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.”
Have been a member for 10 plus years. Had the opportunity to play at the best in the greater STL area over past several years (Boone, Old Warson, STLCC, etc). None of these courses have anything on The West Course in my opinion. They may be in more tony environs, granted. But The West is a fantastic course. It will certainly test you time after time. The greens are always in outstanding shape. If you hit a great drive, you will be rewarded with a level, favorable lie, which I personally value highly (nothing worse than hitting great drive in the fairway and having the ball half a foot below your feet). Number 2 and 15 are two of the more challenging Par 5s you will play. Great par 4’s as well - Holes 3 and 6 are bears, 9 has broken my spirit on many a morning, and 11 is the best 290 yard par 4 you will ever play. The Back is the more challenging 9, as evidenced by the recent Ascension Charity Classic. Glad to see The West ranked so highly on this site - well deserved.
I'm also a member at Norwood Hills and so I too am biased. I agree with much of the content above but wanted to make a few points. Here they are:
1. Norwood has the best greens in the St. Louis area. The conditioning is near perfect. They typically run about an 11 and for tournaments around a 12. Because the greens have Golden Age contouring, when greens were running around an 8 and severe slope was the only defense, this makes Norwood's greens extremely challenging. But they are also fun as hell and so pure that they are very fair. There are several holes, however, where if you leave an approach on the wrong side of the hole, a 3-putt is a real possibility.
2. A redesign plan was commissioned in 2008 and presented to the club the same day that Lehman Bros. went under. With the Great Recession, the plan was mothballed, except for the redesign of the 15th hole, which happened about 5-7 years later, when the sewer district had to tear up the fairway to complete an infrastructure project. The club took the opportunity to implement the redesign, which lengthened the hole to 613 yards, to remove a drainage ditch that used to cross the fairway about 200 yards from the hole, and to create a bunker complex on the left side of the fairway about 130 yards from the green, that guards the approach both for those trying to hit the green in two and to otherwise access most pins on this severely left to right sloped green. The complex also protects an small, elevated strip of fairway about 75 yards out from the green. A bold player who can't reach the green in 2 but takes on that bunker complex with his second shot, is rewarded by the best view and angle to the green for a precision wedge shot. The rest of the as yet unimplemented redesign, except for some limited bunker and green work on a couple of holes, is amazing and very intriguing. The architect is Mike Riley, who grew up playing Somerset Hills, a Golden Age AW Tillinghast track in Bernardsville, NJ, ranked about 35-40 in the Top 100. Among others, Riley worked with Bob Cupp and then Jack Nicklaus before starting his own firm (if I have my facts straight). He understood Norwood's Golden Age design aesthetic and I'm hoping that his plan for the 11th hole gets implemented sometime soon. More on that later.
3. I saw a couple of comments that #4 is a Redan type hole. It is not. Not even close. I grew up playing Somerset Hills (see above), which has one of the best Redans in the US (Somerset Hole #2). Norwood #4 is nothing like a Redan. It is a vertical green, not a horizontal one, and has no severe right-to-left and front-to-back slope (the traditional Redan slope). The green slopes sharply back to front, so that when the hole is in the back, a short approach to the front of the green leaves long uphill putt that is a near certain 3-putt, as it is very difficult to get the pace right. The green is guarded front and right by a large pond.
4. Hole 5 is very challenging off the tee, as a bunker complex and hillside copse of trees guards the left side of the fairway and a stream and OB guards the right side. The stream cuts across the hole about 75 yards out from the green and then winds closely around the green's left side, catching many a pulled approach. When the pin is in the back, the hole plays about 2-clubs longer than when the the pin is up front. The green slopes from left back to right front. A very demanding hole and a par is an outstanding score.
5. Hole 6 is my favorite on the course and a stunning example of Golden Age golf architecture. Here, the fairway bunker complex on the right hillside was redone, I believe in accordance with Riley's redesign plan. The ideal tee shot carries this bunker complex, as the fairway slopes right to left to a flattened left side area and a drive too far left, to avoid the bunkers, can leave an approach that's partially blocked depending on the pin placement by a huge tree. The green is a masterpiece. It has a huge mound on its right side that can be used to funnel approach shots to pins cut on the right side. Miss the green right and you're contending with that huge mound. The left side of the green has a false front that protects pins cut on the left. Miss long and you're up on a slight hillside with a devilish downhill-lie chip to a green that runs away from you. Still, because a good drive leaves a scoring club in your hands, this hole is a birdie opportunity. It's a blast.
6. Hole 9 is another great example of Golden Age golf course architecture. If you pound a drive and either work it left to right or take the perilous line along or just over the right tree line, you are rewarded with a scoring club. Either way, you've hit an outstanding shot. A hooked or cowardly tee ball likely ends up in the long, deep fairway bunker on the left, or in the lush Norwood rough. The green's false front sucks many an approach to a front pin into the valley of sin, a small strip of fairway about 25 yards short of the green, leaving a ticklish uphill pitch from a tight lie up to the severely sloped back to front green. Putts across the green often break 6 feet or more and require precise pace to avoid a run out that leaves you a 5 foot come-backer. As challenging as the hole is, a great drive against puts a scoring club in your hand. If you hit a great approach, you can birdie the ninth. If you do, it's memorable.
7. Hole 11 is somewhat controversial. My understanding is that the Champions Tour pros weren't exactly thrilled with this hole in the first year of the Ascension Charity Classic (Sept. 2020). I think it's 302 from the tips and 292 from the blues. An enduring debate is whether driver or a long iron is the right play. To me, the hole's design flaw is that there is no strip of fairway that allows a perfectly struck drive to run up onto the green, which is guarded in front by thick rough and multiple bunkers. I've seen incredible drivers who moon shots that either land softly and somehow hold the green or that get a perfect kick onto the putting service. I hit 4-iron off the tee and a well struck one leaves about 60-70 yards in. A pured, well spun wedge to the far right side of the green will often take the green's contour and leave a makeable birdie putt. A slightly pulled or misaligned wedge can end up in the greenside rough or deep bunker to the left of the green. Some prefer to hit driver, favoring a left side miss, and just try to get up and down from below the hole. But all of this is what to my mind makes the hole great. If you're on the wrong side of the hole in 2, you can 3-putt or even 4-putt.
Riley's outstanding redesign extends the fairway left, where right now there is nothing but rough and trees. This affords relief to the pulled or hooked tee ball, as it can still find the fairway, but it will leave an uphill difficult second from a valley that must carry directly over the greenside bunker on the left. Hit it long and you'll be dead, having to chip from above the hole. The redesign, if I recall correctly, also creates a narrow fairway opening between the front bunkers to the green, so that a perfect drive will be rewarded.
8. I agree that the back 9 is a beast. 10 (a Par 3) and 11 are seemingly easy, but their brutal greens can easily lead to bogies or worse. 12 thru 14 are exacting holes, whose greens can easily be 3-putted if you're not precise. 13 and 14 are very demanding driving holes. 15, I've discussed above, but the tee shot requires incredible precision. The right side of the fairway is guarded by a stream and dense woods. Shy away from that, and the left is guarded by a copse of trees that can leave a cowardly or hooked drive with a chip out second shot. The perfect drive must settle within a 30-35 yard strip of fairway, except for the longest hitters who can take advantage of the fairway slightly widening about 285 yards out from the blue tees.
9. Since Holes 16 and 17 weren't discussed above, I'll do that here. 16 is a so much fun off the tee. The fairway is generously wide, but the day's pin placement will require you to favor one side or the other, such that the hole still requires precision off the tee. The long hitter risks hitting it through the fairway, which ends about 280 or so from the blue and drops into a valley of rough. Trees guard the right side of the hole and fairway bunkers the left. Farther left still, the ground falls off into another copse of trees that run the length of the hole to block out approaches. The green slopes right to left and front to back and there is a huge swale to the left of the green that requires a delicate chip from a tight lie for the ball that lands too far left on the ground and gets sucked into the swale by the green's slope. Again, though, a well struck drive puts a scoring club in your hand. Never fly your approach to the pin, land it short by about 5-10 yards and right of the pin location, as the ball will release and move left.
Hole 17 is a favorite of the membership. It's a demanding driving hole, with a fairway set in a hollow between a tree-filled hillside and multiple bunkers to the right, and death in the form of a brush filled hillside to the left. The tee box is guarded by water, which although it extends only for about 50 yards can still get in some players' heads. The ideal drive starts at the left edge of the fairway bunkers and draws back toward the middle of the fairway, which slops right to left until it flattens out on the left side. A pin cut in the front is very gettable, as there's a backboard created by the subtly multi-tiered green. A pin cut in the back is daunting, as even a slightly long approach will leave a demanding, short-sided chip and a short approach leaves an uphill, right to left putt whose pace is very difficult to gauge correctly, bringing 3 putts into play. Once again, a great drive can leave you a wedge to a 7-iron, depending on the pin and the tee you play. So, the hole is certainly birdieable. Another great golf hole.
10. A great finishing hole, although the green is by far the least contoured on the course. I suspect the green isn't the original Wayne Stiles green. The tee shot, like many at Norwood, is demanding, as two large fairway bunkers and OB guard the left and thick rough and trees that will block out an approach, as well as another fairway bunker, guard the right. Because the fairway slopes right to left, the perfect tee ball draws off the right fairway bunker. Overcook it, though, and the trouble left comes into play. Although the green is, by Norwood standards, fairly flat, it has subtle breaks that after a day of obvious slopes can fool many. The green is also guarded by bunkers both left and right and because the green is fairly large, those bunker shots can often be a more challenging 20-yards or perhaps more.
The hole was lengthened in the last 15 years, with a new championship tee box that makes the hole a monster from the tips.
Norwood is a great, old school course. The club has done a very nice job removing some trees that harmed sight and playing lines, a process that has recaptured some long views as well. The zoysia fairways are perfect. Some complain about the bermuda grass that creeps into the rough and can just swallow errant shots and make for some very challenging approaches and green side chipping.
Excellent review and I agree with all of your points. The site of Norwood is about as exciting as it gets in the St. Louis area, and the routing of West is mostly excellent, leading to zero weak holes on the golf course. I share #6 as my favorite hole and had a great time sitting on the hillside watching the senior pros play it this past September. Credit to the club for the tree removal and (it appears) some green expansion since my prior visit.
I noticed a few typos in my review; assume those are self explanatory.
But one glitch requires a correction. On Hole #5, the green slopes from back right to left front -- somehow I reversed those. That slope can leave very quick putts from the back of the green, which requires that you play even more break on a die putt.
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