The golf facility at Norwood Hills Country Club is an early Wayne Stiles design from 1921, built when the architect had only a few New England golf courses to his name. It’s something of a mystery as to how he was appointed in the first place but stranger still is the fact that, despite setting out an outstanding layout for North Hills Country Club (as the club was originally named), Stiles never received any further contracts within the local area.
In the book The Life and Work of Wayne Stiles by Bob Labbance and Kevin Mendik, the authors have this to say about the course:
“Everything at Norwood is on a grand scale, from the enormous clubhouse to the stunning natural canvas that Stiles painted 45 holes of golf upon. His design work included a championship course (the West), a shorter members layout (the East) and a ladies or beginners 9-hole loop (the South). In the intervening years the nine-hole loop has been eliminated.
“As many as 250 workers built the courses under the direction of construction superintendent Sam Lyle (who) had previously built Hudson River in New York, 36 holes at the Dixie location for Royal Montreal in Canada and the San Francisco Golf Club – so clearly he knew his craft. But his wanderings came to an end at Norwood, where he remained the head greenkeeper for the first 22 years of the club’s existence.
“Although a great deal of the construction work was still done by hand using the labor of 55 teams of horses driven by local farmers, by the early 1920 mechanization was taking over course construction. Eight 5-ton trucks brought materials to the site, including 150 truckloads of manure, 50 loads of sand, 15 loads of humus, 45 loads of cinders, as well as fertilizer, lime and grass seed. Five tractors did the large scale earth moving before the teams of horses performed the detail work.
“Norwood Hills is the only Stiles design to host one of golf’s major championships. The 30th PGA Championship was played at Norwood May 19-25 1948, when the premier event was still contested as match play. Players used the East Course for practice, with matches conducted on the West course. Champion Ben Hogan barely survived the early rounds (before he) had an easy time of Mike Turnsea in the final, winning 7&6. Had the tournament been conducted at stroke play Hogan would have been 35 under par over the 213 holes he played.”
As a current member of the course I will try to be as impartial as possible when writing this. I was going to rate the course as a 5 but took it down half a point to try to be honorable.
To start, Norwood Hills is an old course. It was built in 1922 in the then affluent North St. Louis Suburbs. Over time, the many societal and economic problems that affect St. Louis (like most of the US), has resulted in Norwood Hills being located in a neighborhood that has become quite distressed. So, as you enter the beautiful property, you are left with the juxtaposition of a magnificent old style country club in a neighborhood where most locals unfortunately cannot afford to be members.
Once you get on to the course, you start to understand why it is called Norwood Hills. The land has a grand scale to it. The course meanders across the hills artfully, constantly making you think about which club to hit or which side of the fairway you need to be on. The front nine is the more approachable side of the course that you need to make your score on before you make it to the more brutish back nine where you try to hold on.
I will try highlight some of my favorite holes on the course to give you an idea of the place. I do think all of the holes on the course are great, except for the par 5 8th, which I deem to be merely good.
2. The second is your first introduction to the hills. You play from the top of the hill to a fairway in a valley far below you, before playing back up a steep hill to the green. Bigger hitters can reach this green in two with a good drive. There are two defenses on this hole, firstly there are many bunkers around the green, but the main defense on this hole is the two tiered green which slopes from back to front. If you are above the hole here, you are doing well to keep your next putt on the green.
4. Is almost a redan par 3 over a pond from an elevated tee box. The green just does not have a large enough slope for me to truly call it a redan. With a front tee and front pin here, the hole can play as short as 120 yards compared to a back pin and back tee the hole can play over 200 yards, which makes this a great hole especially in matchplay or competition.
5. Is probably the signature hole in the course and is rated as the index one hole. You start by driving over a small lake into a narrow fairway that is protected all up the right by a stream and on the left by two large fairway bunkers. You can lay up short of the bunkers and give yourself a longer shot in, or you can take on the trouble to give yourself a shorter approach to a green that is sloped heavily from back right to front left with the aforementioned stream crossing in front of the green and to the left edge of the green.
6. Has my favorite green on the course, it is a horizontal two tiered green that is almost a punchbowl. If the pin is on the higher left tier, you must be in the fairway to attack, but if the pin is on the lower right tier you can you the big slopes at the right, back or middle of the green to get yourself a short birdie putt.
9. As someone who plays a natural draw/hook. 9 consistently kicks my ass. The hole is drawn up to hit a high fade off the tee to follow the fairway, (which you must hit if you want to walk off with a par or better) before playing over a deep ravine to a shallow green the slopes sharply from back to front with a huge false front that will bring your ball down into the valley of sin. If you go over the green into the rough, you will be very happy if you walk off with a bogey.
11. Is probably my favorite hole on the course, and is the classic risk reward short par 4 that is an easy par/bogey, but is still a very difficult birdie. From the back tees he hole is about a 270/280 carry to the green and has OB all up the right side, and large trees up the left side. The green slopes so severely from front right to back left that there are no pin positions on the first 40% of the green due to slope. The green is heavily protected with large bunkers short of the green, a deep bunker left of the green and thick rough right and long of the green. If you go for the green, the only safe place to miss is the front bunkers or long which give you a fair chance at birdie and a good chance at par. Missing anywhere else will make your par difficult to come by. If you lay up, you better hit the fairway to give yourself a chance at par or better coming into what is probably the smallest green on the course.
I am looking forward to the champions tour event coming to Norwood later this year to see how some of the games greats deal with this hole.
12-13-14 is the brutish stretch of the course. 12 is a 200+ yard par 3 playing 100 feet down hill. 13 a 450+ par 4 playing uphill. 14 a 480 yard par 4 playing down hill. 3 pars here and you are delighted.
15. Is a long (maxes out at about 600 yards) dog leg left par 5 with trees protecting the inside of the dog leg, and a creek (and OB) running up the right side. You play from an elevated tee box down to the fairway before playing back uphill to an undulated green with a large false front. As with most holes at Norwood, it is important to stay below the hole to give yourself a chance at par or better. The long hitters can go for this green in two, and the short hitters need to decide how best to approach this green. Leave it short or right of the large fairway bunker guarding the left side or attack the left side of a split fairway that gives you a full view of the green for your approach.
16 and 17 are great holes, but my review is long enough so i am skipping to the finale.
18. Is just a great finishing hole, with the most intimidating tee shot you will face all day. From the back tees it measures up to 480+ yards. The hole has OB up the entire right side and OB left off the tee to protect the tennis courts. When standing on this tee with a match on the line you have no choice but to hit your best drive of the day, with bunkers left and the fairway narrowing the further you go up it. If you do hit the fairway you are left with a chance to attack one of the more subtle greens on the course that gently slopes from back to front (as long as you can block out the OB which is merely 15 yards right of the green).
Excellent review. Love your course and can't wait to see it in September.
Norwood Hills is a fantastic throwback course with some awesome history. A Wayne Stiles design that is somewhat a mystery. All I know is I love the course.
The first hole is welcoming, especially if you miss the fairway bunkers. The 2nd is a short par five that is reachable in two, yet it is the number one handicap hole. A good drive will give you a green light. This hole does have a valley that will really only come into play if you hit a lousy shot. More importantly, avoid the 4 greenside bunkers right and one left. This is a two tiered green so plan accordingly. The 3rd can be a birdie oppty but it is real tight, not to mention the 7 bunkers. It is a penthouse or outhouse hole. The 4th is one of my favorite holes, a downhill par 3 to a redan green over water, yes I birdied. The 5th is a tough par 4. Starts with the tee shot, a stream right and bunkers left. Sure, enough I blocked it into the stream. Turns out this was a meandering stream that then bisects the hole in front of the green and then left of the green. I made an adjustment on my approach and hooked it into the same stream that is now left, &%$#^(*!The 6th is a good birdie oppty. Favor the left off the tee to take the fairway bunker on the right out of play. For your approach take an extra club. The 7th is a long par 3. If you hit the green the fun is just beginning as this is a tough one. Being below the hole right is the easiest solution. I think the par 5 dogleg left is over handicap. Short by today’s standards a high draw provides a green light to go for it in two. I do understand that there is OB right, but 3 average shots will still give you a shot at birdie. The front ends with a bang, nine is a tough hole. Off the tee a high fade is preferred. As an unapologetic hooker I was doomed. The green has a false front, and while being below the hole is preferred a rejected approach that rolls 20 + yards down the hill is demoralizing.
The back starts with a mid-length par 3. This is a two tiered green, if you are debating which club to hit, opt for the longer. The 11th is a short risk/reward par 4. Big hitters can drive it, but the front greenside bunkers provide a strong defense. This is a tough green that slopes bigtime front right to back left. I was in awe when I read the plaque stating the Ben Hogan closed out his opponent 7 and 6 for the 1948 PGA Championship. The 12th is a downhill 229 yard par 3, yet it is rated as the easiest hole on the course? The 13th is a tough hole, long and uphill with a blind approach to a 3 tiered green. What could possibly go wrong? I would tell you, but who wants to hear how anybody made triple bogey? How does a 481 yard par four sound? Amazingly, 14 is much easier than 13. Off the tee left is better. The green is pitched back to front and is receptive to running approaches. The 15th is a wonderfully designed par 5. You either go for it, or your approach becomes like a normal par 4. Big hitters can get there in two, but the rest of us need to really think about our second shot. A creek cuts across the hole diagonally about 150 yards out, lay up short or carry the creek? The 16th is all about the approach shot. Anything left will be off the green. Then 17th is another difficult par 4. A high draw off the tee is preferred. Take an extra club on your approach to another difficult two tiered green. The 18th is a tough finishing hole. I do not understand how an uphill 450 yard par four can be the number 12 handicap hole? OB left and right, standard advice hit it long and straight.
Norwood Hills West is an awesome under-rated course. Play it
Digging deep into the past for this review. I’ve played the West course at Norwood Hills on a few occasions, but not in fifteen years since missing the cut in the 2003 Missouri Amateur Stroke Play Championship. I’m sure some subtle to moderate changes have been made since that time, but I’m quite sure it’s still a solid test of golf on what is a beautiful, rolling piece of property in north St. Louis County. I’ve also played the East course once much longer ago, and I remember it being a short and fun test of golf as a complement to the championship West. The West course has also been in the news very recently as host of the 2018 USGA Women’s Mid Amateur, won by Shannon Johnson.
The greens on the course are quite memorable. Most are very large, several have multiple tiers, and all are in impeccable condition. As is common in the region, the fairways are zoysia, and can get spongy when it rains, but when the course is firm there are not many better tests of golf in Missouri. The interesting greens and bunkering along with the varying terrain prevent some of the less excitingly routed holes from feeling “weak” or out of place, leading me to declare Norwood as one of the most enjoyable courses I’ve played in the St. Louis area. In particular, the par fours are the course’s strength; the only par five I remember well was the roller-coster #2, and the par threes vary in distance but can be somewhat bland other than #4, which plays over a pond.
Other memorable holes (i.e., the ones I actually remember well): #3, a fun little par four routed along a plateau with bunkers on both sides, #5, a long, uphill par four along a meandering creek to a smallish green, #9, a par four that plays over a valley to a green tucked against the hillside and cut tight on the false front, #11, a very narrow but driveable par four with out-of-bounds right and a tiny front-to-back sloping green, #13, an uphill par four with an approach over a valley to a huge green with several distinct tiers, and #17, another long par four (see the theme?) winding its way uphill through a valley to yet another two-tier green.
Played July 31, 1999 and July 20, 23, & 24th, 2003