Belvedere Golf Club dates back to 1925 and within two years of its formation, Willie Watson, the architect of the Lake course at the Olympic Club, had fashioned eighteen fairways for the members with the assistance of five teams of horses and a workforce of one hundred and fifty men.
“Belvedere is exactly the kind of course golf needs more of,” commented Tom Doak in his Little Red Book of Golf Course Architecture, “but that no one is building. It’s basically an old farm. There’s no wow factor, except in the detailing around the greens which is exceptional.
Goes with the flow of the land. Very simple bunkering
which must cost pennies to maintain. Great greens, and great greens surrounds
for chipping. Simple to build, simple to maintain.”
Northern Michigan in the summertime is quite possibly the most pleasant place on Earth, with all sorts of activities geared towards the delightful climate: boating, hiking, swimming, sightseeing, and of course golf. The charming town of Charlevoix is right in the center of it all – a reasonable drive to literally dozens of excellent golf courses, among other attractions. That said, quite possibly the most enjoyable course in the area is right in town: Belvedere, designed by Willie Watson of Olympic (Lake) fame after he settled in Charlevoix, is a classic test in a pastoral setting. The greens are firm, fast, and big and undulating enough to be receptive to all types of approach shots. Every single one of them has uniquely varied contours and many add a highlight to some rather mundane terrain, particularly on the front nine.
I was lucky enough to stay in Charlevoix for several days immediately across from its fun little 9-hole municipal layout on the northeast side of town (also designed by Willie Watson!), where I enjoyed playing with several friendly locals. I discussed with them driving around the area to play several courses since I would only have time for one 18-hole round on the trip, and all of them recommended Belvedere over Bay Harbor, True North, Boyne, Treetops, and even the 2-hour drive to Arcadia Bluffs. I had been leaning towards Belvedere anyway as it is the more classic style I enjoy, but this recommendation cemented it.
Belvedere begins with a series of par fours in a creek valley, all of which have elevated, undulating putting surfaces. The real jewels of the outward nine are #7 through #9, which climb out of the valley. #7 is a long, uphill par four that requires two really good shots and then some to get down in par. #8 is a short, but uphill par three to a massive green of 45+ yard depth with undulations on all portions. Finally, #9 is a reachable short par five that provides a bevy of options as well as dangers (OB, hazard, bunkers, humps and bumps) across its 480 yards; shockingly, it features another massive, sloping green complex.
The back nine begins in earnest on #12, a par four featuring a very difficult sloping fairway forcing the player into an uncomfortable approach to a large but well-protected green. #15 is a bit of a forced layup hole with modern equipment, but it provides a birdie opportunity for those who dare attempt to cut the corner with a massive fade. #16 is a nasty little short par four that plays uphill with a semi-blind approach to a long and narrow green with a massive false front on the right side. Surprisingly, it falls off to the left as well into a little swale, which makes even a bail out shot tricky. #17 is a slightly uphill par three that acts like a quasi-redan; while the green complex is mostly circular, the player can still bounce the ball on from right to left using the sloping terrain. And naturally, the finishing hole is one of the best on the course. The optimal angle to the green is found by driving the ball as close to the fairway bunkers to the right as possible – bailout left can find tree trouble – and arguably the most undulating green on the course provides all sorts of challenges in and of itself.
It’s a fair position to say that things like weather, course conditions, and quality of play affect course ratings; after all, you’re more likely to enjoy a course when you play well on a beautiful day with great condition than if you play poorly on a miserable day with aerated greens. I was lucky enough to experience the former at Belvedere, posting a solid score on a spectacular 75-degree day in early summer, with the course firm and fast. That said, I think the course itself merits 6 balls, because it makes me want to come back and play it again more than nearly any other course I’ve ever experienced – even if the conditions aren’t perfect, I’m sure I will still enjoy it immensely.
Played June 13, 2017
For a number of years Belevdere was the host course for the annual Michigan State Amateur event. And there was good reason to do so. Opened in 1925, the semi-private layout has been updated recently and the contrasting nines make for vintage old-time design inclusions.
The strength of the course is the artful movements found at many of the putting surfaces. The need for accuracy with one's approach shots is a constant requirement at Belvedere. There's sufficient room off the tee but you quickly find out that angles matter in order to gain a better opportunity in scoring.
Belvedere is split by a local road and the outward nine, while good, is not as sound as the inward half. The opening hole begins from an elevated tee and you see the entire hole below.
The requirements intensify with two long par-4s in succession followed by a demanding long par-3 at the 4th. The dogleg right 6th is a good hole because placement not brawn alone wins the day.
The qualities of the front side really jump noticeably with the devilish long par-4 7th. The hole slides uphill and the green is one of the layout's most intricate. Plenty of other architects would have overwhelmed the hole with a bombardment of overkill – to Watson's credit that did not happen here.
The inward half excels with two notable exceptions -- the par-5's at the 10th and 15th are just ordinary in their presentation and requirements. The remaining seven holes are a quality mixture. The uphill par-4 11th at 394 yards is a great example on how holes less than 400 yards can still work well. The only downside to the hole is when the sun is setting you'll have to fight the light in your eyes.
The short par-4 16th is rightly touted as one of Michigan's grand short holes. Playing just 346 yards the player has to decide how far and on what angle to play the tee shot. The more left you go the better the angle -- go too far left and rough is quick to add its impact. The green is a sheer delight -- resting on a knob and running on a diagonal from lower left to top right. The putting surface is relatively narrow and heaven help any player too aggressive as the penalties for such boldness will be not treated kindly.
The final two holes conclude the round in a fine manner. The par-3 17th at 179 yards features a smallish green with plenty of subtle movements. The concluding 18th at 456 yards is bolstered by a green that is layered with all sorts of different movements and vexing chip shots for those unable to find the surface with one's approach.
Belvedere is refreshing for the myriad of details it offers at a number of the greens. But, the downside is that there are also a number of lackluster holes that are not helped by land, which in certain spots is simply vanilla in character. Nonetheless, Belvedere is a worthy stop for classic course lovers and what's interesting is that the Michigan State Amateur will be returning in 2025. Kudos to the club for being a relevant contributor to today's top-level players.
by M. James Ward