What it's like to play Bellerive
ST. LOUIS -- Stunningly beautiful and one of the most immaculately manicured golf courses you'll ever see.
That's Bellerive Country Club, which will host the 100th PGA Championship, August 9-12.
But, by all means, keep it in the fairway.
PGA.com recently had an up-close look at Bellerive as part of PGA Championship Media Day.
For starters, it's a place loaded with history.
Bellerive has played host to the 1965 U.S. Open won by Gary Player, the 1992 PGA Championship won by Nick Price, the U.S. Senior Open won by Peter Jacobsen and the 2013 KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship won by Kōki Idoki.
No. 1, par 4, 438 yards
The Robert Trent Jones design begins with a 438-yard par 4 to a crowned fairway with bunkers that pinch in the short grass for longer hitters, so we'll likely see the bombers clubbing down off the tee during Championship week to avoid trouble.
Everything at No. 1 is right in front of you and you immediately get a peek at Bellerive's massive greens.
No. 2, par 4, 411 yards
The par-4 second, a 411-yarder, is one of the most visually pleasing on the property. From an elevated tee box, the hole is protected along the left side from fairway to green by water. Leaving it out to the right is an absolute must. When I had the chance to play, I unfortunately left it out a little too far right and into that gnarly rough. With a mid-iron, I took a crack at the green and my ball met a watery grave.
If a player finds himself in that nasty, right rough, chances are he won't be able to be as aggressive as he'd like for the approach. With trees on the right, the shot is forcing you to play out to the left and the water is just daring you to make a costly mistake.
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No. 3, par 3, 170 yards
The par-3 third is 170 yards and is one of the easier holes at Bellerive according to the scorecard. It's gorgeous. Water guards most of the front and right of the green, but it shouldn't be a problem for the field... depending on the pin position.
No. 4, par 5, 565 yards
The first real, solid opportunity for a birdie comes at the par-5 fourth hole, which plays 565 yards from the back tees. Once again, positioning off the tee is everything here. There's a left fairway bunker that players will try to drive the ball over. It's an aggressive play, but one that will open up the hole for a shot to get home in two.
There will be eagles on No. 4, so it's a spot that's worth camping out on for spectators.
No. 6, par 3, 214 yards
Jumping ahead to the par-3 sixth hole, Bellerive's signature hole, it will play over 200 yards for the Championship. We played it much shorter, but it was still a bear. There's a pond that guards the front, right side of the green -- easily one of the smallest greens on the course -- and nasty bunkers to the left. Our caddie told us that when Player won the 1965 U.S. Open, he hit his tee shot into the front left bunker in all four rounds... on purpose. Player admitted that was the play so not to mess with the water. And it was a smart play too. At that Open, the hole played to a stroke average of 4.03 -- more than a stroke over par.
No. 7, par 4, 397 yards
After a tricky par 3, you get a brief reprieve at the 397-yard, par-4 seventh. It's the easiest hole at Bellerive. A well-struck tee shot will mean a wedge in, but you have to be precise with the approach if you're going to make birdie on this severely undulating green.
The 437-yard, par-4 ninth is one of my favorites at Bellerive.
From the tee, you're looking straight up a hill to the most elevated green on the course. By now, we all know the importance of a solid tee shot. But, what's really important here is the second shot. This is one of those rare instances where it might be better to be long than short with the approach.
If you're long, you can at least see everything in front of you. But if you're short? That's a big-time issue. It's no fun hitting 30-yard pitch shots when you can't even see a piece of the green. Blind pitch shots will happen on this hole after poor approach shots.
No. 10, par 5, 516 yards
Making the turn to the back side, there's a legitimate chance for birdie or eagle to get some momentum going. In my round, I hit a drive that sailed a touch right and into some rough. When I arrived at the ball, I was surprised to see I had a decent lie and decided to take a crack at the green with a 3-iron. It was my best shot of the day and came up just short of a greenside bunker.
When my playing partner and I made our way toward the green, we noticed a creek crossing the fairway just 25 yards or so before the bunkers protecting the green. We both laughed and admitted that had we seen the creek from where our tee shots finished, we probably would have laid up. Ignorance truly is bliss.
When you're that close, but short, of the 10th green, you're facing a difficult up and down. Like the ninth, it's going to be to a green you're not able to see because of the elevation change.
If there's any doubt that a player may come up short in the Championship, I anticipate they'll just lay it back far enough to hit a nice, solid, full shot in instead of messing around with a tough, touchy shot that -- if misjudged -- could return to their feet.
No. 11, par 4, 358 yards
The par-4 11th -- just 358 yards from the back tees -- is a terrific risk/reward holes and it was probably my favorite hole on the course. The rule of thumb here (I unfortunately learned) is that you cannot miss right off the tee.
This is one of those holes where you will see many players going for the green. To do that, they're going to have to play down the left side and get a great bounce. Anything right is dead -- likely unfindable in the deep rough -- or in the water that guards the front right of the green.
Trust me -- this is going to be a key hole in the final round and one that could make or break the tournament.
No. 13, par 3, 187 yards
The par-3 13th -- 187 yards -- was actually my first hole the day we played (and, much shorter at that). It's another gorgeous short hole at Bellerive with a creek cutting across the front of the teeing area (which won't come into play during the Championship) and severe bunkers front right and back left.
This green lends itself to plenty of sucker pins that will no doubt play mindgames with players during Championship week.
No. 16, par 3, 239 yards
Jumping ahead to Bellerive's closing stretch, there's a terrific mix to finish up. First, there's the 239-yard, par-3 16th. Even at that length, it's listed on the scorecard as the third-easiest hole on the course.
Throughout the Championship, this hole will play at a variety of distances which will dictate its difficulty. But it's a par-3 with everything right there in front of you. The crowned green looks intimidating from the tee, as do the deep bunkers that guard the green. But a tee shot onto the green -- a piece of cake for the world's best players -- should be a no-doubt, two-putt par.
No. 17, par 5, 603 yards
The 17th is a great par 5. The back tees play 603 yards and -- again -- during Championship week that will likely be both maxed out and reigned in. When it's reigned in, most of the field will be able to take a crack at the green in two after a well-placed drive.
Up by the green, it's bunkers galore and a water hazard off to the right -- just the test you want for contenders down the stretch. They're going to have to pull off a great shot to card a birdie or better. Bite off more than they can chew? It could be a recipe for disaster.
No. 18, par 4, 462 yards
Finally, there's the 462-yard, par-4 18th. A tee shot in the fairway is paramount here. Anything off the fairway makes the 18th green arguably the most difficult to hold with an approach on the course.
I'd hate to be the player who reaches this hole needing birdie, because "3s" aren't going to be easy to come by. And, for that matter, a solid par is going to require some hard work too. It's the perfect hole to end the Championship.