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.”
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