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Places To Play

Bellport Golf Club: Bellport

Bellport, NY Public

Overview

From Golf Digest Architecture Editor emeritus Ron Whitten:

For over half a century, Bellport, N.Y., on the south shore of Long Island, was known primarily for fireworks. It was the home of Grucci Fireworks, a family-owned business whose roots reach back to the 1850s in Italy. From a large factory complex at the end of Maple Ave., established by Felix Grucci Sr. in 1929, Grucci produced an amazing array of fireworks associated with presidential inaugurations and Fourth of July celebrations, the sort of pyrotechnical displays that burst into stars, then into streamers and then into glittering fairy dust, drawing oohs and ahhs from the audience. The Gruccis were so good at their business that the New York Post once anointed them as America’s First Family of Fireworks.

Their connection to Bellport changed on the Saturday after Thanksgiving in 1983. Apparently triggered by spontaneous combustion, a package of fireworks in storage ignited. A chain reaction ensued and the Grucci plant literally exploded. Of the three people on the property that day, Felix was rescued by passers-by, but one of his sons, Jimmy, was killed along with Jimmy’s 19-year-old cousin, Donna Grucci. It was a terrible tragedy, one that some Bellport residents could never forgive, for the concussions and subsequent fire also damaged and destroyed other homes in the neighborhood. In the end, the Grucci company moved to a new plant in Virginia.

Just blocks from the site of the old plant is Bellport Golf Club, a semi-private club owned and leased by the Village of Bellport, with a Seth Raynor design that dates back to 1917. I wish I could say that, being located in Bellport, it’s a Raynor course with considerable fireworks, but that would be overstating the case.

Bellport is one of the least recognizable Seth Raynor layouts I’ve ever played.

Except for two or three holes, Bellport has none of Raynor's distinctive template holes, or even his geometric style and larger-than-life architectural features. You have to search hard for Raynor’s fingerprints. On a nearly dead-flat site, the greens are mostly small and low profile. One arguable Raynor original is the 368-yard par-4 17th, with a punchbowl green tucked beyond a 50-yard stretch of some of the biggest chocolate drop mounds you’ll ever see. The cluster is more like a Tillinghast Great Hazard than anything I've seen on any other Raynor course.

The only change in elevation is at the south end, along the bay, where in 1961, Robert Trent Jones dredged a swampy creek into a long lagoon and piled the fill to form a high plateau atop which was built the 189-yard 14th. I do believe Trent was trying to replicate the High Hole of St. Andrews here, the famed 11th on the Old Course. If so, he mimicked the bunkering and green slope pretty well

The worst thing about that plateau is that it’s the backdrop for the one great Raynor hole on the property, the 179-yard 12th, a Redan replica playing beside the lagoon, with the green canted right to left and front to back. Alas, from the tee, the slope of the green is obscured by the huge grassy hill right behind it.

Golf architect Bill Love completed a long range renovation of Bellport in 2004. He described his plan, based on an old blueprint and some early photos, as an “enhancement” of a classic design rather than a restoration. He left most greens are as he found them but rebuilt nearly all the bunkers for drainage, adding earthen berm rims around many, but also flashing the sand a bit up the steep front faces. That's not in strict adherence to a Raynor design, but Love felt on such a flat site, golfers needed some help locating hazards.

He also added some bunkers, reclaiming some old grassed-over cavities and creating new ones in areas Raynor had not considered. Love also added additional chocolate drops along the left side of the fairway on the punchbowl 17th, his theory being that Raynor originally built such knobs to imitate sand dunes swept in from the seacoast to the south.

At just over 6,300 yards, par 71 from the back tees, Bellport is a quaint little layout, not a championship venue, but quite enjoyable, particularly on its short drive-and-pitch par 4s, holes 3, 5 and 11, where the bunkers surrounding those greens are daunting recoveries.

Though Bellport Golf Club lacks the replica holes and oversize features commonly found on other Raynor courses, it doesn’t suffer from their absence.

About

Holes 18
Length 6329
Slope 132
Price $103
Facility Type Public
Year Opened 1899
Designer Seth Raynor