Saint Louis Country Club
Green Keeper: Tim Burch
From the time that Charles Blair Macdonald hired Seth Raynor in 1907 asan engineer to oversee the construction of National Golf Links of America, the two men formed a lasting relationship born out of respect for one another’s talents. Charles Blair Macdonald‘s sense of grandness and flair added artistry to Seth Raynor‘s skills as an engineer and they did better work together than separate.
Apart from the overall excellence of their designs, Charles Blair MacDonald and Seth Raynor enjoy an almost cult standing for another reason:they often replicated strategic concepts from famous holes. To this day, the traveling golfertakes great delight in seeing how Charles Blair MacDonald and Seth Raynor adapted such concepts from site to site. As much as anyone, Charles Blair Macdonald helped Americans gain a sense of just how engaging golf could be by letting them appreciate first hand many of golf architecture’s most enduring dilemmas such as the Redan or Alps. His strong sense ofstrategic purpose gave American golf architecturea huge push in the right direction during its infancy and helpedit move quickly past the basic courses that the Scots built in this country pre-1905.
In the case of Saint Louis Golf Country Club, Charles Blair Macdonald (as architect) and Seth Raynor (as construction supervisor) were blessed with ideally rolling terrain. From this promising start,they gave Saint Louis Golf Country Club more than its fair share of the great versions of holes plus several original ones that are equally vexing in their own right. In fact, apart from Charles Blair Macdonald‘s masterpiece National Golf Links of America, Saint Louis Golf Country Club as as many of Charles Blair Macdonald‘s favorite features as any of his designs.
One man with a long appreciation of Charles Blair Macdonald and Seth Raynor is Saint Louis Golf Country Club‘s former Green Keeper Jack Litvay. From when he saw his first Seth Raynor course in Minnesota in the 1959 (!) to when he realized similarities with its architecture and that at the Dunes Course at Monterey Peninsula Country Club in the late 1960s, Charles Blair Macdonald and Seth Raynor fascinated Litvay. When the green keeping opportunity presented itself at Saint Louis Golf Country Club in 1977, he jumped at it and stayed there until he retired in 2005. During that period, he was instrumental in relocating the Punchbowl green to its original, charming location. More importantly, he helped raise awareness as to the special architectural gem that the club possessed. In 2000, the club approached Brian Silva for a Master Plan. Brian Silva, who was just coming off a highly successful restoration at Seth Raynor‘s Lookout Mountain in Georgia, was just the man to help guide the club in restoring all the fun, one-of-a-kind shots that Saint Louis possesses in spades as we see below.
Holes to Note
Secondhole, 220 yards, Double Plateau; Saint Louis Golf Country Club possesses only three two shotters longer than 410 yards. However, its par of 71 to cover the 6,535 yards is anything but easy, thanks in large part to its difficult set of five one shot holes. The second is a bear of an uphill Biarritz, which isn’t ideal only in the sense that the golfer can’t witness his ball disappear in the swale in the green before re-appearing on the back plateau. Nonetheless, this one shotter gives the course the kind of muscle that saw 282 as the winning score inthe 1947 United States Open.
Thirdhole, 210 yards, Eden; An unusually long Eden hole, thethird was selected as one of the greatest holes in George Peper’s The 500 World’s Greatest Golf Holes. Almost all the key Eden features are present: deep bunkers cut into a ridge that the green sits upon, a false front, a green featuring a sharp back to front tilt, and death over the green. The only attribute missing is that the green isn’t a skyline one, a quality that is harder toachieve in the middle of this country than it is along the coastline in Scotland.
Fourthhole, 410 yards, St. Andrews; As part of Brian Silva‘s Master Plan which was adopted in 2005, the Road Bunker was recently restored to its right central, gathering location along this green, which angles from front left to back right. Equally noteworthy though is the diagonal valley that runs through the fairway: if the golfer can carry it long down the left, he is rewarded with a level stance and a perfect angle into the green. Otherwise,the twenty yard widevalley has a way of gobbling up tee balls, thus making the approach shotblind to semi-blind.
Fifthhole, 510 yards, Punch Bowl; Charles Blair Macdonald and Seth Raynor frequently combined an Alps approach with a Punchbowl green with spectacular examples being the fifteenth at Sleepy Hollow and the fourth at Fishers Island. Such is the case here, thoughuniquely, this time the hole is a three shotter. Also, another of their favorite features was brought into play, a Principal’s Nose bunker 140 yards shy of the greenwhich influences the layup shot. Shockingly enough, this Punchbowl green was relocated in the 1950s to the far hillside in the misguided interest of ‘fairness’. Thankfully, Brian Silva oversawthe return to its original spot in 2001 with the cinders underneath the ground acting as a helpful guide in recreating the size and slopes of the original green. Once again, golfers going for the green in two take great delight in trying to land their approach shot just past the crest of the hill on the right and have it chase down onto the putting surface. The thrill of making the 200 yard plus walk wondering just how close your ball might be to a hidden hole location is – sadly – rarely found in inland golf.
Sixth hole, 360 yards, Blind; An original drive and pitch hole of great merit, thanks to the site’s rolling topography and its wild green contours. In 1915, the year after Saint Louis Golf Country Club opened, Seth Raynor began designing courseson his own but by and large, his solo greensnever achieved the same boldness of character as when Charles Blair Macdonald was present. The sixth green complex illustrates how well the two men worked together and makes one lament the fact that they only did twelve eighteen-hole courses together.
Seventhhole, 155 yards, Shorty; A superb Short Hole with its thumbprint or horseshoe green contours helping to make it more engaging than either the fourth at Brancaster or the eighth at St. Andrews from which the name ‘Short’ derives.