Bellerive Country Club started out as a 9-hole course way back in 1897 and in those days the club was located in north St Louis and was called the St Louis Field Club. Thirteen years later the club changed its name to Bellerive after Louis St Ange De Bellerive, the last French commander to be stationed in North America.
The club decided to move to the west of St Louis as the membership outgrew the old 9-holer. Robert Trent Jones was commissioned to find the right location for a new 18-hole course and, in 1960, the new “Green Monster of Ladue Road” opened. In 1965, after being open for a mere five years, Bellerive became the youngest course to host the US Open and the “Black Knight”, Gary Player, won the event after an exciting playoff with Kel Nagle. Bellerive also hosted the 1992 USPGA Championship which Zimbabwean Nick Price won.
In 2006 a new renovated Bellerive opened after a Rees Jones makeover. It somehow seems appropriate that the “Open Doctor” son of original architect Robert Trent Jones was enlisted.
Bellerive is routed round a winding creek, which is a feature on nine holes. With large undulating greens and bold bunkering this is certainly a firm tournament favourite and aided by the club’s commitment to bring championship golf to St Louis, the 2008 BMW Championship was hosted at this centurion country club. Colombian Camilo Villegas shot a final-round 68 to win the BMW Championship by two strokes and claim his maiden win on the PGA Tour.
The 100th USPGA Championship returned to Bellerive Country Club in 2018 when Brooks Koepka won his second major of the 2018 season by holding off a resurgent Tiger Woods.
Yes, the just concluded PGA Championship made for great golf theater. It helps when you have a leaderboard that has Tiger Woods playing a starring role and where the eventual winner -- Brook Koepka -- wins his second major in 2018 and 3rd overall in the last 6 majors when he's competed.
How good is Bellerive as a course?
The original Robert Trent Jones, Sr., layout was upgraded over a decade ago by his son Rees and his lead architect on-site Bryce Swanson. Bunkers were re-positioned and the greens modified to a slightly smaller square footage total.
I played the course a few years back and saw the course in terms of ice cream flavors to be simply vanilla.
The existing architecture that the world's best players competed upon is fairly straightforward and there's little in terms of "compelling" design that really stands out.
Having the PGA in August for the last time showed once again how having such an event in high heat and humidity necessitates the need to over water putting surfaces in order to keep them alive. Zoysia fairways are fine for achieving excellent lies but often such fairways are more sponge-like and provide little roll which can propel slightly off-line shots to reach even worse positions.
The most consequential hole on the outward half at Bellerive is the excellent par-3 6th. This is the hole at the 1965 US Open which yielded a stroke average of above 4.0. That is remarkable given the fact the hole is a par-3. This year at the PGA the hole again achieved the top honors as the most difficult with an average of 3.35. The hole features a three-tiered green that hugs a pond that protects the entire right side. Bunkers protect the far left for those who bailout that way. When played from the tips to a pin tucked in the upper right sector -- as it was for the final round of the PGA -- the hole becomes a real terror. Plenty of decisions have to be made when playing the hole and the slightest doubt can mean a quick double-bogey for the hapless play.
The most interesting hole on the inward side is the par-4 11th. Players can reach the green when a forward tee position is used at roughly 300 yards. Water does come into play to the right of the green and those who venture too far left will have a challenging short pitch to the green. Watching Justin Thomas make birdie during the final round after missing the green to the far left after his drive was truly remarkable.
Keep in mind, when I say the 11th is "interesting" that does mean to convey elite status as a great short par-4 -- in league with such gems as the 10th at Riviera or the 3rd at Augusta National.
With thunderstorms dropping a good amount of water on the course the wherewithal for any serious architecture to be present was doused -- no pun intended.
Bellerive provided the best golf theater among the major championships this year. On that score the course gets an "A" but overall the design is fairly mundane and predictable. The tough part about much of the golf in the greater St. Louis area is the impact weather has here. The winters can be extremely cold and the summers feature high doses of heat and humidity. Getting firm and fast turf is a serious challenge and Bellerive has long had issues with a shallow roots system for its greens. Hence -- there must be sufficient water used to keep them from dying.
Hosting major championships does not automatically mean architectural superiority. Missouri is well known as the "show me" State but for me, at least, Bellerive did not really "show me" much.
by M. James Ward
Agreed wholeheartedly about the challenges of growing grass in this part of the world. As a St. Louis area resident, my reaction to the media coverage/feigned outrage about Bellerive's greens either burning out around the edges and/or being too soft was "little do they know this is what we have to deal with every summer." Just play nearly any course in the St. Louis area in July or August and you'll see what I mean: either rock hard/burned out or spongy.