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.
When the 2018 PGA Championship was awarded to Bellerive in my hometown, I had to go see the event. After all, I attended the 1992 PGA there as a kid, and played the course a few times in high school matches in the late 1990s, but seeing the changes made by Rees Jones was an intriguing prospect.
Unfortunately, despite some tree removal to make a few hole corridors a bit wider and the removal of a pond on the par five 17th hole, it didn’t seem very different. It’s still a mean old Robert Trent Jones Sr. layout from the early 1960s that requires both length and precision. The bentgrass greens are enormous and mostly kept fairly soft due to the watering required (either voluntary or involuntary) in the harsh St. Louis summers. Zoysia fairways make for an interesting experience for the non-indoctrinated player, as they’re a bit spongier than most surfaces, especially when wet. As the PGA moved to May, it seems that St. Louis may have hosted its last major golf event barring any major surprises; the turf just plain isn’t ready for that caliber golf in May or even June. Sometimes, as evidenced by the conditions during the 2018 PGA, it isn’t ready in August, either. Such is golf in the St. Louis area, however.
Notable holes include: #6, the famous par three with an oblong, mounded green and fronted by a pond; #9, an uphill brute of a par four with a semi-blind approach; #14, a medium length par four that bends around a ravine; and #17, a reachable par five along a creek with an enormous greensite.
There’s nothing super memorable or exciting about Bellerive; it simply exists as another brutishly difficult golf course in RTJ Sr.’s portfolio.
Played May 5, 1997, October 18, 1998, and May 3, 1999
Bellerive is certainly one of the elite clubs in the St Louis area, however, having played almost all of the other clubs in St Louis, it ranks #3 or #4 for me. Its a BIG golf course with room in between and around the greens and logistically is the only course that can handle a major in St Louis so those are the two main reasons it is the choice when the tour comes to town. Its a great golf course but there aren't any real memorable holes in my opinion and I've never left there with the "wow" factor and I've played it several times over the years. Courses that I'd rather play in St Louis are Old Warson, Boone Valley, Glen Echo (which is somehow not ranked in MO), and of course St Louis (which I haven't played but without question having been on the property eclipses Bellerive). I would never discourage someone from playing the Rive and as I stated it is a great golf course. It's just simply not the premier venue in St Louis.
While I agree wholeheartedly about Bellerive's place in the STL area, I can't agree about Glen Echo. It's a goofy layout - albeit one in typically great condition. (And I say that as a former employee of the club who remembers it fondly.) Among the St. Louis area courses that are not ranked in the Top 100 Missouri ranking, I'd list the following as better layouts than Glen Echo:
Missouri Bluffs (maybe)
Crystal Highlands - or whatever it is now (maybe)
Bellerive is one of the best courses in the state of Missouri. Having played the club three times now, I'll give a four star rating.
Pros: Challenging, interesting greens that reward precision iron play, the club has a long history of major championships and hosting the best players in the world.
Cons: The layout itself is forgettable. Minus, a few holes (2,6, and 17 come to mind), it's four hours of hit it high and far over and over again. The conditions have ranged from average to very good, but the soft, slow conditions they saw at the PGA last year are common
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.