Golfing Before The Arch

St. Louis Golf:

1950 - 1980

During the Ike years, America was in a kind of “funk.” Apart from the Cold War sometimes scaring us into our basements or under our classroom desks (although I never did understand how that ½” of pine would protect me from nuclear fallout) we were in your traditional post-war boom. Business was good, and with occasional photos of Ike at Augusta with Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts, golf began to grow as we had more leisure time. Television brought us the first pictures of the US Open a few years earlier (here in St. Louis from KSD-TV) at the 1947 Open at St. Louis CC where Lew Worsham continued Sam Snead’s frustration at attempting to capture an Open. So, as we saw Arnie hiking his pants, puffing on his cigarette and sinking those wonderful putts, we became excited about the game. We couldn’t see the green at Augusta or Cherry Hills CC or Oakmont; everything was black and white (or more accurately, 16 shades of grey). But we went to Famous-Barr or Stix, Baer and Fuller and bought ourselves those Izod-style golf shirts (remember Ban-Lon?) that seemed to fit the pros very well, and we watched the Black Knight, Gary Player, play those strange looking Shakespeare fiberglass clubs that were, in some respects, the forerunner to today’s modern graphite. We marveled at this kid named Nicklaus as he vanquished Arnie in the 1962 Open at Oakmont and then again in 1967 at Baltusrol. We saw Hubert Green win the ‘77 Open and told ourselves that if that swing could win the Open then maybe we could win the weekly nassau. We listened to Demaret and Sarazen on “Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf” as they took us to far-away destinations and we saw Chi Chi Rodriguez or Arnie or Gay Brewer or some other name player each week. We envisioned ourselves doing the same to Joe Next-Door and bought a set of clubs, often used, or a set your dad or uncle had placed in the basement years earlier and headed for the range. Actually we may have first gone to the garage for a “shag bag” of used balls then out to an empty field or park to hit wedges or 9-irons. Today, it seems nobody has a “shag bag” anymore, another bygone relic of yesteryear. It’s just easier to go to a range. However, back then, we went to that field and hit wedges from one end and back again, honing our skills, as best we could, and imagined performing in front of 10,000 as we marched up the 18th to accept our trophy.

Golf in the Bi-State area, as it was now becoming known, saw over 50 courses spring to life. We completed the Gateway Arch in 1966 and felt a new emergence of pride. The downtown area began a small revival that would culminate in the 1980s. Old Warson (1955), Bellerive (1960), Lockhaven (1955), Meadowbrook (1961), Cherry Hills (1964) and Forest Hills (1965) became the places where the new-found Country Club golfers could be found. All but one of them, Lockhaven, are located in west St. Louis County, noting the growing change in demographics as people moved from the City to the County as they looked for greater safety, more room and better schools for their kids. Corporations used the club membership lure to keep employees from jumping ship (downsizing was not even a word we recognized then) and playing “client golf” became an accepted business practice. Memberships were reasonably priced, $2-5,000 for many courses, slightly more for the top layouts, even less for “junior memberships” that were snatched up by eager “palmer-types.”

But public golf still languishing far behind. By 1970, the top public courses were not found just in Missouri; many ventured across the Mississippi to play the Illinois venues. The 18-hole public courses on the west side of the Mississippi were Paddock, Forest Park, Crystal Lake, Green Trails, St. Charles, Riverside, St. Andrews, Southmoor, Paradise Valley, Bogey Hills, North Shore (27) and Creve Coeur. There were several good nine-hole layouts in the area; Triple A, St. Charles (9), Ruth Park, Ballwin, St. Ann, Forest Park (9), West Par, Pebble Creek, GolfMohr, Parkwood Oaks, and Duwe GC and a few in the outlying areas. The East side also had a number of good courses; Columbia, Clinton Hills, Belk Park, Triple Lakes, Tamarack and Locust Hills. Later, we lost some of these layouts, but that trend would continue as long as land for homes outpaces green fees, such as what occurred at Green Trails, West Par, Crystal Lake, Pebble Creek, Parkwood Oaks, and others. Other courses, such as Glenwood (Top of the Barrel) closed and remains an empty lot today.

I have vivid memories of getting up at 6:00 am to make a 7:00 tee time at St. Charles or St. Andrews or Paradise Valley or Forest Park. My golfing buddies, Jerry and Tom Hennenhoefer, were also early risers! Waiting to hit on the first tee at St. Charles, the long par-3 over the small ravine was definitely not on anyone’s top 10 list! But these were the public courses we all played in the early-mid 70s. You couldn’t get on Crystal Lake on the weekend unless you were a regular. Municipalities began to get into the golf business to attract homeowners to their communities, and as a way of increasing their tax base. St. Ann, Ballwin and St. Peters did so while providing a great benefit to their communities and to area golfers.

Your traditional courses, closer to the city, were still doing well. Bob Riley was holding down the fort at Forest Park, where Ken Sample would follow him after Riley refused to submit a bid for the shop, a slight at the parks department for the way they failed to maintain the courses. Later Steve Sebastian. would also make an attempt to make a go of things within the Park, before moving to a private club. Ageless Henry Christman was fulfilling the same role at venerable Ruth Park while Ken Sample got things started at Paddock before moving to Forest Park with partner Zeke Seeger in 1969. Movement among area pros would continue as they progressively searched for the “right” opportunity. More courses began to employ PGA Professionals as their professionalism, teaching ability and management skills allowed the courses to more effectively compete for the consumer dollar.

A pro also lent stability to a facility, and though the assistants seemed to move from course to course quicker than you could pick up a conceded “gimme three-footer,” the head pro was the mainstay.

Perhaps of equal importance was the hiring of a superintendent. They went from being greenkeepers to a more professional designation. They were not just someone who cut the fairways and greens, but a true turf professional; someone who knew how to spot a problem and provide the correct solution quickly. Too often we have seen the result of ineptitude by a poorly trained individual when greens must be watered or tees closed. Fortunately, this is becoming less common as the USGA and the Golf Course Superintendents Association increased its base of knowledge and training.

This was also the era of Nicklaus and Palmer, of Player and Floyd, and TV golf. The Masters became a media event because of TV and we first discovered the British Open, despite the poor BBC pictures.

At the 1956 Carling Open, held at Sunset CC, many nationally known pros came to compete. One of them was an aging Tommy Armour. Having come over as an amateur in 1921, Armour was still a contender. Leading the tournament going into the last round, the Scotsman was seen downing at least two shots of Scotch before teeing off. His caddie, hoping to make a few dollars should Armour win, remarked that it might not be such a good idea, to which Armour retorted in his thick brogue “Laddie, ‘afta a few o’ these, that $2,500 first prize’ll seem like 25 cents!” In the end, Dow Finsterwald overtook Armour to claim the trophy.

The St. Louis Publinks began in 1960 under the direction of Milton Frank as it kicked off the golf season on the first Sunday in May. It has continued first, under Bart Collida and now John Kueper. Golf as a means of promoting charity events began in the 1950s with the LPGA, grew overnight with nearly every charity, school and worthwhile organization (and sometimes not-so-worthwhile) holding an outing. But mostly golf just grew. Television allowed us to dream of being like our heroes, and despite never taking a lesson, we approached the first tee with par on our minds. We played clubs with names like Northwestern, Sam Snead, Hogan, Wilson K-28 and Staff, PGA, Shakespeare, Haig Ultra, Patty Berg and MacGregor. If you were very fortunate, you might even own a set of custom Kenneth Smith clubs!

By the mid-to-late 1950s, carts were making inroads into golf. Walking was common, sometimes with pull-carts, with a cart used infrequently, usually on weekends as courses made them mandatory to increase revenues. Caddies at public courses by the 1960s were virtually non-existent, though, at private clubs, they were still in heavy use. Sunset’s Jim Fogertey had a rule that if a caddie was available until 3 pm on the weekend, a member had to take one! However, gradually carts took over more and more as clubs and courses put in continuous paths, enabling the use of carts (and their fees) regardless of the weather. We all hated to hear “carts on paths,” but at least we were playing golf.

Country Club life continued as we all had more free time as the 1970s brought us a different way of conducting business - on the golf course - and businessmen took advantage of it.

From 1950 to 1980 the trio of Jackson, Blair, and Cochran were the names most often mentioned when you wondered who won what event on the men’s side. These three were perhaps as good as any threesome anywhere in the country. For one of them not to reach the finals of a local event was something of an upset, and a bit of humiliation. While Jim Tom played more outside the area, Jackson and Cochran were just about everywhere. Both had sales positions, and they frequently played in tournaments throughout southern Illinois and Missouri as their clients called to “show them off” [while making a few dollars on the side with various wagers] with Jimmy and Bob winning numerous tournaments in this format.

This was also an era when a young Tom Watson began to win frequently as did a slightly older Jim Colbert. In the State Amateur Bill Stewart of Springfield was one of the outsiders who would occasionally break through as did Scott Bess from Mizzou and Columbia CC. Others coming to prominence included Jay Haas and Jim Holtgrieve, though both of these would have greater success on different stages.

At the 1961 US Amateur at Pebble Beach, St. Louis had quite a contingent. Besides Jackson and Cochran newer faces ventured west; Tom Hullverson from Sunset, Vince Greene from Meadowbrook and Les Slattery from Normandie.

Also, in 1961, Bob Cochran was selected to the Walker Cup team. At age 49, he was the senior member of the squad. Another player with St. Louis ties was Gene Andrews. Having grown up in Kirkwood, he later moved to Los Angeles. Andrews won the 1954 US Publinks and would later win the 1970 US Senior Amateur. Andrews and Cochran teamed for an unexpected victory in their match against Michael Bonallack and Ronald Shade 4 & 3, as the USA won the Match by a score of 11-1.

Marilyn Herpel, Judy Torluemke, Mary Gail Dalton, Barbara Bubany Berkmeyer, Kathy Severson, and Marcella Rose would lead the ladies events more than others in the state events, while Jeannie Dobbin Lewis, Ellen Conant, Susie Driscoll, and Doris Phillips would add their names to those above in competing for local titles. All of these ladies are great champions, and most had their nemesis. Marilyn Herpel for years had a tough time beating Betty Jane Haemerle, while Marcella Rose and Doris Phillips went head-to-head so many times it was probably a draw! Barbara Berkmeyer was perhaps the most outstanding as she captured five district titles and four state crowns in this era. Of the thirty-one Women’s District titles up for grabs in this era, one of the ten above lay claim to it 28 times!

This era was also different in that the combination of Pro and Amateur was probably at its highest in years. The money on tour, prior to the mid-80s was fairly reasonable, and Club pros were able to qualify for Tour events, at least until the days of the TPA/PGA rift. Amateurs like Bob Cochran, Jim Tom Blair, Jim Jackson, and others routinely went to Tour events to compete. Competition was keen. Players had to play well, or they were quickly ousted.

On many a Monday, a crowd would gather at local courses - Triple A, Normandie, Forest Hills, Crystal Lake - and the games would begin. It was rather informal; names would go into a hat, and as they were drawn, teams were formed. But that was just the beginning. The real fun began when the bets were announced. The usual games were present; skins, nassau’s, the occasional calcutta. But the side bets made it most interesting. When it came to the “presses” (when, how, automatic), the money began to mount. The matches were intense as the level of play was outstanding. Dutch Harrison was a frequent entrant as was Dick Shaiper, Jim Offer, Gene Webb, Cal Tanner, Bob Cochran, Jim Jackson, and others.

Forest Park was also one of the main spots for a game. “The Park” also affectionately known as “FOPO,” was so busy, and unfortunately so slow, that six-hour rounds were common on weekends. The City owned the course, and despite the work of Ken Sample, Ed Duwe, and others, the money for maintenance was seldom enough. Rock hard fairways gave you that extra roll, with experience rather than skill often more important on the greens.

The Park was also where players such as Earl Parham, Fleming Cody, Booker Ford, Pepper Moore, Bob Terrell, and others congregated. Area politicians such as Leroy Tyus lent his support and name to events as the City was going through a revival during this era. However, their play was not limited to the Park. Paddock, St. Andrews, Paradise Valley and later Crystal Highlands and Eagle Springs all served as sites for the various events. The Lambs Golf Association held a series of tournaments where Dutch Harrison, Bob Rosburg, Charlie Sifford, Walter Morgan, Lee Elder, Chuck Thorpe (Jim’s brother), legendary Ted Rhodes, Fred Carter, and others would compete. The Paramount Golf Association continued to hold their events, as they had since 1930, but they were no longer limited to just Forest Park, and as a result, more participants came from across the area.

Boxing legend Joe Louis was a frequent visitor to our town, and he always brought his clubs. I recall one day playing behind him at St. Andrews when he was in town to referee a wrestling match. Walking up to meet him to shake his hand, it was more like his hand engulfed yours, such was its’ size and expanse; you could almost feel the impact it would make, and any thoughts you had of boxing died immediately!

But some of the more significant breakthroughs would not occur until the 80s and into the 90s when more public courses would be built, and greater access would be available.

The LPGA and PGA

Following the 1948 PGA at Norwood Hills, there was much excitement to continue to bring top-flight professional golf to the area. Golfers did not have that long to wait as the 1949 Western Amateur was held at Bellerive. However, having seen some of the best professionals compete, it was professional golf that most wanted to see again.

The 1950 and 1951 St. Louis Open Tournaments, held at Algonquin GC and Meadowbrook CC, respectively, saw some of the Tour’s best arrive to compete, including Sam Snead, Porky Oliver, Mangrum, Jackie Burke, Doug Ford, Tommy Bolt, and a contingent of area professionals and amateurs. Also, in the field both years was Cary Middlecoff, and he would walk off with the title both years.

In 1952, the Western Open continued to be one of professional golf’s most prestigious events. A victory here was considered alongside a Major. As the second oldest national event - behind only the US Open - this was an event every professional wanted on their resume

The area had begun hosting this event as far back as 1908. The 1952 tournament would be coming to Westwood CC with an outstanding field, including Bobby Locke, Jackie Burke, Julius Boros, Ed Furgol, Dutch Harrison, Lloyd Mangrum, and Dow Finsterwald. There was also a fairly large group of area professionals competing; Ted Neist, Gene Webb, Eddie Held, Don Clarkson, and a few area amateurs. In the end, it was Mangrum who would take the title.

The Western came back in 1953 to Bellerive CC. The field was just as strong from the Tour, with another complement of area professionals and amateurs competing. Dutch Harrison, who two years later would become head professional at the new Old Warson CC, shot 278 for a four-shot victory and the $2,400 prize.

But in 1954, the LPGA came to Glen Echo. This was the time when the LPGA was in its infancy. There were perhaps 15-20 players, with the remainder of the field filled with local amateurs. The LPGA moved for the next two years to Norwood Hills before leaving town, only to return in 1964 for a 7-year run, starting and ending with Glen Echo, with the five events in the middle held at Norwood Hills. The winners included Betsy Rawls, Mickey Wright, Louise Suggs, Fay Crocker, Kathy Whitworth (who won three times), Sandra Haynie, Shirley Englehorn and Mary Mills.

As noted earlier, Sunset hosted the 1956 Carling Open, won by Dow Finsterwald, but no other club stepped up to look for other events for the area; that is until Bellerive made its move to Ladue Road and Hord Hardin received a call from St. Louis Mayor Raymond Tucker requesting that Hardin “get the US Open for the town in 1965.”

Hardin, who was on the USGA executive committee, was able to negotiate the deal and, though the course was less than three years old, convince the USGA to award it to Bellerive two years later.

However, the area had shown it would support professional, and when Gary Player took the title, it was like he instantly became one of our own.

A few years later, Old Warson CC, which had sought since its opening in 1955 to secure a high-profile Major, finally did so in 1965 when it was awarded the 1971 Ryder Cup. While this was the era of the US against a team representing Great Britain and Ireland (The US versus Europe would not appear until 1979) it was still great international golf with the top US stars. The US won 18 ½ to 13 ½ to continue the large margin of victory the US maintained, eventually leading to the format change.

The next two years saw Norwood play host to back-to-back PGA Tour events. With the Merry Mex, Lee Trevino winning in 1972, and sentimental favorite Gene Littler taking the 1973 title, they were both outstanding for area golf. In addition, local favorite Bob Goalby, still fresh off his win at the Masters in 1968, was in contention both years, bringing out larger crowds in the process.

Amateur Tournaments

We also saw our share of very good national amateur events. Old Warson hosted the 1957 Western Amateur, with Chick Evans arriving to compete, some 40-years after he won the US Open and US Amateur in the same year (1916). Five years later, they opened their course once again to the 1962 Trans-Mississippi Championship.

In between those two events, in 1960, St. Louis CC hosted the US Amateur. The event that year was played entirely at Match Play, with players seeded based upon varying criteria. Jack Nicklaus was defending champion, but in an upset, he lost in the quarterfinals. Meanwhile, Deane Beman downed Robert Gardner of New York in the finals. Future area pro at St. Louis CC, Steve Spray, advanced to the quarterfinals before losing to Gardner. However, at that time, each of the quarterfinalists received an invitation to play in the Masters the following year.

It would be another 12 years before the area hosted another national championship. Once again, it was St. Louis CC who stepped up for the 1972 US Women’s Amateur. Despite the strong field of former winners and Curtis Cup players, it was Mary Budke of Dundee, Oregon who had the week of her life as she defeated Cynthia Hill in the finals.

Course Changes and Updates

Shortly after the conclusion of the 1957 Western Amateur at Old Warson, the club took its 3-year-old layout and decided to make some changes. One hole that seemed a bit odd was the original fourteenth. In the routing at that time, players left the par-3 thirteenth green (much the same as it is today with the tee shot over water) and walked up the hill to where the maintenance storage area for mulch and other consumables is today. From there, they played downhill to a hole with a sharp dogleg right, with the green wrapping around the nearby water hazard. Just behind the fourteenth was the green for the seventeenth (the sixteenth today). After finishing the fourteenth, players walked along a path to the left of the lake to the tee for the fifteenth, a par-3 over water (today this is the same green for the fourteenth). Players continued from the fifteenth to the sixteenth (number fifteen today) and then to the par-5 seventeenth (number 16 today). The current seventeenth hole, a par-3 over 200 yards, did not exist at that time. Coming off the par-5 seventeenth, players walked up the rise to the tee for the eighteenth.

The decision was made to eliminate the original fourteenth hole entirely and with that, the fourteenth today became a par-4 and a new par-3 hole, the current seventeenth, was added. Changes were also made to the green for the current par-5 sixteenth. Originally, it was lower and positioned closer to the lake. Course superintendent Oscar Bowman took control of the construction of the sixteenth green, creating what is in play today. However, later in 2019, Old Warson will once again renovate the 16th green, moving it closer to its original position while also modifying the 17th hole and part of the 18th tee.

Also, during the mid-1950s, other architects came into town to peddle their skills to area courses. Robert Trent Jones submitted proposals to several clubs, most notably St. Louis Country Club, making numerous suggestions which would have taken the course from a classic C.B. Macdonald and make it almost entirely a Trent Jones design. Thankfully for those who respect the work of the masters in the early days of golf, St. Louis chose not to implement the majority of Jones’ recommendations, instead, limiting his work to just a handful of updates. Other proposals were also submitted by Jones to Glen Echo and Norwood.

East coast veteran architect Geoffrey Cornish also visited the area, also making recommendations for Glen Echo, Norwood Hills among others. Most of these were only taken under advisement and not acted upon at the time. At Glen Echo, one proposal Cornish submitted would have taken the uphill, par-4 thirteenth and, instead of it being a straightaway hole, would have turned it to the right, using the land to the right of the par-3 eleventh green, and make it a sharp dogleg.

With many area courses approaching 40 to 50 years old, perhaps it was time for clubs to consider updates or renovations. Some of the early courses were laid out in what could be termed “rudimentary” style, based upon the available budget at the time as well as the machinery available to move earth.

Greenbriar was one course that was forced to make substantial changes in 1958 when a highway took part of the course. Initially, all of the club’s holes were located south of the railroad tracks. However, losing part of the front nine meant the club needed to acquire new land, or be content with a 9-hole course! The club purchased land north of the railroad tracks, enabling architect Charles D. Wagstaff to add nine new holes. Today, after playing the first two on the first nine, the course now plays the next thirteen holes in this area before players cross-over the tracks again for the final three holes.

Sunset Hills CC in Edwardsville moved from a 9-hole to an 18-hole course in 1955 when Larry Packard and Brent Wadsworth added new holes, extending the course to over 6,700 yards.

The former Westhaven Golf Club - at one time Belleville CC - replaced its sand greens with grass in the early 1950s, giving Belleville and nearby communities a new, updated course to enjoy.

The old North Shore Golf Club, which operated as both a semiprivate and public facility at times, reopened in 1959 after having been closed for nearly 22-years. Homer Herpel, the former Algonquin pro as well as the owner of Indian Meadows GC on Olive St. Road in Olivette, joined with architect Chic Adams to revive the course. With the addition of new land, the course was extended from nine holes to 27-holes, with numerous holes located to the west of Riverview Boulevard and some up on the bluff overlooking the Mississippi. However, river flooding, along with its northern location, did not make for a good combination and by 1984, the course closed, only to reopen in 1989 before shutting down for good not long after the flood of 1993, which devastated the layout.

In the 1950s, Glen Echo, Norwood Hills, Old Warson, Algonquin, Meadowbrook, Westwood, Bellerive, and Sunset each hosted championship events, ranging for national amateur contests, Open events, to PGA tour stops and events featuring pioneers from the early days of the LPGA. It is likely, though not validated, that the courses may well have updated aspects of their course to provide a more competitive challenge for players.

The 1950s was also the decade before most clubs began to introduce large-scale tree-planting along their fairways. Photos from the past-World War II era show that many are course had bunkering as the primary hazard for players off the tee. By the end of the 1960s, the forestation of most area courses had taken place, leading to the term “parkland” to describe these courses rather than “links-style,” giving rise to the institution of lush, watered fairways and rough. Apart from ‘tree-lined” fairways, little thought went into many of the plantings across the course, with fruit trees among those planted for their beauty than suitability. On more than one occasion, a beautiful fruit tree overshadowed a bunker, with falling fruit seen rotting among the sand.

Key Individuals

At clubs across the area, several key individuals played important roles in the success of these clubs. At Old Warson, it was Al Hayes and Jim Rarick, at Bellerive it was led by Hord Hardin, while at Norwood Hills, it was left to Roger Linsin to keep things going. In the early 1980s, it would be Linsin, who took Norwood Hills from a near bankrupt club to one of high stature, primarily through his insight into expanding the Monday Outing activity at the Club. In effect, he invented — along with Dick Shaiper — the outing business as we know it today. Other key players included; Gabriel Alberici at Glen Echo, Wally Armbruster at Algonquin and Eberhard Anheuser at Sunset, and of course, others at their respective clubs. Each of these men, through their powers of persuasion, brought their club through various trials to position them as some of the area’s best.

Golfing Before The Arch