Belleview Biltmore Golf Club is tucked in the upper class community of Belleair, Fla., away from the bustle of nearby Tampa and St. Pete. Belleair's neighborhoods are neatly maintained. Streets are lined with long, towering palm trees that create a peaceful, relaxed setting in which driving to the course is almost as much fun as playing it.
Donald Ross, the legendary architect, crafted a superb design at the Belleview Biltmore in 1925. And a recent restoration has reclaimed its luster. The routing is very solid ... Ross did a nice job creating pitch and roll in such a flat setting. He obviously didn't want fairways that resembled airport runways, so he mounded bunkers strategically in landing areas.
The course is not long. It measures 6,614 yards from the blue tees and 6,137 from the whites. The gold tees (just over 5,700) are senior-friendly. However, like all Ross designs, difficulty comes not from length, but from slopes and angles and challenging green complexes, as well as high-faced bunkers.
There are three par-5s on this par-71 -- all are reachable in two. The longest is 524 yards from the blue tees, and each plays considerably less than 500 yards from the whites. The par-3s provide balance, however. Most require a well-struck long iron or fairway wood ... although some of you probably carry those new-fangled hybrid things.
This isn't your typical Florida course. Drawing upon his Scottish heritage, Ross eschewed water hazards. He kept them as minimal as one possibly can in Florida. He also minimalized forced carries over water. The few carries that exist are more likely to traverse streams and the edges of ponds. The 18th hole is quintessential Ross: a long par-4 that's the hardest on the course.
You can't go wrong with the Belleview Biltmore. Not only is it very good golf, the setting is great, and the club is well designed. The large clubhouse is inviting with tasty food in the grill. There's a nice flow to the facilities ... you move easily from the parking lot to the driving range to the putting green and the first tee. It's semi-private, and the members I met were friendly. A special shout-out to Clayton, who joined me for two rounds.
For an extra treat, stay a night at the Belleview Biltmore Hotel, about a mile from the course. Built in 1897 by railroad baron Edward Plant, this elegant Victorian is one of the nation's largest wooden structures and has hosted its share of movie stars and heads of state. If you're lucky, you'll snag an invite to play Belleair Country Club, adjacent to the hotel and very private.