ASGCA Past President Rees Jones (Rees Jones, Inc. Golf Course Design) and Bryce Swanson, ASGCA, responded to questions via Twitter July 31, discussing Bellerive Country Club, St. Louis, host to the 100th PGA Championship Aug. 9-12. Following is a transcript of the chat with golf fans.
Q: What can you tell us about the history of Bellerive Country Club?
A: It was designed by my father (ASGCA Past President and Founding Member Robert Trent Jones, Sr.) & opened in 1960. Bellerive hosted ’65 U.S. Open, won by Gary Player, the ’92 PGA Championship won by Nick Price & ’13 Senior PGA. Bellerive was always intended to be a championship facility.
Q: What has the support been like in the run-up to the 100th PGA Championship?
A: St. Louis is a great sports town. Ticket sales have been great, we are supporting the Ozzie Smith Foundation, which is wonderful. The entire event will be a true success.
Q: When did Rees Jones, Inc. first work on Bellerive Country Club?
A: Bryce Swanson & I reviewed the course, then we got involved with Bellerive officials & developed plans to remodel about 11 years ago.
Q: What type of changes were made?
A: A lot of changes had been made over the years that were not in keeping with dad’s design. We went back to his style while upgrading for 21st century.
Q: What do you mean, specifically?
A: Dad designed greens that were very large; he had to because in 1960 the ball was not traveling as far, he wanted larger targets for longer shots into the green. Bryce & I shrunk the greens by 1,000 square feet or so but maintained the philosophy of valuing good approach shots, while maintaining the speeds of greens in today’s championship events.
Q: What is meant by the term “green within a green?”
A: That was started by Bob Jones & Alister MacKenzie at Augusta National; smaller spaces on greens that flatten out between the transitions. Bellerive has that same setup on many holes.
Q: What additional changes were made specifically for @PGA Championship?
A: It’s a great pleasure to work with Kerry Haigh of the PGA of America. We made modifications w/bunker locations & opened up the playing corridor throughout to give players more options.
Q: What hole has seen the biggest changes?
A: Biggest change was No. 11, modifications to give them flexibility. It will likely play as a driveable par 4 a couple days. We removed one bunker & relocated others. The full course has a conventional setup; fairways are 25-28 yards wide; there is 4-5 feet of intermediate rough, & then fescue rough. It will penalize some shots. In 3” rough they will have tough time stopping ball on the greens.
Q: Does the course setup favor a particular type of player?
A: The beauty is that this course does not favor a specific player. In recent U.S Opens, wide fairways or no rough favored long hitters. Bellerive requires shot makers. Bryce and I worked w/the club to create chipping areas around the course to allow for different reactions of the ball if a shot misses the green.
Q: If I’m watching the PGA Championship from home, what should I focus on to better enjoy the tournament?
A: The variety within the design is what to watch for. There is a nice mix of longer par 4s and yet the par 5s can be reached so players can make up a shot or two. The par 3s have variety. Hole 3 is 155 yards, No. 16 is longest par 3 at over 220. A lot of opportunity to make up shots or learn how to recover if you miss the green short side. The course has an ebb and flow…players can be careful and get par, or attack No. 7 or No. 11, which are birdie chances. Because it is par 70, we converted No. 4 & 10 from par 5 to par 4; with Kerry’s help. Bellerive will play 7,200 to 7,400 yards. It will be tight down the stretch; 14-18 are a great finish, a lot of things can happen.
Q: What else is happening at Rees Jones, Inc.?
A: Getting Bethpage ready for 101st PGA Championship next year (they will also host 2024 Ryder Cup) & working w/Mike Davis, USGA, on 2021 US Open at Torrey Pines. We continue to travel the world working with facilities.
Q: Any final comments?
A: Golf remains a popular pastime. There is a major degree of interest in the game as we design for every generation & caliber of player. We are doing a lot of work with forward tees. ASGCA members are working each day to make the game as interesting & fun as it is.