THE BELFRY (BRABAZON) - BETTER WITH AGE
In 1985 the PGA decided that it was a good idea to take it to a newly opened converted potato field outside Birmingham and make it the host club for the Ryder Cup, dispensing with hollowed courses such as Walton Heath, Royal Lytham, Muirfield and Royal Birkdale.
The PGA got lucky, this fairly average course provided drama, excitement and kick-started a period of dominance for the European team, the likes of which had never been seen before.
In that dramatic 1985 Ryder cup no-one really minded the fact that the course was fairly rubbish because they had some great drama holes and no-one was really doing a golf course architecture examination with the Ryder Cup going on. The conventional wisdom says that the European PGA built a very average course on a farmer's field and then decided to put the Ryder Cup there to help pay for their costs. Looking at the video of 1985 you will see many of the trees were very new and the course did, in parts, have the look of a field.
Well 30 years later that has changed as you'd expect. The course has matured very well and actually has a nice flow to it.
Formerly farmland it is now positively parkland, this multiple Ryder Cup venue is arguably the best of its peers when it comes to resort-type courses in England. Naturally it suffers from the same limitations as other non-links/heath courses, in the sense that the aerial game dominates, but it’s easy to see why this is a popular venue for many.
There’s obviously the famous and excellent 10th, a real death or glory style hole for the brave, and the iconic 18th, played over a lake towards the unmistakable clubhouse, that has seen much drama over the decades. But there’s a series of other fine two-shotters which often don’t get the plaudits they deserve.
Well located fairway bunkers and engaging green complexes are the main reason they impress on a property that changes little in elevation throughout. Good use of water is made at several holes although it could be argued there is a bit too much of the wet stuff at times as it makes an appearance on at least 11 of the holes and quite often it must be avoided twice on the same hole; drive and approach. Watch out for the duck-poo too! An inevitable consequence of having so many ponds on the estate.
The 4th, 5th and 8th are all more-than-solid par fours with the 6th, 9th and 16th better than that and whilst there are some more mediocre holes (1, 2, 11 & 13) thrown in along the way I think The Belfry can rightly be regarded as one of the top 100 golf courses in England,albeit in the lower third of this company.
All of the par-threes are structurally sound with large, well-protected greens; two fronted by water and all featuring big, American-style bunkers. The putting surfaces, as they are on most of the holes, contain some nice internal contours and whilst the course may be a bombers paradise from the tee it still requires a deft touch on and around the greens.
The par fives are also good without being overly inspiring. Only the third uses water as any real defence and is easily the best of the trio. Good use of bunkering 60 yards short of the 15th dictates the strategy on this hole whilst the 17th veers left-to-right from the tee and offers an advantage to longer hitters who can also find the right line and hit the correct shape.
In the height of summer The Belfry is usually conditioned superbly, especially considering the traffic it gets, with the greens amongst the quickest and truest I’ve putted on. Trees and lush semi-rough help define the course as well as adding to the hazards to negotiate.
The Belfry, which opened in 1977, is a course that certainly has its detractors. I’d like to think I’m not one of those and always come away quietly impressed. Most of the things I don’t care for much here are not really relevant to the actual golf, I mean a nightclub… really?
The corporate, commercial feel and a mix of golfers with non-golfers takes away any atmosphere around the place but once out on the course you can really enjoy what matters; the golf. The downside to this is that you will likely have more than five hours to drink it all in.