Historical Highlights of Belmont Golf Course
In the late 1890’s
A group of prominent business leaders formed Hermitage Golf Club.
On 58-acres of leased property near Broad Street and Hermitage Road in Richmond a small clubhouse was constructed while plans were drawn for a 9-hole golf course. (This property is the present site of the Science Museum of Virginia, which previously was RF&P Railroad’s Broad Street Station.)
October 10, 1900
Construction work begins to convert the fairgrounds formerly used by the Virginia Central Agricultural Society into a 2,850-yard 9-hole golf course. The course was routed around and over some unique hazards that were the remnants of the State Exposition of 1888 because there was no money available for the removal of these obstacles. Instead, four sand bunkers were constructed on-site and various ditches, race track embankments and a big pit that had been previously used for the rain spectacle in the Bay of Naples exhibit was incorporated into the course design.
November 3, 1900
The Richmond News reports that “the Hermitage Golf Club has very nearly reached its limit of 250 members and by the time the clubhouse and the links are both ready it is very probable that the limit will have to be extended or a waiting list started.”
December 31, 1900
Near the end of 1900 the course is opened for play.
The Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad (RF&P) acquires the leased property from the John L. Williams Company.
RF&P Railroad announces that it will construct a major station and rail yard on the site of the golf course; Hermitage Golf Club must move.
July 3, 1916
Shares of stock in Hermitage Country Club were issued and sold to raise needed capital to acquire property near the intersection of Brook Road and Hilliard Road, as well as fund the construction of a new golf course on the site.
July 14, 1916
A letter from A.W. Tillinghast describing the terms of engagement for golf course design is received by the Hermitage Country Club.
July 23, 1916
In a letter from AW Tillinghast to O.B. Hill, President of Hermitage Country Club, he writes:
“After carefully examining the properties on which the proposed golf links of the Hermitage Country Club are to be constructed, I am prepared to say that the ground is of unusual excellence, particularly pleasing in its contours and general characteristics and without a doubt a thoroughly modern course can be produced. The nature of the country makes it possible to construct holes which will vary greatly in character, from the holes from the holes in the meadow lands to the rather more exacting ones located along the creek and in the woods. The later are unusually picturesque and at the same time unusually sound from the standpoint of the golf architect.
It will be quite possible to build a course which will not be cramped, one which will present no dangerous features, and one which, while providing a test for the expert, will not be beyond the limits of the ordinary player. Golf should be a pleasure, not a penance, and this thought will be upper most in the building of the course for the Hermitage Club. 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.
If work is to be pushed actively there is no reason why the new course should not be open for play in the spring of 1917.”
Both weather and labor problems hamper construction efforts on the course. Peter Lees, an associate of Tillinghast, is responsible for the actual earthmoving and greens construction. (Note: Mr. Lees is also believed to have been the “shaper” on several of Tillinghast’s other noteworthy designs of the era.) By the fall of 1917, several holes with sand greens located south of Hilliard Road are in play and throughout 1918 the remainder of the course is in play.
Donald Ross was in Richmond to help both Country Club of Virginia and Jefferson-Lakeside Country Club make design modifications to those courses. Hermitage used this opportunity to employ Ross as a consultant on improvements to its golf course, too. However, Ross’s involvement at Hermitage was primarily involved the conversion of the original sand greens to bermuda grass. The new greens were ready for play in 1923.
After surviving the depression and WWII, Hermitage hosts the Richmond Open, won by Ben Hogan.
Hermitage Country Club hosts the 1949 PGA Championship won by Sam Snead.
By the early-1970’s Hermitage Country Club had outgrown the Hilliard Road facility and opted to move to a 450-acre, 36-hole facility in Goochland County.
Hermitage Country Club sells the Hilliard Road facility to Henrico County for $904,600. The County changed the name of the entire facility to Belmont Park. The Belmont name was a nod to the name of the pre-Civil War house and surrounding farmland that was acquired by Hermitage in 1916
In 1977 golf course is opened to the public and operated as Belmont Golf Course, it’s largely the same golf course played in the 1949 PGA Championship.
During the 1977-1999 timeframe Belmont is a successful municipal golf course with golfers paying for approximately 45-50,000 rounds per year. The golf course was run, from a financial perspective, just as all other park facilities, expenses were paid from the General Fund of the Henrico County Recreation and Parks Budget. However, unlike other parks, Belmont Golf Course collects considerable greens fee revenues to offset maintenance costs. Belmont Golf Course produced positive cash flow in this era and the excess funds flowed back into the Recreation and Parks General Fund.
Belmont Golf Course was converted to an Enterprise Fund operation in 1985. An Enterprise Fund is an organization which supports all its expenses through the revenues generated by the organization, similar to a private business enterprise. Accordingly, good financial records exist for Belmont Golf Course since this time.
Hilliard Road is widened from a 2-lane road to a 5-lane roadway. As a result, holes 1, 9, 10, 17 & 18 are modified to varying degrees to accommodate the road improvement project and the tunnel under Hilliard Road.
The remnants of Hurricane Gaston stalls over the Richmond area producing torrential rainfall, peaking at 12.6” in less than 24-hours. The ensuing flash floods severely damaged the 1st and 2nd green, as well as flooding on several fairways. Later, both greens were moved to higher ground to escape the 100-year flood plain.
Belmont Golf Course is featured on the Golf Channel and the Fried Egg Golf Newsletter. This media coverage raised awareness of the importance of the historic AW Tillinghast designed course. As a result, the bunker rebuilding and regrading project was put on hold.
May 3, 2018
Henrico County issues a Request for Information (RFI) for the “Third-Party Operation of Belmont Golf Course”. After a series of meetings and one-on-one presentations by prospective vendors throughout the summer and fall of 2018, the information gathered in the RFI process was summarized and presented to the Board of Supervisors in a closed-door workshop in January 2019.
The Supervisors chose not to move forward with any of the proposed submissions from the respondents of “Third-Party Operation of Belmont Golf Course” RFI. Instead, a Land Plan Study for Belmont Park was initiated. Three public meetings are scheduled in April and May 2019 for public input on Belmont Park. Currently, Henrico Recreation and Parks Department continues to operate the Belmont Golf course, Belmont Tennis Courts and Belmont Recreation Center in a normal manner.
August 26, 2019 Henrico County issues a Request for Proposal to lease and operate Belmont Golf Course for 20+ years. Submittals are due on October 4, 2019.