6,453 yards, 135 slope from the Blues
Course: Located in Pottstown, PA, the Belle is a private course. I don’t know any members, but was able to secure a tee time through the Victory Golf Pass, which is something you purchase and gives you the ability to play a number of private courses in the area. You still pay a greens fee of course, but the VP money goes to a great cause and allows guys like me, who like to play different courses, a chance to experience a few tracks that I would not otherwise play.
The course was designed by Tom Drauschak. I couldn’t find any other courses he was involved with and that’s a shame, because I would love to find out if he built any others.
There were a lot of things I liked about this course. It had a very laid back feel, yet the amenities were just my style. The locker room was spacious and had a lot of leather chairs to hang out in, the pro shop was filled with a ton of equipment and the clubhouse is in a stately mansion, which gives the place a lot of character. When I called to make my tee time, they called me back to say they were looking forward to me playing and that I should feel free to bring anyone else with me. That was a nice touch.
When arriving at the course, you climb uphill along the Eighteenth fairway, pass by the said mansion and make your way to the pro shop. The friendly guy at the pro shop checked me in and told me where the range was. After hitting a few balls and getting settled in to my swing, I went to the first tee for a solo round.
The course itself is set on rolling hills that present a variety of hole shapes, with trees and lakes giving you different shots and lines towards the green. Conditions are wonderful and the scenery is very much pastoral. Rolling hills is definitely the theme here, as greens were some times perched above the fairway or other times at the bottom of a down hill fairway. Bunkers are prevalent as well usually to collect errant shots, as opposed to forced carries. The front 9 is a little more wide open with fescue grass off fairway while the back 9 tightens up a little bit with narrower fairways and more trees.
Bellewood is what I like in a course. No two holes were the same, there were a lot of different lines you could take to approach the greens, you’re faced with decisions on every shot, the greens are interesting and challenging without being tricked out and the setting is peaceful. I didn’t know what to expect before playing the course, as I really haven’t heard anything about this club, but was pleasantly surprised to a great round at a course with a lot of character.
The First is a par 4 about 366 yards (from the Blues). It’s a great starting hole, as you’re on the tee at an uphill, while most of the course is in front of you and the trees to the left and right frame everything well for your opening drive. The hole rolls gradually downhill and then angles to the right about 2:00 until you reach the green, which has a few bunkers short left and right to force your hand at overcooking the green on your approach. There are cows grazing in a farm off to the right side of the green. On my par putt I was facing them and couldn’t help but thank them for their encouragement as I nailed the putt for a nice opening score.
|The First as you’re coming down the hole|
|The First green and my crowd support in the back ground|
The Second is a 477 yard par 5 with a narrower landing area for your tee shot. The landing area goes up, then downhill, then ends into a wetland area, which must be carried. You then climb up to the green, while a group of bunkers is short and right of the green. It’s definitely a wake up hole, as there’s not a lot of wiggle room and you must blast two pretty good shots to get close to the green.
|Tee shot at the Second|
The Third is a 364 yard par 4. Bunkers protect the entire right side of the fairway and your tee shot sets up the difficulty of your approach, as the green is perched on the left hand side of the hole with bunkers lurking on both sides of the hole. It’s a tough approach for sure, and remember that anything long can end up in the drink pretty easily. This is a great par 4 because of the tough approach shot, but also because you can do a lot of things on the tee shot. Driver may not be the best play, especially if you can hit the fairway with another club, or fade it to get the best angle at the green.
|The Third tee shot|
|The Third green|
The Fourth is the number one handicapped hole and is a 416 yard par 4. It just doesn’t give you a break, as both the tee and approach shots have to be well executed for a chance to par. The tee shot faces three severe bunkers while the fairway is to the right of them. A big tee shot can carry the bunkers for an easier approach, but most of us have to drive right of the bunkers for a longer approach to an uphill green that is also off angle, making a fade the preferred shot into the green. To make matters even more interesting, there is a long bunker protecting the right of the green, really forcing your hand with a fade. Or at least strongly suggesting one.
|Approach shot at the Fourth|
The Fifth is a 411 yard par 4. To recap, all par 4’s (most of them long) and a longer par 5 to start off the round. Talk about throwing you in early. Be sure to abuse that range before heading out for this round and get nice and warmed up. The tee shot is a carry over some long grass, then the hole dog legs left and goes uphill to a green protected by a large bunker on the left. The green is next to an old cemetery and you can actually look into it as you’re putting on the green. The other thing I noticed here and on most of the front 9; no noise. Just you, the cows, ghosts, and the course. As the green is perched on a hill, there is some risk reward with the tee shot to vie for a shorter approach.
|Tee shot at the Fifth|
|A look at the rough, which is long grass and goes in all different directions|
The Sixth yields the first par 3 at about 150 yards. It’s a picturesque downhill shot over long grass with a lake in the background. The pin placement was directly in the front, which brought the front bunkers into play, but otherwise the hole is more for the view and you should be able to to get a couple strokes back here. And as those who have read the review for Paxon know, I love when the par 3’s give you a legitimate chance at the old hole in one. What a great hole it would be to get an ace.
The Seventh gets you closer to the lake, as you have to carry it on your tee shot. It’s a par 5 at 526 yards. After carrying the lake, the hole dog legs right and the fairway narrows. After the dog leg, the hole widens again and the last 50 yards go downhill to a large green. Although it’s a long hole, the downhill and large green give you a decent chance at birdie. The other thing I noticed here is, “sticky fairways.” I ran into sticky bunkers in Jackson Hole, but the grass here didn’t let you bump and run all that much, as it would catch the ball pretty early on. Most of the greens are approachable from the front, but I some times like to run it from as far out as 50-60 yards if possible, but that wasn’t happening here.
|Tee shot at the Seventh|
The Eighth is the second par 3 on the front 9 and is by far the tougher one. It’s 206 yards and you must carry wetlands to a green set at a diagonal with bunkers protecting most of the left side. Not hitting the green here usually ends up costing you. I like how some of these holes make you execute or suffer the consequences.
The Ninth is a par 4 at 427 yards and climbs uphill to the clubhouse. The fairway is a little narrow and turns a little to the left, but overall it’s a good hole to score on. There are options here, as I decided to hit 3 wood off the tee to make sure I hit the fairway for a little longer of an approach. I think hitting the fairway off the tee is vital, so if you can do that with your driver more likely than not, you’ll be hitting in to the green with your scoring clubs.
|Tee shot at the Ninth|
It was a great front 9 that I would rank 8, 4, 2, 7, 5, 3, 1, 9, 6. The par 5’s were very good, the Eighth was a great par 3 and the par 4’s challenged you in different ways.
After that tough nine holes, the Tenth starts off some what calm, with a 557 yard par 5. The fairway gently shifts right at an angle to a green protected by a bunker on the left. This is the longest hole on the course, but the fairway is rather wide and the green is pretty large. I called this hole the Gentle Giant because it’s long yet rather easy to score on. The Eleventh is a 400 yard par 4 that dog legs left. The dog leg takes driver out of play, unless you can put a nice draw on it. This hole also gives you a view of the smoke stacks, which you can see at most of the 422 courses, Raven’s Claw in particular. This hole is also the point where you start getting more of a park land setting, as trees crowd around the green and continue to frame holes throughout the end of the round.
|The tee shot at the Eleventh. The trees are there to greet and accompany you the rest of the round.|
The Twelfth is a 175 yard par 3. There are bunkers front and right of the green and yes, trees surround the green to create an amphitheater setting. The green is rather big, so hit it straight and favor on the long side and you’ll be fine.
I really liked this course until I reached the Thirteenth. And after that, I fell in love. The transition from a links style layout (actually heathland since we’re not near the sea) to parkland was seamless and not at all contrived. As I play a lot of parkland courses, they can easily get repetitive if the course falls into the typical formula of lining the fairways with trees and including a few dog legs and bunkers, hoping that’s enough for an interesting round. I think the reason I really loved this place was that these parkland holes had a ton of character and required strategic decisions. For instance, the Thirteenth is a 360 yard par 4. Off the tee, there is a large tree (oak?) marking the end of the fairway towards the left. Then, there is a bunker more towards the right side of the fairway, egging you on to hit over it. So your choices are to hit it to the tree for a mid iron into the green, or go for broke and carry the bunker for a chip shot into the green. Great decision here and even though I’m pretty conservative, I was hitting my 3 wood real well during that round and decided to go for it. It paid off and I was left with a lob wedge into the green. The other thing that was great about this hole was the colonial style mansion sitting on the right side of the fairway. It’s not occupied, but I heard there are plans to make it an overnight place for members and guests. I love coming across stuff like this during a round.
|In front of the tees at the Thirteenth. The tree and bunker are your choices, or just thread both with a power fade.|
|The mansion just hanging out beside the fairway.|
|The smaller green at the Thirteenth. The shorter chip shot is a huge reward for risking that bunker off the tee.|
The Fourteenth is a 170 yard par 3. It’s down hill, with water left and long of the green and very little room between the green and water, with a serious slope to the water from the green. There are a few bunker flanking the left side of the green as well. Hit it high and make it stick on the green, or try to hit it short and let it run up, without too much on it because of the water.
The Fifteenth is a 380 yard par 4. It dog legs left and features a lone tree in the middle of the fairway of your tee shot. The fairway also slopes a good deal from right to left towards a lake, yet the lake really doesn’t come into play on this hole. Your second shot is to a blind green tucked into a ridge. The green is narrow but long and there is some room long of the green as well. You have a few choices off the tee and then again with your second shot. The lone tree isn’t that tough to avoid, but is enough to consider in taking out of play on your second shot. The blind green is a nice touch and gives you one of the course’s tougher approach shots.
|A view from the forward tees at the Fifteenth|
|Second shot territory at the Fifteenth|
The Sixteenth throws a few things at you, as the tee shot is a forced carry over the lake. The fairway then turns left immediately and uphill, while getting narrower until the plateau green, which is surrounded by trees and is fronted with one severe bunker. I found the green here a little faster than the others as well.
|Tee shot at the Sixteenth|
|Approach shot at the Sixteenth|
The Seventeenth is an uphill 160 yard par 3. Trees are hounding you and the green is partially blind, but the green is pretty big. It’s the easiest handicapped hole on the course and it felt like it. This hole would have been a good opportunity to do a little something different, as this hole was a pretty standard park land par 3. Maybe make it shorter and get the slope to the green steeper, requiring a more exact tee shot. Or narrow the green and surround it with some nasty rough. As it stands though, it’s a good hole for an easy birdie.
The Eighteenth is a great finishing par 5 at about 515 yards. The tee shot inclines to a ridge, then veers down before going back up to the green as a true rolling hills hole. Yeah there are trees on each side of the fairway, but it’s pretty wide and the more immediate concern are the bunkers you encounter as you move towards the green. The green is multi tiered and on the larger side. It doesn’t have any distinct features, but the hole is very well done by punishing any wayward shots and making sure you get some length on your shots. The hole proceeds towards the stately mansion clubhouse with the driveway to the club over on your left.
I’d rank the back 9 13, 15, 16, 18, 10, 16, 11, 12, 17. 12 and 17 were nice but prototypical par 3 parkland holes, and the par 5’s were great while the par 4’s were outstanding.
Generally, I am a big fan of this course. If I were to join a private club, it would likely have to be featuring a course like this. Aside from having a ton of character, every hole was different and you were presented with a variety of challenges, and had to strategize on many shots. The course didn’t force you to play any hole one particular way, but rather gave you options, which also means there are more ways to play the course. The blind shots and greens, along with the various ways you can play the holes, also means course knowledge is important. You’re committing yourself to playing one course almost exclusively, so it must maintain interest and challenge for many many rounds. I think you have that at Bellewood. The routing was nice, making it easy to walk and no hole felt forced. You get an extra par 3, but I’m fine with that. It’s better than trying to cram a smaller par 4 some where that probably wouldn’t work. More importantly, the holes encountered hazards such as water and trees. This gave the course a great flow, as some times courses place hazards almost too strategically that it takes away from the general aesthetics of the area. The laid back feeling here added to the routing the course provided.
Ranking-wise, this course would probably start around 10 or 11 on my overall public course rankings. Moving forward and to present a better scale for my rankings, each course now gets a grade from 1 – 10, with 10 being the best. This number grade for each course will dictate its ranking in my overall course rankings, including public and private courses. Bellewood gets a 9.0.
Gripes: I was dying of thirst the entire round. It was very hot when I played and although there were water jugs every few holes, it just wasn’t enough. No cart girls and I was confused where to buy any type of food or drink, as it appeared the only option was to walk into the mansion and snoop around, which I felt might be frowned upon. I’m sure members don’t have this problem. I was a single, but some how the foursome in front of me wouldn’t wave me through. They played from the blue tees even though they never hit the fairway from the tee, so I had to wait a lot, which was annoying since it appeared the course was virtually empty. I can’t blame the course for that though.
Clubhouse: A nice selection of clothes and equipment. Decent logo as well. I actually wanted to get a hat or shirt, but the shop was closed by the time I finished my round. So it gets a strike for not staying open.
Bar/grill: Didn’t check it out, but I’m sure it’s nice since it’s private and in a mansion.
Nearby: All I know about is the nearby Collegeville shopping center bars, but I’m sure there’s a lot more. I’m just too unfamiliar with the area to know.
Getting there: 422W and off one of the Pottstown exits. Probably 30-45 minutes from Philly depending on traffic.