The Belfry – PGA National Course
Played and Reviewed – Wednesday, 30th October, 2019 – By Findagolfbreak Ambassador Allan Crozier
Course Information and Stats – The Belfry is a course that does not need any introduction as it has hosted more Ryder Cups than any other venue both in Europe and in America. However the PGA National is the third of the courses that has opened up at the Belfry. Opening for play in 1997, the course was the first in Europe to carry the PGA branding and is the only one currently in England. The course has obviously been designed well by Dave Thomas as it has hosted two European Tour events in its brief history. It is known for its link appearance and for presenting challenges due to fast running fairways, open and undulating greens and cavernous bunkers, particularly around the greens, it also has four lakes proving challenge in all aspects of hazards.
Upon arrival – as someone who considers himself a newcomer to golfing history there are some courses and venues that are iconic and having previously hosted Ryder Cups I knew a bit about the Belfry although I knew that the PGA National was not the main course at the venue. On arrival it was clear that the Belfry lived up to expectations and is a venue for the golfing enthusiast and is steeped in history, this is seen in the clubhouse, shop and changing rooms which are all incredible but include a lot of memorabilia from past events held on the Brabazon course. As I approached the first tee I enjoyed the nice touches of meeting a starter for the course who gave branded tees and pencils showing the class of the venue. As I stood on the first tee box I could see that it was likely to be boggy and heavy in places but the course looked incredible and the first hole looked very open and inviting.
PGA National Stats – From the longest tees (Blue/James Braid), The PGA National runs at 7,053 yards making it one of the longest courses I had played. The course consists of four Par 3 holes, ten Par 4 holes and four Par 5 hole. I played off the yellow (Harry Vardon) tees which measured at 6,153 yards.
Signature hole – 1st Hole – 331 Yards Par 4 – I found identifying the signature hole for the course quite tricky. I liked the course but finding memorable holes that differentiated themselves from each other was difficult. For me the opening hole of the PGA National course was the one that stuck out for me most. You tee off from an elevated position with the stunning clubhouse and pro shop behind you and the iconic Brabazon only feet away. Standing on the tee box I could see an inviting, open fairway but stray left or right too far and you would find trees. Down the left hand side, well within a good driving distance was a fairway bunker as well. Playing a second shot requires good accuracy with the fairway bunker still a possibility down the left and then a greenside bunker to the right. Finding the green in two is possible, but this is where the challenge begins. The green was very undulated and challenging, particularly the front part of the green. A very good opening hole and the most memorable and iconic from my perspective.
Best Par 3 – 3rd Hole – 158 Yards– the third hole of the PGA National course is the first of the Par 3’s on the course and is one of four to navigate over the round. From the tee box you are confronted with water and there is little escape from it. You need to carry around 120 yards to ensure you don’t tee again or take a drop. The green is elevated and if you don’t find the green or find the front edge then you could roll back off the green towards the water. If you carry the water then there is bunkers both to the left but more predominantly to the right side meaning you have to be accurate from the opening shot. If you go over the flag then it could be a downward putt. However too short and it is a challenging uphill putt to the hole. In all, a tough Par 3 which could wreck your card within three holes.
Best Par 4 – 4th Hole – 360 Yards – a tough, Par 4 hole that brings challenges both in the form of water and sand. From the tee box you are confronted with water to the left and a lack of accuracy in taking the water on will see you needing to drop or tee off again. Play it accurately and you will find the fairway, push it too far and there are bunkers down the right hand side. Even if you avoid water from the tee, there is no relief as the second shot into the green tackles a pond to the right hand as you look at the green, both sides of the fairway are flanked by sand, meaning you need to be precise. Shot three is attempted to land on the green with a slight uphill strike needed to land it on the surface, the only saving grace to this hole is the green is large in comparison with others on the course. A very tough, challenging Par 4 which will test your ability to find your target throughout the hole.
Best Par 5 – 2nd Hole – 487 Yards – all of the best holes on this course comes very quickly after each other and the second hole, the first of the Par 5 holes, is another challenging hole where you need to consider course management from the opening shot. From the tee box the water hazard is around 240 yards away, well within driving distance for most players, meaning you either play it short, or attack it knowing the consequence. From that opening shot either before or after the water it does not get any easier with the flag uphill to aim for. Push the shot too far right and you miss the fairway and find water and a lack of accuracy could find the rough down the left. Approaching the green you have water at the back, bunker to the right and water further to the right. All in all, a tough par five, and for me the best on the course enabling a lot of thought and challenge.
Birdie Time – 15th Hole – 148 Yards – Although it has a stroke index of 16, I feel that it is the hole, that if you play if accurately could end in a birdie chance. From the tee the only real dilemma is club choice, around 110 yards from the tee is a water hazard and just over that to the right is a sand hazard, however the green is relatively big and not very undulating. As long as you find the green from the first shot you have a real chance of making at least par. One of the less challenging holes on the course and one that can change the mentality of the last few holes and give some momentum to finish the round.
Bogey Beware – 12th Hole – 521 Yards – as a golfer who struggles for distance, Par 5 holes are a challenge for me anyway and often record bogies on these holes, but this hole was on another level for me. As you approach your opening shot you have trees flanking the right hand side, rough down the left hand side with two deep fairway bunkers before the course dog legs to the right. All the way down the narrow, windy fairway you are met with a lot of long, deep, challenging fairway bunkers (there are six in total on this hole) meaning you need to be accurate all the way through this hole. Eventually, you will be able to play for the green, which is elevated in comparison from the fairway and slopes and dips from both sides making it a tough surface to putt on. I am sure I did not make close to par here, but if you do you would take it all day long!
Post round thoughts – having been at the Belfry for the day and playing the PGA National my main thought was how good the main Brabazon course must be. I did enjoy my round on the PGA National for a number of reasons. From the moment I arrived I was wowed by the friendliness of the staff in the clubhouse and then even more so in the starters shed when he was checking my card. The conditions were ideal on the day, however it was played after a lot of rain so it was heavy in places but played incredibly well considering. I was fortunate enough to play the course through Findagolfbreak.com and thought the course was lovely and had a lot of challenges in terms of hazards and was one of the best courses I had played. I am really looking forward to a return to play the Brabazon main course in 2020.
Course Design and Test
It is a course that starts incredibly brightly with a good mix of Par 3, 4 and 5 holes, with a lot of challenges in terms of hazards and variation in holes with no two holes the same to begin with. As the course moves on the holes may vary but they do not stand out as the best holes are stacked in the opening part of the round. Holes 10, 12 and the final holes are more memorable. But with the amount of challenge in terms of sand, water and need for course management it makes it in general a good, well designed course for golfers of all abilities.
Landscape and Scenery
Considering the Belfry is in close proximity to the A5, M6 and Toll Road, as well as being a course close to Birmingham when you are out there you would never know that. On some of the holes you are reminded that the course is surrounded by urban areas, you see some buildings, electric pylons and city landscape, however the majority of the course is very quiet, quaint and surrounded by lovely views. It is a lovely looking course and you can not penalise it much for what it lacks in terms of landscape and scenery.
Different days and weather conditions will bring out different scores on this part of the review I am sure. I can only go by what I saw and because of the weather, the lack of allowing the course to recover from poor weather and challenges around keeping fairways in great condition because of the aforementioned elements meant that there were inconsistencies in the fairways. On the whole there was a clear difference between fairway and the first cut. For the time of year and the elements faced prior to the round it was a great effort but the fairways were heavy and saturated and had clearly experienced a lot of golf throughout all of that.
Although the course was heavy in places, the greens were in great condition in general and had been well maintained and managed. Throughout the round you could see aeration holes and little need for other assistance to the surface like sand. All of the greens were challenging to putt on and the fringes and grass around the green were well maintained as well. On the whole, with the weather the greens were great and clearly thought about and looked after.
This course is renowned for its bunkers, with over 70 places throughout the 18 holes with faces over 15 feet high, these are all very strategically placed on the course, not just on every green, but a lot close to fairways as well, to make you think about club selection and course management. That matched with the water hazards found on the course, especially in the front nine makes it tough and very varied from a hazards perspective. Not only are there a lot of hazards in the form of sand and water you have rough and heavy rough, which if you find it can cause difficulty to escape. On the occasions that I found sand, it was proper bunker sand that was soft, of high quality that were well kept and maintained.
Practice Facilities and Amenities
In terms of facilities, the course benefits hugely from being part of the Belfry and all that it offers. Through the centre of excellence and the teaching and coaching offered at the Belfry there are five individual custom fitting suites, alongside a 34 bay floodlit driving range. Added to that a great putting green and short game area. You can also add individual and group lessons, course tuition, video analysis with practice facilities and launch monitor technology. You could not ask for much more in terms of practice facilities and amenities.
Clubhouse & Overall Cleanliness
Due to the nature of the Belfry attracting a lot of guests and visitors it takes a lot of care of the club. It is very clean both on the course, around the clubhouse and the facilities were really strong. Based on the clubhouse, again it scored well due to how it has catered for professional golfers over recent history.
Out of all of the courses I have visited, the pro shop at the Belfry is the strongest I have visited. Having opened in 2014 it has a lot of clubs and equipment from all the biggest brands that features an indoor putting green. Alongside that there is plenty of apparel and clothes from different brands. The club shop looks incredible and is very open, spacious and the staff are very welcoming. From a golfing perspective, anything golfing you could want would be sold in the pro shop.
Access & Parking
The Belfry offers ample parking for not only the courses but the hotel guests as well. Access to the course is very good from all of the major roads and has great signage from all of the access roads too. It is clear that the course considers its members and visitors and is very secure.
Value for Money and Experience
The Belfry is without doubt the most established and well loved stay and play courses in the UK and you can get unbelievable deals to stay and play the courses with food included for a great rate. To play the course on its own you can play it from a range of prices starting at an excellent £20 for the round. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of being at the Belfry and playing the course due to the test of it but how welcoming the staff were and am looking forward to my return to play the Brabazon in April 2020.