Annbriar Golf Course in Waterloo: An Unforgettable Golf Story
Waterloo, IL - The story of Annbriar Golf Course in Waterloo, Illinois, is as bittersweet as any in golf. Ann Nobbe, 26-year old daughter of course owner William Nobbe, spent a great deal of time and energy convincing her parents that they should build a golf course on their family farm as a way to occupy themselves during retirement. William had never been a golfer, so it was no easy sell. Ann and her love of the game prevailed, however, and after bringing respected architect Dr. Michael Hurdzan to the 226-acre property, and hearing his preliminary plans to turn the rolling farmland into a top-notch course, the Nobbes went forward.
Tragically, Ann was killed in 1990 in a car accident before actual construction began. It was a difficult decision, but the Nobbe family stayed dedicated to realizing Ann's dream, and in so doing, built one of the finest courses in the state, if not in the entire Midwest. Opened in 1992, Annbriar stands as a lovely and fitting tribute to Ann Nobbe.
Owner William Nobbe is rightfully proud of his course, which has garnered a 4 ½ star rating from Golf Digest. Despite being in so-called "retirement," he is often the first one to the clubhouse in the morning and the last one to leave. He does some of everything, from cooking in the excellent restaurant to shoveling snow to hosting famous golfers visiting the course. "This is the greatest job in the world," beams Nobbe. "I get to meet the most interesting people. All of the St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves pitchers have played here. So has [the rock band] REO Speedwagon. [Touring pro] John Cook has even visited my home."
Nobbe puts his course up against any he's played around the country, including world-famous tracks like Torrey Pines. "If I could put this course on an ocean, I'd be sitting on a gold mine!" Before you actually see the course, this sounds a bit like an overly proud father, sincere but hyperbolic. Then you begin working your way around the expansive Zoysia fairways, which dip, turn, and roll from hilltop to hilltop, and you start to agree with him.
Head Pro John Soetaert offers encouragement: "Players can score here, if they know where to hit it. Starting out, it gives you a chance. By Nos. 4 and 5, it gets tougher." Nobbe concurs: "From No. 8 on, you begin the hard stretch." And it doesn't let up from there.
Hudzan and his on-site router, Dana Fry (who lived with the Nobbes for over a year during construction and is now a fine course architect in his own right), were surprised to see so much natural undulation in this midwestern farmland, considering that just across the river in Missouri, there aren't any hills to be found. The designers took full advantage of the natural lay of the land, and also moved some one million yards of earth during construction.
The effect on many holes is a totally different look from the tips (6,841 yards) as compared to the four other sets of more forward tees (6,427 down to 4,792 yards). For example, Nos. 11, 14, and 18 all have both left and right back tee boxes, with over a 70-yard difference between the tips and the regular men's tees on 18. Play whichever tees suit your game, however, you may be invigorated by the vistas out onto the wide, inviting fairways. Just be sure to hit them, because if you don't, the fescue is so thick that you simply will not find your ball (although you might find a half-dozen of mine).
In all seriousness, hitting the short grass is key here. Out of the bluegrass and fescue rough, one bad shot will just lead to another. The conditions are utterly magnificent, with nary a blade of grass out of place from Bermuda tee to bentgrass green. The contouring on the large greens, which average 6,000 sq. ft., is understated, yet vexing.
This may be one of the most attractively landscaped courses anywhere. The combination of wild native grasses (and even weeds!) highlighted by dazzling flowerbeds and artful rockwork perfectly frame the firm, lush playing surfaces. Would anyone expect less from Dr. Hudzan, who holds a PhD in plant ecology?
The front nine is more linksy than the back, and is thus somewhat underrated. But it is a lovely and solid warm-up for the subsequent holes, which you can appreciate only after experiencing the difficulty of those latter holes. As mentioned, the fairways are plenty wide, and the copious mounding helps to funnel slight mishits back into the shorter grass.
The most memorable holes on the front are 5 (514 yards, par 5), 8 (426 yards, par 4), and 9 (495 yards, par 5). The 5th is one of many holes with a dramatically elevated tee, where you need to carry water and fairway bunkers, at least if you're feeling spunky. If you do hit a big tee shot, cutting off part of the left-to-right dogleg, you are rewarded with a manageable (yet still long) second to a well-bunkered green.
No. 8 is miserable if you hook your tee shot. Even at the deep kidney-shaped green, left is golf-ball hell. And right is purgatory. The 9th is a wonderful hole to close out the front: A long, swooping par five running right up toward the clubhouse, with it's promise of a cold beer to strengthen the nerves for 10-18.
The signature hole, voted "Best Golf Hole in St. Louis," is the 404/398-yard 11th. A simply awesome view awaits golfers at the elevated tee box, as the fairway snakes down through a valley, with a zig-zagging creek on the left for the first shot, on the right for the second, and in front of the green as well. This is the number one handicap hole, and rightfully so.
The 14th (509/503 yards, par 5) features one of three fairways (Nos. 5 and 18 are the others) bisected by an elevation change and rough from one level to the next. A massive drive working from right to left can scoot down through the end of the fairway, leaving a testy downhill long iron out of the rough, over a creek, to the smallest green on the course. If you've ever played in northern Michigan, you'll agree that the 16th looks like someone has transplanted an entire hole down to southern Illinois.
The 166-yard par three 17th is postcard-perfect. It's downhill to a green perched daintily over a trap, with a rocky stream and waterfall to the left. Basically you hit the green here, or you card a double bogey.
There are so many reasons to recommend Annbriar to every golfer in the St. Louis area, it is difficult to mention them all. Thanks to the forward tees, it is extremely women-friendly. According to William Nobbe, "Wives can out-drive their husbands on some holes." In addition, there's not a single house anywhere on the course, which is a welcome change from most newer courses situated on this sort of acreage. There are also no parallel holes, at least not ones that you notice; mounding and trees lend a sense of almost complete isolation. Practice facilities include practice tee and two putting greens. If there is a knock on the course, it is the pace of play, which can be very slow.
In the clubhouse, the full-service restaurant is superb. House specialties include homemade crabcakes and enormous burgers. On many weekends guests can also enjoy live music, and maybe even a dance with Mr. Nobbe himself. (He did say the course is women-friendly, after all.)
Rate specials are frequent and varied, from twilight rates to Monday's "junior" rates, where all golfers under the age of 49 golf cheap and seniors pay full fee. Nobbe says he got sick of receiving senior discounts, so he turned the tables. Seniors still get their own day, though, so no grumbling allowed.
Which brings us back to William Nobbe, his family, and the land they've owned since the 1880's, where now lies one of the best golf courses in the Midwest. The course's namesake is their late daughter, and its logo is the red, 100-year old smokehouse, which has been converted into a walk-in freezer. Look up "salt of the earth" in any dictionary, and you should see Nobbe's picture; a more likeable man you'll never meet. And a more pleasurable, memorable, poignant golfing experience, you'll probably never have.