No one can quite put their finger on exactly when the “golf boom” hit. Was it the first TPC course in 1981? Or was it when Hilton Head was first developed in 1969? Or perhaps it was when airfares started getting cheaper which enabled golfers to travel to resort destinations? Many believe in the Arnie-Eisenhower-TV theory and golf just continued to grow from the mid-60s to the late 90s.
Nevertheless, the period from 1980-2000 saw not just a boom in terms of the number of courses, but the quality of courses as well. This is not to say that the early courses were not good; quite to the contrary, they are among the very best. But with equipment changes, the rise of Palmer, Nicklaus, Player, Trevino and the like, more players took up the game, and the demand for courses grew with that surge. Many courses took hold, while others saw their fairways plowed-under as the value of the land outpaced green fees. Courses such as Crystal Lake turned into Barrington. Parkwood Oaks in Maryland Heights begot condominiums while Southmoor [alias Bahnfyre] and Green Trails begot homes on the 14th fairway.
During this period, it was not just public golf that grew, but private courses also saw a revival. Union Hills (1982), (1979), (1992), (1994), (1989), (1993) and (1988) all are private, though Crescent began as the public Players Club.
Architects who had not been in St. Louis before, nationally recognized names, came to put their stamp on area courses. Names such as Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish at St. Albans and P.B. Dye at Boone Valley - though the actual routing was said to have been done by his father Pete, enabling young P.B. to gain some exposure by giving him the credit. Robert Trent Jones returned to design Don Breckenridge’s Legends while Karl Litton made the 36 holes at Whitmoor. The talented Lawrence and then Roger Packard completed the 27-holes at the Players Club, while St. Louisan Gary Kern continued his excellent work at Fox Run, Quail Creek (with Hale Irwin), Fox Creek and Union Hills, adding a back nine to the latter course.
The Country Club lure was not what brought these men and their considerable talent to the area to work their course magic. Often it was through old friendships as was the case between Spencer Olin and Arnold Palmer, who met years earlier at a pro-am. So, it was only natural when Olin decided to build a course for the Alton community, that Arnie and Ed Seay would be selected. Tom Fazio, the hottest architect nationally for years, designed the in 1994, while Dr. Michael Hurdzan completed in 1988 and completed the 2nd 18-holes at St. Albans, the course in 1997. The 1965 Open champ, Gary Player, returned to the area, designing Tapawingo, which opened in 1994. Jack Nicklaus designed one of his very few public courses for Jack Wolfner as Stonewolf welcomed golfers in September 1996.
In all, from 1990-99, 48 courses - public and private - opened across the area, with 42 of these still accepting green fees.
Lesser known architects brought us some quality courses, many times on a par with their more famous counterparts, but often at a much lower price. Hawk Ridge by Larry Flatt opened in 1995 as the city of Lake St. Louis responded to their resident’s requests - though the course would later close 9-holes. Senior Player Jim Cochran did some negotiations with the Pipefitters Union and developed Emerald Greens in 1994. Jim is perhaps best known for his two courses in south county, Paradise Valley and the Players Club. Masters’ Champ Bob Goalby did not forsake his Belleville roots and developed The Orchards in 1991 and began developing Champions Trail GC in Fairview Heights with Jay Haas, Fred Couples, Curtis Strange, Jimmy Connors, and others. Following the need for some additional financing, the new project was sold to retired Ralston executive William Stiritz, and in the process, the course was renamed . When it did open, it did so to rave reviews, leaving other Eastside courses to step up to compete.
Other new layouts are Pevely Farms by Arthur Hills, the Art Kerckhoff dream facility near the Crescent Farms. Keith Foster gave us Persimmon Woods - a private facility in St. Charles and a tribute to the hard work of Jeff Whitfield - and then Foster worked magic over a barren landscape for developer Tim Crowley, as he created Gateway National Golf Links in 1998.
Perhaps the most overlooked area architect, probably because he is local, is Gary Kern. Gary designed or remodeled some of the best layouts in the area including , , (Edwardsville), , (Potosi) and . He also designed the third nine at the Legends for the owner at that time, Pat McEvoy. At the Legends, Kern tempered his own creativity in an attempt to make it blend with the original RTJ-designed eighteen. It is often said that “a prophet in his own land has no honor” and for Gary, the fact that he resided on Clayton Road clouded the issue that he is an excellent golf course designer. Though retired, he remains active in the area when called upon. His son Ron has collaborated with Gary on many designs and developed into a fine designer in his own right working out of Indianapolis.
Hale Irwin, who had unbridled success on the Senior Tour, began a design business as his career on the regular Tour seemed to be on the decline — obviously having no idea how successful his Senior career would be. He and Gary Kern collaborated on Quail Creek in 1986, marking Hale’s first significant design. Irwin went on to create a number of very successful layouts - most with ASGCA member Stan Gentry as lead designer - in Colorado and other western states. Though Hale moved his design offices to Arizona in recent years, he still makes the occasional trip back to the area.
Other “celebrities” have gotten into the design business; Weatherman Dave Murray designed (now Family Golf Centers) and at Tee-Up Golf while Ned Storey, owner of the areas Golf Discounts (at the time), laid out the now-defunct .
Still, other courses were completed by amateur architects or course owners searching to make their mark in golf. One such facility is in House Springs, designed by owner Brooks McCarthy. The Sunset member completely sodded the course as he cut the fairways through the wooded acreage near Hillsboro.
Despite the availability of top-notch architects there continue to be courses developed that for a variety of reasons are plagued by water problems, poor greens, infestations, and other ills. Our initial reaction might be to condemn these as poor layouts, and they very may well be. But each course serves a purpose. No one would want to play Bellerive from the “tips” all the time (no...really you wouldn’t!), just as the scratch player might shy away from a to challenge his game. But for each individual golfer, a course serves a purpose or else it goes out of business. , , , , or do not survive just because they are municipal courses. They do so because golfers enjoy playing them. For each golfer, finding a layout best suited to your game is the challenge, for that is the track you will revisit over and over again.
When Normandie went public in 1985, it was a boon to area golf on the northside. Private from 1901-1984, Normandie was always considered as one of the best when it came to challenging the best players.
For a time, the members at Normandie considered entering into a lease arrangement with the owner of Valhalla Cemetery, directly across the Rock Road from the course. With only enough land for nine holes, a small range, and a clubhouse, the plan never went past the discussion stage as by late 1984, many former members had joined other courses.
Still, the lease payments demanded by the landowners that doomed Normandie as a private club would also haunt the course when it went public. When the first leaseholder, Steve Spray, was unable to come to terms on a new lease in 1995, the course underwent a succession of failed attempts to make a go of it from several management firms.
While the layout remained a classic, the lack of funds for maintenance moved the course into the second tier of public courses.
The number of golfers grew by staggering proportions for years, until leveling off by the end of the 1990s. Unfortunately, the number taking lessons did not change. The five and six hour round became famous (or infamous), and course etiquette was sometimes hard to find between the beer cans and un-repaired ball-marks. Course marshals were often little more than retirees trying to fill their shag bag, and seldom did course management make this their biggest concern. The result was that more players left the game. Almost every survey indicated that this was the biggest hurdle golf faced in attracting and keeping golfers.
During these two decades, we have seen many of top-quality players appear on the scene. Derre Owsley made his impact felt, while the Barry brothers, Tom and Dan, have, at times, been so dominant you wonder why they don’t win everything in sight. Bob Beckmann, Scott Thomas, David Lucks, and Mark Boyajian played brilliantly as it seemed like a horserace with the thoroughbreds continually bumping for position down the home stretch. For most, it has been exciting to watch their game as they play some of the best amateur golf seen in decades.
I would be remiss in not noting the play in the early 80s of two players who moved elsewhere for competition — not out of the area, but to the Pro tours — Jay Delsing and Jerry Haas. Had they remained amateurs they undoubtedly would have been extremely successful. But they had other goals in life, and they continued on that track. Delsing competed on the PGA Tour and the Nationwide tour for most of the time. Former John Burroughs player and Bellerive member, Jay Williamson, also found success on the Tour. However, by the mid-2000s, he had decided that the nomad life had lost its charm and left the Tour. Likewise, Jerry Haas decided in the late 1990s that he might be better suited to teaching and coaching others the game as he took the head golf position at his alma mater, Wake Forest. Since doing so, he has produced several quality players who currently compete on the PGA tour, including his nephew, Bill Haas.
A group of players from Normandie made their mark on area championships in this era, while Norwood Hills maintained its dominance among the private clubs with several players winning a majority of titles. However, players from St. Clair CC, The Players Club, Algonquin and recently St. Albans, Meadowbrook, and Fox Run have emerged among the leaders.
However, through the years, a few names continually ended atop the leaderboard, not in every event, but enough to let others know that they still have that competitive drive with the game to match - Jim Holtgrieve and Don Bliss.
Fourteen State Amateur titles were claimed by ten St. Louisans since 1980, as Don Bliss and Skip Berkmeyer each captured three titles. Don had moved to California for business during the late 70s but would return and win the ‘83, ‘86 and ‘88 titles. He finished second in ‘96, just missing his 5th title.
Jim Holtgrieve won his second title in 1981, and then John Hayes culminated the ‘82 season with his victory. Lucks had a spectacular year in 1987 with his win, as did Scott Thomas in 1992 with his thrilling 38-hole victory over Rollie Hurst of Springfield. Beckmann won his trophy in 1993, before a run of out-state players found victory. After losing the title in 1998, Berkmeyer roared back to close out the decade with his first State title in 1999, positioning him for what would come in the years ahead. Rounding out the winners were Greg Gill in 1989, Justin Bardgett in 2008, and Sam Migdal in 2016.
Holtgrieve’s victory at the 1981 US Mid-Amateur would take him more out of state for much of the decade. He would compete throughout the world as he would play in two Walker Cups and several Masters, with his goals were fixed on winning national championships.
What the past forty-year period demonstrated on the state level was that parity was becoming more evident. Whether St. Louis players were focused more or area events, particularly after 1991 with the rise of the Metropolitan Amateur Golf Association, or if the talent was improving across the state, is a matter for conjecture.
The Metropolitan Amateur GA
The beginning of the (MAGA) and its Amateur Championship in 1991, began a new era in competitive golf. It gained instant credibility when Bliss roared to the front with the initial win over Terry Tessary, then Bliss repeated in 1993. Derre Owsley, a former pro, regained his amateur status and became a factor, winning the 1992 Metropolitan. Holtgrieve, Craig Schnurbusch, Tom Barry, David Estes, and Brian Kennedy each captured the MAGA title during the initial years, with Bliss and Estes each taking two. Perhaps another turning point for the MAGA was its ability to secure Bellerive for their 1996 championship. This venue drew players from across the area as they saw the opportunity to play a great design. So, much so, that a qualifier was considered to limit the field. During the championship that year, Bellerive was playing extremely difficult as only Tom Barry was able to solve the greens to take the title.
The MAGA began additional events following the success of their amateur. In 1993, the Women’s championship began, with Ellen Port taking three titles in seven years, while Barbara Berkmeyer claimed two. The MAGA Senior also started in 1993, with Don Dupske and Jack Powers dominating through 1999.
Finally, an invitational match play event - The Taylor Cup - began in 1996, with Boone Valley being the host site. Again, Bliss and Holtgrieve came out on top in three of the four played through 1999. Only Tim Riley from St. Clair CC, winning in 1999, could stop their charge.
Another tournament born in this era was the St. Louis District’s Jimmy Jackson Invitational. Begun in 1985, following Jackson’s untimely death in 1983, the District invited the best players from area clubs to vie for the honor. Jim Mason, a friend of Jackson’s and frequent playing partner and competitor, captured the first title.
The Triple A “Champion of Champions” title continued through 1999, though the number of eligible players was quite small. Also, a women’s division was created by Jim Offer leading to an upsurge in interest for a few years.
The new Missouri Mid-Amateur began in 1995 with Scott Thomas taking the first title, followed by Don Bliss in 1996, two fitting titleholders and strong representatives as lifetime amateurs.
The Missouri Cup and Wilson Cup saw East battle West among in the amateur ranks, then took their shots at the Pro’s, doing quite well at times. The Wilson Cup, in particular, traces its roots back to the early 1920s when Manion, Held, Wolff, Bockenkamp and the like battled the pros.
District Golf Activities
In the Men’s District Jerry Haas, Mark Boyajian and Bob Beckmann would all be multiple winners, with Delsing, Highlander, Holtgrieve, Thomas, Ed Schwent, Sam Scheibal and Jeff Johnson winning single titles. Dustin Ashby, the 1996 winner, would be unique in that he is a true Publinks player, and may be the first Publinks player to win the District with the only other possible contenders for this record being Jimmy Manion, for his win in 1923 and Eddie Held in 1924. However, both joined private club’s after their wins after having played public courses for years.
The Women’s District would record several back-to-back winners since 1980: Barbara Beuckman, Jill Bertram and Maria Palozola along with Barbara Berkmeyer’s three titles in 1994, 1996 and 1997. Jeannie Dobbin Lewis had last won a District in 1953, but she came back to capture the 1985 trophy. Mary Gail Dalton would dominate the Senior Women’s events, capturing five titles as Betty Von Rump and Alice Sampson would each win two. Ellen Port entered the 1998 Women’s District and breezed through the field at Westwood for the title.
Women’s State Amateur
On the state level, Port captured two titles (and finished second twice) as did Lindsey Murfin and Jamie Tucker. Barbara Berkmeyer would win her fifth title in 1984, second only to Karen MacGee’s seven wins. Conspicuous by her absence was Marcella Rose who won two state and a district title in the 60s. She, like Port, concentrated more on regional and national events as their game progressed.
Port’s two state crowns would be warm-ups for her national competitions, and this is where she concentrated her efforts and had her greatest success!
Following her win at the Trans-Miss in 1994, Ellen was selected to the 1994 Curtis Cup team, the first area woman so honored. When she won the 1995 and 1996 US Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship, she was ranked among the top women amateurs in the country. In 1996, she was selected for her second Curtis Cup team. A few national publications made a comparison to Port and Annika Sorenstam during the 1997 season, as both were seeking three USGA titles in a row, though neither would be successful. Still, being compared to the best woman professional in the world left Port feeling much better about her future.
Port was selected as an alternate to the 1998 Curtis Cup team, while she continued to compete in the Women’s Open, Amateur, and Mid-Amateur. She also ventured to England to compete in the 1996 Ladies British Amateur with the Curtis Cup Team.
Part of her slowdown was the birth of her two children in the late 1990s. However, we would see that once she returned to form, there was little stopping her in the future.
Thanks in large part to Arnold Palmer’s presence, Spencer T. Olin Community GC hosted the 1996 US Women’s Public Links and the 1999 US Public Links Championships. In 1996, Heather Graff defeated Lauri Berles 5 & 4 for the trophy. Area players in the field were: Jill Gomric, Jo D. Blosch, (both of whom made it to match play) and Michelle Lin and Debbie Goskie.
In 1999, two future PGA pros did battle as Hunter Haas of Oklahoma downed Michael Kirk from South Africa 4 & 3. Tom Barry, John Henson, and Phil Caravia competed, though none advanced to match play.
Other PGA players in the field included: Adam Scott, who lost in the semifinals to Haas, Aaron Baddeley, Kevin Streelman, Jason Duffner, Erik Compton and D.J. Trahan.
Old Warson hosted the 1999 Men’s Mid-Amateur, the first championship held there since the 1971 Ryder Cup. With qualifying rounds held at Bellerive and Old Warson (scores were slightly higher at Old Warson), match play began with a talented field including; Trip Kuehne, Tim Jackson, Spider Miller, Tom McKnight, Kemp Richardson, Tim Hogarth, Randy Lewis, and David Eger. Only Scott Thomas qualified for match play, though David Estes, Scott Edwards, Don Bliss, and Mark Norman also competed.
The finals saw two veterans do battle as Jerry Courville, from Connecticut, and Danny Green from Tennessee went toe-to-toe for the right to claim the Robert T. Jones Trophy. In the end, Green downed Courville 2 & 1 in a hard-fought match.
The St. Louis area had suddenly become one of the USGA’s preferred sites, and in the coming years, area golf enthusiasts would be treated to some outstanding events - amateur and professional! USGA executive Tom O’Toole continued to support St. Louis’ efforts and following the successful 1996 and 1999 USGA events, additional championships were now considering St. Louis sites for 2001 and beyond, including proposals from Norwood Hills for the 2001 US Senior Amateur in September, while Fox Run looked to secure the 2001 US Women’s Mid-Amateur in October. As we now know, this run would continue through 2018 with both professional and amateur USGA championships across the area.
Though few National Tournaments had started in recent years, at least one began in St. Louis. With the growth of Seniors in the country, the National Senior Olympics came to St. Louis in 1987 to crown their national champions. Two St. Louisans, Harris Frank and Ken Marshall, active in the St. Louis Senior Olympics for eight years, decided the time had come to organize a national tournament during which local medal winners could vie for national recognition. So, in late June 1987, the golfing portion of the Senior Olympics arrived to shoot for par over Glen Echo. With the club the site of the 1904 Olympic Golf matches, the course proved a natural venue for the inaugural tournament. John Jacobs III, 66, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a retired Amana executive, shot a 148 to defeat Pete Dye (of architect fame) by a stroke. Pete’s wife, Alice Dye, won the Ladies championship flight with a 5-stroke win, shooting a 169 total.
As the 1990s drew to a close, the area’s craving for golf seemed to be a bit more satisfied. There would be a Nike event at the , the Michelob Light LPGA Classic at and the Boone Valley Classic began a three-year contract with increased purse and TV for 1997. At the moment, it seemed that only a PGA Tour event, or another Major, could make area golf that much better.
When it was announced that the American Express Championship would be coming to Bellerive in September 2001, the entire community became excited about the quality of the field that would be present, especially Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and the strong international contingent.