The Brabazon Course at the Belfry has etched itself on European golfing history. As a venue of four Ryder Cups its Championship pedigree is something which cannot be matched anywhere in the world. With all the drama and spectacle that the Ryder Cup brings, the opportunity to recreate magic moments of Ryder Cup history with Christy O’Connor Jnr’s 2-iron on the 18th or countless attempts to drive the 10th hole are just two of the reasons why thousands of golfers every year play this superb course. As golf is one of only a few sports where you can play the same course the pros play, with such a rich history the Brabazon is a course everyone must play for your next golf break.
As the Brabazon was one of the courses within the top 100 golf courses list that I had yet to play, an invite to follow in the footsteps of the legends was one I couldn’t turn down. For those who are unfamiliar with the Belfry, it is a large resort complex located just off M42 less than 12 miles from Birmingham town centre. The four star hotel boasts no less than 324 bedrooms and suites, all of which are furnished to a high standard and feature the amenities you’d expect from a hotel which has hosted the Ryder Cup. For those not wishing to play golf, the extensive leisure facilities include a fully serviced spa, indoor swimming pool, gymnasium and sauna. This is equally complimented by a large selection of conference facilities which can cater for up to 400 guests. Although it is the Brabazon Course which grabs the headlines, the Belfry has a further two courses available for guests to play including the PGA National and Derby Course.
The Brabazon Course features a wealth of Ryder Cup history (as you’d expect), walking onto the first tee a large board reminds you of the dates 1985, 1989, 1993 & 2003 – just in case there wasn’t enough pressure on your first tee shot. Here is a brief review of my round and the holes on the Brabazon Course –
1st Hole – Par 4 – 393 yards
This is a great opening hole with bunkers in play from the tee. Mishit tee-shots will end up in the bunkers to the left and the right with a green sat slightly above you so ensure you hit enough club to get the ball up to the hole. My opening drive find the fairway but my approach spins back down the green away from the flag, two putts means an opening par.
2nd Hole – Par 4 – 330 yards
Fairly tight hole, with trees in play along the right hand side and a small green again sloping towards you means that hitting the fairway is key to taking advantage of this short hole. With a small river running short of the green only the longest of hitters can consider going for the green, my 3-wood finds the fairway and is followed up by a lob wedge to 2-foot, the resulting birdie takes me to 1-under – doubt I can keep this up!
3rd Hole – Par 5 – 512 yards (pictured)
With the fairway raised slightly above you, this is a tricky tee-shot with bunkers in play on the left and right. As you walk up to the flat of the fairway it you are faced with a real risk and reward hole, with a large lake surrounding the left and front of the green only a firmly struck shot will reach the undulating putting surface. My drive finds the fairway and my three-iron the right half of the green, a complete misread ends up in a three-putt par 5.
4th Hole – Par 4 – 407 yards
Long par 4 with trees in play for slices and hooks, the approach is again to a slightly raised green which adds further difficulty in with a quick green with large slopes from back to front. Approaches short of the green will find water or a cavernous bunker to the right of the green. My drive is low but straight; my 8-iron second shot is close but is above the hole so very happy to walk off with a par 4.
5th Hole – Par 4 – 407 yards
Another well designed hole with hazards in play off the tee with a selection of bunkers just waiting to gather up a misdirected shot. The approach to the small green is a difficult one with distance control key, those missing the green are left with a tricky up and down. My drive finds the right hand side of the fairway and in turn my wedge approach the green, a poor birdie putt results in another par.
6th Hole – Par 4 – 395 yards
Visually a very intimidating hole with water all the way along the left hand side hugging the fairway and green. Favouring the right hand side of the fairway you are left with a approach shot which must not go right (unless you like swimming). The hole is currently being redesigned towards the back of the green with what appears to be a large bunker being constructed which will make a difficult approach shot even harder. My 3-iron finds the fairway off the tee but the approach is short and right, a good chip and a putt mean old man par for me.
7th Hole – Par 3 – 171 yards
Although not long in length, this is a very tricky par three. With the green sloping severely from back to front, a tee-shot could easily find the green but roll back into the water which guards the front of the green. My tee-shot is long of the front pin position which leaves me with a tricky downhiller, I nearly putt it off the green and into the water but thankfully roll in the return putt for par.
8th Hole – Par 4 – 409 yards
Stroke index 1 and it’s easy to see why, with a bunker in play on the right and a fairway sloping towards a lake on the left finding the fairway is difficult on this hole. Ian Poulter become unstuck here a few years ago in the British Masters and it’s very easy to see why. A horrible low thin drive finds the fairway and 8-iron approach is 15 feet short and right of the hole. A complete misread ends up 8 feet past, thankfully I roll in the par putt.
9th Hole – Par 4 – 402 yards
One of the most famous holes at the Belfry. The uphill approach towards the clubhouse features a large green guarded by large bunker (which I find) and water just short of the green. My failure to get up and down means a bogie and I return back to level par.
10th Hole – Par 4 – 301 yards (pictured)
After filling up with the warm soup at the halfway hut, I’m now faced with the drama of the 10th hole at the Belfry. Having watched Seve Ballesteros drive the green (using a persimmon driver) in 1978 I felt it only fair to give it a go. My attempted fade stays left of the green and somehow doesn’t roll into the water. The chip shot over the water rolls away to 20 feet and two putts mean I walk away with par. Although the miss off the tee is to the right (if hitting driver) you are left with a really tricky shot towards the flag where the green slopes towards the water. Something hit with even a breath too much pace can easily roll into the water. It’s actually a really good hole and something you rarely get to play, it’s possibly the best example of risk and reward in golf. It also boasts golf’s greatest 19th hole landmark which is the Bel Air nightclub located just to the left of the fairway although you’ll be struggling to be playing from that dance floor as it’s a good 100 yards off line!
11th Hole – Par 4 – 399 yards
Ideal line off the tee is down the right hand side of the bunker which guards the right of the fairway. A well struck drive should be able to carry it, as the hole sweeps around to the right and the green is raised above you hitting it off the short stuff is imperative if you are able to take advantage of this birdie opportunity. My drive finds the left hand rough and my approach lands on the slope which divides the two-tiered green, my resulting three-putt is disappointing as I go to one over.
12th Hole – Par 3 – 188 yards
A great par-3 with trees surrounding the green giving it a real amphitheatre feel. The green is guarded by a cascading river just to the right of the green, in short don’t miss it right! As the green slopes from back to front (this seems to be a recurring theme of the Brabazon), ideally the approach should be short of the flag to take advantage of an uphill putt. My attempt is just left of the hole which leaves me with a swinging left to right putt, a poor birdie effort is then finished off with a par.
13th Hole – Par 4 – 363 yards
Unlucky for some, the 13th hole is a visual threat rather than an actual one off these tees. You can simply hit an iron off the tee towards the left hand bunker and you’ll be left with less than 150 yards into the green. Alternatively you can hit driver over the right hand bunker which will hopefully leave you with less than 100 in. As the green is small and slopes from left to right you’ll need to take care when hitting your approach as it’s a very tricky green. I take the driver route and am rewarded with an approach to 10 feet, my poor putting continues with another poor birdie attempt, another par for me.
14th Hole – Par 3 – 183 yards
The scene of Sir Nick Faldo’s hole in one in the 1993 edition of the Ryder Cup. Needless to say I don’t follow suit (in 15 years of golf I can’t even remember having a sniff at one ;-(), the green is set towards on an angle meaning the landing area is quite small. The green is separated by a large tier so finding the correct level is important. My approach is long of the flag and am left with a fast putt down the green. From 20 feet I don’t even get close to troubling the hole and walk off with another par.
15th Hole – Par 5 – 500 yards
With bunkers in play to the left and right, only a straight drive will mean you’ll be threatening this par-5 in two shots. With a river running through the hole at the end of the fairway, I’m reliably informed the big hitters of the European Tour don’t even hit driver on this hole to stop running into the hazard. Needless to say I’m far from European Tour standard so safely navigate my drive onto the fairway. My second shot with a 3-iron puts me to within 20 feet of the pin for eagle, with a fast downhill putt I safely lag my effort up for a birdie to return me to level par.
16th Hole – Par 4 – 405 yards
A very well designed hole which really needs a driver off the tee to try and take some of the bunkers out of play. My effort to drive the bunker on the left unfortunately puts me straight into it and am unable to reach the green. Failure to get up and down means a bogie and I return back to one over par. The green has a large slope in it which divides the left and right of the green. If you miss hit the approach, you’ll be left with a really tricky putt, so accuracy is more important than length on this approach.
17th Hole – Par 5 – 545 yards
A sweeping par-5 dog leg going from left to right. Longer hitters will try to hit it over the trees on the right but it is difficult to pick a line and shape for the tee-shot, with the fairway narrowing the longer you go up it mean hitting the fairway is very difficult. This is definitely a three-shot par-5 if you fail to hit the fairway from the tee. Although I managed to get it to within 10 feet of the green in two, a pathetic chip results in a par and I stay at one over.
18th Hole – Par 4 – 441 Yards (pictured)
The 18th hole on the Brabazon course is one which is steeped in history. With a narrow fairway a large lake in play off the tee, this is one you don’t want to be playing under pressure. As you walk up the fairway the history is clear for all to see with the plaque on the fairway from which Christy O’Connor Jnr hit that sensational 2-iron (and also from where Gareth in our office made an eagle – sorry mate didn’t see your plaque on the fairway!). The ideal line off the tee is left of the bunker which lines the right of the fairway, but obviously the more you take on the more water you’ve got to carry. I pulled my drive and actually thought I was in the water, fortunately I had somehow found the fairway (much to my surprise), the approach is tricky with a three-tiered green. I find the green pin high to the right, an over hit birdie putt results in another par (no Ryder Cup-esq celebrations unfortunately).
Although the course was obviously lacking in crowds and stands, I really enjoyed my Belfry experience. The course itself does have stand out holes in the 10th and 18th but with the likes of the 3rd and the 12th the course is a really enjoyable test, it’s important to appreciate that the Brabazon and the Belfry in general has more to offer than just these holes. My score of 73 (with 37 putts!) was pleasing but can’t imagine doing the same under the pressure cooker that is the Ryder Cup or in one of the countless European Tour events which has graced this part of the West Midlands.
I will also add that despite this being October and also a ‘resort’ course the fairways and greens were in superb condition. The slopes on the greens ensure they always drain well as well as offer a great destination for someone looking for some top quality winter golf at great discounted prices. Your Golf Travel.com offer Belfry Golf Breaks starting from just £134 including overnight accommodation, dinner, breakfast and two rounds of golf (Brabazon and Derby) or £104 including PGA National and Derby courses. For more information simply call 0800 043 6644.
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