History of Old Warson Country Club
During the War of 1812, John Mullanphy, an adventurer from Ireland, made a fortune trading in cotton. He acquired large real estate holdings in the St. Louis area, including parts of the property on which Old Warson Country Club is now located. The property, and additional acreage acquired over the years, was held by the family and devoted to raising cattle. In 1941 a great- great-grandson, John Boland, sold a total of 300 acres, including the present Old Warson property, to George Strake. Strake, a former resident of St. Louis and a director of St. Louis Mercantile Trust Company, sold 180 acres of land north of Old Warson Road to a small group of prominent St. Louisans led by W. Alfred Hayes and James E. Rarick. Hayes and Rarick put up $200,000 and purchased the land in the name of their company, the Algonquin Chemical Company.
The purchase was made late in 1952, and on January 6, 1953, the first new club organizational meeting was held at the Racquet Club in St. Louis. The founding members numbered 38, all prominent St. Louis citizens. The first board was determined to have a golf course that would merit national recognition. As a result, Robert Trent Jones Sr. was chosen to design and supervise the construction of Old Warson’s course. Hayes and Rarick advanced additional funds, and work started in early 1953. Oscar Bowman, the club’s first superintendent, was hired about the same time and worked with Jones on the construction of the course.
Meanwhile, there had been an overwhelming response from prominent St. Louisans wishing to join the new club. Membership was limited to 300 and there were an additional 200 people on a waiting list for membership when plans for Old Warson were completed.
E.J. “Dutch” Harrison, a former Ryder Cup player and a Vardon Trophy winner, was hired as Old Warson’s first professional, and on April 15, 1954, the golf course was formally opened with an all-member tournament.
Old Warson Country Club was the host for the Ryder Cup Matches in 1971, which the American team won handily. This was the last Ryder Cup team that included Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino, and was the final Ryder Cup in which Palmer played.
Throughout our history a select number of amateur events have been held at the club, including the Western Amateur, the Trans-Mississppi Amateur, and two USGA National tournaments.
The Western Amateur was 1957, the last year of our original course design. The best known contestant was Charles "Chick" Evans. Evans was founder of the Evans Scholar Program and winner of both the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open titles during his career. 19 year old Phil Rogers, later to become a PGA star, shot a 68 in his second of four qualifying rounds, establishing the competitive course record for the original course. Dr. Ed Updegraff beat Joe Campbell 9 & 8 in the finals.
The Trans-Mississippi Men's Championship or Trans-Miss, was an event with a prestigious history and was held at Old Warson in 1962. St. Louisan Bob Cochran, 49 at the time, lost in the semi-finals 1 up to the eventual winner Bob Ryan, who also beat runner-up Harry Tuscano 1 up in the finals.
Old Warson was the proud host of the 1999 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship. As a testament to the club, Bob Hooper, at the time the longest-reigning member of the USGA’s Mid-Amateur Championship Committee, stated, “Hands down, anything else is in second place. It is the best Mid-Am we have ever had.” The event began with 36 holes at stroke play, with the low 64 players continuing to compete at match play for the title. To facilitate play for the large field, qualifying rounds were held at Old Warson and Bellerive on consecutive days. The results were quite interesting. Old Warson scores averaged 78.0 while those at Bellerive were 78.4, with both courses playing to a par 71. The cut came at 9 over par 151 and saw a 22 man playoff for the final 12 spots. Danny Green beat Jerry Courville in the finals 2 & 1.
The 2009 U.S. Women's Amateur was held at our club and was dominated by younger players. Jessica Korda who shot a blistering 67 on the second round of qualifying was 16 years old. Her 67 shattered the existing women's competitive course record at the club. Danielle Kang was medalist with a two day total of 138. Danielle was 17. All four semi-finalists were teenagers. Tiffany Lua was 18 when she faced Jennifer Song, 19, in one semi-final match. Song won 3 & 2. Lexi Thompson was 14 when she faced Jennifer Johnson, 19, in the other semi-final round. Johnson won 4 & 3. Song was to become the champion winning 3 & 1 in the 36 hole final.
Along with these national championships, Old Warson has played host to many PGA and USGA sectional and qualifying rounds over the years. A U.S. Open 36 hole qualifying round was held in 1958, the first year of play on the redesigned course. The resulting afternoon scores turned out to be among the all-time best ever to this day. Old Warson head pro Harrison, 68, and Glen Echo head pro Don Clarkson, 69, were two of the qualifiers. The third was Frank Keller, an assistant at Westborough Country Club recording a very impressive 65. This round remains the Old Warson competitive course record 55 plus years later.
In addition to hosting PGA and USGA qualifiers, Old Warson has been a tremendous supporter of local amateur championship golf as well. The club has been host to several St. Louis Men's and Women's District Championships, as well as the Missouri State Amateur, the year Kansas City teenage phenom Tom Watson lost after winning the previous two years. University of Missouri player Scott Bess beat Watson in the third round, 1 up. He then went on to win the tournament defeating Don Dupske 8 & 7 in the finals. The following two years Watson would again capture the titles and would go on to a hall of fame professional career.
In recent years the Club has hosted several Metropolitan Amateur Golf Association Championships including the Metropolitan Amateur Match Play Championship since 2003. Sixteen of the top amateurs, based on their finish in the previous year's MAGA Player of the Year point standings, compete in the championship. Old Warson is now the permanent home of the championship and the players compete for the "Old Warson Cup".
Many fine golfers have been Old Warson members over the years. In the early days, Jack Berkley, Vince D'Antoni, and Joe Switzer, all having local, state and national success, were our best players. Later Jerry Freeland became our club champion 22 times. The member extraordinaire, however, is Hale Irwin. Hale joined Old Warson in the normal manner and was accepted as a Junior Member in 1974. Three years later he moved to Active Status, a position he has retained since. His schedule has kept him away during our golfing seasons, but his love of our city, and his commitment to Children's Hospital, he hosted Hale Irwin's St. Louis Children's Hospital Golf Outing form 1976 to 2000, have provided Old Warson with a member who has been a standard bearer for St. Louis golfers throughout the world.
The Old Warson women have also fared well for themselves and the club. Florence Bush and Ann McCarthy Parke were our first champions. Debbie Sutton, Sandi McGinnis and Casey O'Brien have won many women's championships between them. Casey has also done well in St. Louis Women's District Golf Association events. In 2005, and also 2013, Casey was runner-up in the SLWDGA Invitational Championship. She was Low Net winner at the 2013 St. Louis Women's District Senior Tournament held at Old Warson, and was Low Gross winner 2012. Old Warson's best woman ever remains Jean Lane Smith. Jean won six Old Warson titles beginning when she was a teenager. She moved to Boise, Idaho with her husband Roger and three small children and there she won seven Idaho state championships and six Women's Western titles. The culmination of her achievements came in 1995 when she captured the USGA Women's Senior Championship. In 2005 Jean was inducted into the Pacific Northwest Golf Association Hall of fame.
Most recently Old Warson hosted the 2016 Senior Amateur Championship. Dave Ryan won the U.S. Senior Amateur for his first USGA Championship, holding off Matthew Sughrue 2 up at OWCC. The 62 year old Ryan, from Taylorville, Illinois, beat two-time Senior Amateur Champion Paul Simson in the round of 16 and two-time U.S. Mid-Amateur Champion Tim Jackson in the semifinals in the event for players 55 and older. Against Simson, Ryan had the third known hole-in-one on a par-4 hole in a USGA Championship, acing the 270-yard 14th. "I'm still in shock, a state of shock," said Ryan. "For a guy from Taylorville, Illinois, to win a national championship, it's unbelievable!" Congratulations Dave!!