Being invited to play the Belfry was one of those defining moments in golf when you think ‘at last following in the footsteps of the greats’! What is it about nostalgia that won’t let us let go of the past? All golfers want to play on courses where the greats of golf have graced the fairways, Faldo, Trevino, Ballesteros, to see if they can better their superiors. I know Lefty has a keen interest in the coming Ryder Cup as he watches to see if the modern day heroes can match his score on the 9th at Celtic manor, and, we know at the office it is going to be a most miserable time for us all if they don’t. Goodness only knows what will happen if they don’t get a birdie.
On arrival at the Belfry after a relatively easy 45-minute journey from Derby, we were greeted in the foyer by two gentlemen who offered help with our luggage, a great start to our celebrity status. Whilst checking in Lefty and Newby were given a twin room and the very nice lady gave me a suite. I wonder who she thought I was?
Once settled in we made our way to the bar to meet Gary Silcock the PGA Director of Golf. He filled us in on our itinerary for the next two days. Day 1 The Brabazon, and day 2 the PGA course. We would be playing the Brabazon with Gary and the PGA with Matt one of their professionals. It has to be said at the outset that both of these guys are exceptional golfers and, to be honest, had us a little worried. Our relief came quickly as they both told us that they had ‘not played for a couple of months’. However they both shot under par rounds. I am thinking of having a two-month lay off too! It may have the same effect.
The Belfry complex has everything a golfer could need from the obvious three golf courses, restaurants, and hotel facilities and of course it’s the home of the PGA National Golf Academy complete with its training schools and equipment shops. The practice chipping areas even have bunkers to try your hand at escaping from. Specialised fitting centres ensure that from starter to Pro you get the right advice on purchasing golf clubs that suit your style, height etc. I particularly enjoyed this area as one of the Pro’s Matt took me in for a brief lesson. This came about after playing alongside him on the PGA course and he said ‘After the round I will give you a few tips to help you knock about 8 shots off your round’. What was this secret way? He changed my grip and after a few practice shots the ball started going straight. I must say may hands and arms felt a little ‘deformed’ but the ball was going straighter and further than before. It’s amazing how a relatively simple thing like club grip can become sloppy and you forget how you should hold the club and start to form bad habits. I suppose I was comfortable with the grip and stuck with it. It also emphasises how important golf lessons are and that we are never too old to learn. Walking along the corridors past the respective Ryder cup changing rooms emphasised how much we love our golfing history. Sometimes you can just smell the sweat of those golfing legends as they came off from a victorious round. Everything is correct at The Belfry from first entering the 550 acre complex to standing on the first tee. Buggy instructions came first then the starter told us the rules for the day, the pin positions and that some work was taking place on the Brabazon Course. The Brabazon overview. If you have played this course you will no doubt be aware of its obvious quality – manicured fairways, undulating greens, extremely hard to escape from and superbly shaped bunkers and of course the mature and some recently planted trees. Whatever your handicap this is a good place to test where you are as a golfer.
At 7196 yards The Brabazon is a grueller with a Par 72. You need a handicap of 24 and under to be able to play on this. Newby was OK at 18 and Lefty and myself just crept in with 23. The course was designed by Dave Thomas and Peter Allis. Sticking avidly to the fairways is the only way for a safe round, but who as a 23 handicapper does this? Not many I expect and so wayward shots cost dearly here.
On the first tee I felt quite intimidated with the Pro’s and starter watching and of course I fluffed my tee shot. 100 yards the best I could manage. Gary hit his about 2 miles, well it seemed like it to me. I had to hit three shots to catch him up. I narrowly missed the bunkers on the right of the fairway and hacked my way to the green. How embarrassing, but I was feeling the pressure like no other time on a golf course. I was a bag of nerves and yet I was partnering Gary (smart move eh!). Of course we won and, with my advice and the odd tip Gary had a good round!
Nasty trees to the right on the second were carefully avoided and to my relief I got away well only to hit a poor fairway shot and then a beauty onto the green where my normal two putt failed me and I three putted for a six with nerves still jangling. Gary was great and kept encouraging me along whilst telling me his history in golf, basically all over the world, and I was fascinated by the wealth of experience he has in the golf industry. I am sure his name will crop up many times in years to come. The shape of the bunker on the second is spread like a spider. Enter at your peril. The third hole features a lake to the left which none of us visited and Newby came of with a Bogey. He was settling in well but none of us were playing to our strengths.
Water everywhere on the 5th, right and left plus bunkers guarding the green make this a real feature hole and one to play with great care. That’s the beauty here, some holes you can have a go at and others need more thought than usual. After the 9th we enjoyed a bit of light rain, which freshened things up and in the halfway house, it was time for a coffee and reflection on how things had gone.
The tenth had a few workers on the fairway but no one seemed to worry as we teed up. Dilemma here. Do we go for the green or lay up before the water? Big hitters like Gary and Newby are sure to have a go and they did. Lefty and I were cautious and narrowly missing the workers I laid up before the water and chipped over it to the back of the green. Chip on, two putts and hey presto a 5. Miracles do happen for me at times. Gary now gave me some tips on my swing. Apparently my knees were wrong but, ‘Don’t change anything today’ he said ‘as it could spoil your round’! The 12th is a great Par 3 179 off Yellows but it is imperative to get over the water. We all did thankfully and Newby got his Par at last Sadly Lefty and I got 5’s. As we approached the 18th we realised how much this course takes out of you and can now appreciate how fit golfers are who have to play the course for three days in a row. It was 3 o’ clock and I was ready for bed! Lunch in the clubhouse was followed by a post-mortem with Gary and then off to change. Day 2 The PGA National Course This was my favourite because I played much better (it couldn’t be worse). We had Matt for company today who said Gary ‘was a better golfer than him’. Thanks Gary. This is more a links course and hundreds of trees have been removed and re planted onto the Brabazon course to give the PGA a very open feel. Again this is a long course at 7036 yards with a Par 72. I scored 110, however Matt said that this wasn’t bad for the first time. 38 over against a man who shot 2 under, a difference of 40 shots. Matt was my partner for the round against Lefty and Newby. I can choose partners better than clubs. Matt’s shots seemed to stay in the air for hours. The 7th hole was my favourite as I hit the green beautifully, avoiding water and bunkers leaving me with a downhill putt of about 15 feet and I should have walked off with a par but I missed by an inch and had to settle for a bogey. Never mind I was starting to play. At this point Matt said my grip was wrong and hence the promise I mentioned earlier. I won’t describe every hole here, as I am sure you would like to play it yourself but I will leave you with the 14th, a dogleg right. A wayward long tee shot and you will be caught by a vertical bunker then a drive to the green will ensure that the deep bunker to the left of it will swallow you up. I say this because if it happened to me I am sure it will happen to you.
Our two days golf was a treat to savour. Yes we followed in the footsteps of golfing greats and yes we played nothing like them but hey why do we play golf if not to try to emulate those Trojans of the past and seek a little glory in the making ourselves.