1600 Hilliard Rd, Richmond, VA 23228
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How can a golf course come full circle and be the same but very different more than 100 years later? The answer has nothing to do with worm holes, time travel, parallel universes or The Matrix and everything to do with commitment, imagination, respect for the past and a vision for the future.
The real story, here, is not how a $5 million restoration/renovation restored a fabled layout back to its architect’s original intent. Actually, it kind of is. But the meat on the bone is much thicker. Cutting deeper, what Belmont Golf Course in Richmond, VA, represents is a historic muni that now doubles as a model for golf moving forward into the second quarter of the 21st century.
Belmont was designed by A.W. Tillinghast (widely considered the father of American golf architecture) in 1917, originally opening as Hermitage Country Club. It remains the only course in the Old Dominion to ever host one of golf’s four majors. In 1949, crowd favorite and native son Sam Snead defeated Johnny Palmer, 3-and-2, to win the PGA Championship, here.
In 1977, Henrico County purchased Belmont from Hermitage CC, transforming the course into one of the Richmond area’s only true public golf facilities. It was a huge success, with annual rounds peaking in 1992 at 55,000 rounds. Over time, however, as play waned and the cost of maintenance increased, course conditions worsened and many of the layout’s classic features were lost. Fond memories and affordable rates, unfortunately, don’t necessarily pay the bills and inevitably the county began exploring non-golf plans for the property because of dwindling revenues.
The “new” Belmont Golf Course opened in May 2021 and the results are no less than amazing. Within the footprint of the original 18-hole course, there is now a complete and faithful restoration of 12 of Tillinghast’s original holes, a six-hole, par-3 short course which consists of all new holes but patterned to replicate many of the design features and quirks of the famed architect, an 18-hole putting course, and a driving and wedge range.
The Belmont consists of holes 7-18 from the original Hermitage layout and can be played from five different tees (3,020-4,345 yards). It includes back-to-back par 5s, two par 3s, and eight par 4s. Love Golf Design studied original drawings and vintage aerials and went to great lengths to restore the original hole designs, bold bunkering (64 in all) and green contours that were always part of Tillinghast’s designs.
“We worked very hard to use the images and history we did have along with the details we felt were original to the Tillinghast design to be as faithful to the original as possible,” Love III said. “And, where we had to create some elements where the original version had been lost, we tried our best to channel what we thought would reflect Tillinghast style work.”
A round on the Belmont is kin to stepping back in time, when architects relied on interesting shot angles and imaginative green and bunkering complexes to keep the ball rolling. It really does have an old-school vibe which can best be appreciated by playing the course on foot.
The six holes on the par-3 course, nicknamed Little Bell, were designed to showcase several of Tillinghast’s iconic par 3s. The scaled replicas, which range from 80-145 yards, start with his “Tiny Tim” design and wind through recreations from Southward Ho, San Francisco Golf Club, and even Belmont (the old Nos. 4 and 5). The layout is well-suited for youngsters just starting out and for avid players looking to sharpen their short games. Little Bell is perfect for a quick loop after work or as a way to finish your 18-hole round.
Belmont’s 18-hole, 31,000 sq. ft. putting course — the largest in Virginia at nearly one acre — is appropriately called The Ringer and includes elevation changes of over 12 feet. The reversible routing of the holes allows for a different look daily.
The practice facilities at Belmont are futuristic in design, and include a pair of putting and chipping greens (both chipping greens have a mix of rough and fairway cuts to replicate on-course shots) as well as three practice bunkers. The expansive driving range, itself, features nearly an acre of grass tee boxes and six different range targets. A separate wedge area with spaced targets from 50-100 yards is located just a few feet away.
Belmont threads the needle between a classic, restored venue and a modern golf facility. Those who appreciate golf history and relish the opportunity to play in the footsteps of players like Snead, Ben Hogan and others will be noticeably moved by what The First Tee of Greater Richmond and the Love Design Group have accomplished here. And no doubt Tillinghast, himself, would approve of what his old club has become — a hybrid, if you will, that now caters to a wide cross section of old and new golfers (The First Tee programming impacts more than 80,000 youth from all over Central Virginia each year). It really is a facility where the history of American golf meets the future of American golf, and everywhere in between.
Want to experience a new and exciting golf course with roots digging back more than 100 years? Belmont is a Featured Course in TeeTime Golf Pass with promotional offers for both the 12-hole course and a combination of 18 holes with the par-3 layout. It really is your best chance here in the Mid-Atlantic to go back to the future and appreciate what was, is and will be the next evolution of our beloved sport.