Olympic golf! Many scholars of golf history are well aware that such a competition existed before the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, but for the less-well versed, there were two previous golf events in the Games – in 1900 and 1904. The former was held at the Club de Golf Compiègne near Paris, which… doesn’t appear to exist anymore. Nevertheless, as it was only nine holes and evidently built in the center of a small and flat horse racing oval, it must not have been that exciting anyway (no offense, Musselburgh). The latter, on the other hand, was held at the Glen Echo Country Club near St. Louis, a newly-built 18-hole course that couldn’t have been more different than the host of the previous Games. Brothers James and Robert Foulis laid out the course on about as hilly a site as you’ll find in the region, with some rather substantial elevation changes that must have been even more brutish in the days of cleeks and mashies.
The overall routing of Glen Echo – one of what feels like at least a dozen courses to claim the “oldest course west of the Mississippi” distinction – is remarkably close to that which hosted the Games in 1904 based on my research. The only major changes are the combination of two holes to become the existing hole #3, and the creation of the new par three #6 (with slight adjustments to #7 tee location as well). Other sources have indicated that #1 and #18 are “new” (e.g., circa 1920) holes as well, but I can’t confirm that. Either way, a large majority of the course routing remains from what was played during Olympic competition, as well as the club’s subsequent hosting of the 1906 Western Amateur.
The competition itself has proved to be the stuff of local legend. While the 1900 Games competition was purely 36 holes of stroke play (and only 9 holes for the women’s competition, which was not staged in 1904), the 1904 Games was contested via a five-round match play bracket following 36 holes of qualifying to narrow the 75-player field. In addition, teams from several notable amateur golf associations at the time competed in a team event over the qualifying rounds, though due to travel issues most did not attend and a third team had to be thrown together from individual competitors to fill the medal stand. (The Western Golf Association team won.) Notable names in the field included two sons of USGA founder Theodore Havemeyer, prominent local amateur brothers the Stickneys, aviation pioneer and namesake of St. Louis’s airport Al Lambert, brother of the course designers Simpson Foulis, and reigning U.S. Amateur champion H. Chandler Egan. Egan made it through the bracket to the finals, only to lose to Canadian former cricketer George Lyon 3&2, with his costly errant drive into the pond on the ultimate hole #15 commemorated by a plaque near that tee.
As for the holes themselves, there are a few memorable ones: #2, a long, straightaway par four with a significant left-to-right slope the whole way to the green, #5, quirky drivable par four with trouble all around the green; #7, a long par four that plays over two valleys; #8,a short par five that plays back over the same two valleys and is nearly indistinguishable from #7 (I would argue that it’s easier to make 4 on #8 than #7); #11, a very long par three with its green on a plateau; #15, the historic par four that ended the Olympic match, featuring a pond on the left and a fairway sloping toward it; #16, a long, dogleg left par four with a multi-level green - easily the toughest hole on the course; and #18, another long, slight dogleg right par four with ample bunkering around a smallish green.
Glen Echo will always hold a special place in my heart, as it was where I worked my first summer job in high school – briefly as a caddy, then as a bag room attendant. Needless to say, I made sure to take full advantage of open play on Mondays when it was available. Despite the hills, it’s a very walkable course, which was great for a high school kid who loved to walk. It’s hard to say that Glen Echo is the best course in the St. Louis area by any stretch – I can think of at least fifteen others in the area that I’d definitely rank higher – but it’s a fun old golf course from start to finish that is in typically excellent condition with bentgrass greens, zoysia fairways, and bluegrass roughs. It’s certainly worth playing if you’re a sucker for history and turn-of-the-century architecture.
Played 15 times between June 30, 1997 and July 31, 2018
Date: November 25, 2020