A hush falls over the Quail Ridge Horseshoe Club in Wentzville, Missouri, at the western edge of St. Charles County. The room settles, and a group of onlookers in this deluxe, indoor facility –considered by many horseshoe aficionados to be the finest in the country –turn their attention to league player Rich Altis as he steps up to the red pitching line at Court 6. Wielding a two-and-a-half-pound steel horseshoe, the 81-year-old player’s arm arcs back in a pendulum-like motion and then reverses, releasing the shoe into the air.
Ka-klang! The shoe hits and cradles a 15-inch, metal peg, landing with a soft thud in a pit of grey Missouri clay. That’s a ringer.
He fires again. Ka-klang! That’s a double ringer.
“So that’s how you do it,” an admiring newcomer to the facility says from behind protective fencing.
Nearby, a smiling player in a team polo shirt offers a slight correction. “Well,” says the player, “that’s how it’s supposed to be done.”
Welcome to the legend-producing world of competitive horseshoes, a sport beloved and enjoyed by countless players and fans over hundreds of years. Today, St. Charles County is the national epicenter of the sport, thanks to the Quail Ridge Horseshoe Club, which since 2007 is also home to the history-packed National Horseshoe Pitchers Hall of Fame. The facility and museum bring both prestige and visitor dollars to the St. Louis region year-round.
The 21,000-foot Quail Ridge Horseshoe Club facility sits on three acres that the club leases from St. Charles County, on a hill topping the sun-kissed prairie grass and wooded hillsides of Wentzville’s Quail Ridge Park. The club’s 300+ members of all ages enjoy the facility’s 16 air-conditioned and heated pitching courts and 16 outdoor courts for casual, league and tournament play.
St. Louis-area pitchers already know what a gem the facility is, but Quail Ridge also has become a beacon for athletes who appreciate how a top venue could benefit their game. After all, pitching is serious business on the tournament trail, with top prizes worth thousands of dollars. It can also mean major money spent at local businesses.
“We get players and fans from Florida, New York, Michigan, California, all across the country,” says Altis, the club’s historian and one of its tournament directors. “A few weeks ago, for example, we hosted a three-day, national tournament featuring 20 teams. Those players bring family members. They stay in our hotels, eat at the restaurants, visit museums, Six Flags, the Arch. They spend money here.”
For many fans of the sport, one of the club’s big draws is the prestigious National Horseshoe Pitchers Hall of Fame and Museum. Quail Ridge and its volunteers have been the hall’s proud stewards since 2007. Experts say that the St. Louis exurb was selected for the shrine to the sport because of its location along major routes of tournament travel as well as its reputation for developing some of the best horseshoe players in the United States and around the world.
“Other cities wanted it, other cities bid on it,” Altis says. “I credit Club vice-president Joe Faron for working hard with the National Association to get us this win for the whole region. It’s a real feather in our cap!”
The museum is a gleaming testament to horseshoes’ storied history and evolution. Hundreds of steel shoes of every make and color adorn its walls, along with scorecards from great matches, photos of its nearly-200 hall of famers and life-size stand-ups of star players. There’s even a display about the worldwide reputation of horseshoes for generating “good luck.” What’s the luckiest way to display a shoe, right side up or upside down? Both are acceptable, the display assures visitors.
Quail Ridge is like a second home to Altis. A league director and tournament coordinator, Altis has been a member of Quail Ridge for 28 memorable years. But he’s been a dedicated player for a lot longer than that.
“I started pitching horseshoes when I was 13 years old. Bought my first pair of shoes from Sears and Roebuck. They were $3.50 for two pairs of shoes and two pegs. I played with family members and church groups, and got so good nobody wanted to play anymore,” he remembers with a smile.
When he returned to the sport later in life, the Ballwin resident heard about a horseshoe club in New Melle, Missouri. He joined and was instantly embraced –and completely hooked. That club grew rapidly, and, under Joe Faron’s leadership, moved to Quail Ridge in 2007, adopting the park’s name for its own.
Altis says the Club is overflowing with great players, and though he’s been lauded for his own high, champion-level ringer percentage, he admits he’s lost to many of them. “Oh, I’ve gotten beaten severely. I mean, really bad,” he admits. “But you have to be bigger than any one game.”
What would Altis say makes a good horseshoe pitcher? “Well, you have to have some degree of hand/eye coordination,” he says with a laugh.
“You have to be able to withstand the pressure,” he adds. “If you get behind, if you throw up your hands and say, ‘I’m done,’ you are done. But if you just persevere, you can come out on top.”
There’s no time for a full lesson from the elite pitcher at the moment, though. Folks are waiting.
Hey, Rich, you’re up!” interrupts a teammate, shouting from the court.
“Here I come,” Altis calls back, grabbing his horseshoes.