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I had never seen Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis until one sunny day about four weeks ago when I arrived for my first practice round. I played the first couple of holes with a wood and a wedge and I figured well, it's nice. The fairways seem good and the greens are very large and in perfect shape, and it looks like a U.S. Open course ought to, but nothing to frighten anybody. And then I came to the par-3 3rd hole, and it is a little seven-iron with some water on the right that you kind of ignore. But when I got to the green I noticed that sections of it sloped rather sharply toward the water and that the water came right to the edge of the putting surface—a whole lot closer than it looked—and I sort of thought, hmmm.
And then I started having to hit long shots, and longer shots, and still longer shots, until finally I remember standing in the 9th fairway and turning to a USGA official who was walking with me and saying: "I have seen a lot of golf courses and a lot of different kinds of golf courses, but this is something special." "Yes, Jack," he answered, "and that was the easy nine." I have played Bellerive four more times since then, but I have not seen anything that would make me change my initial impression. Bellerive is special and, as a result, this year's Open is likely to be something special, too.
The problem is going to be the combination of distance and rough (see cover). As is the case with every U.S. Open, we are going to be asked to hit the ball straighter than at any other tournament. But we are also going to be asked to hit the ball as far as we ever have in our lives. Bellerive is the longest course the Open has ever been played on: 7,191 yards, par-70. Furthermore, a rare element has been added to the traditional gamut of Open challenges. For the first time since 1958, when the tournament was held at Southern Hills in Tulsa, we are going to be playing on Bermuda grass. Now, Bermuda grass makes very pleasant fairways; it is spongy underfoot and the ball sits up beautifully. But when you narrow the fairways, as the USGA does for the Open, you obviously are letting some of that Bermuda grass grow into rough, and Bermuda-grass rough has a way of meaning instant bogey.
Not for 13 years has the Open been played on a course as young as Bellerive. Located in rolling, wooded farmland about 20 miles west of downtown St. Louis, it was designed by Golf Architect Robert Trent Jones and opened for play in May 1960. (The club itself, however, is one of the oldest in the country, having been founded in 1897.) But its youth does not detract from its challenge. Far from it. Ditches and water come into play on 12 of the 18 holes, while trees are a definite threat on 16 of them. To further tighten the course, Trent Jones put in 20 fairway traps and 54 greenside traps. On six holes it is possible to hit shots out of bounds. In short, Bellerive would be a most satisfactory U.S. Open location even without the usual application of thumbscrews that the U.S. Golf Association always deems necessary for an Open course. Nonetheless, the USGA has narrowed the fairways down to 30 to 40 yards wide in the landing areas. There is likely to be thick rough alongside the fairways and around the greens. The greens themselves will be firm, hard to hold and very fast.
The Bermuda-grass rough, assuming it reaches its full growth by next week—and because of the late spring it just might not—will be a most difficult hazard. Given the same length and lushness, Bermuda rough is twice as hard to blast out of as bent grass; that is, two-inch Bermuda equals four-inch bent. What makes it so tough is that Bermuda's blades grow out of stalks, and the stalks lie on top of the ground. These grab and intertwine like vines, forming a tangled matting. To reach a ball that has settled down into this, the club head must rip through not only the blades of grass, but the thick stalks as well.
However, when the 1965 U.S. Open is over the spectators and players probably will not be talking about Bellerive's ditches, ponds, trees, traps or Bermuda, but about its awesome length. Bellerive is 140 yards longer than the longest previous Open course, Congressional in Washington, the site of last year's championship. There are 12 holes on the course that will demand all the length anyone in the field can muster—but not at a sacrifice of accuracy, mind you. These holes are the two par-5s, Nos. 8 and 17, the 16th, which is a par-3, and nine of the par-4s.
Thus, on two-thirds of the holes we will be concentrating desperately hard to keep the ball in play, while at the same time trying to achieve the seemingly contradictory goal of hitting the ball a mile. This may simply be asking too much of any golfer, and it raises the question of what the game of golf really should be, a game of power, touch and accuracy or a game of power, power, power? It is only my opinion, but I think that this year's U.S. Open course, as fine as it is, puts too much emphasis on power. I am what is known as a power hitter myself but, even so, I get very little joy out of having to kill the ball on every hole just to be able to reach the green with the next shot. Nor is such length necessary to make a golf course a demanding one. Augusta National is one of the world's great courses and yet it calls for power on only six of its holes. Merion is another example. Ben Hogan needed 287 shots to win the 1950 Open there, yet Merion has only one hole, the 18th, where the need for power predominates. Oakmont, the site of the 1962 Open, is considered a long course, but it has only six or seven holes where power off the tee is a must. The USGA has itself collected statistics that suggest the need for power has been overemphasized at Bellerive. When drives were measured on selected holes during the 1956 Open at Oak Hill in Rochester, the average length turned out to be 253 yards. Last year at Congressional the average drive measured 252 yards. So the pros are hitting tee shots no farther today than they did back in 1956. Yet we are being asked to play a course that is 300 yards longer. Perhaps USGA officials will relent slightly by moving the tee markers up a bit at Bellerive. If they do not, and the prevailing wind blows from the south or southwest, a lot of the field is going to have an exhausting four days.
There are few weak holes at Bellerive, and the par-3s as a group are excellent, but there are four holes I would single out as the most critical. It is on these four, which are illustrated here, that the Open is likely to be won and lost. They are the long and tight 5th, a 465-yard par-4; the risky and narrow 8th, a 580-yard par-5; the very long 16th, a 218-yard par-3; and the superlong 17th, which is a 606-yard par-5.
I have not yet figured out how to play the 5th hole and perhaps I never will. I suspect it is a question of hitting and praying. It is doubly difficult because you come to it staggering a little from just having finished the 470-yard 4th hole, itself a monstrous par-4. What you are faced with off the tee on No. 5 is an out of bounds down the left side of the fairway and a pond that is decidedly in play 230 yards down the right. A tee shot that doesn't fly directly into the pond can always bounce into it because the fairway slopes sharply from left to right. The second shot is to a green that sits several feet above the fairway and behind a large sand trap. If there is no wind this shot is usually a long iron, but if that normal south or southwest wind is blowing it may take a wood to get home. Obviously, then, the tee shot must be hit hard, which means taking a terrible risk. Probably the best way to play the hole is to aim the drive down the left side, even though this means you are shooting straight at the out-of-bounds area and a two-stroke penalty. So, like I said, you hit and pray.
I believe I have decided how to play the 8th hole, a double-dogleg par-5, but it, too, is going to take some courage. The drive is the most important shot. The landing area is flanked by trees. Behind the trees on the right is a creek, on the left, a ditch. If you try to hit this narrow target with a three-wood, you still leave yourself an extremely hard second shot, because after a short drive there is no spot up ahead that looks safe. The creek on the right extends the entire length of the hole and it has cliff like banks that present a Grand Canyon effect. There is a bunker located in the fairway about 50 yards short of the green on the left. It may sound risky, but the only way to play the hole is with a driver off the tee. The tee shot must be long enough to clear the left-hand corner of the trees and straight enough so that it does not bounce into the creek on the right. A good long drive will open up the hole nicely. A few players may reach this green in two if there is no wind against them, but whether you are trying to do this or not you still have to go for a big tee shot in order to play your second shot into the relatively wide area just short of the green.