For anyone who frequents the TGC Tours site, you may see the profile for this course and think, “another MacRaynor course?!” As someone who may have played at least a small part in what seems to be a MacRaynor trend at TGCT, all I can say is: fair point.
Since I’ve started making deep dives into the GCA community, I have yet to find many people who are detractors of the “template” hole design style, other than an occasional “overrated” comment here or there. Courses like Saint Louis Country Club reveal part of the reason why the style doesn’t seem to get worn out. MacDonald and Raynor were masters of tailoring their templates to the land available, and seeing different versions of the same hole that feel and play worlds apart is a delightful adventure.
From my tours around Ladue so far, this course is full of quick and originality. While the course exists in a parkland setting, the land and routing takes all kinds of interesting twists and turns. If you feel you might be tiring of the template hole style, give this one a try and see if that feeling lasts. The course designer, Jeremy Mayo, has been devoted to the research and design process, and has completely nailed the goal of the OG Design Series. I will let him take it away…
I’ve been a entirely fictional designer in the three plus years I’ve been designing in TGC, but the were a few factors at play here that led me to take on this project and dabble in a quasi-RCR.
First, I felt I owed Craig one on a couple of levels. For starters, I took one of the courses he had originally considered as a candidate for this series — Monterey Peninsula Country Club — and used it as the inspiration for Monterey Bay Country Club, which I entered in the TGCT Survivor Contest and had a good deal of success with. Secondly, the WIP thread he started on what became Raynor Farms Municipal really helped rekindle the designing fire for me early this year after suffering a bit a burnout a few months into TGC2.
Second, I had already been on a bit of a template hole kick for my last three courses, so I looked at taking on a full-on MacRaynor as continuing that educational process. Lastly, ever since I started playing the game, I’ve been a sucker for classic, parkland-style tracks. Pitt1976’s RCR’s of Fox Chapel and Pittsburgh Field Club, along with his MacRaynor inspired Steamshovel Golf Club were all wonderful and captured that old-school charm that I really dig.
Having used Golf Club Atlas as a reference during work on Monterey Bay, I did some poking around at some of the other courses they had listed. I stumbled upon St. Louis Country Club. It ticked all the boxes for me. It was a classic, it was unquestionably parkland and it had championship pedigree (as the host of the 1947 U.S. Open). I pretty much knew at that point this was something I wanted to do. I fiddled with a hole or two and once I knew I could recreate the deep, sunken bunkers, that were a staple of this course, I was all in.
Whereas Monterey Bay was more about capturing the look and feel of MPCC, I knew pretty early on I wanted to stay true to the hole design and routing here. The routing was compact and clever and the holes were laid out well, strategically. Basically, I didn’t want to mess with a good thing. The two things St. Louis C.C. had going against it in terms of doing a full-on RCR were its length (just under 6,500 yards from the tips IRL) and the relative lack of info on the greens. In this format, I knew I could stretch the course out a little bit to accommodate TGC distances while staying true to the layout. Between Golf Club Atlas and Google Earth, I was able to get a pretty good feel of the general slope of several greens. The ones I couldn’t, I just let the macro sculpting kind of dictate how the green should flow.
The thing about some of MacDonald’s greens at St. Louis, is that there are some wild shelves and ridges on them, which might raise the ire of the casual player who had no working knowledge of the history of the course. I’m thinking, in particular, about the back shelves on 6 and 15. I didn’t really have the epiphany here about how to handle this until late in the going, when I decided two separate versions were the way to go. Those tricky back pins are included in the Tourney Ed., which I set up to be a major-type test of golf. I refrained from putting pins in those spots in the Members Ed. which, overall, is softer, more accessible and better suited to casual play.
Hole 1: “Preparatory” Par 4 – A paper on the history of St. Louis C.C. written in 1998 by Jim Healey tells you everything you need to know about the straightaway, downhill opener: “You recall the comments made by Gene Sarazen as he stood on the first tee in the 1947 Open. Resplendent in his plus-fours he gazed at the thick rough on the left and then to Barnes Road on the right – Out of Bounds – and commented to those standing nearby ‘I’ve seen wider bowling lanes.’”
Hole 2: “Double Plateau” Par 3 – Called Double Plateau by the membership but, make no mistake, this is a Biarritz through and through. According to Healey’s paper, the 2nd actually originally played as a short, drivable par 4 before being converted into a long par 3. I toyed with the idea of restoring back to a par 4, but decided against it, as the back-to-back long, challenging par 3s that help open this course are part of what make the routing at St. Louis unique.
Hole 3: “Eden” Par 3 – Most Edens require a mid iron off the tee, but not the 3rd at St. Louis, which plays in excess of 200 yards. The Hill, Strath and Eden bunkers are are accounted for and cavernous on this hole, but the Eden’s trait of a green that slopes pretty sharply from back to front actually helps the hole hold long iron approaches.
Hole 4: “St. Andrews” Par 4 – This is a mirror of the Road template. Trees down the left and a bunker simulate the trouble presented by the hotel and road on the 17th at St. Andrews. The cunning twist MacDonald and Raynor added here is a valley in the landing zone that angles away from the golfer from left to right. This enhances the heroic nature of the carry down the left side. Pull it off and a shorter, flatter approach in with a better angle awaits. Play it out to the right and the valley has a tendency to cost you yardage, kick you further right, and force you to have to contend with the deep Road bunker on your approach.
Hole 5: “Punchbowl” Par 5 – To me, it most enjoyable hole on the entire course. The Principal’s Nose bunker captures your attention about 150 yards from the green, but the fact that the approach funnels down into the punchbowl green makes going for the green in two a joy. You can legitimately get home with 5 or 6 iron from 240 out if you catch the downslope about 60 yards from the green and let gravity do the rest. A stream behind the green keeps the player honest, though, and adds some drama to the shot.
Hole 6: “Blind” Par 4 – Some designers scoff at the notion of a par 4 in the 350-370 range, but this one shows how it can be done with plenty of strategic merit. It’s all about positioning off the tee. Ideally, a 200-yard club down the right side will keep you in the fairway with a relatively flat lie while leaving not much more than a wedge in to a green that’s one of MacDonald’s wildest on the course, with a raised thumbprint back center. This is one of the pin positions that pushed me toward releasing two separate versions. It’s a very tight landing area to that back shelf, and probably a little controversial, but the photo of the sixth green on Golf Club Atlas shows the pin in that location, so I considered it fair game for the tourney version.
Hole 7: “Shorty” Par 3 – The shortest hole on the course is far from a breather, and is a textbook MacRaynor short. The green’s fortified by hazards all around, including massive drop offs short and right of the surface. The green itself is square with a thumbprint in the center which, in my mind, splits the green into nine different sectors and demands accuracy with a short iron.
Hole 8: “Cape” Par 4 – I strayed furthest from the original design down at this end of the property, yet the moves seemed to make sense in keeping with the spirit of the course. The green’s borderline driveable IRL, but I stretched the hole out to put greater emphasis on the creek that guards the entire right side. The other addition, which I think greatly enhances the strategy of the hole, is a giant oak left of the fairway about 90 yards from the green. The tree makes distance control vital for those who do not want to cut the corner as taking too much club on the safe route will leave them stymied behind the tree for their second.
Hole 9: “Ladue” Par 4/5 – The hole plays as a par 5 IRL and it’s one of three par 5s that runs east to west on the course. Felt that one of those holes needed to become a par 4 for the tourney edition. Hole 13’s length and Hole 15’s green complex eliminated them from consideration, so 9 became the hole to modify by default. Because of that, I moved the stream a little closer to the tee, to make you at least be cognizant of it off the tee when playing for an angle in to the green. Can’t find a definitive template for this hole in my research, but it seems to play like a longer version of a Leven as playing down the aggressive line down the right will give you a better view of the green.
Hole 10: “Hilltop” Par 4 – Best I can tell, this was an original work and is a pretty nondescript hole. Trees down the right frame and pinch the driving corridor slightly, but the biggest challenge appears to be a green that’s well-bunkered and slopes sharply back-to-front.
Hole 11: “Valley” Par 4 – Called Valley, but feels like an Alps to me. That’s especially true when considering the hole’s most distinct characteristic, a series of mounds short and left of the green that obscure the putting surface. The placement of the three fairway bunkers also makes you think twice about where (and what club) to hit off the tee.
Hole 12: “Crater” Par 3 – Another original hole that plays over the creek valley. Like 11, the use of artificial mounding helps define and frame the hole, along with the cavernous bunkers short of the green. Coincidentally, the 12th hole’s aligned in such a way where the Principal’s Nose bunker on 5 can be seen in the background from the tee. The club had removed that bunker and made other changes to the fifth during the middle of the 20th century. According to Golf Club Atlas, an old black/white photo of the 12th helped the club located where the Principal’s nose belonged when it restored the fifth back to its original configuration in 2001.
Hole 13: “Clubhouse” Par 5 – This is a MacDonald & Raynor version of the Long template. Plays around 570 IRL. I’ve stretched it out to more than 600 yards to ensure that it plays as a true three-shotter. This hole really benefits from the changes in the physics of pitching in this version of TGC in that the ball doesn’t check nearly as quickly and it’s much more difficult to control the distance/roll. That, plus a severe false front, really makes the golfer think of where to place his/her second and what kind of approach to leave for his/her third.
Hole 14: “Dome” – Par 4: A reverse redan green here and a beauty. You’re likely not going to have more than wedge or short iron in for the second, but you still have to account for the rollout in a green that runs front left to back right and plan your approach accordingly. What’s more, the slope of the fairway makes keeping the ball on the left side to have the best angle in to the green a challenge.
Hole 15: “Narrows” – Par 5: Called Narrows, but really it’s a first-rate double plateau that, again, gives the golfers a little pause in terms of their strategy. Can the big hitter get home in two? Sure. But would laying up and playing the third to the proper tier be a better play than putting from the wrong tier for eagle? That’s the decision the golfer has to make. That decision is further complicated when the pin’s placed on the raised back plateau, which sits a good three feet about the center of the putting surface and is guarded behind by out of bounds. Golf Club Atlas says the hole traditionally plays about a stroke more difficult when the pin’s on the back shelf. It’s easy to see why.
Hole 16: “Redan” – Par 3. Golf Club Atlas does a great job explaining why this version of the redan goes left to right, instead of the traditional right to left — which I find to be a good lesson for aspiring designers: “Once MacDonald determined this was the site for the Redan, the natural left to right slope dictated a mirror Redan be built. Otherwise, a Redan sloping from higher right to lower left would have fought the land — something a MacDonald hole never did!”
Hole 17: Log Cabin – Par 4. An original design, and one that was deemed “the pride of the club” ahead of the 1921 U.S. Amateur. This hole and 8 are really the lone true doglegs on the course. Players who can clear the set of bunkers on the left, and avoid the bunker on the inside of the dogleg on the right are rewarded with the best angle into a two-tiered green.
Hole 18: “Oasis” – Par 4. I stretched this one out a little bit to give it the demanding presence of a championship closing hole. Almost a mirror of the 4th off the tee, the drive tempts you to flirt with the OB down the right to provide the flattest lie in for the second, which plays into a green that sits below the level of the fairway. Adding to the drama of the final full swing of the day is the specter of a 10-foot deep bunker that’s not visible to the players from the fairway, but lurks to gobble up any ball that comes up short of the green.
We’re likely never going to see another major or international cup competition at St. Louis C.C. due to its relatively short length and inability to add much distance. That’s the blessing and curse of the course’s compact routing which utilizes virtually every acre of the property. But the course is one of only a handful of MacRaynor’s left in North America and one I felt was well worth sharing with the TGC community. My hope is that I have succeeded in capturing the essence of the course while presenting a strong test of golf. I thank Craig for putting on this series and affording me the opportunity to take on this challenge. It was definitely a worthwhile experience.