Belmont Golf Course (Henrico, VA on 04/10/16)

I’ve been meaning to run an errand near Richmond for the last couple weeks and finally decided to take care of it today. Run an errand on Masters Sunday? I know that’s what you are thinking, but I was using my errand as a partial cover to check out a new course while I was over that way! I set the DVR to record the Masters and a friend joined me for an afternoon round at Belmont Golf Course, which is a short drive from downtown Richmond.

It’s interesting that we played here on one of the four major weekends for golf. The intrigue of Belmont also has to do with a major, just one that took place over 60 years ago! The course’s claim to fame is that one of golf’s legends, Sam Snead, won the 1949 PGA Championship here. I knew this going into my round and was curious if there would be any similarities from that era or if the course had taken on modern characteristics. As you’d expect, some things appear to have changed over the years but there still seems to be many elements from the original design. A.W. Tillinghast designed the course in the early 1900’s and Donald Ross did a re-design about a decade later. At some point the name of the course changed (formerly Hermitage Country Club) and the location of some tees and greens have been moved. After the round I looked online but couldn’t find many pictures from the 1949 PGA. However, I did find a short video clip! In it, Sam Snead and Johnny Palmer hit tee shots on the 3rd hole from what appears to be a tee box on an old train bridge. Although the tees are pushed forward now, probably for liability reasons, that spot behind the 2nd green is easily identifiable! Keep in mind that the holes could have been re-routed so it might not have been the 3rd hole in 1949.

Belmont is a parkland style course in the middle of the city. There is some minor elevation change, but we walked the course without any trouble. Make sure you are on the lookout for stray golf balls because the holes are close together! I think the urban setting takes away from the course as there are a lot of distractions. The front nine is surrounded by roads, a warehouse, and an electrical substation. Plus, power lines are in play for the first few holes. I liked the back nine better because it is more secluded with one side bordered by out of bounds and the other by the woods.

Both designers, Tillinghast and Ross, are well known and have created one course after another that still host major championships today. Their designs are well loved in the golf community and I always enjoy the opportunity to experience one because courses designed today are so much different. Belmont is a short course by today’s standards playing 6,268 yards from the blue tees where we played (rating 71.1 and slope 129). It is a par 71 that is a bit unusual with only three par 3’s and two par 5’s. You actually don’t get to play a par 5 until the 9th hole. Then you get to play another right away on the 10th and then it is back to par 3’s and par 4’s. The par 4’s are the best part of the design and their yardages range from 294 to 470 yards.

There’s not a whole bunch of holes to highlight at Belmont so I’m going to skip the hole by hole review. However, there are a couple that I think are worth mentioning. The 5th is a 470 yard par 4 and the #1 handicap. It doglegs almost ninety degrees right and has a semi-blind tee shot. I stood on the tee for a few minutes trying to figure out the line that I wanted! If you don’t hit a good tee shot then you might be forced to layup near a hazard that cuts across the fairway. You can still scramble for a par from certain spots. On the back nine, the par 3 13th was my favorite hole. It plays downhill about half a club into wicked green that is surrounded by bunkers. The green slopes from back to front and there is a big ridge at the back of the green that divides it into left and right sections. Even though it is surrounded by other holes, it is secluded and should look great once the course greens up!

The challenges at Belmont are consistent with other courses that I’ve played which were designed almost 100 years ago. The fairways are narrow and the greens are smaller than average with plenty of slope. There are some postage stamp sized greens here! I wouldn’t call it a difficult driving course as you can fan it into another fairway and recover but you could be blocked out by trees if you don’t drive it in the proper areas. Considering how short the course is, I felt comfortable hitting plenty of drivers. Finding my drives weren’t a problem, but ending up in the short grass was as there were plenty of semi-blind landing areas. On about half my drives I picked a line and hoped that there would be fairway! Many greens sloped from back to front and I faced a couple putts and chips that I was concerned about running them off the other side. If you short side it here you will have to hit a brilliant recovery shot and probably make a 20 foot putt for your par! There are hazards that cut across some holes and line the perimeter ones to keep you on your toes.

Belmont is part of the county parks department and it doesn’t seem like maintaining the course is a huge priority. I didn’t expect conditions reflective of a top tier course, but at the same time I didn’t expect the conditions to affect so many shots. I’ll start with the positive and say that the greens were very nice. They were quick and rolled well. There weren’t any patchy spots on the greens and just a couple putts bumped off line as they are in the final stage of recovery from being aerated. The rest of the course was a significant step down compared to the greens. There were plenty of bare, sanded sections of fairways and collars off the edges of some greens. Almost every lie was thin thanks to firm conditions and the dormant grass so I tried to play an unusual number of shots along the ground so I didn’t fat or thin them. When I did draw a good lie I had to make sure to hit down which isn’t my strength as I tend to sweep the ball. The tees were mixed and some were nice and full while others were just dirt. I played from two bunkers and while the consistency was acceptable, they contained some massive rocks! I’d be curious to see how the course looks in another month which is the time of year when I find Virginia courses to be in the best overall shape.

Unless you are a history buff or just looking for a place to hack it around, I wouldn’t go out of your way to play Belmont. The course wasn’t more than 10 minutes from where my errand was so it was convenient. I probably would have made the hour drive from Charlottesville just to add it to my list eventually, but there are better choices. Besides the history, the course does offer good prices which would be another draw. We walked the course for $23. We strolled around in less than four hours and never had a group within four holes!

#1: (353 yard par 4):

1-1 1-2

#2 (327 yard par 4):

2-1 2-2

#3 (294 yard par 4):

3-1

#4 (170 yard par 3):

4-1

#5 (470 yard par 4):

5-1 5-2

#6 (364 yard par 4):

6-1

#7 (317 yard par 4):

7-1

#8 (353 yard par 4):

8-1

#9 (496 yard par 5):

9-1 9-2

#10 (504 yard par 5):

10-1

#11 (438 yard par 4):

11-1

#12 (413 yard par 4):

12-1

#13 (171 yard par 3):

13-1 13-2

#14 (366 yard par 4):

14-1

#15 (334 yard par 4):

15-1 15-2

#16 (307 yard par 4):

16-1 16-2

#17 (427 yard par 4):

17-1

#18 (164 yard par 3):

18-1

 

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