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.
Wow, what a course! It genuinely exceeded my expectations. Getting to hit shots from positions where some of golfs legends hit from is really something. The front 9 is slightly easier than the back, the first few holes ease you in nicely, 3 is a tough par 5 with a difficult tee shot, water down the left and a really tough green. 6 is another great hole, possibly one of my favourites, tough tight tee shot then the second shot is all carry over the water to a difficult green, making birdie made it all better. 9 is a fantastic way to finish, tight tee shot followed by a really good second shot into a green thats protected by what feels like 100 bunkers and a huge lake.
Now we get to the tenth, obviously went for it, long and into the back bunker, scariest tee shot ive ever faced, especially as there was about 40 people stood behind the tee! The back 9 feels a lot more difficult to the front, maybe because of the weird stroke index numbers, but still really enjoyable.
Stood on 18, you can barely see any fairway, just seems like water everywhere, i took 3 iron and was 2 yards away from the famous Christy O'Connor plaque. The second shot on 18 is very nerve racking, i put my ball on the top tier of the 3 tier green and the flag was on the bottom tier so it made for a fun putt.
All in all, the condition of the course was ridiculously good, especially with the crazy heatwave were having, it was so green. The fairways were perfect and the greens were so fast and true. Bunkers were raked to perfection and were great to hit out of.
The only annoying part was the prices of the bars, driving range, half way house etc... £4.50 for 30 balls isn't great and £3 for a lucozade also sucks but i guess it is what it is.
I would 100% recommend everyone to play there just to tick it off your bucket list and get to play a course so many greats have.
I really enjoyed this course despite the weather and some mixed reviews. You need to drive the ball well here. A must play if you’re in the area due to its history. There are some average holes but there are also some great ones so it’s a good mix.
Considering we were playing at the end of the first week in April, we completely ‘lucked out’ with the weather, which was in the late teens all weekend. This meant that the course played pretty well despite the previous couple of weeks having been wet here in the UK. The greens themselves throughout the weekend played quickly, and had a huge amount of undulations and breaks that required your constant attention.
The signature holes on the Brabazon are what you expect them to be – the driveable par 4 10th hole, and the brutally challenging but epic 18th par 4 which we all remember from Paul McGinley’s epic win against Jim Furyk in the 2002 Ryder Cup. The highlight of the round for me, and indeed the weekend, was when I managed to drive the 10th green – apparently being the only one of the day to do so, and thus winning a free round of golf for myself and 3 friends around the PGA National! Aside from these two holes, the other ones that stood out for me was hole 3 par 5, which is a long dogleg that has a lake protecting the green.
For me the front 9 held more intrigue and there was more of a premium on accuracy and shot selection, mainly because water featured more prominently. The back 9 holes, however, felt more like a slog due to the length. Granted it was playing more into the wind on this day, but continuously I felt like I was hitting long irons into the greens which then meant that your short game and putting had to be spot on to give you a chance. The par 3s were so brutal from the white tees – the 12th playing 225 yards into wind, and the 14th (Faldo’s hole in one) playing 205 yards. The difference between the whites and yellow tees is 500 yards (6650 vs 6150 yards) but at times it felt like 1000. In the summer months with more roll out it would not feel so much, and I will look forward to going there again to try it out.
BTW, the course plays Fourballs only so if you go on in a pair or on your own you will be paired up.
Truth be told, waterfalls and fountains don’t do a lot for me on a golf course.
And there’s a lot of other things at The Belfry that aren't to my personal taste, but considering the 18 holes on the Brabazon objectively, individually and collectively there’s no disputing this is a good golf course.
Positively parkland, formerly farmland, 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.
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.
The Belfry 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.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.