After months of ominous news, the A. W. Tillinghast-designed Belmont Golf Course will live. Last night, Henrico County’s Parks and Recreation department approved a plan to lease Belmont Golf Course at $1 per year for the next 30 years. The county plans to release a request for proposals (RFP) by late August, with submissions due at the end of October. A new management group will take over on January 1, 2020. On top of the $1/year lease, Henrico County has reserved $750,000 for a bunker renovation and a general restoration project for the course.
A 1916 Tillinghast design, Belmont Golf Course sits 10 minutes from downtown Richmond. In the early 1920s, Donald Ross altered Tillinghast’s original work slightly. When it was known as Hermitage Country Club, Belmont hosted the only major championship in Virginia history, the 1949 PGA Championship, won by Virginia’s own Sam Snead. The course also served as the venue for the 1945 Richmond Open, which Ben Hogan won.
In 1977, Hermitage Country Club sold the golf course to Henrico County. Since then, Belmont has operated as a public golf course for the greater Richmond area. Because of a road widening and a hurricane, some of the Tillinghast-Ross design has changed. Today, 15 original holes and green sites remain along with 10 sets of original green contours and surrounds. The altered greens can easily be restored, and there is an opportunity to reclaim at least one of the missing greens.
The RFP for Belmont Golf Course offers a rare golden opportunity for golf. Typically, few people have access to great Golden Age architecture, and even fewer get to play a major championship venue. Belmont not only ticks those boxes, boasting a pedigree and history richer than any private or public golf course in Virginia, but does so at an affordable rate.
The terrain that Belmont occupies is exceptional. In a letter to then club president O. B. Law in 1916, Tillinghast wrote, “It has been my pleasure to design a number of Southern courses, and without exception, the features on this tract are far more pleasing and interesting than any I’ve encountered south of the Mason Dixon line.”
Clocking in at just over 6,400 yards, Belmont is no longer a championship venue by modern standards. But with a proper restoration, it could become one of the finest public golf courses in the country thanks to its design pedigree and its tremendous rolling property. It would also have a good shot at attracting a lot of business. Belmont is within reach of a major metropolitan area and minutes off of I-95, a road traveled by many thousands of resort-bound golfers each year.
In late 2017, Belmont narrowly escaped a Jerry Lemons-led bunker renovation that would have stripped the course of its Tillinghast features. Following that failed plan, Henrico County explored non-golf uses for the land in order to offload its money-losing “Enterprise Fund Operation” at Belmont. The county floated various ideas (a shopping mall, soccer fields) before settling on golf and a long-term lease.
Now, if Belmont Golf Course executes on the RFP and makes a wise choice, a restoration could produce a unicorn: an authentic, affordable Golden Age design 10 minutes from a city center. For this opportunity, we should send a big thank-you to the Friends of Belmont advocacy group as well as to other supportive Henrico-area golfers. More news and details will come with the release of the RFP, but for now we can breathe a sigh of relief and look forward to a bright future for Virginia’s most historic golf course.