The world of golf will turn its eyes to Bellerive Country Club next week when the sport’s biggest names come to Town and Country for the 100th PGA Championship, the final major tournament of the year, where star power will be on full wattage.
Tiger, Phil, Jordan, Rory.
Then there’s the biggest star of the tournament. The oldest, too.
Bellerive has hosted big events in the past, including the 1992 PGA Championship and the 1965 U.S. Open, but tournament organizers expect a bigger and better show that transcends anything St. Louis has hosted in more than a century.
“I’ve been all around town and all around the country and people know Bellerive,” course pro Mike Tucker said. “It’s our championship. It’s the PGA of America’s championship. It’s also St. Louis’ championship and the region’s championship. I want to stress that even if you’re not a golf fan this is arguably the largest global event we’ve hosted in our town since 1904.
“When you talk about 500 million people watching in some way, shape or form around the world, 100 different countries are sending people to cover the event and 20 some odd countries are represented in the field. It’s spectacular. Even if you’re not a big fan of golf, you’ll want to be part of this.”
The 7,316-yard, tree-lined parkland course, with par set at 70 for the tournament, will offer some of the most grueling and unique features the world’s best golfers have seen on tour, highlighted by some of the deepest bunkers and widest greens of any championship course.
As always, weather will affect the scoring — Bellerive’s grounds crew dealt with the region’s third-coldest April on record followed by the hottest May — but those who know the course best offer one warning for Bellerive newcomers: With a dense rough lining the fairways and sprawling bunkers surrounding multiple greens, you’d better hit it straight off the tee.
For the younger generation of golf stars who haven’t played Bellerive — defending PGA champion Justin Thomas slipped in a practice round last month — the first thing they’ll notice about the course is the bunkers and the spacious greens.
“Our average greenside bunker shot is close to 25 yards,” Tucker said. “That’s just middle of the bunker to middle of the green. So there will be some bunker shots where the fellows are going to have 80- to 100-foot bunker shots just greenside. I don’t care who you are, those are really difficult.”
The bunkers are numerous and deep. On the par-4, 521-yard fourth hole, which is a par-5 for Bellerive members, eight bunkers are positioned between the tee box and the green, including three surrounding the green. Some of traps are deep enough to require tremendous trajectory to clear the bunker and find the green.
“They’re not the flat-bed bunker where the ball rolls in and stays level,” Tucker said. “If you’re in the front bunkers you can barely see the flagstick. You have to hit a ball not only out of the bunker with some forward energy but you have to go straight up in the air. It makes it almost impossible.”
On the par-3, 237-yard 16th hole, a shot that finds the bunker might require a 150-foot blast to escape.
“The challenge is going to be around the greens,” said Carlos Arraya, the course’s director of grounds and agronomy, whose team has also modified the course’s mowing lines to make play more challenging. “The shots from the middle of the bunker to the center of the green are some of the longest in golf.”
The PGA Championship annually draws the strongest field in golf. On Aug. 9-12 at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis County, the world's best …
On several holes, reaching the green is just half the battle. Some golfers might hit a dozen greens in regulation per round, Tucker said, but still face an average putt of 50 feet to the hole.
“You really have to drive it well to score well here,” Thomas said after playing his practice round. “The fairways aren’t overly narrow or wide. They’re just a good width, but they have some curve to them. Some of them are sloped, so you have to work it against the fairway. You really just need to have control of your ball off the tee, so that way you can come into the greens from the fairway and leave it in the right spots.”
Bellerive underwent a major renovation in 2005-06 and has since added some modifications in preparation for the PGA. On the par-4 11th hole, a pond lies alongside the green that previously sat in front of the green. Depending on where the championship committee places the holes and stations the tees, the 11th could make an enticing chance for birdies.
“That’ll be an exciting hole to watch,” Tucker said. “There will be some fireworks there when the hole location and tees are in the right spot.”
The par-3 sixth hole promises some drama, too. The shortest hole on the course at 213 yards is guarded by a pond and two bunkers. At the 1965 U.S. Open, it proved to be the most difficult hole in tournament history with a stroke average over four.
“I hate to say it,” Tucker said, “but if fans are looking for some trauma and wayward play, that’s probably the hole where it will be exposed the most.”
By Tucker’s account, the best spots to watch the tournament unfold are along the back nine on holes 14-16, known as “the ridge,” where multiple grandstands will give fans a clear view of the action.
“The 14th hole is my favorite place to be on the golf course,” Tucker said. “The tee box is serene and quiet. It’s the farthest point away from all the noise of the event. It’s the last place where a player can gather his thoughts before he finishes his round.
“The 14th green, I’d tell all our spectators that the view overlooking the golf course, sitting up high perched on the ridge, is absolutely spectacular.”
With blazing temperatures putting stress on the greens the last few months, Bellerive closed the course to its members a few weeks ago so Arraya and his staff of 52 workers could prepare each hole for all the traffic expected for the tournament.
“We’re quite fortunate to have the membership here embrace championship golf,” Tucker said.
Now, after years of meticulous planning and preparation, Bellerive is almost ready for its close-up.
“So many people here have never experienced a championship of this magnitude, a modern major, a new major as I like to call it,” Arraya said. “Just to see the people’s faces when they get inside the gate is going to be something special.”