage.
Although Bellerive is a fairly young course for majors, it has hosted several. Gary Player won the U.S. Open there, and Nick Price took the PGA in 1992. The Senior Open was held there in 2004, and the BMW came to St. Louis in 2008. A note of tragedy struck the club in 2011 when the American Express World Golf Championships were cancelled due to the attack on the twin towers.
This summer season, following a complete absence of spring, Bellerive greens have taken a beating from the weather, leaving patchy, scaly sections around the edges of some. They are generally slower than than a touring green should be., and shot trajectories around the greens will require some rethinking. “Bumpiness” is a concern, but as one anonymous caddie suggested, it couldn’t be as bad as the recent Scottish Open. That being said, the players are fairly forgiving this time around. Negligence is not so much the problem, as it has been for other recent majors.
I can remember walking down the streets of St. Louis at 80 degrees Fahrenheit – not bad, but the humidity was so high that I felt sick anyway. I can also remember rounds of golf in that part of the country where I couldn’t hold on to a club, no matter what I tried to do. For players who aren’t in such great condition, humidity can make a late round seem never-ending and laborious.
Whatever the condition of the course and its design, it has upsides as well. Regardless, as Robbins suggests, the event is not really defined by the course, but by the players. There could be a lot of humidity, slow putts, and a lot of fun.