Host Bellerive Country Club hopes to catch a break with memorable PGA Championship

Justin Thomas, top, watches his tee shot on the 15th hole during a practice round for the PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club on Wednesday in St. Louis. (AP photo)

ST. LOUIS — Bellerive Country Club is considered one of the “Big Four” of traditional, exclusive St. Louis-area clubs, a picturesque parkland course designed by Robert Trent Jones serving as its centerpiece.

For a while, big events bolstered its reputation.

Gary Player won a thrilling Monday playoff to capture the 1960 U.S. Open and complete the career Grand Slam, at the time the third player to accomplish the feat. Years later, his fellow South African, Nick Price, stormed to the PGA Championship at Bellerive for the first of his three majors.

Yet recent history hasn’t been so kind.

The World Golf Championship event in 2001 was cancelled after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the first PGA Tour event to be cancelled in its entirety in more than 50 years. Heavy rains have washed out tournament play other years, unheralded winners have left galleries less than enthused, and some of the biggest names in the game — Tiger Woods, for example — have missed Bellerive because of injuries.

Phil Mickelson hits on the fifth hole during a practice round for the PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis on Wednesday. (AP photo)

“I guess you could say we’re a little snake bit,” said longtime member Jay Williamson, who played 16 seasons on the PGA Tour and now works in wealth management. “It’s just part of the deal.”

Or, as one local walking the course Monday pointed out, “We’re owed one this week.”

As if on cue, a white picket fence near the 18th green broke under the weight of fans pressing for autographs, sending several sprawling to the ground — nobody was seriously hurt. Then, a line of wicked storms rolled through Tuesday, soaking the course and wiping out many practice rounds.

Circumstances have conspired against Woods playing it for years.

He had come to town early in 2001 to conduct a clinic for American Express, the sponsors of the WGC event, and he was in the locker room at Bellerive when the planes hit the World Trade Center. He watched the TVs with mouth agape until he couldn’t stomach it anymore, finally heading to the course. He played nine holes of a practice round with Mark Calcavecchia while Woods’s head of security, Joe Corless, provided them with a constant stream of updates.

“That was a very surreal time, at least for me anyway,” Woods recalled. “They made the right move in cancelling the event.”