St. Louis, Missouri rightly takes most of the credit for the Gateway Arch, which sits within its area code. That said, the southern portion of Illinois offers some of the best views of the monument. Accordingly, much like Liberty National in New Jersey, Gateway National Golf Links is actually located in a separate state than its namesake.
Keith Foster has created mock links courses in the Chicago area, and was tapped for his talents on the opposite end of the state. Although there are a number of links-style pots, some of the more eye-catching sand hazards are Ross-style cross hazards, which either jut dramatically into the fairway — as is the case on holes Nos. 13 and 15 — or completely cross the fairway, providing a risk-reward for par fives such as No. 6.
Native marshland provides a more parkland touch to the links aesthetics, providing a number of forced carries across watery graves. It’s all enough to make some St. Louis residents come across the state line for what may be the best public golf course in the metropolitan area.
Keith Foster’s design career has gravitated towards the renovation side of the ledger in recent years, but there was a period of time when he built some fantastic new designs alongside his associates Art Schaupeter and Kevin Hargrave. The St. Louis area is fortunate to have two of them: the sublime Persimmon Woods in suburban St. Charles County and the very, very unique Gateway National on industrial wasteland on the Illinois side of the river from downtown. A round at Gateway comes with the requisite cornucopia of sights, sounds, and even smells, from the clanging of railroad tracks and zooming of race cars at the adjacent racetrack to the odd odor of a nearby stockyard and spectacular views of the St. Louis skyline and the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge. As one would imagine in the wide swath of Mississippi River bottom, Gateway is nearly completely flat; the only bits of elevation change are artificial in the form of an old railroad right-of-way and a small low point adjacent to it that come into play on the back nine. The architects were thus required to manufacture a fair bit of intrigue in and around the greens and surrounds and more importantly, direct water away from those surfaces, which they did with aplomb. I’ve played Gateway in the midst of a literal flood, and every bit of ground above the standing water (i.e. all of the green complexes and most fairways) remained nice and firm.
Gateway National is routed in a bit of a spiral-like fashion, with the outward side around the perimeter and the inward side in the center; it does not quite ever return to the clubhouse until the closing hole thanks to the presence of the railroad right-of-way, so course management for a long period of time started players on the tenth tee on busy days in order to drive beer and food sales at the turn. Such a decision was frustrating for the architectural purists among us, as Gateway’s routing is like a symphony, crafted specifically to begin and end on certain notes; as a quirky but excellent short par four, the tenth is a downright awful hole on which to begin one’s round.
After a gentle handshake opener, the big reveal of the downtown city views comes at the second tee, along with a smack to the face. With prevailing winds generally into the direction of play, the 469-yard par four second is the first punch of a double volley that ends with the 661-yard (yes, you read that right) par five third, a brute under even calm conditions that can be downright diabolical when the wind is up. Most of the next few holes play back and forth in relatively close to the same general alignment, highlighted by the par five sixth and its line of cross bunkers, until the eighth, a wild sharp dogleg left that requires a fair bit of local knowledge to determine a line off the tee.
The aforementioned tenth is quite possibly one of the best strategic drivable par fours I’ve ever played, anywhere; the angles and options available on this hole have to be seen to be believed, and while it’s all completely manufactured, it’s a blast to play and worth the price of admission for the course itself. The rest of the inward side shows it to be the better half in this reviewer’s opinion, thanks to holes like the short twelfth to a steep, stone-fronted green, the best par five on the course in the thirteenth with its delightfully shaped green surrounds, two more stout par threes in the fourteenth and seventeenth, and finally the closing hole, a par five with angles and width galore.
From a pure architecture perspective, Gateway National is unquestionably the best daily-fee layout in the St. Louis area; however, it does have limitations that put it a notch below its neighboring Annbriar on this reviewer’s personal list. The aforementioned tenth tee starts, its issues as a bentgrass-centric layout in a climate that makes such a surface extremely difficult to maintain firmness in the summertime, and the ridiculously penal nature of some of the “natural” areas between the holes – sometimes mere feet off the edge of the fairway – all add up to something that is slightly less than the sum of its parts. All that said, if you find yourself in St. Louis and do not have access to any of the private clubs in the area, Gateway is far and away the most unique and interesting golf course we have to offer.
Played 16 times between May 29, 1999 and April 15, 2022
A challenging layout and exceptional conditions make this course the best value in St. Louis.
I play this course about 3 times a month during the golf season. I enjoy it most because of the bent grass fairways and greens that they keep in solid shape year around. If you catch them on a twilight rate, it can be shockingly affordable too.
As far as the course design, it is challenging but not particularly noteworthy. The most challenging stretch are holes 3-5. Hole 3 is a massive 600 yard par 5 that usually requires you to hit a short iron to get it close. The tiered green makes it difficult to get it close to the pin and usually leaves a swinging putt into most locations. Hole 4 is a par 3 that is somehow rated the 17th or 18th handicap on the course. A narrow green is guarded by tall grass behind it and bunkers in front. I rarely get out of there with a par. Then the course swings into a big, dogleg left par 4 that usually plays into the wind. Hitting it into the fairway bunker on this hole is a true one stroke penalty.
The most unique hole is number 10. It plays between 270-280 yards from the players tees over a small creek that runs in front of the green. It's a tremendous risk/reward hole. I like to work a driver right to left off the tee so that I can bail out on the left side of the green if I don't hit the perfect shot. If you hit it in the creek, you can still easily get up and down for par. The safe shot is to hit an iron and a wedge into the green, but where's the fun in that!?
My favorite hole is the par 5 18th, which I'm still not that wild about. A good drive can put you in a position to go for it in two. But if you don't go for it in two, there isn't a whole lot to think about. You've got a big, wide layup area out to the right of the green where you can layup if you don't have the chutzpah to get it there.
The fact that 18 is my favorite hole is the limiting factor of this course. There aren't any stellar holes that you look back and admire. And there's a couple throw away par 4s that don't have anything to them. But as far as public golf in the STL area, you can't beat Gateway's conditions and difficulty. It is the public place to play if you are in town.
Good links course, have to keep the ball in the fairway, tall grass surrounding most holes. Great views of the St. Louis arch and the race track. Many good holes that offer unique challenges