Back in May 2014 yours truly Lefty, Newby and Spence were invited to the relaunch of The Belfry and when I say relaunch I mean 22 million pounds of investment to turn this once tired hotel and course back to the prestigious place it used to be, in fact the paint on the walls was still drying and the smell of fresh carpets filled the air.
Did this investment pay off? Have the businessmen returned to impress their clients? Have the golfers returned to once again do battle with the Brabazon? Well we decided it was time to return to see for ourselves, if these questions had been answered.
As you would expect from this huge investment the hotel interior looks stunning, in fact they have gone for a ‘Great Gatsby’ feel in the lobby; sweeping into the breakfast lounge, which was full of business people on sofas with laptops on tables, creating a buzz in the air. The pro shop has also benefited from the investment. The changing rooms feel that you have arrived somewhere special. It beats the time we came here 7 years ago when myself, Newby and two putt Plant were literally the only 3 people staying in the 200 plus room hotel!
We though were here today for the golf. The Belfry has three courses, the PGA, The Derby and the one we all want to play – The Brabazon. This too has benefited from the revamp, a course that was, back in 2010, looking tired and to be honest scruffy, has been brought back to its former glory befitting a course that held the Ryder Cup more than any other venue in the world.
The welcome we got on the first tee from the starter put us all at ease. The first is a relatively easy hole with an open fairway to forgive a wayward shot. Both Spence and I got away clean, Newby on the other hand decide he would take the pictures as he had pulled his back the night before at his Zumba class! The one thing you cannot stop thinking about is the golfing legends who have walked these fairways. You start to think about Seve’s drive onto the 10th green, Sam Torrance’s famous putt that won the 1985 Ryder cup match or Christy O’Connor Jnr with the most brilliant shot on the 18th hole using his trusty 2 iron.
This does heighten your playing experience, the course itself despite the very damp winter we have had, played well and the greens were playing true. I played steady golf on the first 5 holes and even got a couple of pars but then came the 6th and 7th – on these holes you will find the large expanse of water comes into play. Basically you are teeing over it. I must have lost 6 balls and at one point I had taken a drop then managed to hit it straight back in the water only 3 feet away!
But my moment of glory followed shortly after these two holes, strangely enough on a stroke index 1.
The 8th is 409 yards par 4 with the water running down the left side of the fairway. What makes this hole tough is that the fairway is narrow and the front of the green is protected by a water filled ditch. I managed to avoid all of these hazards and got on the green for 3, but I was still 26 feet from the hole and NOW my moment had arrived as I sank the putt!! Where are all the cameras when you need them? It would have made great television.
One hole on the course that people love is the 10th as you can attack with your driver or lay up short for the shot over the water. Walking onto this green can send shivers down your spine, so take your time and enjoy it. Even though the course is primarily flat you really appreciate the different undulations you get on the greens. It was an enjoyable change not to do the 3 putt walk of shame! We must mention the par 3’s on the course. There are three of them, one on the front nine the other two on the back. These are a real challenge and my favourite was the 12th.
The green keepers were working on the yellow and white tees so we had to play off the blues. Now we were playing Ryder Cup style which took the hole from a respectable 179 yards to a “which club do I use?” 226 yards. Just to make it extra hard the whole front of the green is protected by a large pond. I shouted over to the green staff “You really don’t like us do you” to which they replied “You will be fine, Seve always hit the green from there!” Thanks for that!
Newby risking his dodgy back went first with a wood, and came up short straight into the water, Spence did the same, I don’t have a wood in my bag so I opted for my driver which turned out to be the right choice as it sailed over the water and landed about 6 foot from the hole! A clap from the green staff, a bow from me, and some mumbled words from Spence and Newby which we can’t print here. I got a solid par.
Spence was still waiting for his ‘moment’. He waited, I would say, until one of the greatest finishing holes you can play – the 418 yard par 4 18th. ‘A daunting drive followed by a daunting approach,’ is how this hole has been described and I would agree with that. As you stand on the tee you are looking at a dogleg left over water. Once you have negotiated this you have another long shot over more water to an elevated green that slopes towards you. If you don’t get a tee shot with just the right amount of draw and distance, your second shot will have to be the shot of your life as you will still be miles away from the green with the water coming very much in play. In fact you will have to re-enact the brilliant shot from Christy O’Connor Jnr, on the 18th hole.
Spence played this like a pro – a great tee shot with just the right amount of draw and a second that landed on the green, he missed the birdie but got a respectable par on this potential card wrecker. That hole really made his day. That’s the beauty of the Brabazon, when you sink a par or even a birdie you almost find yourself waving at an invisible crowd pretending that you are playing in the Ryder Cup. The investment that has been made to the hotel and course has brought back the glamour and prestige it once held. The Belfry is once again living up to its name and the expectation you would associate with a place that calls itself the ‘spiritual home of the Ryder Cup’.