The beautiful Jacobean-style mansion in the Bearwood Estate reminds us what it must have been like to be a wealthy 19th century English aristocrat. The fabulous Victorian house was built for the man behind The Times newspaper, John Walter. The course at Bearwood Lakes Golf Club first opened for play in 1996 and Martin Hawtree designed it to look mature beyond its years, just as John Walter did with his mansion house.
Bearwood Lakes is a thrilling layout, which wends its way through the mature trees of the former Bearwood Estate. This is a golfer's golf course with skilfully designed and cleverly routed holes. This is certainly one of the very best new courses to have been built and, to quote Golf Links Magazine, Bearwood Lakes is "polished to perfection". Bearwood is immaculately maintained and the members benefit from stunning playing surfaces all year round.
Hawtree has skilfully blended the course into the natural surroundings and the beautiful specimen trees add to the many attractive features. There isn't a single weak hole at Bearwood Lakes – each and every one makes you think. The most memorable holes are the six sited around the natural lakes, which cover more than 50 acres.
The par four 13th is a stunner, which requires a long carry from the elevated tee across the corner of the lake to a distant fairway. The green is cut alarmingly close to the water's edge – this is not a hole for the faint-hearted. The 14th is probably Bearwood's signature hole – and it's a corking one-shotter, which requires an accurate mid iron across the corner of the lake.
To score well, especially from the back tees, you'll need to bring your 'A' game. The fairways are relatively generous in terms of width but if you stray off this carpeted surface, you'll be in all sorts of trouble – it's easy to lose a bucket load of balls in the rough at Bearwood Lakes.
This course has everything. Facilities, Driving Range and Course are all world class. There are so many great holes but the back 9 is exceptionally picturesque. Worth making the trip to play, if you're lucky enough to know someone there!
Having played Swinley on the Monday we headed to Bearwood on the Tuesday. I personally think its the most underrated course I have ever played. It has everything, in beautiful condition, amazing hospitality, fantastic lay out, amazing views, some lovely wild deer and despite it being a tough track, there is birdie opportunity's. I expect it to rise up the rankings over the years. Whilst Swinley oozes class and I scored much lower, I enjoyed my round more at Bearwood.
Bearwood Lakes is a baby of a course, opening in 1996, but built through the mature and vast Bearwood Estate. This gives it a feel of maturity beyond its years and the course blends seamlessly into its surroundings. 18 varied holes winds and undulates through a large variety of trees and 50 acres of natural lakes. To compliment this, the whole course is manufactured within an inch of its life. On the tee boxes, fairways and greens you will be hard pressed to find a blade of grass out of place. It is a club that members can happily show off to their guests and that really starts from the moment you arrive. The modern clubhouse whets the appetite with views of 3 complete holes. You’re never short of action.
There are number of good holes throughout. The 6th is a lovely short hole with limited views of the fairway from the tee and a tree guarding the green from any tee shots left of centre. The 7th is the best driving hole on the course, especially from the tips. Even if you aren’t playing from the blacks, you should walk back there to see just how narrow the drive is. This hole favours a draw from the tee before heading back uphill towards the clubhouse.
The next set of holes that run from 8 - 14 all take in the lakes and are superb. A risk/reward driveable Par 4 at 8 and a short Par 3 back across the lake at 9. 10 offers the best approach shot on the course across a small flowered lake. The 11th is another hole that one should drive from the black tees as it changes the hole completely. 12 is a lovely downhill Par 3, guarded by an army of bunkers and 13 is the best hole on the course. An elevated drive on a dogleg right Par 4, with a stream intersecting the fairway twice. Finally, the 14th is the best Par 3 on the course, cutting the corner of a lake to a large undulating green.
The next set of holes from 15 - 17 are weaker and not in keeping with the rest of the course, although as always, well maintained and the final hole is a lovely Par 4 where balcony watchers can watch approach shots over a lake to the final green.
Parkland courses are not always my cup of tea but Bearwood is up there with the best that England has to offer. It’s beautiful, superbly maintained, varied and extremely fun to play. If you are invited by the one of the lucky members, do snap up the chance to play here!
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Bearwood Lakes is not on many people’s bucket list of courses to play. It doesn’t (yet) feature in any of the top 100 GB&I listings and it doesn’t have the reputation of the classic heathland courses that are not far away. However it is a delightful course that merits playing if you get the chance - it might just make it into your own GB&I top 100.
Lakes feature on around half of the holes with 9, 13 and 14 the standouts. The 13th is arguably the best hole on the course requiring careful positioning (or luck!) to avoid the burn off the tee and with water guarding the green front and right. A number of other holes are played through an avenue of trees.
A lake has been added to the 18th and 1st fairways which typically shouldn’t come into play for medium/long hitters but can punish a miss-hit shot and definitely adds to the aesthetics (and nerves!)
Overall the course isn’t overly difficult and is very playable, not that I managed to play it well! Its slope rating of 142 is way too high in my opinion, confirming my view that a slope rating bears little resemblance to how hard a course actually is. (I challenge anyone to play Archerfield’s Dirleton course with its gorse-lined fairways and slope of 125 and conclude that it is easier than BL.)
Overall I really liked the course and I am left wondering whether it would make it into my GB&I top 100. I rate it more highly than a few courses that are in the rankings but then again there are other courses not in the rankings that I would rate more highly. It will probably end up being borderline once I have played all of the contenders. That to me still represents a fantastic course. Play it if you get the chance.
Bearwood Lakes is always going to be hard done and it has every right to feel that way. Let me explain......
Within 15 minutes of Bearwood Lakes are two of the best courses in the UK, namely Swinley Forest and The Berkshire, which in fact is 3 courses as TB has two outstanding layouts. This should not detract from the fact that Bearwood Lakes is also superb, yet I cannot give it a 'best in the region' score as it is narrowly beaten (in my opinion) by the aforementioned. Anyway, onto the review!
The entrance and driveway is unassuming and oozes high quality and the experience from start to finish was nothing short of a pleasure. I was playing with an employee of the club as their guest and I was treated as if I were a member myself.
Hole 1 is a downhill opener that gives the golfer a welcoming confidence, fairways bunkers short right and long left promote a straight tee shot, but missing right is preferred to left. The green sits up above the golfer so anything short will be punished, the bunkers are not a bad place to end up, speaking from experience.
The 9th, 12th, 13th and 14th will have you reaching for your camera phone, just don't get caught as phones are not permitted on the course, to be honest a quick photo won't hurt anyone. The vistas are truly stunning and the more I think back to my round the more I rate Bearwood Lakes on a par with its more prestigious county neighbours. In fact I retract my opening statement and I have adjusted my rating accordingly!
If you can get a round then go for it, being members and guests only, you need to be very lucky but as they saying goes, it is better to be lucky than good.
Bearwood Lakes deserves more, it should be up there with the other top rated courses in the area, I loved it and I know you will too.
If the kite which blessed the skies over Bearwood Lakes was whistling in appreciation at my tee-shot on the 8th, it was crying in dismay at my second which thudded into the top of the tree which was its home.
I feared that my rather ungraceful golf jarred with the beauty of nature in this Berkshire oasis - the first members-and-guests-only course of my top 100 quest.
It surprised me because every other venue I have played within 50 miles of London has been thick with heather.
The relief from the purple haze was tempered by the perils of the water which gives the course its name.
Indeed, I empathised with tour golfer Charley Hull whose recent seven on the 13th took her out of contention in the Rose Ladies' Series event at Bearwood Lakes.
This is one of the course's picture holes - demanding a long carry over a pond before being faced by what seems to be a benign short chip into the green. Unfortunately, appearances are deceptive and I discovered a lake which sucks in shots falling short in front or to the right of the putting surface.
My disappointment followed a previous blob on the 12th - a downhill 191-yard par three which is surrounded by bunkers at its front and a wood behind it to trap the over-eager.
That said, there are possibilities to score. Indeed, I snaffled two early three-pointers, thanks to the welcoming first and second.
The gentle introduction is temporary. Work is currently being undertaken to build large ponds in front of the first tee and 18th green.
My playing partner, who had kindly invited me to his course, is not keen on this development but I politely disagreed.
Anyone playing a venue with 'lakes' in the title should expect water from the outset but currently doesn't encounter it until the fifth. I also reckon the additions will provide an even more splendid outlook for those munching on the clubhouse lunches.
Incidentally, I can vouch for their quality, having gorged on a succulent sea bass, served by very friendly staff, ahead of our match
Back on the course, I found that the first nine - which is largely woodland-based - offered more opportunities to score than the second where water is much more to the fore.
The exception is the 7th - a long par four - with a handsome avenue of trees which open out into a view of the clubhouse.
I liked the short eighth which requires plotting around water and the par-three ninth which demands an accurate shot over it.
Meanwhile, I am still trying to make up my mind about the controversial 16th with its strange railway-sleeper fence which seems to be trying to mimic the cross-fairway walls of St Endodoc and North Berwick.
I enjoyed Bearwood Lakes but, in truth, expected something a tad tougher or maybe more exotic to match the mystery of being one of the few UK courses where the public cannot play without invitation.
But it does have many nice touches - including the idea of renting out rake heads.
I was very happy to smooth out the surface having played my shots from where the ball landed as opposed to moving it to accommodate the rakeless traps of the Covid-affected period.
I have been fortunate enough to have played Bearwood Lakes a number of times. From the first tee you don’t quite get an idea of how undulating course is and the architects have made good use of the land with a mixture of uphill and downhill holes along with bringing the numerous water hazards into play. Although Bearwood does not have many standout holes it doesn’t have any real weak holes either. The 5th is a nice par five which the player can reach the in two provided they hit a decent tee shot. The second shot is blind and requires an accurate approach as the entrance to the green is tight, protected by bunkers and runs from front to back towards the lake. Hole 8 is a fun short par 4 which doglegs from right to left and although it is drivable I don’t recommend taking the shot on as the green is tiny. The signature hole is the 14th. Set on the edge of the lake an accurate mid iron is required to find the green which has many little plateau’s and slopes….any shot that is not quite struck will find the water. A hole I really like is the 17th another short par 4 which is drivable from the forward tee. Bunkering down the left forces the player away from the narrow green but if you can carry these traps the player will left with a simple chip or bunker shot if they do not find the putting surface. Parkland golf is not really my thing but Bearwood is up there with the best of them and I always look forward to returning.
For someone who’s a self-confessed links and heathland snob, I had a lovely day’s golf at Bearwood Lakes recently. Frustratingly, this is one of England’s few privately owned clubs that’s closed to the masses, so whilst its access is limited to members and guests only, it’s well worth a visit if you’re able to rustle up an invite or play in one of the rare charity events that are hosted here.
As you’d expect for a relatively new and exclusive club such as this, the facilities are out of this world. Despite the clubhouse exterior being architecturally a little disappointing and unimaginative in its design, it’s fairly plush inside and the practice facilities, a stone’s throw from the clubhouse and proshop are wonderfully well equipped, suitable for a tour professional to use as a base.
The course itself is located in the grounds of the classically beautiful and historic Bearwood College and has a really pleasant balance between parkland and lakeland. The holes skirt around large lakes and between pinetree-lined fairways, but the real distinctive feature that makes the course stand out from other parkland courses I’ve played is the thick fescue rough. There are even patches of gorse and heather, which to my own disappointment the club have tried to eradicate due to it not fitting the appearance of the rest of course. The turf also lays upon a clay base which is at the detriment of drainage, so like many inland courses, can become saturated after spells of heavy rain. Otherwise the conditioning is excellent with the greens, which themselves have been laid on a sand-base, running smooth, true and quick.
Whilst the beauty of the lakes will draw visitors to the course, I was surprised to find that I personally enjoyed some of the more tightly treelined holes such as the 6th that has the direct line to the green obscured by a large fir, or the majestic 11th, itself a fantastic driving hole that scrambles up to a raised angled putting surface from a fairway that bends around some bearded bunkers ahead of the green being my favourite hole of the course. The lakes themselves don’t come into play on every hole but beautifully frame the holes where they dominate the surroundings such as at 8, 9, 10, 13 and 14. Architecturally, there’s plenty of interest too. Most notably, an interesting walled timber structure that bisects the fairway 40-yards in front of the green at the 16th attempting to answer the question of how to make the second shot on a par five more interesting. Design-wise this won’t be to everyone’s liking, but it’s a good example of Bearwood going the extra mile to differentiate itself from other parkland courses and create a more engaging design.
As inland courses of the non-heath variety go, I’d rate Bearwood Lakes as one of the best I’ve played. I’m yet to have the honour of playing Wentworth (I’m open to an invite), but it’s in the same league as Lough Erne in Northern Ireland and a notch up from my recent experience of playing The Belfry. So if this style of golf is indeed your bag, then a visit to Bearwood Lakes is a must.
Bearwood Lakes is a beautiful course that is maintained to absolute perfection. It is your typical private members club where all the prices are extortionate but you don’t care because you won’t play there many more times. The greens are absolutely rapid and the fairways and tees are beautifully manicured. The bunkers are really well designed with plenty of sand in so are also fantastic.
I would say that the front nine is a bit better than the back. The 1st starts off with a slightly downhill par 4 and then followed by a long par 5. The 3rd is a great par 3 which is about 175 yards or so and a few big bunkers on the right. The 6th is a narrow uphill par 4 with the drive being very important. If you go left you will be blocked out due to a large tree on the left side of the fairway. 7 is a great hole but very tough requiring a draw off the tee and an then an uphill second shot. The 8th is a risk and reward hole. You can go for the green but if not accurate will most likely make double. Alternatively you could lay up with an iron off the tee and try make birdie from 120 yards or so. 9 is then a medium length par 3 with a beautiful looking shot over the water.
The back nine starts off strong with the 19th being a downhill par 4 and a two tiered green. The 11th is an uphill par 5 which is pretty straight as you see it. 12 is a great downhill par 3 with an elevated tee shot. You’re able to club down by 1/2 clubs and land it all the way to the pin. 13 is another great looking hole, a par 4 measuring about 350 yards with water all the way down the right and a ditch halfway up the fairway. A very tough hole which requires you to brave with the water. This is a beautiful hole which is closest to the lake and you are able to see a mansion on the other side. 14 is a fantastic par 3 over the water and requires a brave shot to go for the pin. Unfortunately i feel like 15 through to 18 are slightly weaker holes but thats only because the first half of the back nine is so strong.
Overall, Bearwood Lakes is a great private golf club and an awesome tree lined golf course. A joy to play and definitely hope to come back to play at some point again in the future!
At Bearwood Lakes you will be greeted with perfectly manicured fairways and quick greens as you work your way around the course that starts well, gets better and then really comes into its own at the start of the back nine.
The Guy Hockley / Martin Hawtree designed par 72 layout stretches to almost 7,000 yards from the back tees and rewards positive play. The course meanders through a backdrop of mature trees with water, as you might expect from the name, coming into play on seven of the holes; both on drives and approaches.
You will find wide landing zones at Bearwood Lakes but large bunkers are waiting for anything too far offline as well as lush rough flanking the fairways and close to the green too.
There are many very good holes, with not a single dud, but the run of holes from the ninth to the 14th are worth a special mention. There are three fine par 3’s amongst this stretch, two played over water, but it was the inviting downhill par four 10th and the climbing par five 11th that really caught my eye. Both are beautiful looking holes where strategy and wise decisions are required at all times.
Although I am a huge fan of links golf I always enjoy playing a top quality parkland course and Bearwood Lakes can certainly claim to be in that category.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.