Gary Kern is not the most well-known of golf course architects, however it is difficult to discuss the topic in St. Louis without his name coming up. Among his most celebrated productions in the region are Fox Run Golf Club and Lake Forest Country Club.
Kern’s style is reminiscent of the era in which he worked, emphasizing accuracy off of the tee (and otherwise) with tight fairways and penal fairways. That hardly summed up the whole of his approach to golf, however, as is displayed at the course’s signature hole, No. 11. Among the shortest holes on the course, this par three features a 200-yard carry over water from the back tees. It’s easy to get distracted by the pond and focus on distance alone, but the two-tiered green reveals that finding the right placement on the putting surface was the true challenge all along.
I have enjoyed a round at Lake Forest several times over the years. The one thing that always brings me back is that the course is always in pretty darn good shape. The course design is certainly reflective of its era (as Jeff Kissel mentioned). It was built in the 80's I presume and there are houses everywhere. It takes away from the experience a bit but it is what it is. I am sure the members that live in the neighborhood love the accessibility. It is on a great piece of property. Rolling hills, trees, great putting surfaces and no two holes are alike in my opinion which make it a fun experience.
Side note: If you play this track all the way back, you are in for a very hearty test of golf. It is a bear.
Disclaimer: this is my home club! I became a member earlier in 2018. Gary Kern designed the golf course at Lake Forest; he had a prolific design career in the Midwest United States, often on lower budget projects and sometimes in smaller communities almost exclusively in Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri. Because of that fact, his designs are often overlooked but are generally fun, no-nonsense, playable golf courses. I have not checked this site completely, but I believe Kern’s only representation here is for Lake Forest and Fox Run in Missouri. Lake Forest is the significantly hillier of the two, situated on a rolling, wooded piece of terrain in a residential area west of St. Louis.
My favorite holes include #1, a fun little dogleg left par four with a semi-blind uphill approach. It’s odd to me to consider the first hole as one of my favorites on a course, but this one is. Hole #3 is a devil of a par five. After hopefully hitting a long enough drive to get past the corner of the dogleg, the player must either lay up on an upslope or at the top of the hill or attack a blind green over the hill with severe slopes all around. #4 takes the player back over the same hill with a short par four that provides longer hitters two distinct options off the tee: lay up in front of a massive fairway bunker to the left side of the fairway as the right side is blocked by a large tree or attempt to blast it, albeit blindly, past the tree with a driver as the fairway opens up in front of the green. #8 is is my favorite par three on the course; it plays through a narrow chute to a small, severely sloped green surrounded by deep bunkers. Lastly, #9 is a short dogleg right par five that provides a birdie opportunity, but no guarantee as the second shot plays up a large hill to a well protected green surrounded by severe slopes on nearly all sides.
The back nine is even more narrow than the front. Notable holes include #10, a longish par four, requires a precise drive which is a bit of a forced layup, but it’s easy to be blocked by trees on the approach from either edge of the fairway. #11 is the “signature” par three over water with a multi-tiered green that’s easy to three-putt. #14 is a massive, roller coaster par five; even at 600+ yards from the tips, the green can be attacked in two under dry conditions with a drive that hits the speed slot down the hill. That said, the fairway narrows substantially right before that point, with hazard and OB on each side, so be agressive at your own peril. The prudent play off the tee is to the top of the hill to leave an awkward, but wide open second that allows layups anywhere between 50 and 175 yards out for variety. #16 and #17 are two of the best par fours on the course – both present the golfer with a bevy of options from the tee to set up attacks to two greens that slope fairly heavily from back to front. #18 is somewhat of a mirror image of #9, though a bit longer and without the pond at the dogleg.
My only two minor criticisms of the course are that 1) the houses and out of bounds areas encroach a bit too closely on about three or four holes, all on the front nine, and 2) there are a few trees too many, the removal of which could make the course more playable and introduce some new strategic options on some holes. The routing is reflective of its era of design – the 1980s – in that there’s not a lot of variety in its par four lengths – the shortest is 363 yards (#4) which is not easily driveable, and the longest (#10) is 438 but doesn’t play as long. Still, there’s not a bad hole on the golf course even with those limitations, and there are a few great ones. However, the biggest selling point for this new member: the course conditions are first-rate. Those who play enough golf in this part of the Midwest know that growing grass can be difficult at best, but the greens at Lake Forest frankly are excellent and the best I’ve putted on in the region; they remain firm and fast even after periods of heavy rain.
In conclusion, this golf course is an enjoyable layout that I look forward to playing quite a bit in the coming years. It’s well worth playing if you have the opportunity.
Gary Kern, architect of Lake Forest and dozens of other courses throughout the Midwest, passed away on Friday, November 30, 2018 at the age of 80. He was a very interesting man and while I never met him personally, I feel like in a way I knew him since I grew up playing so many of his golf courses.
Gary's obituary: https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/name/gary-kern-o...
Gary's personal website: http://garykern.com/