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.”
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