New Century, New Challenges
As the clock turned and 2000 became the new date on the calendar, people were concerned about what was termed the “Y2K” effect. While naysayers forecast the end of civilization - or at least total chaos when computers stopped working and all technology came to an abrupt halt - it became a non-issue when midnight came and went and virtually nothing happened. That being said, life after Y2K was anything but ordinary.
The boom in golf construction had tapered off by the late 1990s. Gateway National and Persimmon Woods, both by Keith Foster, would be among the last opened before 2000. Actually, we would begin to lose more courses than we created as developers found golf courses an easy project and course owners found it difficult to turn down the millions of dollars being offered.
Two venerable St. Charles sites, St. Andrews and St. Charles golf courses, each found it easier to create homes than to fight for tee times. During 2004, St. Andrews was gone and it was not long before a developer bought St. Charles GC; turning it into more homes for the ever-expanding St. Charles area.
It was also during this period that the Cherry Hills CC determined that the numerous legal battles had drained the will and the pockets of those fighting development for six years. It finally succumbed in 2002 and became another Ellisville subdivision, despite the efforts of political leaders who offered the course owners virtually everything but the kitchen sinks to keep it as a golf course. Other courses had their fates in jeopardy as well. Crystal Highlands seemed to be fighting creditors and went through a see-saw struggle to remain open, though ultimately it went private as the landowner - the Union Pacific Railroad - making it available only to their employees and guests for a time before reverting back for public play in 2013. Royal Oaks in Troy, Missouri, neighboring course to Woods Fort, also fell into disrepair and closed in 2003. Hawk Ridge near Lake St. Louis, which opened in 1995 as a very sporty layout, began to make room for a retirement community and it wasn’t long before nine of the holes had vanished, leaving nine for the resident’s exercise.
One of the few courses to open was the private course, Old Hickory, in St. Charles. The brainchild of Ned Storey of Golf Discount, the original discussions began with Kansas City architect Craig Schreiner for a 36-hole project. Ultimately, they opted for a P.B. Dye design, complete with the hundreds of railroad ties that are the trademarks of most Dye designs. After the project was completed there were rumblings over the final product as the course seemed to lack continuity and appeared too challenging for the average club member. Over the next several years, changes were made to the course to soften the original design in an effort to make it more appealing to members. Overall, the results were well received.
However, by 2010, the development was in difficulty as a result of the economy and the declining private club environment. Finally, Old Hickory was taken back by the bank and Storey lost control. A group led by the former club controller Gary Hill purchased the property and began operating as before. A new banquet facility was added, allowing Old Hickory to handle large outside events, adding to their improving financial situation. In addition, like a number of other private clubs, they began to offer no-initiation fee programs, impacting the quality of their membership, though improving their financial situation.
The GC at New Melle, owned by members of the Vatterott family, tried for years to make it a success before finally accepting the fact that location and demographics are key to a successful golfing facility. Today, the course sits vacant as the owners look to see if it may become a park or some other public facility.
Changing Lifestyles & Clubs
Sadly, a number of formerly-prestigious clubs also began to succumb to the panic within the industry as they sought to attract members from other clubs - as well as the first-time club member - with deep discounts and guaranteed dues. While providing some short-term relief, it may well prove disastrous in the end as clubs will lack the long-term dedicated membership required for financial stability.
Private clubs also found it necessary to reduce their initiation fees - or in some instances completely eliminate them - as they sought to attract new blood into the fold. Many of the newer clubs promised no assessments and no minimums while at the same time offering typical club amenities.
While this trend did not impact the top tier private facilities as much (though there seem to be fewer legacy members joining than in the past), the mid-tier clubs found themselves in challenging times. Many had aging structures badly in need of repair. Others found their membership demographics changing dramatically as families continued to move further from traditional metropolitan areas. Clubs became destinations, while new, upscale public facilities, along with some not-so-upscale, found that location was just as important as a name-architect when it came to attracting golfers.
Clubs such as Glen Echo, with its location being a huge factor, along with CC at the Legends, Fox Run, Crescent Farms and Lockhaven, have all had their club, or part of it, for sale, or undergoing significant membership changes, within the past decade. Lockhaven and Crescent Farms went from private to semi-private, with Lockhaven eventually closing for good, as their membership could no longer support the private club environment. The Legends closed for seven months after the owner, Carmen Natoli, passed away in late 2012. It then went through two potential buyers before the sale finally went through in mid-July 2013 to a group of dedicated members led by Matt Iovaldi. Fox Run remains for sale as owner David Ault has indicated he will invest little more into the Club. These latter two are particularly distressing as both courses are considered quite good by most objective standards. The Robert Trent Jones Legends design, while clearly not his best work, remains a challenging, fun and playable course. The Gary Kern designed Fox Run - probably his best work - has hosted LPGA and USGA championships and is recognized for its demanding shotmaking. The fate of each of these clubs/courses will remain to be seen as the market continues to go through the ebb and flow as economic times remain unsettled.
While the growth of the upscale public facilities certainly played a role in the changes within the market, those very clubs have also been impacted as the once high-end fees they commanded are now a thing of the past. Gone are the days when players paid huge annual fees (similar to PSL’s offered by sports teams and universities) just for the privilege of getting a tee time. Now they must market to the golfer instead of waiting for them to call. However, the best of these facilities also has begun to offer very good seasonal play packages, competing with the club environment to many golfers.
The biggest player in the market, Walters Golf Management, which manages a stable between 14 and 18 courses at different times, markets their prime facilities heavily to attract the daily fee player. While they have a financial interest in some of the courses, and a management-fee relationship with others, their impact on the market cannot be underestimated. Founded by Dennis Walters, whose family founded and continues to operate Bogey Hills CC, he sold the management business to his long-time partners, Jeff Smith, and Lucy Mitchell in 2008. Between 2008-13, they grew their business with a very good business model for clubs that joined their group. More recently, clubs aligned with the Whitaker Family (Whitmoor, Missouri Bluffs, Links at Dardenne, GC of Wentzville) broke off from Walters and now operate under their own umbrella, though there have been rumors of dissension among members regarding the investment being made, particularly at Whitmoor. What impact this might have on the courses/clubs - and for that matter on area golfers - has yet to been seen.
However, for the 23 area private clubs that are members of the District Golf Association, it is as much about today’s lifestyle and how families use their discretionary funds as it used to be about golf. With kids in more sports and recreational programs, spouses making more spending decisions, the expense for schools, more backyard pools and changing work environments, joining a club is less about playing golf than about creating a family-oriented environment that can satisfy not just dad’s golf game, but the needs of the entire family. Swim teams, camps, junior golf and tennis, fitness centers and Aquatic centers have taken the place of Smokers and all-day golf events. This is not to say that clubs will not remain relevant; it’s just that for them to remain relevant, they need to evolve to satisfy the needs of their current members and the prospective member, a daunting task for some.
Bellerive went on the prowl for another championship and was able to convince the PGA Tour to bring one of the new World Golf Championships to their historic layout in 2001, the American Express Championship. However, we all know today that events of September 11, 2001, would prevent that event from being completed. Though a number of players already in town early, the closing of airspace on Tuesday prevented many others from arriving. By Wednesday morning everyone knew the event would be canceled.
However, at Norwood Hills, the US Senior Amateur was underway with qualifying play having been completed over the weekend, when events of September 11 occurred. Quarterfinal play was scheduled to begin Tuesday with the finals slated for Thursday. Events in New York presented the USGA with a complex question; should they continue play? The event directors went to the players to get their input. With air travel shut down and, despite a few players concerned about loved ones, it was their decision to move forward. Eventually, Kemp Richardson emerged as the champion, finishing his round on the 17th green, about the same time as the first airliner began its approach over Norwood as it neared Lambert International, lending a bit of surrealism to the event.
About a month later, Fox Run hosted the 2001 US Women’s Mid-Amateur. Defending champion Ellen Port, playing over a course with which she was very familiar, was the undisputed favorite to repeat. However, after taking medalist honors, she stumbled in her quarterfinal match, falling to the eventual champion, Laura Shannahan.
2004 US Senior Open
Not long after, Bellerive announced that they would host the 2004 US Senior Open. As the event drew nearer, it became apparent that this would be the last appearance in a USGA event for Arnold Palmer, ensuring that his final round would be at Bellerive in front of a packed crowd. With rain forecast during the week, the first round on Thursday went well. However, the Friday round was washed out as a deluge fell from the skies and saturated the course.
As Saturday came, the second round would be completed, including Palmer’s final 18-holes. Playing with Gary Player, the spectators eyed every shot and wished every putt into the hole. The final score mattered little as Arnie’s Army - now a new generation - watched as one of the game’s greatest had his one final moment in the sun.
Needing to complete the event on Sunday required playing 36 holes in one day. One of those atop the leaderboard was Peter Jacobsen. With a recent hip replacement, he was unsure if he would be able to walk 36-holes and, despite an opportunity to win the event, informed USGA officials that he might be forced to withdraw due to injury. Fortunately, he was not only able to continue, but play very well as he finished the day atop the leaderboard as he earned his first USGA title.
2007 US Junior
Another USGA event came to the area in 2007, the US Junior Boys title. Held at Boone Valley, the event featured many up-and-coming future collegiate and tour players. Among those in the field were: Cory Whitsett, Peter Uihlein, and Luke Guthrie. Seung Yul Noh of Korea was medalist and he advanced to the third round where Cory Whitsett downed him 1up. From there, Whitsett moved through the remaining players, scoring a 6&5 win in the semifinals and an 8&7 victory over Anthony Paolucci in the finals.
2008 BMW Western Open
When the Western Golf Association announced that they would be bringing the 2008 BMW/Western Open to Bellerive - part of the season-ending FedEx Cup events - it would also be the first PGA tour event in the area in 35 years. With Bellerive having undergone a two-year renovation, it was a new golf course that greeted players. With a limited field of qualifiers, it was Camilo Villegas who played steady, consistent, error-free golf, fending off Anthony Kim and Jim Furyk on Sunday to claim his first PGA title.
The Western Golf Association also made it clear that their plans included rotating the Western Open/BMW out of Chicago to other Midwest sites. Bellerive was selected, along with Crooked Stick in Indianapolis, as the sites for alternate years. It was even mentioned that Bellerive would host the event every six years.
However, as the 2008 event drew nearer, rumors began to spread that Bellerive might not want the event as they had their sights set on larger prey. Though the event came off well, with a terrific final round and a crowd-pleasing first-time winner in Villegas, it seemed evident that Bellerive would not look to repeat a Tour event, but instead look for another Major.
2009 US Women’s Amateur
In 2009, the area hosted two events, the US Women’s Amateur at Old Warson and the Men’s State Team Championship at the CC of St. Albans.
The Women’s Amateur had a great field including Jennifer Song and 14-year-old Alexis Thompson. Song was the recent winner of the US Women’s Publinks and she was looking to become one of only a handful of players to capture two USGA titles in the same year. The course was in wonderful condition as the semifinals began. Thompson fell in a tight match to Jennifer Johnson, while Song defeated Tiffany Lua. The finals came down to the 35th hole with Song 1up. When Song made par to Johnson’s bogey, the USC player captured the beautiful Cox trophy.
2009 US Men’s State Team
With Skip Berkmeyer, Darren Lundgren and Brian Haskell representing Missouri, the State Team Championship enjoyed the late September weather over the Lewis and Clark course. However, the team from Pennsylvania captured the event by three strokes over the Kansas squad, with the Missouri team finished in 21st place.
2013 Senior PGA
The announcement in 2011 that Bellerive would host the 2013 Senior PGA Championship also included details on a future event; the 2018 PGA Championship, which would be held at Bellerive. This announcement appeared to make it clear that although the BMW/Western Open was successful, and the crowds enjoyed seeing the Tour back in town, that the membership at Bellerive believed their course was better suited for major championship events.
The Senior PGA Championship included the best players competing on senior tours across the world. In addition, the qualifying process enabled club professionals to take part with 39 of them in the field. However, besides the local players everyone knew - Jay Delsing, Bryan Fogt, Bob Gaus and J.C. Anderson - plus Jerry Tucker, Tom Wargo and Paul Trittler, it was the legendary players they came to see - Kite, Irwin, Strange, Haas, Sluman, Woosnam, Perry, O’Meara, Langer, Mediate, Watson, Jacobsen, Morgan, Sutton, Mize, Faxon and Wadkins and more. Despite some inclement weather during part of the tournament, it was an overall success.
While Kenny Perry and Jay Haas both had opportunities to take the title on Sunday, in the end, Kohki Idoki of Japan snatched it from both of them to earn his first Major title.
What makes the 2018 PGA so significant is that it will be the 100th anniversary of the playing of the PGA, quite a coup for Bellerive and illustrating the high regard with which the PGA of America holds the club.
The Curtis Cup
In 2011, the USGA approached St. Louis Country Club about hosting the 2014 Curtis Cup, an event that would coincide with the club’s centennial of their course. As negotiations began, it was clear that how the club would adapt to hosting an event would be unique.
In the end, the local golfing community, the club and the St. Louis Sports Commission came together to make this event something special.
Bringing the top female amateurs from Great Britain and Ireland to compete against the premier US ladies was enough of a draw to make it memorable. Having Ellen Port named captain made it special. Having the GB&I win in 2012, gave the Match just the competitive edge it needed.
Playing it over the venerable C.B. Macdonald course, with its strategic design, and characteristic Macdonald legendary holes, proved an excellent venue for the format. The club’s 2008-09 restoration of the course brought many of the original Macdonald features to the forefront. With its classic holes, rolling terrain, and demanding greens, players from both teams found it an amazing test of golf; one with both character and demanding shotmaking.
With the USA winning in convincing fashion 13 - 7, the players were the stars of the competition and the crowds in attendance showed their appreciation in many ways to both teams.
2016 US Senior Amateur
When it was announced that Old Warson would be hosting this event, it caught a lot of area golf pundits by surprise. While it last hosted the 2009 US Women’s Amateur, Old Warson is not generally known for seeking out events. However, with a strong push from its membership, the USGA awarded the Championship to the Club with a mid-September date.
Local qualifying at the CC of St. Albans saw Bellerive’s Andy Frost take the medal with a 69, while Scott Edwards, today a member at the Legends, but he grew up playing at Old Warson, took the final spot in a five-for-one playoff.
The event itself was outstanding. Tim Jackson of Germantown, TN won the medal and as match play began there was much anticipation as the play was outstanding.
Old Warson was more than up to the task as the greens and fairways were magnificent, while the rough was thick and the course, at around 7,000 yards most days, was very demanding.
While Frost, Edwards and Mark Allenspach, who qualified outside of the area, each missed qualifying for match play, golfers showed up, with a number of the players family members, to watch play.
In the end, it was Dave Ryan of Taylorville, who also won the Illinois Senior just a week earlier, who out-dueled Matt Sughrue of Bethesda, Maryland, for the title. In the process, Ryan also set a USGA mark. In the final match, the USGA set up the fourteenth hole as a short par-4. Ryan drove the green and his ball ended in the cup for an ace; the third in a USGA championship on a par-4!
His 2up victory was a surprise to everyone, including Ryan. However, those who watched the final match, along with his earlier play, saw how he certainly had the game not only to contend but to excel.
2017 US Junior Girls
Boone Valley does not host many events and when they do, it is certain to be something special. Such was the case for the 2017 US Junior Girls’ Championship, bringing the best young ladies from across the globe to the area to compete.
Among those competing was 17-year-old Erica Shepherd from Indiana. The tall lefty brought her “A” game that week. Lucy Li, from Redwood Shores, California, was medalist, posting rounds of 71-66. There was a distinctly Asian feel throughout the week, as the great success ladies from Thailand, Korea, Japan and Thailand - and other countries - are having in the LPGA ranks has encouraged your ladies of Asian-descent to take up the game.
While no area junior girls qualified for the Championship, for this type of Championship the spectators are generally parents, friends and the occasional college coach, looking for potential recruits.
The final match saw two close friends, Shepherd and Jennifer Chang battle in the 18-hole contest with Shepherd coming out on top 3 and 2.
2018 PGA Championship
To sum up the Championship in just a few words would be very difficult. The great field, the crowds, the event staging, the merchandise, the volunteers, and the crowds! The degree in which St. Louisans showed up amazed even the most seasoned among the media, players and PGA staff. It was simply overwhelming. With records set for attendance at each of the non-rain days, had that not taken place, who knows what might have occurred.
However, despite not winning, the week was all about the reemergence of Tiger Woods. After an opening round of 70, which by itself was fairly remarkable, he seemed energized by the crowds and the event. After a pair of 66s in rounds two and three, he shot the lowest final round of his career in a major with a 64. Yet, it just wasn’t enough.
Kansan Gary Woodland broke the PGA 36-hole record score with rounds of 64-66, while Rickie Fowler made his run at the title, opening with scores of 65-67. However, when Brooks Koepka and Charl Schwartzel both came home with 63s in their second round, everyone knew that Bellerive, soaked with rain on Tuesday and Friday, was for the taking. Not going low for many meant not playing the weekend as over 100 scores in the 60s were shot in the first two days.
Koepka continued his run on Saturday’s third round, ending the day with a two-shot lead. Close behind was Adam Scott, Woodland, Jon Rahm, Fowler, Woods and defending champion Justin Thomas. In all, 11 players were within 4 shots of the leader.
When Tiger birdied the second and third, the roars resonated throughout the grounds. Koepka went out strong as well with an opening birdie, but made bogeys on the fourth and fifth before birdieing the eighth. Tiger bogeyed the sixth from the back bunker but made birdies on the eighth and ninth.
Reaching the back nine, Adam Scott came to life with his own string of birdies, tying Koepka as they reached the fourteenth tee. While Tiger bogeyed fourteen, he made a great birdie on fifteen to move to 13-under for the Championship. However, pars on sixteen and seventeen left him three behind Koepka until a birdie at the eighteenth brought him closer. As he left the home hole, he knew that only a misstep by Koepka would help him in his quest for his fifteenth major title. Koepka did not blink.
Birdies at fifteen and sixteen brought Koepka to 16-under par for the Championship. Pars at the final two holes sealed his win and his third major title. His 16-under total was also a new PGA Championship record.
2018 US Women’s Mid-Amateur
Coming just weeks after the PGA, the area was still abuzz with the outstanding golf the area had witnessed. The Women’s Mid-Amateur, the second time this event has been held in the region - the first was in 2001 at Fox Run - brought a great field of women amateurs to Norwood Hills.
Five ladies from the area would compete for the title, but most were aware that really only one - Ellen Port - seemed likely to advance to the finals. However, during the long week from Saturday to Thursday, events on the course surprised most watching the action.
Three ladies out of the five local players advanced to match play - Port, Kayla Eckelkamp and Michelle Butler - as Kallie Harrison and Kelli Kirchoff failed to advance. Port won her opening match, then fell to Shannon Johnson, a past finalist. Eckelkamp won two matches before losing to Butler in the third round. Butler defeated former champion Lauren Greenlief in the quarterfinals before she lost to Shannon Johnson in the semifinals.
Meanwhile, Kelsey Chugg, the 2017 champion, was breezing through her side of the bracket and would meet Johnson in the 18-hole final. The match went back and forth as neither player could see more than a 2-up lead. It came down to the 18th hole with the match all square. Both players hit good drives with Chugg’s second ending just short and left of the green. Johnson ripped a seven-wood for her second to the par-5, with her ball ending in the middle of the green, 25-feet from the flag. Chugg pitched to 8 feet left of the hole while Johnson put her eagle putt two-feet past the cup. When Chugg’s birdie attempt slid past the left side she was forced to settle for par. Johnson, nervously, rolled in her birdie putt to claim the title with a 1-up victory.
In 1992, St. Louis CC celebrated its Centennial, as did Bellerive in 1997, though the courses where these clubs began have long been lost. The oldest remaining area 18-hole club, Glen Echo, celebrated its Centennial on May 25, 2001, with a gala ball and a “Hickory Outing” where members played the course with hickory clubs and replica Haskell balls.
Once the celebrations began, other clubs would follow: Normandie in 2001; Algonquin in 2003; Westwood in 2008 and Sunset would follow in 2010. Norwood Hills celebrated 80 years of golf in 2002 and Old Warson used 2005 to acknowledge the 50th anniversary of Al Hayes and Jim Rarick opening their doors to members.
St. Louis CC recognized that its 1992 club history did little to cover the tremendous sporting history that has been present at the club, so in 2009 they presented a 500+ page book on the sports history at the Club, including tennis, hockey, swimming, polo, and golf. Not only were some significant facts uncovered, but using several archival sources, a number of never-before-seen photographs of the course from the 1920s were discovered, providing new details on its development. In addition, new photographs of the USGA events held at St. Louis - Amateurs and the Open - were found, adding to the clubs and the area’s rich golfing history.
Finally, Bellerive, which celebrated its centennial in 1997, wanted a book dedicated solely to its outstanding golf championship history. Beginning with its early play in 1897, then onto the new course in Normandy in 1910, and finally, to the majestic Robert Trent Jones Jr. layout on Ladue Road, the book featured the diverse professional and amateur titles competed for over their courses through the years, ending with the success of the 2008 BMW. With the 2013 Senior PGA completed, and the 2018 PGA now part of the record books, it looks as if the club may need an addendum to its already outstanding golf history.
Triple A could have celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2003, but its membership was in disarray, so the date passed quietly. However, in 2003, another momentous event took place when the Eisenhower golf course in Forest Park shut down for a year to undergo an $11.5 million-dollar facelift. While many purists bemoaned the loss of the holes along Art Hill, in practice, few could find objections with the splendid work done by Hale Irwin and Stan Gentry when the course re-opened in 2004. The team of Forest Park Forever (led by Jim Mann), American Golf (later sold to Eagle Golf), the City of St. Louis and Norman Probstein combined to give public players a new, well-designed, high-quality facility that maintained many of the original qualities of the 1912-13 design. Then in 2008, with the Triple A course in a serious financial situation, it was acquired by Eagle Golf. Led by then-General Manager Jeff Raffelson, Stan Gentry was brought back to transform Triple A from a 1903 design into an updated layout, while retaining many original features. A key component of this was the addition of a practice range within the course. Though this caused a few of the original holes to be sacrificed in the process, the end result is a very playable, updated design. In addition, to overcome some of the original Triple A issues (private club within a public park), the facility was renamed the Highlands GC at Forest Park. Still, despite the design changes and the updated name, the facility retained the tennis courts, a new, updated clubhouse and the charm of a turn-of-the-century design. On balance, the renovation of Triple A into the Highlands, which reopened in 2010, has been a great success as golfers have re-discovered city golf.
The most recent celebrations took place at St. Clair CC (2011) and Bogey Hills (50 years in 2012). Forest Hills will celebrate its 50th in late 2014, as it marked the movement of St. Louis County golf even further west. However, there are two courses that did not mark their historical beginnings; Meadowbrook (1913) and Westborough (1908/1928). The Westborough situation is somewhat understandable as its course was originally Westwood’s from 1908-1927 - when that club moved to their present site on Conway Road. Westborough was formed in 1927 and has remained at its location in Glendale/Oakland since. Meadowbrook, which began in 1913 as Midland Valley, was renamed Meadow Brook in the early 1930s with new ownership, before moving to its present site in 1960, is a bit more perplexing as it has a great history and a long list of outstanding players and events. Perhaps its new leadership will look to wrap its arms around its history yet in the future.
New Breed of Players
From the earliest days of amateur golf in the area, a cadre of men, young and old, competed against each other for the variety of area titles. From Jimmy Manion to Eddie Held to Clarence Wolff and Chester O’Brien, we moved to Bob Cochran and Jim Jackson and Jim Tom Blair. From there it was Jim Holtgrieve and Don Bliss and David Lucks and Scott Thomas and then on to Skip Berkmeyer and company.
However, today it is less about representing your club as it is your school, as many of the most talented players are in college and have spent the past several years competing against their counterparts in high school, AJGA, District, MAGA, MGA, PGA, and other Junior golf competitions. Yes, it is a new day in junior golf - for both boys and girls - as they each have as good or better athletic talent, are bigger, stronger, have the latest technology, outstanding teachers, good workout routines to improve strength and flexibility and, in short, are just very good athletes. Whereas the great women players of the past may have focused primarily on local events, ladies such as Ellen Port, Barbara Berkmeyer and Marcella Rose challenged that stigma. Today, it’s Catherine Dolan, Brooke Cusumano, along with Chelsea Schriewer and others, mostly collegiate players.
So, is this new group really a look at the future of area amateur golf, or are they merely those passing through on their way to professional golf? Likely, it’s a little of both. Area golfers marveled at the accomplishments of John Kelley a few years back at the US Amateur. We were further amazed when Parkway South’s Scott Langley dominated the collegiate scene from Illinois and then made his mark on the national scene. However, thirty-five-year-old Phil Caravia was one of those who, 12-13 years ago, thought about moving to the next level. However, he made the decision to take another path and after a couple of stints between work, the last few years for him have been among the area’s best. Likewise, Ted Moloney, John Anderson, Brian Lovett, Pat Riordan, Drew Pranger, Darren Stoffel, Buddy Allen, Alex Cusumano, and Sam Migdal are also among the likely-lifetime amateurs. They are each talented, likable and intense competitors.
While Kyle Weldon, Teddy Jones, Joe Migdal, Justin Wrozier, Garrett Sneed, Justin Bryant, and others have displayed wonderful golfing skills, area golf may have only been a pathway for how they see their life beyond college; and there is nothing wrong with that!
One must wonder if the Cochran’s, Jackson’s, Blair’s, Holtgrieve’s and Bliss’ might have taken the same path had the golf environment - money, sponsorship, technology, fitness, etc. - been different in their era? That’s one of those questions for the ages.
What is certainly known is that the opportunity for those who love the game, are willing to put in the time, effort, dedication, and endless sweat has never been greater. As we all know, this is a HARD game to master. On one occasion I asked Masters Champ Bob Goalby how to hit a particularly challenging shot. “Bob,” I said, “what’s the secret?” To which he replied; “there’s no secret; you just go out and hit 10,000 of them!”
So, for everyone who is challenged by a pitch over a bunker; a tight lie around the green; a 50-yard pitch; or even a seemingly easy 100-yard shot from the middle of the fairway, if you want to get better at each one, go out and start counting your shots. After a few years you may be a bit closer to Goalby’s number.
Regardless of the success of any number of players during this period - Scott Langley winning the NCAA individual title and playing at the Masters and the US Open; Barbara Berkmeyer’s outstanding play finishing second in 2002 in both the US Senior Women and the Canadian Senior Women - they pale in comparison to the accomplishments of Ellen Port. Beginning with her third Women’s Mid-Amateur title in 2000 in California, to her next in 2011, at age 50, for her fourth Mid-Amateur title, if these had been her lone accomplishments, they would be enough to earn the admiration of golfers everywhere. However, in 2012, Ellen eclipsed all women golfers in the state with her eighth Missouri Amateur title, breaking the previous record, and then capping the season by winning the US Senior Women’s Championship at Hershey CC. Then, in 2013, she repeated as US Senior Women’s Champion at CordeValle in San Martin, California with a 3&2 win over Susan Cohn of Palm Beach Gardens, earning her sixth USGA gold medal.
In 2014, after captaining the Curtis Cup Team to victory, she won the MAGA Women’s Amateur for the 10th time and two weeks later, captured her 9th Missouri Women’s Amateur!
Due to her teaching schedule, she was forced to choose between the 2014 Mid-Amateur or the Senior Amateur. She elected to travel to Deal, NJ for the Senior Women’s amateur. She earned medalist honors, posting a 2-under par 144, putting her 9 shots clear of her nearest competitor. This is her fifth time as medalist in a USGA event.
However, it was her win at the 2016 US Senior Women’s, her seventh USGA title, that put her in rarefied air. Only Joanne Gunderson Carner, with eight, has more USGA women’s titles than Ellen.
After stepping down as women’s golf coach at Washington University after two seasons, Ellen now will have the time to focus on her next challenges. Always the competitor, she will continue to strive for yet another USGA title in the years ahead. Having played in 63 USGA championships, only time will tell what the final numbers on her career will be.
Clearly the most talented lady golfer in area history, what she will accomplish next will surely amaze us.
A Line in the Sand - Normandie GC
Perhaps one of the most contested fights in the past 15 years involved the Normandie GC. Since 1937, it has been owned by the descendants of the late Rice Emerson. Comprised of a large extended family, they received payments on the lease from Normandie GC when it was private, and since 1985, when it went public, from the then-current leaseholders. However, since 1995, when the initial 10-year lease on the property was not renewed, the club has undergone a succession of failed, defaulted and abandoned leaseholders.
Dating back to 2004, the death of one of the Emerson family matriarchs pushed the clan into the direction of selling the property. Real Estate developer and builder Taylor-Morley Homes saw an opportunity and quickly secured an option on the land with the intent to build as many as 550 homes. This was later reduced to just over 400 as the Bel-Nor city fathers re-defined their requirements. Then in August 2005, Bel-Nor rezoned the 118-acre site, limiting the number of homes to about 188. Almost immediately, Taylor-Morley filed a $6.5 million suit against the city.
During all of this, as the course remained in operation with a group calling themselves Save Normandie GC waging an on-going PR campaign, complete with yard signs, fund raisers and news releases.
What could have stayed in the courts for years took a sudden turn when the housing market took a nose-dive in 2006. Taylor-Morley underwent some belt-tightening at their corporate offices and some previously planned projects were abandoned. Then in 2008, Taylor-Morley ceased operations and the project went moot. However, the Emerson family now found few takers for a lease on the land as the family’s expectation for the dollar amount differed greatly from what management firms were willing to pay as the golfing economy went into a nose dive. The long-term future of the course - the oldest 18-hole public course west of the Mississippi - remained up in the air until late October 2014, when it was announced by the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL), that an anonymous donor would be putting up the funds to purchase the course for the University. While this was met with excitement in many quarters, many in the nearby Bel-Nor and Greendale areas remained alarmed as to the “real” future of the course and grounds. Meetings held after the announcement did little to spell this bit of discontent as the University would give no long-term commitments. With the sale completed at the end of 2014, the University only committed to a 10-year plan for it to remain open, leaving the future of the course up in the air.
While the steady growth we saw in area golf during the 1980s and 1990s has stalled - some would say stagnated - there have been a few individuals who continued to look at golf as a solid investment, and for them and their investors, it appears to have paid dividends. Jeff Whitfield, a former golf professional, manufacturer’s rep for golf equipment and collegiate golfer for Missouri, his passion for golf developed when he met the Haenssler family in St. Charles. Following a series of discussions, Jeff turned the family farm near Highway 94 and I-40 into Persimmon Woods Golf Club.
Following up on this, he moved his family to Columbia, Missouri, where he worked with landowners there and local architect Art Schaupeter, to bring Old Hawthorne to life. Along the way, he spent time in Panama on a project and was briefly involved with bringing The Legends back to life.
He has other projects on the drawing board, both in the area and elsewhere, so don’t look for him to slow down anytime soon.
Another semi-developer is Michael Roberts. He took Crescent Farms GC, at the time in a state of some disarray, and transformed it back into the quality course it was when first opened in the 1980s. He then set about to secure another course - Pevely Farms - making it part of his stable. Speaking of stables, Roberts owns a considerable horse farm located just between these two courses off Lewis Road, so his purchase of these two facilities makes much “horse sense.”
Finally, the third individual, Rocky Dollarhide, was instrumental in the development of Aberdeen GC, one of the area’s more playable public layouts. Working with Wayne Ortmann and Gary Kern, they brought Aberdeen to life and it has built a solid following among area golfers. Despite two disastrous floods in 2015-16 and 2017, they did little to dampen the spirits of players as the staff worked hard to put the course back into shape by the beginning of the season.
On the other end of the spectrum, in 2018 we’ve had three courses close, one with a 50-year history and the others serving county areas. Tower Tee in Affton, primarily a practice facility that included an 18-hole par-3, closed in July 2018, when the owners of the land - the range was leased - sold the land for housing development. The second course, Emerald Greens (1994), also was on leased land, this from the Pipefitters Union, which sold the land to the St. Louis Zoo, who will use it to expand its operations. Lastly, the owner of Sunset Hills Golf Course (aka Sunset Lakes GC) donated the land to the City of Sunset Hills. November 15, 2018, saw the end of golf at the site after 30 years.
The Golf Environment
When Golfing Before The Arch first hit the stands in 1997, St. Louis was embarking on a golfing mecca. In the twenty-two years since the area has experienced the ups and downs that have also plagued the game of golf around the world. For example, the initial growth in Japan and the Far East has eased as their economy slumped and now only China is on a building boom. In 2010, not a single new development began in the US as architects looked overseas for work, though many opted for renovations stateside rather than the long travel. Clubs hunkered down as they saved cash by renovating rather than closing to satisfy members and daily play golfers. Since 2010, the number of courses closing has far outpaced those opening, with the decline being traced back as far as 2000 in some areas.
The number of private clubs has shrunk as a result, with many now opting to trade their member-boards for third-party ownership, offering to eliminate debt, assessments, improve the quality of the club and course, all while not harming the club’s reputation. If that sounds too good to be true, you may be right. These new ownership groups - a number of which come from former golf management companies - are in it for a profit. This means, at some point, things will change. How members react to these changes will vary across the country, but many clubs are now in dire straits as the days of seemingly mindless spending, poorly formed boards and lack of leadership is catching up with the times.
There has not been a new public course opened in the area since 2002. A number have resorted to restructuring, while others built residential areas nearby to garner cash. However, we’re also fortunate - perhaps - that more courses have not gone under. Still, unless we see more golfers taking up the game, the area is sadly overbuilt. For the majority of courses to be able to succeed, it’s inevitable that some must not. Some area Municipalities are examining whether they can continue to offer golf as an amenity for their residents. While a decline in the number of courses would appear to be good for those remaining, for area golfers it might mark a return to higher green fees. Alas, it’s a dual-edged sword that must find a balance for both the game of golf and golfers to keep both healthy playing the game.
State of Area Golf
In the St. Louis area, despite the number of name architects that have brought their talents to the area; Nicklaus, Fazio, Hills, Palmer, Dye and others, there is one sad fact that remains; we have yet to experience a facility that ranks as one of their best works; or as a top course in the country. Sure, there are some very fine public courses; Annbriar and Gateway National rate high on most lists, having solid designs by talented architects - Michael Hurdzan-Dana Fry and Keith Foster. Sadly, when the names Pevely Farms, Stonewolf, Missouri Bluffs, Tapawingo and similar courses are mentioned - all by famous and talented architects - it is obvious we have not gotten their best work. None of these has the WOW factor that would place them among the Midwest’s top designs. Why is it so? Is it the land that was faulty? Was the design? Was it the money spent? I’ll leave those questions for others to ponder. Rest assured, more area players leave for Chicago or Indianapolis or Chattanooga or Denver for a great golf experience than players from those cities come here.
On the private side of the equation, even the two outstanding courses at the CC of St. Albans, surely the top area facility with 36 holes, are still not sufficient to keep their membership full. Speaking of private clubs, in the past 25 years, 9 new courses were built; but only one new design since 2000 - Old Hickory in 2002 - and it suffered for years in its beginning as the design - and perhaps the initial ownership - failed to meet expectations.
The area has one course - Bellerive - that continually looks to host championship events. Part of this is due to its membership, which is willing to step aside for weeks, while the other is access to parking to make a tournament work. However, we should not believe that Bellerive is the only course capable of hosting a significant tournament in terms of the quality of the design. Certainly, Boone Valley has proven it has the type of course that can challenge the best and most are well aware that Old Warson could certainly be counted within that group. It is long enough and has as good a mix of very good holes as any in town. While St. Louis and Westwood are challenging designs, their length will limit their ability to host certain events - assuming their membership was willing. However, the 2014 Curtis Cup at St. Louis proved that the course can be a demanding tournament venue for the right type of event. Westwood, which hosted US Women’s Open Qualifying in 2016 and a number of past events, does not get the credit it deserves as a top-tier layout.
However, part of the answer around hosting national championships relates to one issue: grass. The USGA has indicated that zoysia is not one of their preferred surfaces for their premier events. They prefer bent, bermuda or similar grasses - though we’re still wondering about their selection of Chambers Bay! What’s the dominant grass in this region: zoysia. Thus, the quandary.
Also, the PGA does not seem to mind this as much, nor the LPGA - even the USGA for their amateur competitions. So, while we may continue to see quality amateur events, it’s events like the US Open that are not likely to come our way.
Finally, as we all know, it is also about money and that means sponsorship. For decades, we knew that Anheuser-Busch, with its strong sports-marketing department, could be counted upon to back local groups who sought to bring championships here. What outing in the area did not reach out to A-B for bags, balls, towels, coolers and, yes, beer. Today, A-B InBev will still supply beer, but they are pulling back the reins on donating money.
That’s on the one hand. On the other, perhaps all this is really a good thing for area golf. When an event does come to town, area golfers come out en masse to support it. The 2014 Curtis Cup was an example. Typically, amateur golf does not do well for crowds; and in this instance, we were talking women’s amateur golf. However, with strong promotion, a wonderful venue, a local tie to the USA Team, the international flavor and some very nice local media coverage, over 6,500 watched three-days of outstanding golf by ladies with awesome talent, many of whom are now playing on the LPGA or European tour. Add to this the success of the 2017 US Junior Girl’s Championship at Boone Valley and St. Louis can proudly state that we continue to show strong support for quality golf.
The 2013 Senior PGA was also a success, despite some poor weather and with the overwhelming success of the 2018 PGA, the area will once again have much to celebrate surrounding championship golf.
We must not overlook another event that took place shortly after the PGA, the 2018 US Women’s Mid-Amateur to Norwood Hills. Area players are well aware that it was this event where Ellen Port gained her stature and with some collegiate players staying amateurs due to the lifestyle on the LPGA Tour, some great play will be evident at Norwood by those over age 25! With four players from the area having qualified for the championship - and two moving on to match play, with one reaching the semifinals - it bodes well that women’s golf may be getting a bit stronger among the post-collegiate group.
However, all of the discussion around the events we will be seeing does not diminish the fact that apart from Bellerive (and a nod to Boone Valley) the area does not have that go-to WOW course like Medinah, Baltusrol, Cherry Hills (Co.), Muirfield Village, Whistling Straits, Bandon Dunes, Southern Hills, Oak Tree, Oakmont and so on. Yes, some of these are on the water (and you can’t go wrong with that for scenery) but Southern Hills and Oak Tree are in Oklahoma, and with the US Open at Erin Hills in Wisconsin this past year, we cannot say that it’s related to the region. Similar weather, similar geography, and that Midwest feel. So, why are they among the top and our best local courses not?
What’s the downside to all this? There remains pressure on top clubs to contribute their courses for the ever-growing demand for tournaments. Most clubs have set limits — the rule is two at many — and when you have the District, Women’s District, Metropolitan, State, AJGA, PGA, AGT and other groups knocking on the door for men’s, women’s, senior’s and junior events, it does get overwhelming. Couple this with the desire of some clubs to seek-out national events and the number of days available continues to shrink.
The upside is that a number of the new public courses are capable of hosting some of these events and have done so with great success. Sure, it won’t be the same as playing Sunset or Bellerive or Meadowbrook, but who says it won’t be a good experience!
However, since these are not supported by dues, but by daily fee players, for the most part, they have to consider how much of their course, and for how long, they can make it available. Given the economics of golf over the past 10-15 years, golfers should not be surprised that course owners have to weigh these decisions very carefully.
Golf has some significant decisions that will guide its future. Equipment is outstripping courses in many communities to such an extent that any layout under 7,000 yards is in jeopardy of not being long enough to handle quality amateur events, much less premier championships.
In addition, though the growth of golf rounds has leveled-off, those who do play are demanding better conditioned and more challenging layouts. Courses that do not control pace of play will soon see their rounds decrease as players grow tired of slow play. Course management must develop policies - and enforce them - that allow players to enjoy the sport in a timely fashion. The “while we’re young” spots as well as “play it forward” are very good approaches toward making golf more enjoyable. In addition, the “Play 9” approach by the USGA and PGA is looking to shorten the time players spend on the game, thus attracting new players who see golf as a 5-6-hour event. This is particularly true among Millennials who, as a group, are less inclined to see golf as fitting into their lifestyle and even less inclined to join a club.
An Area-Wide Championship
The St. Louis area has suffered from a variety of ills through the years when it comes to crowning a champion. The District has traditionally been limited to private club members and they have made no pretense about who their champion represents, though select public players were invited to play for a few years, that recently came to an end.
During the 1920s there were three events; the District, the Municipal and the City Championship, with the winner of these (at least the City and District), often being the same. The cream did rise to the top!
The 1940s saw the Metro Open and Metro Amateur arise during the war years, but these were short-lived, with Bob Cochran capturing half of the events played, once again showing that no matter what you call it, the top players will find the victory circle.
The early St. Louis Open’s in the late 1920s were generally open to all, but in the 1930s through the early 1950s, top pros (Hagen, Sarazen, Armour, Middlecoff, etc.) played for the purses, so the amateurs were left fighting for low amateur and bragging rights.
The Michelob Match Play of the 1970s was close to an area-wide event, but it too, eventually suffered from lack of sponsorship. The various other amateur events (Normandie Amateur, Lou Fusz, and Ping Amateur, for example) had most of the better players present, though the fields were fairly small.
Bart Collida’s City Championship is another event that deserves the opportunity to see if it can survive the test of time to become a championship for area golfers. It has fared well in its short history and has a list of talented champions. Though the 2014 event was canceled due to sponsor withdrawal, this highlighted the need for a broader base and Collida responded with new sponsorship for the 2015-2018 events once again having full fields and some of the area’s best players on the tee. With Collida’s recent passing, Mel Rector has taken up the task of guiding this event.
However, with the rise of the Metropolitan Amateur in 1991, the past twenty-seven years have seen a single amateur event that is bringing it all together. The MAGA champions have been among the elite, as have the venues. The fields have been dynamic and the golf outstanding. The air at the tournament is heavy with the intensity and anticipation that is evident at a major event — the players know it; the officials know it and the spectators know it.
If the Metropolitan can continue the momentum in the years ahead, then we will have something special to recall in the future. However, we cannot let the task rest on the shoulders of just a few to keep it alive. The area must draw together to support a championship which benefits amateur golfers within the region. The mentality must not be to examine its impact on other events, but how the other events support an area-wide championship.
Perhaps the other reason to support the Metropolitan Amateur Golf Association is that it may finally be able to bring the Ladies events together. Apart from the Women’s District, and some state events, the ladies have been overlooked when it came to competitive golf. With the Women’s District, like the Men’s District, limited to private club players, and further limited by handicaps, ladies who played public courses were without a local series of events.
However, the past twenty years has shown that there are talented ladies at all levels; junior and beyond, who want to take their game against real competition.
And while there are other “series” events for players to compete, from the MGA, MAGA, and other sponsored events, they lack the fields and venues to be considered elite events; including those sponsored by regional, state and national organizations.
As golf grows within the high schools, the junior programs will only get stronger, and vice versa. They mutually benefit each other. In addition, with more juniors benefitting from better coaching and instruction, the next generation of golfers should be better and more talented than in the past. Since this is the real future of the game, having them more aware of course etiquette, rules, and its history will make the game more fun for all.
The addition of a number of Junior groups has also benefitted players. They now play against better competition outside of the area and against top players, and come to local and national qualifying events much better prepared to compete. Still, the number of Junior players from the area who qualify for national championships is woefully small.
Over the past few years, the PGA Summit event has brought together leaders from all areas of the game. Spawned by Ben Kent of Persimmon Woods, and strongly supported by the Gateway PGA, along with other golf organizational leaders, this has shown to be an excellent beginning to addressing many of the ills impacting the growth of the game within in the region. Programs like “Get Golf Ready” and “Drive, Pitch and Putt” show great promise to bring more individuals into the game. Certainly, there are issues that cannot be fixed overnight, but it’s nice to see such a positive start to address the game’s future.
Still, the overall lack of coordination among organizations continues to frustrate everyone. Players much choose which events to play with date conflicts placing them in a quandary as each group applies their point rating system, making players choose which events to play for which organization. This ties back to the fact that the area, unlike other metropolitan areas, does not have one unifying organization that manages all golf events in the area to the benefit of everyone.
It is an unfortunate state of affairs that St. Louis is limited today to a single local newspaper. It is even sadder that the paper does not appear to have a single individual devoted to covering amateur golf in the area. Local associations are forced to beg for coverage just to post scores. The change was obvious just recently. I went to look for the results for the 2019 St. Louis Publinx. While in the past, not only was the event covered with a pre-event story, the tee times and players were listed a day or so before the Publinx and a post-event story was sure to be in the paper on Monday, with individual player scores, an interview with the winner and even, at times, a photo. This year, I had to go to the website for Forest Park to find the scores.
Gone are the days when area players would eagerly wait for the paper to be delivered to read about the latest events, perhaps even see their name in print. However, with electronic media taking over more and more, it is even sadder to see the Post-Dispatch failing to document these events. Years from now, with no sourse - in print or online - to document area events, will researchers just come to believe that they never took place?
For an area to have in recent years a USGA President, a two-time Walker Cup Captain, a Curtis Cup Captain - who also happens to be a seven-time USGA champion - and to see such lack of coverage for local amateur golf is nothing short of appalling. The likes of Bill Beck, Vern Tietjen, Steve Kelley, and others must be shaking their heads.
As we now pass the 120th anniversary of golf in the area, we should be thankful for the many wonderful courses, events, players, professionals, and leaders we have throughout the region today.
But like the early pioneers of 1896, who built the first courses and organized the first tournaments, what we do in the coming months and years will impact future players. Today, the youngsters who dream of being a Tiger, Rory, Michelle Wie, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Ricky Fowler or Stacy Lewis just want the chance to compete. For that, we must provide the courses, the instructors and the events.
Those who walk the fairways enjoying the peace and contentment the game offers are the up-and-coming players who will write the next chapter in the history of area golf. It is they who will judge how we did when our generation held the torch.
Let’s hope we make the most of the opportunity.