Larry Packard led a lengthy career in golf course architecture, and the club at Sunset Hills was among the first projects on that list. Although representing Illinois, its members are far more likely to support the Cardinals than divisional rivals the Chicago Cubs, as this course fits within the St. Louis metropolitan area.
Many names have come to the property more than 50 years after Packard to leave their mark on the course you currently play, however. That includes Gary and Ron Kern, but Keith Foster’s contributions are probably the most conclusive. The architect is known for his restorations of “Golden Age” courses, and he used that background to renovate Sunset Hills in a style more in line with that aesthetic of bunker and green-shaping.
Although history is always kept in mind, more recent architects have worked to keep the club honest by stretching it past 6,800 yards from the tips.
I’m not sure quite how to feel about Sunset Hills. The golf course feels like a Frankenstein monster of sorts, with holes being stitched together from different eras of design to create the current version. There are a few absolutely excellent holes here, but there are also some absolutely terrible ones. I’m unable to find the specifics of all the different changes to the course over the years, but there are distinct differences in the style and feel of the holes closest to the clubhouse compared to the ones farther away; my assumption is that those closer to the clubhouse are older, but I can’t confirm.
The older holes are generally better, in my opinion. #1 is a great dogleg left par five that can be reached in two shots, but has a green that slopes away from the player. From there, the course drifts into a somewhat nonsensical bit of routing, highlighted by: the impossible-to-find tee on #3; #4, a par five so hilly and narrow it requires multiple layups, or the wacky short dogleg par four #5. We get a return to normalcy on the #9, a solid uphill par four with a blind approach, before entering the best three-hole stretch on the course. #10 is a great short par four with another elevated green that slopes away from most approach shots; #11 is the best par five on the course, featuring a long carry to the top of a hill where the green can be attacked – with out of bounds to the right lurking; and, following a long drive under a road into a clearly newer, more residential portion of the course, #12 is a par three with an excellent saddle-shaped green that’s much larger than it seems from the tee. Unfortunately, that’s as good as it gets, as the remaining three holes in that portion of the course are downright silly in terms of hilliness and narrowness. We come back across the road to some semblance of sanity on #16, a cleverly bunkered drivable dogleg right par four, before closing with two disappointingly mundane par fours.
Again, I can’t be sure what holes at Sunset Hills were created when, but despite Keith Foster doing an admirable job trying to piece together different bits of architecture and building a solid set of greens, the overall routing of this course is so disjointed that it takes away from the seven or eight excellent holes that exist here. It’s a fine member’s course that gets some serious teeth when played all the way back, and was in excellent condition when I played it this fall, but on the whole it’s far from one of the best courses in the St. Louis area.
Played September 11, 2020