But, lest we get ahead of ourselves, there is the small matter of the 100th U.S. PGA Championship to consider. And it promises to offer its traditional autumnal date a rousing send-off, at the Robert Trent Jones-designed Bellerive Country Club, near St. Louis in Missouri, USA.
Having hosted the U.S. Open in 1965, when Gary Player took the title - and, with it, the South African achieving the career Grand Slam following an 18-hole play-off against Australian Kel Nagle - Bellerive has staged the U.S. PGA Championship once before. In 1992, Zimbabwean Nick Price won the first of his three Major titles, winning the PGA again in 1994, having broken Greg Norman’s heart earlier that year by snatching the Open Championship from the jaws of the ‘Great White Shark.’
The course was subsequently upgraded to meet the demands of 21st-century golf and its awesome, technology-driven power and distance by Rees Jones, son of the so-called, ‘Father of modern golf course design.’
Today, Bellerive stands at 7,500-yards, a muscular Par-71, and a true test of golf for the event which tips a wink to its influential members of the PGA of America by reserving slots for the 20 lowest scorers from its PGA Professional National Championship out of its near 20,000-strong membership.
Bellerive, which is only the third course in the USA to have hosted all of the country’s recognised blue-chip events, the U.S. Open, U.S. PGA Championship, U.S. Senior Open and Senior PGA Championship. At first glance, a feel of Augusta National about it, beautifully, but perhaps overly manicured, tree-lined, narrow fairways and enough sand and water to trip-up those taking liberties with RTJ’s creation.
The front nine should hold few fears. The sixth hole, a tricky 215-yard Par-3 is well-defended by water, sand and thick, mature deciduous woodland. The eighth, a fraction over 600-yards will offer-up as many birdies as it does bogeys over the week, a big hitter’s paradise.
But it is the back-nine in general, and the finishing stretch, called ‘The Ridge,’ comprising five finishing holes at Bellerive which will test the nerve of those in contention for the Wanamaker Trophy come Sunday afternoon, when those pesky U.S. PGA officials plant the pins in their most severe positions.
Hole 15 is viewed by many as a classic Robert Trent Jones hole. Par-4, five-yards short of 500, into the prevailing southerly wind, well protected by bunkers. The contenders will be happy to come through on level fours for the week. The 16th, a long Par-3 into an upturned saucer-shaped green where birdies will be at a premium.
17th is a typical risk-and-reward hole. 603-yards, long by the club golfer’s standard, reachable in two for a final birdie opportunity for the 156 top professionals in the field. 18th is a demanding 462-yard Par-4, Sunday’s pin position, and scoreboard pressure could be critical.
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