Why the Presidents Cup in St. Louis makes perfect sense

Think big-time golf and 'St. Louis isn’t exactly the first thought bubble to form overhead,' writes Dan O'Neill, but Midwestern fans have traditionally turned out for major occasions in 'The Lou' and 2030 should be no different

Tiger Woods — 2018 PGA Championship at Bellerive CC
Tiger Woods putts on the second hole during the final round of the 100th PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club in 2018.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parsons can come clean now, three years later. In 2018, as he made his way through the PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club, he was expected to be visiting this corporate tent, and schmoozing with that group of sponsors. 

He was brand new to the office. He was supposed to be meeting and greeting. Instead, he was nowhere to be found.

“Everyone was getting a little nervous, my staff and everyone,” Parsons said at the Bellerive clubhouse, three years later. “So I want to confess what really happened. When I walked up here, I was getting ready to do all my official duties, and Tiger Woods was getting ready to tee off on No. 1. 

“And somebody says, ‘Hey, would you like to walk the first nine holes with Tiger Woods?’ ” Parsons paused to allow a mischievous smile across his face before throwing up his hands surrender, re-enacting his response.

“I’m in.” 

The gathering erupted in laughter.

“I don’t know what my official duties were,” he explained, “but as a golf fan, I had the best day of my life.”

Unheralded as a golf town, St. Louis had another “best day” this week. Representatives and dignitaries from the city and state were on hand to announce the 2030 President’s Cup will be conducted at Bellerive.

> 1965: U.S. Open
> 1981: U.S. Mid-Amateur
> 1992: PGA Championship
> 2004: U.S. Senior Open
> 2018: Senior PGA Championship
> 2018: PGA Championship

Let’s be honest, when a global audience dreams of golf, St. Louis isn’t exactly the first thought bubble to form overhead. 

If you’re talking baseball, sure. St. Louis gets more than its due. The Cardinals franchise is among the oldest and most successful in major league history. The city has been home to “Gas House” gangs, “El Birdos” and “Whiteyball.” It has featured characters like Dizzy Dean, “Country” Slaughter and the “Wizard of Oz.” It has 11 World Series titles and annually pulls more than 3 million through its turnstiles.

If you’re talking hockey, again, sure. The Blues won the Stanley Cup as recently as 2019 and the franchise has been to the postseason more often any of the NHL’s original six expansion teams of 1967-68.

And if you didn’t know, St. Louis also has a Super Bowl (2000) and NBA Championship (1958), as well. Talk Gateway Arch, toasted ravioli, Chuck Berry, even T.S. Eliot … St. Louis is the place. 

But if we’re talking about a hub for major golf events, the city smack dab in the heart of the Midwest probably doesn’t ring a bell. If that’s the case, you should check the clapper.

Fact is, in addition to all of those other things, St. Louis has played host to U.S. Opens, U.S. Amateurs, PGA Championships and even a Ryder Cup (1971). Arguably, it might be the best golf town in America that isn’t considered a “golf town,” and those who govern the game have come to know it. 

Bellerive is not Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Churchill Downs, Yankee Stadium or Augusta National. But it has become a special place with special history where championship golf is concerned. The city and the site have earned the stripes. 

"St. Louis is a passionate and iconic sports town and one which embraces teams and events such as the Presidents Cup with unrivaled enthusiasm,” PGA commissioner Jay Monahan said in a statement. Monahan was speaking at Bellerive through a pre-recorded video. Perhaps understandably, announcements concerning events that are still some nine years up the road probably don’t demand boots on the ground.

But Monahan’s sentiment, in real time or otherwise, is spot on, and the referenced enthusiasm should be manna for a competition that can’t have too much.

The 27-year old Prez has developed into a nice international event, sometimes dramatic, sometimes colorful and always solid television programming. But let’s face it, the Cup that matters most carries a “Ryder” with its tag. As the old Right Guard commercials once said, anything else is “uncivilized.” 

The Ryder Cup Matches were first played in 1927 and included captains Walter Hagan and Ted Ray. Where golf is concerned, anytime you can attach “Hagan” and “Ray” to your origins, you have got something. And while the RC was a lopsided affair for many years initially, more recently it has become a fair fight and a compelling series. 

No other way to put it:  if you’re not the original you’re an imitation; if you’re not first in line, you’re second. The Presidents Cup is a PGA Tour photocopy that showed up in the tray 67 years later. As the formative years also characterized the RC, the competitive personality of the PC is more like the series between the Harlem Globetrotters and the Washington Generals.

Team International has one win (1998) and — thanks to Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player — a tie in 2003. Otherwise, Team USA has captured 11 of the 13 meetings.

When galleries are allowed to enlarge, a Ryder Cup never lacks for excitement and enthusiasm — it oozes it. The Prez has room to grow, and that’s where St. Louis and Bellerive make sense.

In terms of vivacity, the golf world witnessed how “unrivaled” Bellerive can be during the aforementioned 2018 PGA. Record-shattering crowds filled the television screen and even overwhelmed the normally stoic Woods. Who can forget “El Tigre” making an uncharacteristic stop on the stairs out to wave to the burgeoning crowds? 

That scene was no anomaly. When the Senior PGA was held at Bellerive in 2013, geezers got a similar welcome. When the 2008 BMW Championship and 2004 U.S. Senior Open graced Bellerive, it happened again, despite heavy rains and suffocating temperatures. When Nick Price won the PGA in 1992, the tournament shattered records for merchandise sales. When Player completed his Grand Slam by winning the 1965 U.S. Open at Bellerive, attendance was, again, unprecedented.

“St. Louis has a reputation of delivering, of punching above its weight class, if you will, and it’s well earned," said Matt Rapp, senior vice president of the PGA Tour. “And just as St. Louis delivers, the President’s Cup is going to deliver for St. Louis.”

The Presidents Cup will be played in late September, which promises pleasant temperatures and ergonomically favorable conditions for Bellerive. By 2030, its competitive record might look more contentious. Truth is, it won’t matter.

As Cardinals president Bill DeWitt III points out, St. Louis is 24th in terms of the largest metropolitan market in Major League Baseball, but it regularly finishes top three in attendance. That’s because it’s not just about St. Louis proper.

“I think there’s a couple of little secrets,” he explained. “One is just, we love sports, that’s obvious. The other is if you think about geographic region … if you travel 200 miles in any direction … you’re in those regions where St. Louis is their big town.

“That’s Springfield (Ill.), Peoria (Ill.) and Cape Girardeau (Mo.), and those are Cardinals fans. I think you’ll see that in droves when we have the President’s Cup here."

Come 2030, the galleries will be gigantic in St. Louis, championship golf’s most underrated home. It’s a perfect fit.