ST. LOUIS -- No matter where the pros play a golf tournament, there will be complaints. The PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club this week might get complaints of a different kind.
The PGA at Bellerive will be the first PGA Tour event conducted on zoysia grass fairways. That's not bad, it's good. Maybe too good.
"Arnold Palmer was here," Bellerive pro Jerry Tucker said last week, "and he said the fairways might be too good and they might not test the shot-making ability of the field."
St. Louis is located in a belt, running east to Washington, where Bermuda grass and bent grass are hard to grow. It can be too cold at times to cultivate a southern grass like Bermuda and too hot at times for bent grass, which is more prevalent in northern climes. Zoysia has proved an excellent compromise.
Bellerive, a Robert Trent Jones design, played host to the 1965 U.S. Open. Back then, it was an immature 5-year-old course with Bermuda fairways. An unusually cool spring that year left patches of the fairways in a dormant state. The tournament was the first to be shown in color on television and the first to end on Sunday. The club, much to the U.S. Golf Association's dismay, decided to dye the fairways green.
After the Open was over, the club's members weren't happy with the condition of the course. A decision to experiment with zoysia was highly successful and the course was fully converted in 1969.
"We started fooling around with it in 1968," said Bob Ross, formerly the pro at Bellerive and now the pro at nearby Boone Valley Golf Club. "We couldn't keep the course in shape. The winter was just too hard for Bermuda."
Zoysia provides a firm surface for striking the ball in the fairway. The ball sits up and perfect lies are the rule rather than the exception. Zoysia favors players who "sweep" the ball. It is less of an advantage for players like defending champion John Daly who dig big divots with their swings.
"They are going to love hitting balls off it," said Bellerive superintendent Tom Van De Walle. "It's so pure. There are no bad lies."
Bellerive will play to a par of 71. It's 7,148 yards long but could play longer because zoysia doesn't give up much roll.
A Robert Trent Jones course means easy bogeys and hard pars. Bellerive features huge greens that are anything but flat. The greens feature humps and different levels to keep players on their guard.
The greens and landing areas are well-guarded by Jones' distinctive bunkering. Water comes into play on six holes. The rough will be kept four inches high.
The 17th hole has been shortened from a 606-yard marathon to a 536-yard gambler's delight. The hole is guarded by a creek on the right side of the fairway and a pond in front of the green.
Facts and figures
Event: 74th PGA Championship
Dates: Today to Sunday
Site: Bellerive Country Club, St. Louis
Cut: After 36 of the 72 holes, field will be reduced to low 70 scorers and all tied for 70th
Playoff (if necessary): Sudden death
Purse: TBA ($1.35 million in 1991)
Winner's share: TBA ($230,000 in 1991)
TV: TBS: Noon-6 p.m. today and tomorrow; 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. CBS: 1:30 p.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.