The Big Bertha line of golf clubs is popular enough to warrant its own article in Wikipedia. Callaway chose the name to evoke the famous Big Bertha howitzer built by German arms manufacturer Krupp. The artillery piece in turn was named after Bertha Krupp, heiress and owner of the industrial giant. There are other, less interesting theories about the origin of the name, but let's go with Bertha Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, because she was not only the main woman at the firm, but also an influential member at Golf-Club Bergisch Land. John Morrison laid out the first 9 holes in 1928 and two years later Bertha donated the clubhouse: the first prefabricated house ever, just invented by Krupp's engineers and steel-plated from wall to wall. Only one other unit was ever sold, but there were no issues with longevity: Bergisch Land's clubhouse has refused to go down to this day, withstanding a devastating fire in the 1970s and some less than enthusiastic members after that.
Bergisch Land means "mountainous country" and that may be a slight exaggeration, but "hilly" certainly fits the bill. After World War II John Morrison was brought in again, which resulted in today's classic stretch of thirteen holes. Bernhard von Limburger added the last five holes after Morrison's death and on a different property to boot. So this feels a bit like two courses with a decent walk between them.
The Morrison course is a typical Colt & Company product of the Golden Age; quirky, adventurous, but always clearly laid out in front of the golfer, so that even elite players will not complain about unfairness. The only really confusing part is finding the 5th tee, which, oddly enough, is hidden right behind the first green. Speaking of the putting surfaces, they are interesting, but not over the top and the day's stimp reading is posted as well. The signature hole is the 13th that plays from a panoramic tee back down to Bertha's clubhouse. The one issue with the classic holes may be that while they all look very different, they do not always play very different. A number of approaches (including the tee shots on some of the par threes) are of a similar length.
Holes 14 and 15 are rather ordinary, it's almost as if a third architect was at work here. Gladly, the final three holes carry some interest again and will ask for a bit of strategic thinking. So there are sixteen very good holes on offer and despite the hilly site the layout is walkable and always in good nick.
Bergisch Land disappointed me. There aren’t many golden age lay-outs in Germany, so you’d expect them to treasure such wealth.
It’s sad to see a good layout go to waste due to improper tree management (or maintenance in general). I don’t think a single tree has been cleared since Morrisons two visits to this site. Many a good hole’s strategy is currently disabled and visually, the trees are also a pain. The fairways had more daisies than grass and greens and surrounds were so soft that the contours of the green complexes were made completely irrelevant. The lay out itself is rather exciting, there is plenty to remark and plenty of (hidden) variety in the routing, which consists of 5 par 3s, 5 par 5s and 8 par 4s. The stretch 6-8 is very beautiful, could be 10x more stunning with a lot of trees removed and could be technically excellent (which it undoubtedly has been long ago). This stretch is routed through a spectacular but difficult part of the property, and Morrison has done this masterfully by going sideways negotiating the largest elevation changes. It seems that the routing was later spoilt in some places with added length, weakening the quality of the hole, with tiresome and illogical green to tee walks with the location messing up the visuals and demanded shot values of the teeshot (most apparent at hole 10). The course is a very challenging walk, emphasized by the soft conditions and heavy grass even on the fairways. This in combination with the property which is far from perfect for golf - I wouldn’t want to play my weekly rounds at such an exhausting golf course.
The 13th is a miles down hill par 5 and is very well bunkered and even has width and strategic options. What a welcome surprise.
The later added 5 finishing holes are not entirely up to the standard set by the first 13 holes, but this is mainly due to the uninspiring 14th, 15th and the teeshot on the 16th where you must walk back 100 meters for the worst looking teeshot on the course, obstructed by cell towers and their cables. This could have been a fine par 4 with an attractive teeshot instead.
The finish with the lovely par 3 17th is, although again you need to climb a steep hill and back again to play the teeball. The vista kind of justifies it, but by this time you just want to get over with it already. The 18th ends in fitting fashion, an attractive par 5 with an interesting to an undulated fairway and a hazard down the left side, approaching to a raised green just around a corner. You see nothing but trees on the left and the right half of the green is blocked by a giant tree. What a joke. All in all, just too many flagrant, blasphemous negatives and the exhausting walk just made it difficult to enjoy this round.
To end on a positive note – Bergisch Land could be improved significantly and be made much more enjoyable with each tree removed. I also liked the bunker styling which also appeared pretty recent and modern, but fitting for a classic golf course.