Around the time of the Domesday Book, Berkhamsted was one of the most important settlements in rural southeast England and Henry II once kept court in the town's Norman castle. So it's quite fitting that Berkhamsted Golf Club has a fair amount of history attached.
Berkhamsted Golf Club is set 600 feet up in the Chilterns, within one of the largest expanses of heathland in Hertfordshire and golf on this common land dates back to 1874. In the 1880s, a young schoolteacher called George Gowring, aided by Willie Park Jr., laid out a basic 9-hole golf course. A couple of years later, in 1890, the golf club was officially inaugurated, making it Hertfordshire's oldest golf club alongside Chorleywood, which was also founded in 1890.
As golf grew in popularity around the turn of the 20th century, the club commissioned Harry Colt in 1910 to extend the course to 18 holes. In 1926, the Great Revisionist, James Braid, was called in to redesign and extend the course. “Braid returned in 1931 to offer further advice,”
commented authors John F. Moreton and Iain Cumming in James Braid and his Four
Hundred Golf Courses, including revising of the 16th to prevent balls from
being sliced into houses which were now bordering the course. His other
instructions called for grass bunkers, more humps in the fairways and
alterations to some of the greens.”
If you like golf as nature intended, or if sand bunker play is not a strong part of your game, you'll love it here. In the same vein as Royal Ashdown Forest, there is not one single sand trap at Berkhamsted. But don't be lulled into a false sense of security and assume that the golf here is easy. Nature's challenges are in abundance, waiting to test the most able golfer – heather, gorse, bracken and trees.
There's also one Iron Age obstacle that causes an unusual challenge – Grim's Dyke. We're not sure how to classify this Saxon ditch and embankment, which is six to eight feet high in places and comes into play at seven holes, sometimes as an obstacle from the tee and other times for the approach shot. One thing is for sure, it's a unique hazard.
Off the back tees, Berkhamsted measures a healthy 6,683 yards against a par of 71. In order to score well, you'll need to strike the ball well and straight off the tee – there are some lengthy carries across heather – and then, you'll need your best approach play to find the small but fine greens. It's certainly a tough test.
We think Berkhamsted is a course of great charm. It's also a course for all seasons and worthy of its lofty position in our Hertfordshire Best In County rankings.
Golf in Hertfordshire began at Berkhamsted in the 1870s but it was not until 1890 that Berkhamsted Golf Club was founded.
The club has quite the prestige when it comes to the involvement of golfing royalty. In the 1880s, a young schoolteacher called George Gowring, aided by Willie Park Jr., laid out a simple 9-hole golf course – a few years later, in 1890, the golf club was officially founded. Berkhamsted wreaks of Huntercombe Golf Club, minus the bunkers. Willie’s influence is obvious.
In 1910, Mr Harry Colt, of Wentworth, Sunningdale and Muirfield fame, extended the course to 18 holes. A further redesign was commissioned for James Braid (member of The Great Triumvirate, and nicknamed the Great Revisionist) to extend the course.
Berkhamsted is golf as nature intended. The lack of bunkers does not result in easy golf – oh no Sir. I must admit I was lulled into a false sense of leafy security and my first nine was unbelievably shoddy. I must also note that we had the most bizarre weather. For days I had been checking the forecast – I usually swear by www.yr.no for my meteorological updates, however it failed me today. We were taking our waterproofs on and off every two holes until the 12th. It was either pouring with rain or Costa del Sol sunshine. Infuriating. Rythmless. Wet (Sweaty).
I mentioned ‘we’. I was playing in a fourball with my father and two family friends. All of whom had seen the course before due to a corporate relationship with the club. There was some seriously ropey golf played. I will mention no names. As stated, my front nine was inconsistent and poor (44) – Bogeys or worse are around every corner. A quiet word to myself around the turn kicked me into gear and I finished with a closing 36 (1 over). What pleased me most was my ability to find that solitary birdie I strive for each round. This one was a birdie two. Even better.
Berkhamsted was a thrill. A real unexpected gem. All I had heard about the course is that it was bunkerless. No one ever mentions the vital strategy required: the ability to shape shots into A1 positions; deft chips off tight lies into subtle but undulating greens; faith in being able to pull off a downhill or uphill shot (severely if you’re found up against Grim’s Dyke – a Saxon ditch and embankment). I was seriously impressed by the architectural depth and quality of the holes. The par 3s were simple – straight away and pure, length not prescribed. But the par 4s all required thought, off the tee and approaches. The layout is across a tight piece of property and not short by any means. A healthy 6683 yards from the tips. The par 5s are par 5s – ‘three-shotters’ for sure, which was a refreshing albeit historical approach.
My favourite holes were the 10th and 17th.
The 10th is a straight par 4 of 332 yards that requires a direct drive as you need maximum control from the fairway. A hybrid is all that is necessary but do not lose focus. The second shot should only be a wedge but plays over Grim’s Dyke to a heavily fortified green, protected by mounds and penal grass bunkers. What makes this hole special is the carry over this ancient hazard and the fact that only the top half of the flag is visible.
The 17th is a masterpiece of green defence. Another straight tee shot is asked of you as it is essential to leave yourself in the most ideal position on this dog-leg-right beauty. Top left corner please. The hole played downwind today which was ideal for the tee shot but devilish for the approach. 148 yards into the green. Nine iron. It nearly flew the green but checked up on the back edge and settled on the fringe to a back-middle pin. Long is not the miss. This green site is wonderful – it is guarded superbly to the left and right by mounds, but the back of the green drops off into the abyss of rough and bracken below. An up and down? Oh no. My score could have been a birdie, had it not been for the fifth lip out of the day. A par is fine – Stroke Index Five.
I had a truly wonderful time and would really like to return again soon. Although this Winter-esque weather is not my cup of tea. I can only imagine how the course must play in firm and fast conditions. What a delight. I can imagine late evening 4-hole or 9-hole loops. A testing course for both strategy and accuracy.
Who needs bunkers eh!?
Very interesting course, very natural and punishing if you find yourself off the fairway. I really enjoyed playing here but despite the quality of the green and general condition all round I did find many of the par 4s very samey! Most of the time there was gaussy area at circa 240 cutting the holds in two which was interesting to start but a few too many for my liking. Still definitely worth checking out, a novelty playing a course with no bunkers also.
I really like Berkhamsted. It requires a lot of thinking, and you end up hitting most of the clubs in your bag. If you hadn't been told, you probably wouldn't realise there are no bunkers, as mounts and contours around the greens and by the fairways are seamless and fit right it. I have played it many times but only in winter, when it has been quite muddy. Can imagine though that it is very good in summer when it gets firm.
I played the course on a beautiful, sunny day in early May. I was very positively surprised. A course that is very different from the many other golf courses in the area. Without any bunker, but with a lot of other obstacles. Especially around the greens are a lot of small humps that forgive no mistakes and protect the greens well. Split and broken fairways require strategic play. All in all it was a pleasure and a lot of fun to play this extraordinary course, visually very appealing and always a challenge. Compared to the neighboring and highly ranked The Grove I liked Berkhampsted much better, the design much more interesting and the whole enviroment and nature is much nicer.
Berkhamsted is one of those older style bunkerless natural English courses that are a real pleasure to play. Hit it straight and avoid the trees and heather means you can score well here. The course is fairly flat (ie. easy walking), however there are lots of humps and hollows and also a few holes where Grims Dyke needs avoiding. The course is also criss-crossed by roads and there are quite a few walkers with dogs, but they were no hastle and this just added to the character. Played for the second time in September 2017 and the course was in good condition; the greens were true, albeit a tad slow. Berkhamsted has a nice mixture of holes with plenty of dog-legs and placement of the tee shot does seem to be of paramount importance. No poor holes, with my favourite probably the 13th, a short dog-leg par 4 where placement of the drive at the narrow end of the fairway left a short iron over an area of rough ground and hollows. Well worth a visit for a tranquil game of golf
The humps, bumps, swales and hollows of Berkhamsted add a real charm and help create an atmosphere for enjoyable golf on fast-running, heathy-style terrain. Couple this with the lovely contouring of the putting surfaces and it elevates this course to one that is well above the norm.
Traversing common land - watch out for the many dog walkers - the course played superbly on a mild February afternoon and there’s no doubt that members get to enjoy 12 months of good quality ground conditions at this Hertfordshire haven, the joint oldest in the County.
You’ll struggle to find a more consistent course too in so much that each hole, on this relatively flat property, is of a very similar style and appearance. That makes it hard to pick out individual holes because they are all consistently solid but there is enough variety to make each one memorable.
I must admit I thought the 333-yard opener was a particularly fine way to start the round with an angled heathery ditch immediately introducing you to the strategy that is clearly going to be involved throughout the round. And so it proves with many holes best approached from one side or the other and grassy knobbles to negotiate if you find yourself on the wrong side.
There’s no need for sand bunkers on the course because these mounds, mostly situated close to the putting surfaces, do the job well in terms of making recovery shots more difficult, as well as more interesting, should you miss a green. Saving par is not too much of a burden though because there are hardly any steep drop-offs around the greens.
The Club, founded in 1890, hold a number of open events during the year with the Berkhamsted Trophy, a 72-hole Men's Amateur Scratch Medal competition, the flagship event of the season. It’s a lovely place to play and I would advise anybody to visit.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
A couple of weeks on, I still don't know what to make of this course. Generally I love quirky layouts where you have to think your way round (I've been brought up on links golf), but some of the hazards here actually take away any opportunity for personal strategy. A couple of holes where gorse sits proudly in the middle of the fairway I found bizarre. I'll give it another go, and perhaps it will feel different going round with some knowledge of the layout, but it didn't live up to expectations. Course was in good nick though. Shame about the grumpy starter. Somewhere between 3 and 4 balls.