Designed by Michael Hurdzan, the Annbriar Golf Course in Waterloo is named after Ann Nobbe, the daughter of the owners, who tragically died in an automobile accident three years before the public pay and play facility opened in 1993.
To be blunt, public golf in the St. Louis area isn’t great. Especially when compared to other cities in the region, we in the Gateway to the West fall woefully short. We don’t have a regular professional host in the area like Cog Hill (Chicago) or Brickyard Crossing (Indianapolis) and we don’t have any world-class resort venues closeby like Kohler (Milwaukee) or French Lick (Louisville) – and that’s before you consider the rest of the not-so-famous courses in those areas such as Ravisloe, Trophy Club, Chariot Run, etc. Even Kansas City has a neat old Tillinghast course in Swope Park! Perhaps it’s the “grass is always greener” philosophy, but I think I’ve developed an inferiority complex.
Instead, St. Louis overbuilt like crazy in the midst of the 1980-2000 golf course boom, and as a result, some of the better layouts built during that time or earlier have closed in recent years. Crystal Highlands, like Annbriar a Dr. Michael Hurdzan solo design, opened up in the early 1990s on a hilly piece of property 40 minutes south of St. Louis; it went into default and was subsequently taken over by its owner, the Union Pacific Railroad, to be used only for their corporate retreat guests and the lucky few others who get invited, though with the property now for sale it is completely closed. Normandie, a classic Robert Foulis design built around the turn of the 20th century that hosted the Western Open in 1908, fell victim to hard times and was purchased by the nearby University of Missouri branch with an eye towards campus expansion; it closed approximately two months ago due to an issue with the operator/lessee and will likely never reopen. Missouri Bluffs, a Tom Fazio layout in a beautiful hilly and densely wooded piece of land overlooking the Missouri River, recently gained approval to sell a good portion of its land to a developer who plans to build a massive subdivision intertwining houses throughout the formerly pristine property; while it won’t affect any of the holes per se, it will detract substantially from the experience of one of the better courses in the area (and one of the few without houses already). Finally, while it didn’t compare in quality to the previous three, Hawk Ridge was another course near and dear to my heart – it hosted my high school team – that closed and ultimately was converted into a bastardized nine hole par three course as part of a 55+ housing development. Progress, I guess.
Thankfully, Annbriar is one of the few quality layouts that’s stuck around through good times and bad. It’s a bit outside the main portion of the metro area near the town of Waterloo, Illinois, and it’s far enough away from the town that it’s insulated somewhat from the land development crush that’s consumed many courses. (There are several miles of open farmland between the town and the course.) With quite a bit of varied terrain on the fairly large property, the course transitions back and forth from flat and open parkland style to tight and hilly throughout the round. The flatter parts still feature a fair number of humps and bumps due to the massive amount of earth moved on these holes. In this case, said earth movement was done tastefully, creating wide hole corridors with interesting fairway and green complex contours. The greens themselves are some of the more imaginative in the area. Conditions are generally good, with the typical caveat regarding our zoysia fairways that can become waterlogged easily after heavy rain and greens that can easily burn out in our brutal summers.
The best holes include:
#2 – Long par four, generally with the prevailing wind and slightly downhill but requires a left-to-right shot into a green that is difficult to hold and surrounded by trouble.
#5 – Reachable par five with a forced carry over a pond and a bunker, but semi-blind if you do attempt to reach the large, undulating green in two shots.
#8 – Mid-length downhill par four with a massive U-shaped bowl of a fairway. If you miss a little bit off the tee, you’ll funnel into the middle, but if you miss wildly you’ll face an awkward shot off the mounds. The large, multi-level green is tucked into a hollow with steep slopes up to the right and down to the left.
#9 – This dogleg right par five and #18 play parallel to one another; the easier of the two, the ninth is a reachable hole provided you can blindly cut the corner with a fade. The uphill approach is blind but the green is deep and receptive from back to front.
#11 – This scenic par four is tucked in a valley and routed around the meanderings of a creek that crosses from the left to the right side of the hole. For most players, it’s a layup short of the creek while avoiding the right side of the fairway where trees block the approach, but longer hitters can take a run at carrying the creek on the left which would leave only a flip wedge into the green.
#13: Another fascinatingly quirky par four, this hole requires a long carry from the back tees over a ravine to a surprisingly wide fairway – but players who stay too far left risk having to hit their mid or short iron over a large sycamore tree perched short and left of the green next to yet another creek.
#15 – A unique par three over a ravine whose green covers most of a saddle-shaped hole in a ridge. While the green slopes from back to front, the drop-offs to the rear and especially in front are severe, while misses left and right at a proper distance may funnel down towards the green.
#16 – Brutishly long, this par four features an uphill approach to a green with a substantial false front.
#18 – Another dogleg right par five, this one requires a cautious tee shot to avoid running through the fairway, which is completely dead especially if it’s left. From there, a particularly tight layup shot leads to another uphill, semi-blind approach to a long and deep green.
In this well-versed St. Louisan’s opinion, Annbriar is the best public course in the St. Louis area – frankly, its only serious competition is Gateway National, also on the Illinois side (and surprisingly not ranked on this site), and Aberdeen on the Missouri side. Also, it’s very likely the best daily fee layout south of Interstate 74 which bisects the state of Illinois. If you’re in the area and don’t have access to any of its private courses, Annbriar is your best bet.
Played (at least) 15 times between September 19, 1994 and March 7, 2020
Annbriar is a true diamond in the rough in Southern Illinois (Greater St Louis area). It is in my opinion the single best public option in all of the area. The course is always in decent shape and there are a ton of great holes and none of them feel alike. Kind of like a mini Deere Run. There is one house on the course, so the peace and tranquility of the round is hard to replicate on a modern day course. There are several holes that have mounding and tall grass which is aesthetically really nice in the summer and then a good portion of the course winds through hilly wooded terrain which is also very pretty.
Annbriar is a fair test and if you want to play it all the way back, it is definitely a great challenge. There are very few modern courses that haven't been compromised with a residential development. Annbriar is one of them and totally worth the visit.