As the only course on either side of the Atlantic to have hosted four Ryder Cups, the Brabazon at The Belfry has much to live up to. Perhaps only the Old Course at St Andrews can present such familiar sights to golfers – and non-golfers for that matter – as the iconic 10th and 18th holes at The Belfry. This is a course that all of us feel we have played without so much as setting foot on the property. And with images in our mind of Ballesteros’s derring-do and Monty at his inspiring best leading Europe to glory while striding the lush fairways and perfect greens, expectations are sometimes unrealistically high.
In the past, it is fair to say that The Belfry has suffered on occasion because of this. Unlike Loch Lomond or Turnberry, for example, its location was chosen not with the beauty of the surroundings in mind but rather proximity to the Midlands’ motorway network.
And while the natural attributes of the land at the likes of Sunningdale and Royal St George’s meant they were made for golf, it is a fact that The Belfry was created from unremarkable farmland.
Originally the work of Dave Thomas and Peter Alliss, when the Ryder Cup first came to Warwickshire in 1985, even its greatest admirer would have been hard-pressed to claim it was a great course.
When the stands were up at tournament time, the holes were given welcome definition but on the front nine in particular, you could have been forgiven for wondering what all the fuss was about.
Yet over the years, much has changed. So much, in fact, that parts are unrecognisable. Entire holes have changed to the extent that it is hardly accurate to call this the same course.
More than anywhere else in the British Isles that springs to mind, The Belfry has undergone a process of constant self-appraisal, improvement and remodelling.
Almost without exception, every weak or bland hole has been upgraded. It is now a very fine championship course.
Even the famous 10th has recently undergone surgery, with the green now pulled closer to the water to create a new pin position on the front right.
And to cap it all, one that is presented in as close to tournament condition week-in, week-out as you are likely to find anywhere.
The greens regularly stimp at 12 – that’s faster than at Augusta National in Masters week – while an army of greenkeepers create the greenest and lushest of fairways to fashion that authentic American look that the course was designed to offer.
Water hazards play a huge part, with streams and/or lakes coming into play at one hole after the next. Indeed, it is entirely possible to find water on no fewer than 14 holes. Only on the 11th, 13th, 14th and 16th can you safely rely on staying on dry land.
On some holes, like the 6th that was redesigned in 2007, it can seem there is no escape. The fairway here is effectively an island and anyone who walks off with a four can be justly proud of themselves.
Similarly, the 3rd has been transformed into an exciting par 5 where the biggest hitters are tempted to send their second shots soaring over a lake to the well-protected green in search of a putt for eagle.
On the back nine, the fairway at the 11th has recently been re-routed and only on the 13th and 14th do the excitement levels drop slightly.
It all builds towards The Belfry’s defining closing hole, where the water must be carried not once but twice before the enormous 65-yard, three-tier green is tackled.
A dogleg from right to left, be brave and take on the longest carry and you can get within 150 yards or so of the middle of the green. Play more cautiously to guarantee a dry landing and the pin can easily be more than 200 yards away. It is equally a test of nerve and skill.
The same can be said of the Brabazon as a whole. This is a genuine tournament course and it offers club players a rare chance indeed – to putt on greens as fast as any the pros encounter on the European Tour and encounter fairways every bit as carpet-like.
A round here is by no means cheap but with it comes the guarantee of memories that will last for years.