The Belle Meade Country Club is one of Nashville’s oldest private clubs and is one of several golf courses that Donald Ross blessed the state of Tennessee with.
There has been considerable contributions to the design throughout the years, most notably from Robert Trent Jones during the early ‘50s (which explains the intimidating peninsular green at No. 16). The dammed Belle Meade branch makes provides the signature hazard at the club, as the widened waterway provides a few forced carries.
The course comes in at just under 6,900 yards from the back tees, and many of the par fours will not be too frightening for the long-hitting player (aside from the tree-lined fairways, which enforce the need for accuracy). If a tiger has become comfortable with these relatively short distances by the time he reaches hole No. 17, Ross has a few wake-up calls before he sends them home. That hole is the longest par five at Belle Meade, more than 50 yards longer than the next-longest hole on the course. The closing par four is not too far from being the shortest par five at the club; at 478 yards, it’s less than 25 yards from the mark.
Belle Meade Country Club is The Old Money club in Nashville. Originally, a Donald Ross course it has had a couple of different face lifts. By todays standards it is not long and as it is land locked there are limited options to increase the length. It is, also, surprisingly flat. As Nashville is Music City, a quick musical aside. Jimmy Buffet, who tried making it in Nashville, before creating his own path, wrote a song entitled. “West Nashville Grand Ballroom Gown”. This is from his 1974 album, “Living and Dying in ¾ Time.” There are two interpretations to the song, one a girl from high society stepping out and leaving the self-righteous class conscious social climbers behind or Buffet metaphorically giving the music power brokers in Nashville the finger.
The first hole is a reachable par five that bends left. Tree-lined on the left side with a fairway bunker about 250 yards out. If you are playing it as a 3 shotter favor the right side, there are also two fairway bunkers on the right side just inside 100 yards. The green has two large bunkers the length of the green on both the right and left sides. The second is the longest par three with three bunkers covering the front. The first par four is relatively straight with a creek down the left side that eventually becomes a real water hazard. Favor the right off the tee. The first fairway bunker on the right side is about 150 yards out. This is another green with bunkers right and left. The 4th is kind of quirky, it is a short par four with the drive and approach over the same stream. The fairway is right of the tee and then the green is left. I have always been tempted to drive down the fifth fairway and take the hazard out of play. It has been years since I played there, so it could be internal OB now. The fifth is a straight away par four with OB right and the green has two bunkers left. The 6th is a mid-yardage par 3 with a stream cutting across and a pesky water hazard sneaking in to caress the green back left (not hooker friendly) and bunkers front left and right. The 7th is a dogleg right and is the number one handicap hole, which has always surprised me. There is a creek running down the entire right side and two fairway bunkers on the outside elbow. It is over 400 yards but two decent shots and you should be able to at least make bogey. The 8th is another reachable par five, but you will need to ern this one. The hole bends right with the creek and trees lurking on the right side. The left fairway bunkers are about 250 out, however, danger looms as that pesky creek cuts across the fairway. Actually, there is all kinds of trouble, a fairway bunker left inside 100, the creek, sky bunkers and two bunkers left of the green. This is a subtle par five, which is probably why I have never birdied it. The 9th is the longest par four on the front and what you see is what you get, a couple of fairway bunkers left and three greenside bunkers.
The back starts with a mid-length par three. From there you cross over a road and 11 and 12 parallel each other and then you cross back over the street. The former is longer and tougher. The 13th is a dogleg right paralleling a road. There are two bunkers on the inside elbow just inside 150 yards and the green has bunkers left and right. Several years ago I was in a bad bicycle accident, so I do not ride anymore, but it was easy than an Easter egg hunt on Sunday mornings. I would find at least half a dozen balls. Only about half of them would be pro V1s. I have found the best place to find Pro V1s is left. A gross generalization, but hookers tend to be better golfers. The par 5 14th is not that long a hole on the scorecard, but it is a sucker hole. The right fairway bunker is only about 250 yards out, but OB runs down the right side and a creek cuts across the fairway about 150 yards out. That isn’t all, there are 7 bunkers inside of 125 yards and a water hazard left greenside. Play it as a 3 shotter. The next two holes are fun, or can be. The 15th is a short uphill fun par four. Consider laying up, of course, I never have, it ends up being penthouse or outhouse for me. There are 6 bunkers inside of 90 yards. The 16th is the shortest hole and rated the easiest, a downhill par 3 with a peninsula green and two bunkers right. The 17h is the longest hole, play it as 3 shotter. Off the tee aim just left of the right fairway bunkers. For your second I would suggest being just short of the left cross bunker, to give you a wedge in as the green has two bunkers front right and a wrap-around back bunker. The 18th is the longest par four and is straight away. There is fairway bunker left about 200 yards out and the green is surrounded by three bunkers.
Ever notice how pastries and desserts look awesome but don't quite deliver?
Certainly agree with Richard's assessment. Read a good deal about Belle Mead when prominently mentioned by Golf Digest as being among the very top courses in Tennessee.
The central question is quite simple -- how much of vintage Donald Ross is still present?
I enjoyed the course but the sum total is not enough to warrant someone making a special visit to see. Part of that is the overall development of golf throughout the Volunteer State. There are now more quality options -- whether on the private, public or resort side.
What would be interesting to see is if courses opts to really undertake a truly meaningful restoration tied to what Ross originally envisioned. Otherwise my one time visit will remain in place.
M. James Ward
Belle Meade is a nice private course set in a posh part of Nashville. The original Ross design has been modified through the years and the course as it appears today probably has little resemblance to the original design. The course is well maintained and a decent test of golf but overall lacks much memorability. Richland Creek creeps into play on a number of holes and too often the narrow tree lined fairways remove any strategic options on many of the holes. Overall I get the feeling that golf here is secondary to the social aspect the club, much like Cherokee in Knoxville. I saw a recent Tennessee state ranking from one of the big glossy magazines that rated this course 5th in the state and quite frankly I find that difficult to believe. Belle Meade probably just borders on being one of the top 20 in the state but no more than that.