A number of passionate interests dominate Florissant Mayor Tom Schneider’s life; Faith, Family, Florissant, and Fitness. Tom and his wife Rachel have six adult children and a grandson and are part of a large extended family. He was hired by the late Mayor Jim Eagan in 1976 to be City Engineer and in 1979 was elected to the City Council-where he served 32 years before being elected Mayor in 2011. Tom’s two athletic passions have always been soccer and golf. He played soccer into his 40’s and continues an exercise regime to stay fit. He does not get to play as much golf as he did before becoming Mayor but he still enjoys everything about the game which he first embraced as a caddie.
THE GOLF CLUB of FLORISSANT
I recently spent some time with the 64-year old Mayor at the City-owned Golf Club of Florissant. While he’s not technically the owner of the golf course, he treats it with the respect and care that suggests pride of ownership and a desire for the City to take its stewardship of the course seriously. The Mayor works with the Superintendent, a Brit named Andy Sprunt, and the General Manager Terry Grosch, to look for ways to improve the course to make it more enjoyable, aesthetic, and challenging so as to make it a better golfing experience and to increase play. Tom would like to see their course host an occasional “real golf tournament” to re-introduce the area’s top amateur players to the place.
The hilly 6500 yard track was originally named Paddock CC and was built in 1964 by the Graham family and will celebrate 50 years of golf there next year. The City purchased the property in 1997 and it is the only 18 hole championship golf course maintained by a Municipality in St. Louis County. The Mayor mused that “it took 211 years from its founding in 1786 for The City of Florissant to get a golf course.”
Grosch, a PGA Master Teaching Professional who has worked with many elite players over his 30 year teaching career, took me on a tour of the course before our meeting with the Mayor. I saw narrow zoysia fairways, some deep green-side bunkers, and a number of holes with significant elevation changes and 20’ flagsticks so one can see where the hole is cut from down below.
A couple of holes stood out: The 4th is a downhill par-3 that plays over 220 yards from the new back tee. The green is deep and not overly wide. It’s clear the goal here is to “make par and move on.” The 12th is a 565 par-5 from the tips that takes two good blasts just to get to the base of a steep incline and within wedge distance. Mayor Schneider says, “I’ve only personally seen one guy reach it in two from the far back tee because of the very steep incline leading up to the green. Most good three wood shots going for the green in two hit the slope and die.”
I met up with Tom for a photo session at the front gates and we took a short cart ride over to the new back tee at the 9th hole which the Mayor thinks makes for a great strategic par 5 instead of using it as a tough par 4. He had the tee built last year to stretch the hole to over 490. This provides a thought- provoking challenge for the low-handicapper who might make an eagle 3 or a “snowman” 8. The hole doglegs sharply from right to left and features a deep creek all along the left side and a huge tree protecting the right. “This is definitely a risk/reward hole with the back tee presenting a challenging tee shot if one wants to try to get home in two,” he said. We talked about the option of switching the nines to make this the 18th and bring anything from an eagle to a triple into play. “We’d like to have a two-person scramble or best ball tournament this summer or fall and get some of the better players in the area to find a partner and come test their skills,” he said. “This as the 18th would make for an exciting finish. Our dilemma is that the current 18th is right there by our beautiful new deck which provides spectators (or hecklers?) a great vantage point to watch players coming in.” (Look for more specific info about this event in future issues of The Post.)
He also suggests that hole 14 makes for a good long par- 4 rather than a “too easy par- 5” which allows the score card to show a par of 36-36 rather than 35-37. New scorecards give golfers the option with a 4/5 for the 9th and a 5/4 for the 14th. Tom feels the changes, along with playing the par- 5 3rd from the old back tee will enhance the golfing experience of anyone who can break 90.
Months before our recent meeting at the Club, I made an appointment to talk with Tom about his unique “quest.” A friend had told me about Tom. “He’s the new Mayor of Florissant and prior to becoming Mayor he played every golf course, public and private, within 50 miles of the Arch,” I said. “Whaaaat?” And thought. “Gotta hear more about this…”
Tom was steeped in the game of golf from an early age. He grew up in Overland, where his Grandpa helped build the “original” Meadowbrook and remained there working on the grounds crew. “This was back before mechanization. They used horses to pull the plows and scrapers to make farm land into a golf course. Grandpa was heartbroken when Meadowbrook moved out west…” he said. Tom’s uncle Gene became the starter at the relocated Meadowbrook in Ballwin and asked Tom, then 12, if he wanted to go out there and caddy. “I loved it right away and best of all they let us caddies play every Monday! That was like being in heaven” Schneider said. One day Bob Charles, a recent British Open Champion, showed up at Meadowbrook for a caddy clinic. He talked about the US Open coming to Bellerive in a couple of years and the 10 best caddies from each club and the best 25 from Bellerive would get to caddie in the Open. “That really fired me up and I switched to Bellerive the next day to increase my chances. It worked out perfectly and I got a loop in the ’65 US Open caddying for tour player Dudley Wysong.
Tom loved his 4 days at that 1965 US Open and has remarkably vivid memories of the experience almost 50 years later. “Wysong was a good young player and did very well that week—tied for 8th.. “ (Wysong won twice on the PGA Tour and lost a US Amateur final to Jack Nicklaus.) It could have been a lot better, as he lipped out a ton of putts. Two memories stand out for me: We’re walking down the 11th fairway Friday heading for Dudley’s drive when a tremendous roar envelops the whole course. Turns out Dutch Harrison just made eagle on 7…Anyway, I’m looking around, just taking in the noise, when I feel a hand on my arm. ‘Watch out, Pards, don’t step on my ball.’ It was of course Wysong trying to get me back in the moment and making sure I didn’t accidentally kick his ball. I’ll never forget that roar and the chills it gave me. The second moment was as we were walking from 12 green to 13 tee at the very back of the golf course on Saturday. Wysong had just chipped in for birdie and we were moving up the leaderboard. There was a drinking fountain there then and Dudley stopped at it. He looked up at me, cocked his head a bit, and said ‘Is that your Dad over there?’ I said it was, and he smiled and said, ‘I figured as much. I don’t know that guy, and he’s been following us every step of the way.’ That meant so much to me—that my Dad cared enough about me to follow us rather than one of the big names out there,” he said.
Tom attended Ritenour HS and what was then UM, Rolla. He was #2 man at Ritenour, and the team missed making the State tournament his senior year by one stroke. “I could almost always break 80. I was pretty consistent, but on the fringes of being a competitive player,” he said. He graduated from Rolla with a degree in civil engineering, but his college years were interrupted by two tours in Vietnam and one in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba with the Navy Seabees. Schneider played varsity golf at Rolla and is in their athletic hall of fame. Not for golf, but rather for his efforts to introduce the sport of soccer to the university and the youth of the City of Rolla which now has a large Soccer Park.
Tom’s “quest” to play all of the courses listed in the Post-Dispatch Golf Guide came about when he realized that competitive golf “wasn’t that much fun anymore because it felt like another job on top of an already busy life.” He had played the majority of the private courses in the area by virtue of entering local District and State and USGA qualifiers. “The pressure of playing in competitive events and even the Normandie Saturday morning scratch game was too much like work so I just decided to get back to the part of golf I like the best. Just to be there to hit a lot of golf shots and see some holes I never saw before, just me and the course. A lot of times I’d come back from those golf field trips totally worn out—and as happy as I could be”
Tom told me the highlight of his tournament days was making the cut in the 1992 Metropolitan Amateur. He said, “The event was at Lake Forest that year, I had my son caddying for me, and I shot 76 the second day to make the two-day cut at 156. That was my best tournament accomplishment. One other highlight was one day in the ‘Normandie Game’ I was playing with Dave Rhoads and made a 2 on the very tough 445 yard uphill opening hole. I’m sure others have done that, but no one that I ever heard of. That was pretty special.”
And so he embarked on a more formal “quest” to check off ALL of the courses in the Golf Guide—and he brought his tattered copy of said document to our meeting as proof. Tom does have a witness to many of the public 18-hole courses that got checked off over his ten year odyssey. His friend and Ritenour team mate De Bernard was alongside for many of those rounds at the local (and not so “local”) munis. Tom went after the 9-hole courses and par-3 courses pretty much by himself, as “it was hard to get guys interested in playing those with me. I’d look for two 9-hole courses that were fairly close together and go play both. I always carried a carry bag for the par-3 courses. I remember one time I was out by Hillsboro on a ‘two-course’ 27 hole day. I’d played 18 at Raintree (which just reopened this year) and I drove 10 miles farther away to this course called Cottonwood. I’ve got a lot of daylight left, but the place was closed. So I just grabbed my carry bag and off I went. I really wanted to get that one checked off, as it was a long drive out there.” We don’t see a listing for Cottonwood in the 2013 Golf Guide, but if someone is still running it Tom would gladly pay the late greens fee.
When asked if he had any other course “lists” in mind to try to tackle, Tom chuckled and said, “I guess the only one that could be done is the Metropolitan Amateur Golf Associations’ list of member courses. They keep adding new courses to their list including many far away in places like Springfield and Quincy, Illinois. But those aren’t within 50 miles, so I think we’re good. I would like to challenge others to follow the local Golf Trail to get some variety in their golf life. It’s hard to fly with your clubs to far away places anyway.” Tom said that he does not get to play nearly as much golf as he used to and I could tell that he’s very busy with his Mayoral duties. It’s been a great “honor” to get to know “His Honor” The Mayor, and I can’t wait to tee it up with him one of these days—maybe in his foursome in the two-person tournament he’s planning? Is that his latest “quest?” It seems it is, and you can “book it” if it’s on his to-do list.