Saint Louis Country Club

Eighth hole, 350 yards, Cape; This is a true Cape hole, which is a rarity, in that not only does the fairway swing around a hazard but the green itself protrudes into the same hazard. For those that shy away from the hazard on the right with their tee ball, the recently restored Macdonald bunker complex that protrudes fifteen yards into the fairway from the left side of the green has made the approach shot more complicated/deceiving. The in-the-dirt work by Kye  Goalby in restoring the bunker complex according to Silva’s Master Plan is excellent.

An intelligent tree clearing program has opened up some of the beautiful interior features of Saint Louis Country Club. Just a few years ago, the stream upon which the dogleg right eighth swings around was largely hidden from view.

The creek’s presence is strongly felt at greenside, where it hugs the right and back side.

Ninth hole, 510 yards; Some students of golf course architecture contend that courses built in the 1910s tend to have both a relative high number of straight holes and a relative absence of doglegs. Such is indeed the case at Saint Louis Country Club with its one true dogleg being the prior hole, the Cape. Of course, the rectangular nature of the club’s property had a lot to do with the creation of a number of fairly straight playing corridors. Having said that, Macdonald excelled in how he routed the holes upon the rolling ground and incorporated features that influenced play down the middle of the holes. The ninth is a prime example of a straight playing corridor that nonetheless has a lot of character from tee to green. Ideally, and especially true back in the days prior to fairway irrigation, the golfer hit a hot hook that chased off the pronounced right to left fairway slope and ended up with a level lie on the left edge of the fairway down near the creek. The additional run off the sloping fairway brought the green in reach in two and from there, the golfer had the perfect angle into an open green.

As seen from the high right side of the ninth fairway, the same stream that dominates play at the eighth was also put to great use at the ninth. A lesser architect might have used it as a fronting hazard but Macdonald’s use of it on a diagonal has confounded second shots for decades.

Eleventh hole, 405 yards, Valley; The tenth and eleventh parallel each other and play across the same broad valley. The tenth hole’s primary defense is its fiercely sloping back to front green whereas here at the eleventh, one of the course’s most noteworthy bunkers hides the putting surface.

Even more impressive than this deep fairway bunker upon which the eleventh fairway bends left around is the greenside bunker seen in the distance. Its pronounced humps and bumps make it appear as if it was pulled straight from National Golf Links of America.

This view from behind the eleventh green in 1921 captures the dramatic nature of the mounds at the left front of the green. It’s their very boldness that Goalby so successfully recaptured.

Twelfth hole, 180 yards, Crater; While Saint Louis Country Club possesses the four essential Macdonald/Raynor one shotters (a Short, Eden, Redan and Biarritz), it has a unique fifth one as well. The hole enjoys natural properties inherent upon playing across a valley but what makes it famous is a series of mounds that ring the back of the green, exuding a charm all their own. At 4,500 square feet, the green is the smallest target on the course.

The view from the twelfth tee, named the Crater hole. Note in the distance how the mounds of the Principal’s Nose bunkers in the fifth fairway seem to compliment the mounds around this green. It was this view in an old black and white photograph that allowed the club to determine the original location of the Principal’s Nose bunker.

The fingers in the bunkers have been recently restored courtesy of Silva and Goalby. A low aerial from 1941 helped these men recreate Macdonald’s fingers, which make the bunker play as a true hazard thanks to the awkward stances they create.

Thirteenth hole, 600 yards, Clubhouse; One of Macdonald/Raynor’s very best Long holes, thanks to their superb skill in routing the hole across the rolling land. Death awaits the golfer who goes right off the tee as the ground falls sharply away. Further ahead, a diagonal series of fairway bunkers replicate the strategic benefit of carrying Hell’s Bunker at the fourteenth on the Old Course at St. Andrews. The finally hurdle is the green’s false front, which sends many a ball well back into the fairway.

This restored bunker complex slashes diagonally across the thirteenth fairway and getting past them in two is problematic if one’s tee ball doesn’t find the fairway.

Fourteenth hole, 415 yards, Dome; The longest two shotter at Saint Louis Country Club plays to a first rate reverse redan green. As part of the recent restoration work, several yards of putting green were recaptured at the front left. Golfers back in the fairway are afforded the pleasure of watching the drama slowly unfold with their approach shot as it takes the front slope and slowly feeds toward the back right of the green.

The fourteenth green is open in front and falls toward its back right. The gentleman in white is in the deep back left bunker that gathers the over-aggressive approach.

Fifteenth hole, 495 yards, Narrows; Diagonal cross bunkers divide the fifteenth fairway at the 330 yard mark from the tee. Regardless, given today’s technology, many a good player will give the green a go in two but there are an extraordinary amount of recovery shots that he may have to execute to secure his birdie, thanks to a superb Double Plateau green guarded by four bunkers. Despite the green being over 10,000 square feet, Silva points out that it screams for ‘the ball to be put on the ground! What could be a better example of this than the fifteenth green – hell, the fourteenth is another Redan so it’s good from that regard as well – but it is fifteen that really is awesome. Airborne golf doesn’t work nearly as well, especially to the back shelf locations.’

Many a three wood approach ends up in one of the four greenside bunkers. The resulting recovery shots are made all the more difficult by the out of bounds that is directly behind the back level of the Double Plateau green. Similar to the sixth at Piping Rock, when the hole is placed on the tiny back shelf, the hole plays nearly one stroke harder in competition.

Sixteenth hole, 185 yards, Redan; The Redan one shotter here is a mirror one, meaning that its green tilts from high front left to a low back right corner. In general, this hole plays well but the rub with a mirror Redan is that the ball doesn’t release quite as well from a fade as it does with a draw to a Redan. Thus, in theory, the slope of a mirror Redan needs to be even more pronounced than on a Redan and Saint Louis is presently mulling over if a slight increase in the green’s slope would make this hole play even better/more fun.

Once Macdonald determined this was the site for the Redan, the natural left to right slope dictated a mirror Redan be built. Otherwise, a Redan sloping from high right to lower left would have fought the land, something a Macdonald hole never did.

Seventeenth hole, 380 yards, Log Cabin; Based on its name, there is no reason to suspect that today’s hole is patterned after any hole in particular. Nonetheless, in the 1921 United States Amateur, this hole was deemed the ‘pride of the club,’ quite a statement based on all its other classic holes!

The dramatic five foot deep (as well as narrow) bunker that guards the right of the distant seventeenth green dictates the strategy off the tee is to the left. Otherwise, the golfer is left with an awkward pitch over the bunker to a shallow green.

Eighteenth hole, 410 yards, Oasis; Capturing both the charm and allure of a game here, from yet another sloping lie in the fairway, the golfer is asked to control his approach to another wonderfully conceived green complex. The nine foot deep fronting hazard at the green is an unmistakable sign that Saint Louis was always intended to test the best.

This Alps hole requires great ball striking to the very end to avoid the cavernous pit guarding the green, which in turn is sunk in its own little dell.

According to Silva, ‘Saint Louis is another example of the old timers getting two major components correct. First, they got the structure of the course correct when they brilliantly and comfortably routed the course over some up and down land. Then, they got the details correct with their collection of classic golf holes.’

Saint Louis Country Club is located in the tony suburb of Ladue, and the chances of it acquiring additional land to extend several tees is negligible. However, within its current 6,530 yards, there are many more enduring architectural features than on the 7,300 yard monsters that are presently being built. Though it will never host another United States Open, it possesses far more charm and holes of enduring character than any of the modern, longer courses in the Show Me state. From an historical perspective, it is hard to overestimate the importance of having such a cornerstone course built here in the Midwest pre-World War I. Not only did it highlight to this part of the country what a great game golf could be, it set a high architectural standard that remains worthy of emulation to this very day.

The End