The name of this golf club is no bluff; golfers will be playing some very altitudinal golf as they traverse this property near the Missouri River, west of St. Louis.
The first three holes are an excellent primer on what you should expect for most of the round: No. 1 is a par five that serves as a gentle opener while traveling downhill toward the river. No. 2 is a par three with a significant fall from tee to green, one of many such heroic holes that Tom Fazio has crafted during his long career. No. 3 will be your first par four but — despite being less than 400 yards from the tips — it will feel even longer than the opening par five, as you begin to come back from where you started. At the end is a green displaying its own version of altitude shifts.
The course is fortunate to have this scenic piece of property to itself, so no real estate will intrude on this idyllic round. The challenge from the tips, at more than 7,000 yards, may seem considerably less idyllic.
It was the early 1990s, at the height of the golf course construction boom, and a prominent developer sought to build a “country club for a day”-style high-end public layout near fast-growing suburbs west of St. Louis on heavily wooded public land owned by the University of Missouri. (More on that later.) Tom Fazio was the highest of course designer high fashion at the time, so he was brought in to design the course. The resulting layout at Missouri Bluffs was intended to sit at or near the top in the rankings of best public courses in the state; while it never quite got to that level, its eventual maturation resulted in a high-quality, playable golf course that flies a bit under the radar among the best courses in the St. Louis area.
Fazio took advantage of the hilly terrain by mostly routing holes up and down hills through U-shaped valleys, and along the tops of ridges, rather than up or down the steeper sides of those ridges. The holes up and down valleys offer forgiveness, with most of them being narrow enough around the edges of the fairway to deflect balls back into the middle, while the hole corridors along the ridges are wide enough to at least allow misses on one side or the other. The layout plays to a total par of 71, with an extra par three on the front nine; those par threes are generally used as transitional holes in the routing, taking players between ridges or valleys and other ridges or valleys. Consequently, there is not much variety at all on those short holes; from the back tees, the shortest and longest of the five par threes measure only provide 23 yards of difference, and all are downhill to varying degrees. But most of the rest of the golf course offers a fair bit of variety, with an excellent set of four par fives and several good par fours along the way.
My favorite holes include: #1, a short downhill par five playing through one of the aforementioned valleys and providing a nice birdie opportunity right off the bat; #3, a par four playing back up another valley towards the clubhouse; #5, a par five along the top of a ridge that plays slightly downhill to a spectacular green with multiple levels left and right; #9, a long dogleg right par four featuring a slight crown to its fairway and an incredibly deep green; #11, a drivable par four with all sorts of trouble lurking around its elevated green; #14, a par three over a ravine to a sliver of a green with a particularly difficult portion in its back right; and finally, #15, the most photographed hole on the course, a short par five that drops well over 100 feet from the tee boxes to the fairway and climbs more than halfway back up to the green. When I was a child, my father joined the then-semi-private club for the first couple of years it was open as a place for him (and me) to play regularly; as such, we previewed the Bluffs in the fall of 1994 ahead of the general public (during which my father holed out from 150+ yards for eagle on the par four #16) and after two or so years of it being nearly the only place we played, we’ve been relatively regular visitors ever since.
Fast forward to the present day, and Missouri Bluffs’ story takes a bit of a dark turn. A housing developer – not the one that originally built the course, mind you – worked out a deal with the University of Missouri to purchase several parcels interspersed throughout the course’s routing with the intent of developing a residential subdivision on that land. As this proposal worked its way through the development approval channels, lawsuits were filed by the local chapter of the Sierra Club, among others; hundreds of acres of pristine old-growth forest would be lost, they argued, with associated impacts on flora and fauna in the area. Others questioned a sweetheart deal that was given to a developer to build houses on what was once public land intended for "research" purposes by the university. (The Missouri Bluffs property abuts similarly wooded protected areas on multiple sides, so the development would most certainly be out of character.) While I am not as much an opponent of this development on environmental grounds, from a pure golfing enjoyment perspective, the plans for this subdivision seem outrageously intrusive and the construction process will likely be a nightmare. Most courses with a housing component are usually designed and built together with that housing component, providing at least (when done correctly) some semblance of harmony with the golf course; Missouri Bluffs will not be one of those courses. For now (as of fall 2021), the construction is in Phase 1, which has only impacted the area behind the seventeenth green and eighteenth tee; time will tell if the remaining disruption turns out to be significant or not.
Played over 45 times between October 30, 1994 and September 16, 2021