On the Indiana side of the flat lands of the Ohio River valley between Louisville and Cincinnati, Tom Fazio crafted a really nice, fairly challenging golf course to accompany the Belterra Casino.
Nestled in the river’s flood plain, it’s evident from the first tee that thousands of tons of earth were moved to craft this splendid course.
The mounding, moguls, ponds, and ridges present throughout the course resemble nothing of the surrounding procumbent river valley.
Every fairway had a high side, usually the product of a series of berms or buffer ridge, and a low side leading to woods, water, or both. This contouring, and the accompanying 56 bunkers, fairly well dictate all on course strategy, with the prime and trouble spots both fairly obvious from the tee.
If you can’t control your tee shot at Belterra, you are not going to be able to score, as I quickly found out on the day.
Built in 2001, the course has matured nicely to provide a really fun golf challenge, despite there not being a ton of options on how to play the course.
The big strategic variable at Belterra, which wasn’t much of a factor on our clear, calm, sunny day, is the wind.
Located near the bottom of the river valleys below the palisade-like cliffs above the valley, the course sits squarely in a veritable Southwest to Northeast wind tunnel that stretches the full 100 miles from Louisville to Cincinnati.
The conditioning of the course was fantastic, in all respects. The tee boxes, fairways, rough, bunkers, greens and collars were all in superb shape, with all of the grass varying shades of dark green.
While I’m sure this is a product of the superintendent’s efforts and careful monitoring, I imagine the record rainfall we received in April had something to do with how lush the course was during our round.
I think the course would be infinitely more difficult to play in August, after the summer swelter has had a chance to dry out those sloping fairways and greens a bit.
I’m sure Belterra has an unlimited water supply, given its proximity to the Ohio River, so the course may always be kept as green as it was this spring. However, I think it would be incredibly fun to play dried out like a British Open venue.
At 6,465 yards from the Champion (Blue) tees with a course rating and slope of 71.0/129, it is definitely a more stout challenge than the typical resort course that is designed to move players through quickly.
The greens and green complexes are enormous, with each green having a dominant sloping feature, as well as several smaller, more subtle secondary contours. There is plenty of variety in the elevation, shape, and slope characteristics amongst the greens, which kept the targets interesting.
However, with so many of the holes containing a dominant ridge from which the fairway slope horizontally, there isn’t a great variety of views from the tee box.
Most of the tees were level with or slightly elevated above the fairway, so there was a familiarity that runs through the golfing experience.
Or, put another way, other than the par 3 holes and the closing hole, with the casino and hotel tower dominating the landscape vista, there really isn’t a signature hole or signature stretch of holes that stand out as singular, unique, or even particularly memorable.
All the holes are really nice, with some obvious architectural thought put into the routing, hazards, and greens, but there wasn’t much of a “wow” factor.
Despite being cut from the thicket of woods adjoining the course, surprisingly few trees are in play at Belterra, as so much earth was moved to create the course, I doubt many trees on the golf course property predate the course’s construction by more than a year or two.
If there was one disappointment with the routing or layout of the course, it is that there are no views of the mighty Ohio River from the course. The berms and trees do a fantastic job of secluding golfers from any hustle and bustle of Highway 156, which bisects the course and abuts half a dozen holes.
However, the trade-off for this seclusion is foregoing any views of the scenic larger river valley.
Belterra is a really well-groomed, nice, fun golf course. I’m not sure it’s worth the $90+ rack rate for 18 holes. But if you score a coupon (like we did), if definitely is a great place to spend an afternoon, and well worth the short drive from Louisville, Lexington, or Cincinnati.
And if the golf round doesn’t satisfy your competitive Jones, you can always head across the parking lot to the Belterra Casino, where you can play any variety of table game (Mark made his greens fee back in 30 minutes of blackjack after the round), slot machine or video poker.
Or, you could go my route, as I’m virtually undefeated at the game of “Eat a Cheeseburger,” which Belterra is perfectly happy to offer as well.