Bellerive set for final instalment of Glory's Last Shot
Welcome to a mini-era of PGA Championship dominance. Thanks to a curious feat of scheduling, two of the next three majors are PGAs.
When the schedule is re-set in 2019, the PGA will move to a new May slot, giving the season a focal point in each of April, May, June, July.
Which means that that this, the 100th instalment, will be the last to be held in August – at least for the time being.
Another curious consequence is that we have to wait five majors before another Open Championship comes along but that’s one for another day.
PGA Championship preview: The venue
Bellerive, in St Louis, will play host to the final major of 2018. It is one of only three courses to host each of the US Open, US Senior Open, PGA Championship and PGA Senior Championship.
Its only previous PGA was 26 years ago, when Nick Price won the first of his three major titles.
It really couldn’t present much more of a contrast to Carnoustie last month. From an ancient, burned-off, rock-hard links on the east coast of Scotland to a relatively young, lush, wooded parkland in America’s Mid-West close to the Mississippi.
Bellerive was designed by Robert Trent Jones in the late 1950s. It has been extensively redesigned by his son, Rees, in the last 15 years.
Specifically, the bunkers have been rebuilt and made deeper while the large flat greens have been transformed to provide more interest. The changes acknowledge the fact that holes once built to accept long irons will now frequently be bombarded with wedges.
“A lot of changes had been made over the years that were not in keeping with dad’s design,” said Rees. “We went back to his style while upgrading for the 21st century.
“Dad designed greens that were very large; he had to because in 1960 the ball was not travelling as far so he wanted larger targets for longer shots into the green. Bryce (Swanson) and I shrunk the greens by 1,000 square feet or so. But we maintained the philosophy of valuing good approach shots, while maintaining the speeds of greens in today’s championship events.
“(We have created) smaller spaces on greens that flatten out between the transitions. Bellerive has that same set-up on many holes.”
On the official scorecard, Bellerive measures 7,316 yards and plays to a par of 70.
“The beauty is that this course does not favour a specific player,” said Jones.
“In recent US Opens, wide fairways or no rough favoured long hitters. Bellerive requires shot makers. Bryce and I worked with the club to create chipping areas around the course to allow for different reactions of the ball if a shot misses the green.
“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 the longest par 3 at over 220. There is 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 a par 70, we converted 4 and 10 from par 5s to par 4s.
“It will be tight down the stretch – 14 to 18 is a great finish, a lot of things can happen.”
So who are the contenders for the title on Sunday? Dan believes it’s coming down to one of three. Find out on the next page…