Cities aren’t normally associated with oases of tranquility but if you’ve ever enjoyed the idyllic beauty of the Tuileries Garden in Paris or the sense of metropolitan isolation offered by the Phoenix Park in Dublin, you will be ready for the treat that lies in store at Belvoir Park in Belfast.
It’s less that three miles from centre of Belfast to the gates of Belvoir Park, the Lagan Valley and the Belvoir Park Forest. That means it’s no more than a 10 minute drive down the famous Ormeau Road to a club, which was founded in 1927 and hosted the Irish Open in 1949 and 1953.
The beauty of Belvoir, as it is fondly called, is not just that it is a stunningly beautiful parkland course set on 136 acres of mature woodland or that it was designed by the great Henry Shapland “Harry” Colt but it situated in the heart of the city.
It’s little wonder that Belvoir Park is one of the few Irish venues to have host Irish Open, Irish Professional Championship and the Irish Amateur Close — a distinction it shares with such revered Irish clubs as Royal Dublin, Cork, Portmarnock, Ballybunion, Woodbrook and Royal County Down.
The list of proud members is too long to mention here but suffice to say that the genial club manager, Mr Jim Cullen, was bursting with pride as he showed me the magnificent, panoramic view from the modern clubhouse.
While we have seen whales frolicking in the ocean off the coast of Co Kerry and the sun setting on the dunes of Portrush, it’s worth dropping in to Belvoir Park just to drink in the spectacular vista from the clubhouse.
If there is an Irish club with a more spectacular view of a cityscape — and I include Royal Dublin and Stackstown in this list — I have yet to see it.
Set high above the tree-lined course, the open plan club restaurant featuring a huge, curving window and balcony that has been christened “The View.”
An informal yet stylising elegant place to enjoy lunch, dinner or a quiet drink after tour round, the view of Belfast from Cave Hill and the Divis and Black Mountains to the massive Harland and Wolff gantry cranes away to the east is something to behold.
The golf course can also take your breath away, not because there are a couple of testing little climbs — they’re nothing for a player in reasonable golfing shape — but because the holes are so wonderfully framed by the trees.
It wasn’t always this way, mind you. When Colt planned the course, he felt it was possible to make one that would “afford and excellent test” and at the same time “give the maximum pleasure to all players.”
It got out just after the ladies but there was golfers off all shapes and sizes swinging away as I made my way around on a glorious autumn day — pairs of old timers who seemed to zip through the holes with incredible rapidity; small groups of highly competitive looking women golfers who were far more skillful than I could ever hope to be; and nattily dressed three balls of younger professional types who’d snuck out of the office for a Friday afternoon treat.
And treat it is, especially from the medal tees I was foolish enough to try.
At 6,685 yards from the blues and 6,474 yards from the whites, Belvoir Park is a true championship challenge where you are required to strike the ball very well indeed to stay on pristine fairways and out of the many species of trees.
A 16th century demesne, once the property of Robert Bateson MP, it was traditional for guests to be invited to Belvoir Park for the shooting with rabbit, hare, quail and duck.
I came across more rabbits in the woods that eagles and birdies on the greens but while I had few successes — my Sunday best five-wood to the tough fourth t made the sanctuary off the putting surface only to trickle off the false front, 20 yards down the fairway — every hole was a thrill.
The par-three fourth, which measures close to 190 yards from the medal tees, is not for the faint-hearted with its myriad Colt bunkers.
As for the index one 12th, a muscular par four that sweeps right to left over a billowing fairway to an elevated green, anyone who makes their four here deserves champagne in the clubhouse afterwards
Sanctuary stands there on top of a hill on the outskirts of what is still the small village of Newtownbreda.
It calls to you home as you take on the fearsome last three holes — the wonderful par three 16th where Eric Brown made two en route to Irish Open glory — the tough 17th with its elevated green and the left to right curve of the 18th where the spire of the local church is a good line off the tee.
The finishing hole sets up for the right hander who fades. In my case, I wasn’t so much fading as flagging badly but the thought of a restorative drink and some good local company in “The View” kept me going right to the end of a magical parkland journey.