The Belfry played host to the 1985 Ryder Cup and was also host in 1989, 1993 and 2002. No other club has staged three Ryder Cups, let alone four, so The Belfry’s Brabazon course has become a Ryder Cup synonym. 1985 was a breakthrough year for Europe when Sam Torrance holed the winning birdie putt. Europe 16 ½ - USA 11 ½. The 1989 Ryder Cup matches were halved and this event heralded the commercial coming of age for the Ryder Cup, which featured the largest tented village ever seen at a sporting event in Britain. Europe 14 - USA 14. 1993 was the year of the US veterans Chip Beck and Raymond Floyd who claimed five points from a possible six. Payne Stewart and Jim Gallacher were also on form for the US. USA 15 - Europe 13. Delayed by the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the 2002 Ryder Cup was decided by a strong European singles performance that was sealed by Paul McGinley’s 8-foot par putt on the 18th, which secured a halve against Jim Furyk. Europe 15 ½ - USA 12 ½. The Ryder Cup was played at PGA National in 1983, Muirfield Village in 1987, Kiawah Island in 1991, Oak Hill in 1995, the Country Club, Brookline in 1999 and Oakland Hills in 2004.
The Brabazon course at The Belfry doesn't need introducing. After all, it's unique. This course has played host to more Ryder Cups than any other course on the planet – four in total. The Americans must dislike it, because team USA has only once triumphed here. Additionally, and for only the second time in Ryder Cup history, the 1989 biennial match was halved, but Europe retained the trophy because they were still the cup holders following their win in 1987 at Muirfield Village, Ohio.
The Belfry itself owes much to the vision and determination of one man, Colin Snape. In the mid 70s, Snape was the director of the financially struggling PGA. Over a pie and a pint, Peter Alliss told him that an old hotel on the outskirts of Birmingham was available as a potential new location for the PGA HQ. In 1977, The Brabazon (named after former PGA president, Lord Brabazon) opened for play with a challenge match, Seve Ballesteros and Johnny Miller against Tony Jacklin and Brian Barnes. The Belfry has never looked back.
Alliss and Thomas were given an unremarkable piece of farmland, which required significant sculpting to turn it into a remarkable golf course. For many visiting golfers, The Belfry (and The Brabazon course, in particular) is Mecca. Everyone wants to play here; it's an exciting golfing venue, drawing thousands of visitors each year.
The excitement comes from playing memorable and familiar holes. And, following Dave Thomas's £2.7m makeover in the late 90s, there is more water on The Brabazon than just about any other inland course in the British Isles – take a few extra balls. The course has two outstanding holes, which have been popularised by television – the 10th and 18th. The former is a unique short par four, measuring about 300 yards, with water running along the right hand side of the fairway. It is driveable – you've seen Seve do it – so go on, go for it.
The 18th is another hole that is totally dominated by water and it's terrifying. This dramatic, par four closing hole, rewards the brave. Cut off as much of the water as you can chew from the tee, and you will be left with a shorter approach shot, which must carry a lake on its way to a long, narrow, triple-tiered green. This hole has seen more Ryder Cup emotion than any other hole in the world. For this reason alone, to follow in the footsteps of golf's greatest legends, The Brabazon is a must-play course. But it's not everyone's cup of tea.
Tom Doak commented as follows in his original Confidential Guide to Golf Courses: “For some reason the designers have tried to bring American design concepts to British soil, but the stylized, Trent Jones-style bunkers and multiple-tiered greens, and an utterly failed attempt to imitate Pete Dye’s telephone poles to line a bunker (it looks like a bunch of Lincoln logs on end in a sandbox), imitate the worst elements possible.” The bunkers have changed since a young Doak penned the above comments and he tempered his words in the latest series of confidential guides. Interestingly, his rating also improved, up from 4 to 5 (out of 10), so maybe the Brabazon is not so bad after all.
I’ve not played The Belfry’s Brabazon Course in 30 years. I’d returned a few times and had stopped off for a coffee or a bite to eat and had watched enviously as, like a conveyor belt, golfers teed off, hoping to emulate some of golfs greatest moments. For this isn’t just another golf course. This is the home of the Ryder Cup. It’s the place where Seve and Olle tamed the Americans. Where Sam lifted his arms aloft in that red jumper and again lifted the trophy. On every hole a moment of magic has occurred. If you love golf you’ll happily walk round the hotel looking at the hundreds of framed photographs. It’s a shame their isn’t more memorabilia on show. Where is Christys 2 iron now? Sam’s tartan Captains jacket or Nicks Bridgestone golf ball?
Ultimately this is why we all come to play here. It’s also the reason the club gets to charge £175.00 per round. For if it hadn’t held those 4 competitive matches I can’t imagine many of us would want to pay such a fee. We come here to replicate, or at least try to, some of those great shots. Don’t get me wrong the course is great, the greens are world class, the tees flat, the rough is thick and consistent and the fairways are…. Ok.
Having spent some time in front of the hotel on the practice green it was my time to tee off. Sadly I watched as 2 more buggies drove off in front of me. I’d hoped the buggies would have sped the hackers up. I was wrong. Playing from the white tees the first two holes are straight forward pleasant short par 4s. You are reminded on the first tee by the Brabazon 8ft wall that you are playing the Ryder Cup Course. As if you needed reminding. The 3rd is when you find they have water on virtually every hole on the front 9. I thought this was a great matchplay hole. Do you go for it in 2 or lay up? The 4th and 5th are again good holes before you play the terrifying 6th. With a vast lake on your left that plays all the way to the green, bailing out right off the tee only serves in finding more water. I found both.
The first and only par 3 on the front 9, 7th, is where I realised just how tough the rough is around the green. With the flag tucked left I’d made it over the water and bunker but came up just short of the green. I was playing the course just a week after the English Masters and playing a buried ball just a couple of yards from the putting surface reminded me just how great the guys at the top really must be.
The 8th and 9th are just great golf holes. You must hit driver if you hope to land it on either green with water in front of both. Yet on the 8th especially the lake that claimed by ball on the 6th is waiting for another contribution.
After a 2 1/2 hour front 9 I reached the famous 10th. As a huge Seve fan I’d watched him drive it in a Ryder Cup Fourball match. A plaque sits to the side honouring his achievement in the 1978 Hennessy Cup. It was sadly lost on the 8 blokes stood on the tee, each with a beer in their hand from the halfway house. I doubt they’d hit a fairway all day yet here they cheered each other on, to go for the green. Realising my plight and frustration a kind Marshall duly drove me to the 11th and suggested I return after the 18th to play it. For me this is where The Belfry didn’t reach a 5 1/2! For alas it’s a corporate golf course. I wonder how many members they have? How many actual golfers who play their regularly? Sadly it appears if you say “oh I play”, and you pay, they let you on. I imagine this is the hole in which 90% of the worlds lake ball industry makes its money from.
So after the alright 11th I reached the magnificent par 3 12th. 209 yards over water and a stream to the right I was clapped by the next fourball, I caught up, in front of me after my 4 iron to 6ft. I’m sure the shot is what caused them to allow me through. After the unmemorable 13th I again was met by the plaque reminding me that Sir Nick Faldo had aced it in 1993. In a way if makes the course special. I’d have loved to have seen more plaques. The 18th for one needed a ‘Christy hit a 2 iron….’, one. After all the hotel is covered in pictures and signs telling you the rooms that teams used etc, so why not more around the course?
15th is a good par 5 without being anything special and 16 is again another par 4 that on any other course wouldn’t be remembered. The green however is quite deceiving and once on it you’ll find a double tier that takes you lower on the left. I had by this point joined up with another 1-ball who had also grown older playing behind yet another group who didn’t know raking bunkers was a thing.
After not cutting off enough of the dog leg 17th I laid up on the par 5, having to play the 3rd shot from short of the stream with a 5 iron. Again it’s a great matchplay hole. The water on the back 9 is rare compared to its over eager front 9 but it’s strategically placed here and doesn’t punish one to the point of throwing the hole away but merely makes you play into the green from further back.
Then finally I’d reached the 18th (my 17th). From the tee, if you don’t know the hole, you probably won’t know where to aim. The clever golfer will play towards the bunker, lay up then play on for 3. Making a 5 is a good score for a mid handicapper. However, nobody sits in the bar after, telling anyone who’ll listen, how they made a solid bogey on the last! My new playing partner found the bunker (from the yellows) with his 3 wood. Bear in mind he was here alone, so had nobody to relay the story to anyway. I believed just left of the bunker was the line with the driver… at this point I had too much side spin and it landed a good 35 yards left of where I had wanted. I had presumed that was me ‘done’. Yet on making into the clearing my Titleist was indeed sat smiling by the 150 yard marker. I hadn’t intended to take such a tiger line but was rewarded for putting up with waiting on most tees. The second shot to the green sent goosebumps over my arms. On sighting my tee shot I considered doing a ‘Christy’ and thanking God, but thought better of it.
After finding the green and making par on the three tier green, I returned to the relatively, now quiet, 10th hole. Of course I hit two off the tee. A punched 7 iron and wedge brought me a simple par. Bizarrely I also emulated all those idiots by hitting a second with my driver. At just short of 300 yards, into a breeze, I could have predicted the result. Yet this is why we play the Brabazon course. We dream of hitting that one shot that such and such a player hit in 19…something. It’s why a 5 hour round doesn’t feel so bad. For virtually every hole you’ll want to take a picture. You want to have an extra putt on the unbelievably well and perfectly rolling greens. For this is the spiritual home of The Ryder Cup.
The excitement of 8 lads heading up the M40 was palpable. We had been set free and we were off to play a course that has hosted more Ryder Cups than any other.
I decided to leave my review a few days, as the excitement of just being back on the golfing road again may have clouded my judgement and my initial thoughts when I walked off the course was “I really enjoyed that”, but how much was down to the joy of playing again and the history of the course and how much of that was the course itself?
I’ll start by saying that Parkland Golf is not a style that I get too excited about. I have played good ones (Hadley Wood), I have played overhyped unremarkable ones (The Grove), but I never walk off thinking “wow I can’t wait to come back”.
The Brabazon measures an amenable 6,729 yards from the Whites and is a flat piece of farmland that has been converted into a golf course made challenging by a shed load of water and some very clever and strategic bunkering. The course is in superb condition and clearly very well maintained, although the greens were remarkably slow.
The front 9 demands accuracy as water comes into play on most holes, requiring a well placed tee shot or accurate approach to avoid the drink. The back 9 is a lot more open and uses bunkering as its key protection, save the last hole, which has both and is one of the best finishing holes I have played in England so far.
There are some very good holes here interspersed by some rather straightforward ones. The 3rd is a pretty Par 5 with the green set behind a big lake. The 9th is risk reward hole where the bolder you are with your tee shot, the shorter your approach, but a large well placed bunker is waiting to swallow any overdrawn drives.
The 10th is everything it’s reputed to be. The signature hole, memories of Seve, the Ryder Cup etc. You have to go for it and we all did and I hit it! A can forever say I drove the 10th. It’s a short hole Par 4, but bunkers swallow anything right and water if you miss left. It’s fantastic.
The remaining holes on the back 9 are ok, (except the 18th) not ones I will remember for years to come and if the course was made up of these, then this wouldn’t break into the Top 100, but the 18th is superb! My bugbear continues to be Top 100 courses with average finishing holes...I could rattle off a list, but the Brabazon saves it’s best till last. An angled tee shot over water onto a narrow fairway, which gets wider the longer you go followed by a long approach over even more water onto a three tiered green. If you walk off the last with a par you’ve done very well and it will settle any matchplay game you have going down the last.
I gather from reading reviews on The Brabazon that it’s a marmite course, but I found myself somewhere in the middle. My God I was pleased to be back out and I loved my day there, but on reflection it’s a good parkland course with a few very good holes, but the course’s reputation is elevated by its history, but it should certainly be on everyone’s hit list, if not just to see if you can hit the 10th...all the best do
For all photos of reviews, please follow Chris’ Instagram page: https://www.instagram.com/top.100.golf/
Really good layout and location. Beautiful area and some historic holes. The condition was really good, greens could have run a bit better. All in all a good and fun course to play. I'll be back one day.
With the return of golf in England started this was the first time I've played for the past three months and what a venue to restart at. Fantastic. Such great condition and facilities, some many memorable holes, probably the most being the tenth were yes we did manage to drive the green like Seve. A must for any golfer who enjoys variety and history of courses in the UK.
OK how has the Ryder Cup been played here? FOUR TIMES! And currently bidding for a fifth!
The facilities and the whole property is great. ‘World Travel Awards’ England’s Leading Resort Winner 2019 is a fair commendation. I could live in the shop and on the range all day. Three 18-hole layouts. Awesome Mini Golf course. Great bar. Impressive (but corporate) hotel. A nightclub. The list goes on.
But for now we are going to talk about The Brabazon.
A small group of players from the University of the West of England Golf Team got up early and travelled from Bristol, along the M5 north to The Belfry Hotel & Resort. A cold and damp February – granted not the best day to visit. The itinerary was 18-holes on The Brabazon, Dinner and one nights stay.
I can only remember 2 holes from this course and I am sure you can all guess which ones they are. The course is dull. Thank goodness for the rest of the property.
The story goes 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. They got lucky, in that the Ryder Cup caught fire in the 1980s and as a result no-one really minded the fact that the course awful because they had some dramatic holes and no-one was really doing a golf course architecture examination with the Ryder Cup going on.
All of that started at The Belfry in 1985. The UK host courses before that had been Walton Heath, Royal Lytham, Muirfield and Royal Birkdale – some of the highest rated golf courses in the WORLD. The PGA decided that it was a good idea to take it to a newly opened converted potato field outside Birmingham. As it happens it provided drama, excitement and kick-started a period of dominance for the European team, the likes of which had never been seen before. Lucky them.
Having said that, the 10th and 18th holes must rate as two of the most memorable in English golf. The 10th is the short par 4 which begs you to have a crack at the green. The risk is a creek running in front and to the side and you have a choice whether to go for the green or take a short iron layup and wedge. Most will remember the footage of Jose Maria Olazabal and Seve Ballesteros hitting the green.
We all had fun over this weekend. We played a course that hosted 5 Ryder Cups. Came up close to history. Got merry. But I am in no rush to go back. Sorry if I have burst the Belfry bubble.
Judging from previous reviews it seems like The Brabazon is somewhat of a marmite course. Without wanting to generalise or make too many assumptions I think it’s fair to say the keen golf course aficionado (less pompous names are available) find the place a bit over-rated, and were it not for it’s Ryder Cup heritage, wouldn’t be held up in such high esteem. And despite not being somebody who’s had the privilege of playing the truly great courses of the world, I can understand this opinion. American style target golf courses are ten a penny across England these days and there’s not too much stuff in terms of course architecture that you won’t find elsewhere.
However, all that to one side, if you take The Belfry for what is unashamedly is, a quality but accessible resort, I think there are very few experiences the average golfer would enjoy more.
Personally I find the course really good fun, especially the front nine. #2, #3, #4, #6, #8 are all really good holes. There’s plenty of challenge off the tee and some really dramatic, nerve-jangling water carries to contend with.
I think the 9th is one of the most underrated holes on the course. A long par 4 that suits a draw off the tee. The closer you dare take it to the fairway bunker, the better angle you have into a severely sloping green that wraps around the back of a lake. Bail out to the right, away from the bunker on your tee shot and you’ll find yourself blocked out by tall trees. Bail out to the left on your approach and you’re pitching out from either a bunker or from downhill lie onto a green below your feet running away from you.
After that it’s number 10 and there’s no dispute as to how good a hole it is. The only downside is you can end up waiting quite a while to tee off as everybody wants to try and drive the green. But who can blame them? You’ve got to give it a go.
To be fair I think the rest of the back 9 is a bit weaker, although I do like the 12th. A long, downhill par 3 over a lake. But other than that it’s a little forgettable (relatively speaking) until you get to #18, to which again, there’s no disputing how good a par 4 it is. If you manage to find the fairway, the approach over the lake towards that enormous three tiered green is iconic.
Overall I think the Belfry is a great day out or weekend away. I think you’d have to be mad to pay the full £160 green fee, but in reality you can get on for much cheaper. Either by booking more last minute when they seem to reduce the prices, (I’ve scored a midweek tee time for as little as £60) or by staying over a night or two and getting on one of their multi course deals.
So in summary, yes, if you’re somebody who really appreciates tradition, great golf architecture and unique golfing experiences, the Belfry isn’t for you. But if you’re looking for a fun golfing getaway with your mates, and a chance to recreate some famous shots on a famous, well maintained course, it won’t disappoint.
As one of the best known courses in the UK, most people have fairly set views of the Brabazon. Having played it a number of years ago I was looking forward to seeing how it has aged. Playing it at the end of September it was much better than I remembered. The greens were quick, true and with some very difficult pin positions. The slope rat8ng for each tee is very high and understandably as there is trouble off every tee and no easy holes. The round took 4 hours 20 minutes which wasn’t bad considering it’s difficulty and not once we’re we held up which was a welcome change.
Beware of the Lake on the left of the 6th as my brother managed to lose his whole trolley, bag and clubs in it!
There are talks of the, bidding for the 2030 Ryder Cup but this would be on a new course made from the current PGA and the Derby as the Brabazon doesn’t have the space for the crowds but it would be great to see it return here.
The Belfry during the COVID crisis was a strange experience. To their huge credit, the management and staff organised social distancing brilliantly but there was no hum about the place and teeing off at the 'spiritual home of the Ryder Cup' was very muted. Usually, the welcome is jolly and players are told a potted history of the course as well as told where the will probably come a cropper. The super-slick practice greens which are usually packed with excited golfers were closed as was the normally bubbly clubhouse. The consequence was that we were only charged £80 for a round which felt about right, given that bunkers couldn't be raked and the course wasn't quite as pristine as we remembered it.
I think the Brabazon gets a bad press - maybe because it is too tricky for some reviewers. This time, we felt as if we were managing to pick our way around with greater stealth than a couple of years ago but our scores scarcely reflected progress. Card-wreckers were the 18th where Mrs W and I both succumbed to the water in front of the tee and ahead of the green and the 12th - a par three over water where club selection bamboozled us both. Nevertheless, Mrs W was able to bathe in her birdie three on the famous 10th (no she certainly didn't drive the hole) among several successes. We didn't conquer the Brabazon but it yielded enough for us to think we could. Inevitably, that means we must return - hopefully when it is back to its brasher self.
Pretty much smack bang in the middle of England, the Belfry is a pleasant resort course that has hosted the Ryder Cup four times. It is built on farming land, that can get wet and boggy if it rains, and so is potentially not the most suitable location for some great golf. However, water is used throughout to try and generate interest in the holes, none more so than on the 10th and 18th. If players are playing from the correct tees, these can be great risk reward holes. The 10th was made famous by Seve, who took on the water guarding the front of the green on the short par 4. This hole set up nicely for me, as I normally play a fade (slice!). Players who draw the ball are more rewarded on the 18th, a hole that at first dog legs sharply left, and then the 2nd is played over a big lake to a massive three tiered green. This is a very tough par 4, that leaves people with the option of going for the heroic carry with their second. Apart from these two holes that can be interesting to play them in different ways, the layout can be quite bland and repetitive. It’s nice to try the shots the pros have hit once, but I feel this course would get quite samey quite quickly. I would encourage players to go and explore nearby courses such as Blackwell, Edgbaston or Little Aston before venturing here.
The Belfry will always be a special place to me growing up through numerous Ryder Cup victories, partying on the roof…the 18th hole causing even the best player to collapse but outside of the history the course is good but not excellent. There are some fantastic holes such as 9 and 10 and the architect did a nice job creating some risk and reward holes on an average bit of terrain. The greens were excellent when we played and the golfer needs to have some kind of strategy on each hole as the bunkers are well placed although not overly difficult to extricate yourself from. The 18th is a brute….a real risk and reward always temping you to bite off more than you should so to leave a shorter approach to this well designed green. The experience at The Belfry is excellent and alongside Little Aston is probably one of the better courses in the area. Played Sept 19.