Golf365 play The Belfry

The Golf365 team check out the iconic Birmingham venue which has hosted more Ryder Cups than any course on the planet.

“Numbers are good,” says Gary Silcock, PGA Director of Golf at The Belfry.

No, he’s not referring to my scorecard – a shambolic collection of double bogeys and worse – after our game at the world famous Brabazon course.

Instead, he’s responding to the idea that a good way to present our article on The Belfry could be to use the stats that Gary has peppered us with during our 18 holes and tour of this iconic piece of golfing estate.

I do know one Belfry stat – it’s hosted more Ryder Cups (4) than any other golf course on the planet.

But when it comes to the full facts and figures of the Birmingham venue, there is no-one more expert than Gary.

So, here we go, Belfry by the numbers:

£3m – money spent on course improvements and conditioning over the last two years
3 – number of courses at The Belfry
£140 – green fee at the Brabazon
£70 – green fee at the PGA National
£40 – green fee at The Derby
6 – number of greens staff who loop the courses each day replacing divots
6,000,000 – balls hit on the range in a year (20,000 balls per day)
21 – PGA Professionals on hand in the only PGA National Golf Academy in England
67- number of golf buggies
25 – number of electric trolleys
100 – number of pull trolleys
55 – greens staff (high season over courses/estate)
9 – custom fit brands in 5 custom fit suites. 8 custom fit staff
100,000 – Nike range balls used per year
34 – bays in driving range
14 – power tees
4 – practice putting greens
110,000 – rounds a year played over the 3 courses.

Of course, numbers can only tell you so much. It’s not until you experience this place in the flesh that you realise the care and attention that goes into maintaining The Belfry.

In fact, should a volcano erupt in Wales this October (okay, that’s unlikely but indulge me as I’m trying to make a point!), The Belfry could step in at a moment’s notice.

That should tell you a lot about the immaculate state of this prestigious golf resort and go a long way to answering the question of whether £140 is value for money.

Gary explains: “The green fee has been £140 since the 2002 Ryder Cup and in that time we have improved conditions, golf holes and service on the course.

“If you want an idea of value, let’s compare it to The Derby course (£40). The Derby is like every good members’ course and has around four greens staff. But The Brabazon has 18 or more at any one time – i.e. at least four and a half times as many staff – so using those numbers we could say the Brabazon is worth £180.

“And,” as Gary points out, “that is before we start talking about 4 Ryder Cups and 32 years of Tour events.”

Talking of Ryder Cups, with 2010 (Celtic Manor) and 2014 (Gleneagles) already allocated and the ‘home’ match after that likely to go to Continental Europe, 2022 is the next viable date for a fifth Ryder Cup at The Belfry.

By then, The Belfry should have a new 500-bedroom hotel (hopefully opening in 2011 after plans were put on hold by the recession) and a brand new clubhouse to match the world-class standards of the course itself.

In short, it would be the perfect venue.

The Golf365 team – myself (Dave Tindall), Paul Simpson and Harry ‘The Hat’ Emanuel – were invited to tee it up at The Brabazon last week. Here’s how we got on….

Paul Simpson – handicap 14

The Belfry was my first taste of what can be described a world class venue so my hopes and expectations were high before we’d even arrived, but to have views of such legendary holes as the 10th and the 18th greet our arrival really sent the old heart rate into overdrive.

These holes may be the most famous but to concentrate on them alone would do a disservice to this immaculate and challenging course.

I was determined to take in all that the Brabazon could offer so over the opening holes I felt it only polite to examine the rough and trees lining the manicured fairways, have a go at raking some of the finest sand I have ever experienced and to have as many putts as possible on the fast and true greens. Unfortunately all of this was done unintentionally.

The rough is not overly long, cut to 30mm over the whole course, but try getting your ball out with an amateur’s technique and you are happy to use as much loft as possible just to find the short stuff.

Water and bunkers feature on many of the holes but they are used in such a way that they serve a purpose and are not just there for decorative affect; three bunkers visited and one ball in the water over the opening four holes were testimony to this.

So what were my highlights of the round? Well, you tend to enjoy and remember the holes where you played well but I can safely say that on the Brabazon, most of the holes linger long in the memory.

This is because the course is set up in such a way that you have to think about every shot, it’s not just a matter of walking up to your ball and hitting it. Every shot could have a consequence, so you are taking in every detail that the course and excellent course guide has to offer in an attempt to stay away from danger. Four lost balls however show that thinking and putting into practice are completely different things.

Walking off the course you really appreciate how good the pros have to be to play world-class courses such as the Brabazon. Finding the greens can be difficult enough but being able to read them for pace and line and tying to work out the often subtle undulations and breaks are an achievement in itself.

The service offered by the venue was second to none and nothing was too much trouble for any of the staff we came into contact with. When, in the excitement of arriving here, I managed to leave my camera in the locker room, a quick call from the seventh tee by our host and playing partner for the day, Gary Silcock, led to a buggy appearing five minutes later with the missing camera.

A great experience from start to finish and when you consider the quality of the course, the service level and the investment being continually pumped into not only the course but the venue as a whole, playing the Brabazon offers real value for money, which is very difficult for a son of Yorkshire such as myself to say.

Dave Tindall – handicap 22

I’ve tended to raise my game (not hard to be honest) when I’ve been lucky enough to play some of the top UK courses.

But The Belfry absolutely made mincemeat of me.

A treble bogey at the first – following a duffed drive and a three-putt – set the tone although I did steady the ship with a solid par at the second, my birdie attempt just sliding past.

After that though my scorecard was a wreck.

Memory can play funny tricks though and a few days after the round I started to recall some good shots I’d hit. An ambitious hybrid out of a fairway bunker which flew just short of the green, a well-judged five-iron approach to the 18th