ST. LOUIS – At the end of a foyer inside the spacious clubhouse at St. Louis Country Club sits a trophy case with three distinguished cups for international competitions.
St. Louis Country Club, which will host the 2014 Curtis Cup Match from June 6-8, is the only club in the U.S. that boasts three members who helped create these notable events: Dwight Davis, Hazel Wightman and George Herbert Walker. While the names might not sound familiar to some, the competitions they created are known worldwide. The Davis and Wightman Cups are tennis competitions, – the latter of which ceased in 1989 – while the Walker Cup Match has been staged between male amateur golf teams from the USA and Great Britain & Ireland since 1922.
Walker, a St. Louis native and past USGA president (1920), donated the trophy for this biennial Match, which last year was staged at the iconic National Golf Links of America, a Southampton, N.Y., club that was designed by C.B. Macdonald and where Walker eventually became a member.
So, perhaps, it is apropos that a year after a highly successful Walker Cup Match was contested on one of the country’s premier layouts, the Curtis Cup will be staged at another notable Macdonald gem where Walker grew up and honed his golf game.
It was Walker’s connection to Macdonald – both were financial magnates – that led to St. Louis Country Club contracting the legendary architect to St. Louis, where he designed the first 18-hole championship course for the club. Macdonald, with help from his civil engineer, Seth Raynor, created St. Louis Country Club with the National Golf Links of America as something of a blueprint. Raynor went on to create a litany of great golfing venues, including the Country Club of Charleston (S.C.), site of the 2013 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship, Yeamans Hall Club, in South Carolina (1997 U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur) and the renovation of Chicago Golf Club (2005 Walker Cup).
Macdonald, who helped found the USGA in 1894 and won the inaugural U.S. Amateur Championship in 1895 at Newport (R.I.) Country Club, first learned the game from Old Tom Morris at the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland, in 1870. He also visited other historic courses such as North Berwick, Muirfield, Leven Links and Prestwick in Scotland, and Sunningdale, Royal St. George’s and Royal West Norfolk in England, as well as the Biarritz Golf Club in France.
When he returned home to Chicago, Macdonald worked at the Board of Trade, but his first love was golf, which was just starting to take flight in the U.S. in the 1890s. He designed the first 18-hole course at Chicago Golf Club and later found pristine land next to Shinnecock Hills on the eastern end of Long Island, where he created National Golf Links, his signature design and homage to the great links courses in Great Britain.
Macdonald’s holes had names such as Redan, Cape, Alps, Short, Punch Bowl and Biarritz, all adopted from his European experiences.
St. Louis Country Club’s par-3 second hole, called Double Plateau, features a Biarritz green – two plateaus with a severe dip in the middle. The par-3 third is Eden, modeled after No. 11 on the Old Course. The par-4 fourth, called St. Andrews, is similar to the Road Hole on the Old Course.
The par-5 fifth, called Punch Bowl, has one of the more unique greens. It also features a version of the Principals Nose Bunker from St. Andrews, which comes into play on the second shot. The eighth hole, called Cape, is similar to No. 14 at National Golf Links, while the par-3 16th is aptly named Redan, with a right-to-left sloping green protected by a deep bunker on the right. The home hole, a par 4, is called Oasis, but it could be named Alps, because the green complex is hidden from the fairway with a deep bunker protecting the front portion of the green.
“These are the hardest greens I’ve ever putted on,” said Annie Park, the reigning NCAA Division I champion, who saw St. Louis Country Club for the first time during a 2½-day Curtis Cup practice session April 10-12.
“This course is definitely tricky, especially the greens,” added 2013 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Emma Talley. “Putting on them now will prepare us for June. I think what we learned this week is there are a lot of places where you absolutely cannot be.”
Anyone who watched last year’s Walker Cup Match saw the beauty and the brilliance of Macdonald’s architecture. St. Louis Country Club is similar to National Golf Links in its design, minus the spectacular views of Great Peconic Bay.
Walker helped bring the 1921 U.S. Amateur Championship to St. Louis Country Club, one year after he served as president of the USGA. Jesse Guilford won the 1921 U.S. Amateur, and four years later Glenna Collett (later Vare) won the second of her record six U.S. Women’s Amateur Championships.
Prior to St. Louis Country Club hosting the 1947 U.S. Open – the first time the championship received television coverage – renovations by Robert Trent Jones Sr. lengthened the course. That Open saw Sam Snead miss an 18-inch putt on No. 18 in the playoff to lose by one stroke to Lew Worsham.
When Jones redesigned the course, some of Macdonald’s creations were lost. The fifth green, for example, was moved behind a hazard and it no longer featured a punchbowl complex.
In the mid-1980s, the club decided to restore the course to its original design. According to club historian Jim Healey, the club turned first to Pete Dye, then contacted Geoffrey Cornish, who informed them that he had a young protégé, Brian Silva, who could handle the job. Healey said the club found old photographs in various archives, including one aerial shot from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch – that enabled Silva to restore the course to the manner in which Macdonald intended it to play.
Silva, who designed Black Creek Country Club in Chattanooga, Tenn., as a tribute to Macdonald and Raynor, said: “At St. Louis [Country Club], Macdonald got all the details right. Not some of them, all of them.”
Despite the fact that the course only measures 6,569 yards (par 71) from the back tees, it has withstood the test of time and modern equipment.
“This has always been one of my favorite golf courses in St. Louis, and in the world,” said St. Louis native Jim Holtgrieve, the captain of the past two USA Walker Cup Teams. “I mark my golf course by how many clubs you have to hit. This golf course, you have to use every club in your bag. That’s what signifies a great golf course.”
Said Ellen Port, 2014 USA Curtis Cup captain and another St. Louisan: “C.B. said putting greens are to a golf course what the face is to a portrait. That is so true. These green complexes are phenomenal. Someone else said about the Redan Hole, No. 16: Here’s a hole that makes a man think. This hole makes you think. Our girls will really respect this golf course. … The best players I know who really understand golf will say that this is the best golf course. They love this golf course. It’s special. It’s a great match-play golf course.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.