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 a few friends, laid out a basic 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 in the 1920s, Gowring's original layout was showing signs of tiredness, so the Great Revisionist, James Braid, was called in to redesign and extend the course. Little has since changed.
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 way 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 6,605 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.
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.