Belmont Country Club, Where The Past Meets The Present

By Jeffrey A. Rendall

ASHBURN, VA -- There's a certain timeless quality to examining historical sites. Maybe it's because they're old; maybe it's because they're rare. Or maybe it's because of who was there and what they did. History's more than just land, buildings and space -- it's heritage.

At the same time, there's an equally special quality to discovering something new. There's nothing quite like driving a brand new car off the lot, striking a new golf driver for the first time, or unlocking the door to your new house, ready to carry in your first moving bundle. New stuff is great, too.

For those seeking to combine the sensations from the old and the new, there's the new Belmont Country Club in Ashburn. Belmont Club's golf course opened in 2001, but its history dates back centuries.

Ever since the manor house was built in 1799, the Belmont name's been synonymous with hospitality. Originally the home of Ludwell Lee, son of Richard Henry Lee (a Virginia signer of the Declaration of Independence), the Belmont mansion and estate subsequently saw a series of distinguished owners -- amongst them former Kansas Governor Frederick M. Staunton, Mrs. Edward B. McLean (an owner of the infamous Hope Diamond) and anti-slavery crusader and educator Margaret Mercer.

Perhaps as notable as its list of owners is Belmont's list of visitors, which reads like a 'who's who' of 19th century dignitaries. President James Madison (and wife Dolly) 'escaped' to Belmont during the British occupation of Washington during the war of 1812; Marquis de Lafayette dropped in when touring the United States in the 1820's (Ludwell Lee served as Lafayette's aide-de-camp during the Revolutionary War); President John Quincy Adams paid a visit during his tenure as chief executive, then President Warren Harding came calling in the 20th century.

In other words, history pervades the property.

In continuance with its illustrious past, Belmont Country Club is establishing its own remarkable history, beginning with its golf course designer, Arnold Palmer, golf's most recognizable and legendary performer. Palmer's the man who brought golf to a mass audience, winning seven majors and sixty-one PGA tour events along the way. He's now lending his lifetime's worth of experience to designing golf courses incorporating his philosophies of the game -- that golf should be both challenging and fun. Throughout Arnie's playing career, he garnered quite a reputation as a 'go for it' type player, and this thinking is definitely ingrained in the courses he designs. Belmont Country Club is no exception.

Palmer mixes in a variety of hazards to go along with stunning aesthetic beauty and creative strategic challenges to produce golf layouts of distinguished character and memory. Palmer's philosophy meets delicious reality at Belmont Country Club.

Graham Biggs, Belmont Country Club's Head Golf Professional, says it's a combination of the land's scenic beauty and Palmer's course design mastery that makes his club exceptional: "Having grown up in the mountains of North Carolina, I always thought of Virginia as being scenic Civil War battlefields full of straw grass and cannons. But our Belmont Club shows a different side of the land -- it's got all the historic tradition you'd expect from Virginia, but also a wonderful variation in topography."

Biggs continues, "The golf course utilizes the ground's wonderful undulating features to mix in quite a bit of variety and challenge. It's very player friendly because of the wide driving areas, but I especially like how the Palmer group designed every hole distinctly different and memorable."

Echoing Biggs' impressions is Ray Wiltse of Palmer Course Design, who functioned as Course Architect for the Belmont project: "The thing that really sticks out in my mind about Belmont is the wonderful variation in the land, with lots of rolling hills and scenic vistas."

"Without a doubt, the reason the golf course turned out so well was Toll Brothers' giving us first choice of the available land to route the course, and we took advantage of the opportunity. You can always design bunkers and greens in different styles, and whether you like them or not is a matter of opinion. But the layout's routing must flow naturally with the land to give it continuity -- routing's the backbone of the course," Wiltse adds.

Seeing the course, the layout looks like it's been there for years, which is another quality Wiltse likes about it. "The course sits really nicely on top of the land, just like the classic courses in the old country. There were quite a few stands of mature hardwoods, and we didn't move too much dirt when we built it, which is really the way Arnold likes it. Being an old Pennsylvania boy, Arnold's always saying 'if you've got a good piece of land, don't mess with it.' So we didn't."

Wiltse is not the only one who thinks the layout sheds allusions to classic golf courses. John Rivers, Belmont's first member, says the course is summed up in one word, Championship. "My wife Joyce and I have been lucky enough to play golf at a lot of great courses, like St. Andrews in Scotland. St. Andrews isn't as attractive aesthetically as many of our American courses, but the one impression you take from it is its strategic mastery. You really need to know where to place your drives and shots to the greens in order to leave yourself with makeable putts, and that's the same with our club here at Belmont. That's the mark of a championship course."

Rivers adds, "In addition to Belmont being an excellent championship golf course, another great thing about it is the history. If you've ever been to Gettysburg, you know it's more than just hills, trees and open ground. Something important happened there. There's significance beyond the land. That's the same type of feeling you get at Belmont. The mansion was owned by many famous people and visited by Presidents of the United States. Belmont is a special place."

Belmont member Rich Paolicelli says the golf course's variety and challenge is what he likes best about the club. "Since I became a member, I've been fortunate to play the course many times, and I really like the fact it's different every time you go out there. It's in really good shape for such a new course, which is great, and the layout provides just the right combination of challenge and playability."

"I thought about it one time, and there's something demanding about every shot, be it bunkers, a stream, a shot over water. I like that in a golf course. But at the same time, the feeling you get throughout is a sense of fairness you won't find at a lot of golf courses. You can see the target in front of you, and it's up to you to play good shots to shoot a good score," Paolicelli said.

Paolicelli says he particularly enjoys the seventeenth hole, because it incorporates everything he likes about Belmont. "The seventeenth is one of my favorite holes because you get a choice off the tee (the hole's a dogleg left, with a tee shot over a ravine, but you can club down and take the safer route to the right side of the landing area if you choose), then you've got another exciting shot coming up to reach a somewhat elevated green. I don't always score well on that hole, but I look forward to playing it every time."

Another hole receiving universal accolades is the third hole. Biggs says "A lot of people think number three will be an easy hole, since it only plays 165 yards (from the back tees). But with those yards, you've got to fly the pond that fronts the green, and the wind really swirls in that part of the course. It's a beautiful hole, but can also beguile you if you're not careful."

That's true on much of Belmont's layout. What seems 'easy' upon first glance often presents something more than you'd expect. Hole thirteen is a good illustration. Paolicelli says it reminds him of Augusta National's famous par five thirteenth: "The thirteenth is a great example of how you've got to play the hole from the right spots to get a par or even a birdie chance. You'll look at it and see it's incredibly wide -- but the hazards and bunkers are positioned just where they'd need to be to force you to play the hole right."

Hard as it is to believe after playing the golf course, Belmont Club is much more than just great golf. It's a true 'country club' in all senses of the words. Biggs describes it: "We really want folks to know that we've got a tremendous golf course here, but we've also got first-rate amenities every fine club would have."

"We've got a fully stocked golf shop and extensive practice facilities, including a short game practice area suitable for chipping, pitching and bunker shots. Inside the clubhouse, there's a bar and grill, a lounge area, a billiards room, a library, meeting rooms, and full service locker rooms for men and women, complete with a steam room. Upstairs, we've got a ballroom overlooking the eighteenth hole that accommodates up to 300 people for special events. Our clubhouse is 36,000 square feet of comfort for our members," Biggs adds.

But don't forget the service. In Belmont tradition, Biggs says you'll be treated like gentry: "I want our members, every time they come here, to receive the level of service they deserve. I want them to see the beautiful Virginia landscape and outstanding Palmer layout as one they could play everyday for the rest of their lives and enjoy. Finally, I want guests of members to discover something they've never had before, a tremendous golf course and a level of service they won't find elsewhere."

In other words, Belmont's the complete experience. It's got a spectacular Arnold Palmer signature golf course, incredible country club amenities, great service and a tangible sense of history. Simply put, the best of the old, and the best of the new.


Belmont Country Club, by Toll Brothers

Ashburn, Virginia


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