Belleview Biltmore Golf Club: A Trip Back In Time

By Jay Mankus, Contributor

Belleair, FL -Belleview Biltmore Golf Club is part of Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa, known as the Queen of American Resorts. Together, visiting these two facilities is like taking a trip back in time.

Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa has been serving vacationing Americans since 1897. Meanwhile, the Golf Club at Belleview Biltmore has been a local favorite of Tampa residents beginning in 1927.

Victorian accommodations, 19th century charm and award winning cuisine has placed Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa on the National Registry of Historic Places. Southern hospitality, nearby Clearwater Beach and world class amenities have kept bringing guests back for over 100 years!

While the Golf Club at Belleview Biltmore is not as old, this layout and clubhouse is filled with its own history. As the resort grew, plans were made to create an 18 hole championship golf course in nearby Bellaire, Florida, a few minutes from the Belleview Biltmore resort.

These plans resulted in an original Donald Ross design which broke ground in 1925. Two years later, on January 1st, 1927, this course was revealed to the world.

At 6,695 yards from the championship tees, this par 72 remains a challenging layout for any caliber of player. Located within a half mile of the Gulf of Mexico, the wind howls at Belleview Biltmore like an ocean course. While the winds may discourage some from playing, Belleview Biltmore is conveniently located closer to the Gulf Coast than any 18 hole upscale facility in the Tampa Bay region.

Today, the Golf Club at Belleview Biltmore has continued to be recognized nationally. Teaching professionals Jim Linkin and Patrick Livingston oversee the National Golf School at Belleview Biltmore, an American Express Top 25 Golf School.

This golf school offers 1/2 day sessions, private instruction, corporate clinics and on course playing lessons for a variety of skilled golfers: from beginners to single digit handicaps. The amount of days you spend and specific skills you need work on is up to you. The golf school at Belleview Biltmore is custom fit to suit your playing needs. For $299 per day, guests receive 5 hours of instruction, 2 meals and time to apply what you learn.

The typical golf school session begins at 8:30 am with coffee and danish. Teaching follows breakfast for 3 hours until lunch. After lunch, there is a 2 hour playing lesson followed by either unlimited practice balls or golf until sunset. Depending upon the skill or skills you request, you will never exceed a 4 students to 1 teacher ratio.

If you judge your playing experience at Belleview Biltmore by the appearance of the old practice range, you will greatly underestimate the genius of this Donald Ross design. From its appearance, the practice range is not your typical resort facility. At best, you can fit two dozen golfers on it at a time. Though the tee area is in excellent condition, the driving area shrinks along with the targets the further you hit shots. This is probably the least impressive aspect of Belleview Biltmore.

However, on the opposite side of the clubhouse there is an awesome practice hole with water, sand and a large hitting area. If you can master this mini hole with wedges, there is a decent sized putting green to get the feel of these true greens before your round.

Of the five upscale golf courses I played in greater Tampa Bay during Spring Training, Belleview Biltmore had the best and most consistent greens I played.

As a former intern with a golf course architect firm in New England, the greatest asset of this Donald Ross Course is who it was designed for, the golfer! If you look at any historic layout, golf courses were designed mainly for golfers, not sightseers.

Today, most golf courses are designed for visual aesthetics, with elevated greens, sand bunkers, waste areas, mounds, trees and water hazards that are pleasing to the eye from each tee. Unfortunately, many of these new courses are a nightmare for superintendents to maintain and even scarier for the amateur on vacation.

In this current age of visual golf courses, golfers are penalized by beautiful hazards which leave many beginners and high handicappers feeling like quitting after every round! After playing several courses in Florida last year that fit this description, I found Belleview Biltmore to be a delightful change of pace.

Within his layout, Donald Ross has combined the best of both worlds, aesthetics and fairness, without excessively penalizing the golfer. When you consider the winds coming off the gulf, Donald has placed generous landing areas throughout Belleview Biltmore. Drives in the fairway are rewarded with open shots to modest sized greens that have gentle slopes.

However, when you do hook or fade a shot too much, golfers are penalized by either trees, water or out of bounds. An immaculate feature of Donald's design is that most of the visual aesthetics of Belleview Biltmore occur along the edges of the rough.

Massive palm trees elegantly decorate the area surrounding the greens and tees. Colorful bushes, shrubs and flowers connect bare areas of the course with adjacent forests that line a majority of the back nine.

Portions of this back nine is like visiting a scenic forest that provides monkey squirrels with shelter and various species of birds with secluded waterways. The water hazards which do come into play are minimal, while nearby homes that surround the front nine are far enough off the fairways - they do not distract from Donald's original layout.

One of the obvious features of this Donald Ross design is maturity. Some of the palm trees look like they were planted in prehistoric times. Other mature trees have had bark twisted around their trunk from years of heavy winds. Meanwhile, the variety of trees - I counted over a dozen different types, and the ages of these trees which span over 100 years of age, is a feature you are not likely to see on any other golf course in the state of Florida.

The wear and tear apparent on the trees, mainly found between the 13th and 14th fairway at Belleview Biltmore, is also evident on their cart paths. Cracks, shifts and bare areas along these paths reveal the age of this 64 year old course. Some of these bare areas of turf are a direct result of the ongoing drought in Florida, yet other bare areas are likely due to a lack of sunshine in the shaded areas of the course.

When you consider the top 10 upscale public golf facilities of Tampa Bay as rated by Golf & Travel Magazine in January, Belleview Biltmore only lacks one thing, visual aesthetics within the turfgrass definition. The golf club at Belleview Biltmore does not have an aesthetically pleasing transition of turfgrass from the fairway to the first cut of rough and into the primary rough like elite upscale facilities. If this aspect of the course would improve, the golf club at Belleview Biltmore would surely make any top 10 list of the greater Tampa region.

Of the two nines, the back nine is more scenic, yet each has some fantastic golf holes. On the front, the 3rd and 8th holes are both 201 yard par 3s from the tips. Three played into a cross wind while eight played dead into the wind. On the 3rd hole, players must guard against out of bounds on the left and hitting a huge century old tree which has limbs that overhang a portion of the fairway.

Meanwhile, on number 8, players are faced with a shot slightly uphill over water to one of the steepest greens on this course. With the wind in your face, its unlikely that even a driver would go over this green sloped from back to front. If there is such a thing as a good 3 putt green, #8 is it!

On the back nine, the 17th and 18th holes have the best focal points from the tee than any holes at Belleview Biltmore. At 370 yards, 17 features a dual fairway with a pond that is centered in the middle. This tree lined fairway has huge target trees down the right side of the rough to guide you along this slight dogleg to the left. A creek also skirts along the left side of the fairway near the green.

While 17 may be the most picturesque hole at Belleview Biltmore, 18 has the best backdrop. This 432 yard par 4 sits just in front of the clubhouse. A tree lined fairway gives way to sand and water which guard this green.

As I finished out my last putt on 18, I stood in awe of Belleview Biltmore's clubhouse. This white elegant structure, decked out with green shingles, brought me back in time. With just one look, I am confident Donald Ross was proud of this classic design.

If you are coming to Florida on vacation to play golf, make sure you play Belleview Biltmore first. This course gives you wide fairways and rarely takes away golf balls! If you want to bolster your confidence, a round at Belleview Biltmore might be your best, like it was for me.

Jay Mankus, Contributor

A former golf standout at Concord High School in Wilmington, Del., Jay Mankus graduated from the University of Delaware with a degree in Recreation & Parks Administration. Before graduating, Jay spent time as an intern at a golf club in the east suburbs of Cleveland specializing in golf course maintenance and design.

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