Sunningdale, Wentworth and Walton Heath are the only clubs in England other than the Berkshire Golf Club that can boast about having two heathland golf courses positioned in the English Top 100. It’s surprising that so few people know how charming the Berkshire experience really is.
The Blue course is the Red’s more conventional and slightly shorter sister. A more standard four par 3s, three par 5s and eleven par 4s make up the configuration for this delightful par 71 course. In Bernard Darwin’s book, Golf Between Two Wars, he wrote: “The other, the Blue, which some people prefer, a little less ‘big’, but by no means a secondary course. The country is essentially undulating and interesting and full of natural beauty…The Berkshire courses have more of charm perhaps and less of austere grandeur than Walton Heath.”
Herbert Fowler was the Berkshire’s architect and the Blue course opened for play in 1928. Fowler was actually very good at designing excellent twin golf courses. Not only did Fowler design both courses here at the Berkshire, but he also designed the highly-regarded, intertwined courses at Walton Heath, the Old and the New.
Both the Berkshire courses have the same natural hazards, although the Blue plays over flatter ground than the Red. Cruelly, the Blue opens up with an exceptionally tough par 3, with the tee directly in front of the clubhouse window. The green sits on a distant plateau. Not the easiest hole on which to start a round of golf – play the Red course in the morning to prepare for it!
There are many other notable holes on the Blue course but it’s the closing sequence of five holes that makes this a tough but special course. All five are par 4s and three of them are more than 400 yards long. It could be argued that the Blue has a similar but less acute weakness than her brother the Red – the three par 5s on the Blue course are very short indeed, the longest measures only 477 yards.
However, short par fives aside, the Berkshire is the most delightful place to play 36 holes of golf, perhaps only surpassed by the pairing of Sunningdale’s Old and New courses.
Following a historic review of The Berkshire courses in collaboration with Adam Lawrence of Oxford Golf Consulting, architect Tim Lobb’s design firm commenced a programme of bunker and landscape restoration on both the Red and Blue layouts in 2016 and this work is ongoing.
Like any sibling rivalry, the competition for supremacy at The Berkshire is fierce. The Red course may just edge it as the more famous of the two courses laid across this wonderful piece of golfing real estate. This may be partially due to it’s renowned and engaging 6/6/6 layout, however the Blue is, in my opinion, equal in stature and victorious when it comes to enjoyment. The Red has a certain grandeur to it and is possibly the tougher test as a whole, but there is no doubt in my mind that the back nine of the Blue is the best nine holes at The Berkshire. You may find that a remarkable statement when you consider that, in my opinion, the worst hole out of the 36 also resides on that nine (but more of that later).
I have played a number of courses that start with a short hole. The 1st at Huntercombe is a relatively kind clip with a short iron. The 1st at Royal Lytham & St Anne’s is a bunker strewn nerve jangler played with a longer club. I have however never witnessed any one shot starting hole quite as terrifying as the 1st on the Blue course at the Berkshire. At 213 yards from the white tee and often played into the prevailing wind, this tee shot is all carry and gets more intimidating the closer the flag is to the right side of the green. The proximity of the clubhouse veranda and putting green to the tee box mean that there will always be more eyes on you than you would wish for, and I can imagine many take an embarrassed shuffle onwards off that tee box.
After the tester at the 1st, the course then eases you in with a number of holes that could yield opportunities. The run 2-6 could be very rewarding if played well. There is always jeopardy close at hand though, particularly around the typically tricky Fowler greens. For example, the green on the 2nd is deceptively small and supreme accuracy will be required on the second shot here to take advantage of the holes short length. Also, the par 3 4th looks like an easy touch from the tee box, but what you can’t see is the sloped turmoil left and long of the green. Make sure you pick your line and club accordingly here to avoid disappointment.
Possibly the strongest hole on the front nine is the 8th; a great advert for a golf hole not needing to be complicated to be difficult. An arrow straight par 4 measuring a little over 400 yards from the whites, this hole will ask questions of you on every shot. This half then finishes with a wonderful risk reward uphill par 4 where only the bravest (and longest) will take on the green. My playing partner managed to pitch a crushed driver on the front edge and it was an exhilarating spectacle to behold. You could say that is exactly what a risk reward par 4 should be; providing just the faintest whiff of the achievable while more often than not, leaving those drawn in to the trap in a self induced stink.
Now to that aforementioned worst hole at The Berkshire. The 10th is a par 3 that feels like it is on exchange tour from a golf course far away from here. There is much history as to why it was changed to its current design, mainly due to safety concerns surrounding the proximate main road beyond and to the left of the green. The front right bunker was replaced by an out of character watering hole that feels not in keeping with its heathland surroundings. I hear murmurs of a rethink regarding this hole with the intention of returning the hole closer to its original layout. This would most certainly be a win for the overall cohesiveness of the Blue and strengthen its case for being the best of the two courses.
As you can probably guess, I am a huge fan of the final eight holes of the Blue. There is beauty, uniqueness, challenge and opportunity abound across this finishing stretch. The 12th is a brilliant hole with a crazy green that will earn your respect once you seen its severity. The 13th is my favourite short hole on the property and the run of five par 4’s (measuring over 2000 yards combined) to finish, will test even the most nerveless player.
After much deliberation, I have the two courses in a dead heat, tied like so many siblings are in a fierce battle for supremacy. While the Red may be the more complete golf course, there is a quirkyness and personality to the Blue that ticks so many boxes for me. What can’t be underestimated here is the quality on show right across the 36 holes. The Berkshire boasts one of the finest two course offerings you will play anywhere and is quite rightly revered as one of England’s finest golf clubs.
The Berkshire is an amazing place for a day out, with 36 challenging holes sprawled across a lovely sandy property. Maybe not quite the cachet of Sunningdale (or the price tag), it's still a very classy place.
The Blue course starts with a very stern test, an intimidating carry over a heather filled chasm of doom, the green sitting pretty 220 yards in the distance, with no real bail out. The fact this is your first shot of the day, right in front of the clubhouse, adds to your trepidation (the Red course starts with a nice wide open downhill par 5, so next time I'll start with Red first!). After this tough opening hole, the course is more forgiving, but the undulations, fairway bunkering and location of trees at strategic points, mean that you are continually asked questions and have to carefully plot your way around this course. There were usually multiple options to play each hole, and I loved it.
Overall, there's not much in it between Red and Blue, the courses cross over multiple times and give you glimpses of the other 18. Really solid challenge.
Coming to The Berkshire is a real treat, and we had a 36 hole feast set for us combining both the red and blue courses.
The Blue is a little in the shadow of its higher ranked Red partner, but now having played both I feel that the Blue is currently in better condition. I certainly feel that the Blue course is more than capable of holding its own and was a complete joy to play.
The 1st hole, a long and tough par 3, played in front of the clubhouse, is a feast for the eyes and a nerving challenge; a great way to kick the round off. Beyond that we were met with so many quirky and unique holes, only let down by it's proximity to the dual carriage way, that straddles 3/4 holes.
Forgetting that the course is absolutely incredible, and given I got 40 points (off 13), I had a great day with friends, and the quality of golf immense.
The perfect day out and if you get the chance, never turn down the chance to visit The Berkshire.
As you might expect from a course of this calibre, our morning welcome was very warm and we happily settled into our complimentary coffee and bacon sandwich. It's a good job we did as the first hole was a 200 yard par 3 over a sea of heather, so take the time to hit the practise net!
After sticking it on the green (and subsequently 3 putting), you then go into a fairly scorable stretch. But this course is about much more than scoring, it's an experience. The Berkshire reserved the course for 2-ball play and so we strolled round at a comfortable pace, only seeing two other groups out on the course! This was good news as it really is a course you want to take in and enjoy, beautiful trees, colourful heather, manicured bunkers and perfect fairways.
Whilst controversial, I prefer the Blue course over the Red course as I thought there were more memorable holes, with my favourite being the 14th, a short dog leg left with a blind tee shot. If you bail right (as I did), your only option is to punch the ball down the fairway and try and get up and down from 60+ yards.
One tip is to make sure you go into the halfway house. It was very reasonably priced & a top notch sausage roll!
The final holes aren't the strongest, but by this time I was already loving the course and so I didn't mind the fairly bland holes.
The courses at The Berkshire can certainly be placed in the ‘classy’ envelope and time spent at the club, whether a member or as a guest is always a joy. The Blue in mid-June was a very welcomed distraction from all that has been going on in recent months.
The opening three holes sum-up the whole course for me; the opener is one that everyone remembers – a par-3 to a green 200 yards away over banks of heather and a par is a very strong score here. The 2nd is a chance to get the shot back that you probably lost at the 1st; 340 yards long and although with a tricky green is a decent birdie opportunity. Then the 3rd hole, is a very welcomed short par-5 that is pretty as a picture, just got to watch the green here as it is rather fast from front to back. The variety in those opening holes is fantastic and whether playing for the first time or as a member is pure heathland golf joy.
It would be very easy to write about all of the front nine holes as it is difficult to find any faults at all – I do like the 7th and the 9th a lot though. The former is a dog-leg to the left at 369 yards to one of the many offset and well protected greens on the Blue. The last hole on the opening half needs care and a lot of it; just 308 yards long but uphill – key here is to know your favourite approach shot distance; it is probably best played 165 yards from the tee to then leave something like an 8 or 9 iron to the green – so many ways to play this hole but none of them easy.
What is clear on the Blue course is that most holes get progressively tougher the nearer the green you get; so off of the tee are probably the easier shots, then the main skills are approaching, chipping and putting and I think that is great design principle as struggling from the tee is no fun for anyone.
The best looking par-3 must be at the 13th; 153 yards with three bunkers protecting short and right but watch the left-side of the green, miss this side and the slope can take your ball to the heather. Do not miss the refreshment hut just ahead of the tee shot on the 14th – the class definitely continues here.
The 16th is probably the toughest par-4 on the course – a slight dog-leg left and with an uphill approach means many second shots will be slightly shy of the green – it is always one more club here.
If I may say the home hole is my least favourite on the course – driving from an elevated tee is just fine and if you get one away, there is a real sense of achievement as there is with many shots from up on high. My slight issue is that the approach will be blind to the green and for such a key hole there is a little left to chance and potential luck of the bounce if playing a shot to land just short to run-up – I am not too sure what can be done to help here and maybe more an observation than anything else.
Since my last visit, the popular tree clearance and woodland management program that this style of course must be on top is clear. Many views have been opened up and as well as been rather nice on the eye, will do a great job of letting light and heat in on parts of the course that really need it.
Off course style and feel is perfect and everyone that we met this summer at The Berkshire were a credit to the club – a very perfect day was had by our 4-ball; to get to the next level, a 2-round day at the club to take in the Red too, you are now talking serious stuff…
Growing up as a 'Surrey Golfer' I had yet to venture over to The Berkshire. Having always heard good things not just about the golf course but also the club house and members, this place surely exceeded my already high expectations! On our morning arrival I was spoilt with a lovely coffee and exquisite eggs royale. The blue course starts with a beautiful but testing 220 yard par 3 playing away from the club house. This was one of the very few course I have played where I can say every hole is testing, fair and fun. Not the longest of courses but don't let this fool you. The closer you get the the hole the more difficult things become, with perfectly guarded run offs and bunker positions, definitely a course where you need to be wearing your thinking cap. The recent tree clearance on the course is understandably still visible however I believe over time this will take shape perfectly. The only negative I can think of is that the greens were not the quickest. Overall a fantastic day throughly enjoyed by my playing partners and I. Will happily snap up any future offer for a return visit!
Baby Brother Blue.
I have commented on The Berkshire as a whole property in my review of the Red course. Here, let’s just talk the course.
I believe I have played the Blue on two occasions. Both against Wellington College when representing Radley College. Both losses. This is mainly down to two female golfers representing Wellington. Two golfers that went on to compete at the highest junior levels and on the Ladies European Tour. Alexandra Peters and Heidi Baek.
The first hole on the Blue course is unusual. A par 3 of 217 yards with heather all the way to the green. A tough start for sure. So tough that our team captain (scratch handicap) was so nervous that he shanked it down into the trees on the right. How he made even a bogey from there I will never know. We all had a chuckle – him not so much. I greened it – obviously.
The course layout is remarkably different to the Red with four par threes, three par fives and eleven par fours – 5 of which come back to back from 14 to 18, all short. There needs to be some variation here in my opinion. More scoring options.
However, a stellar course and the members at The Berkshire should count themselves as very lucky to have a beautiful 36 hole layout at their disposal.
I played the Blue on a day when the greens had been recently sanded so I didn’t see the course at its best. It’s a flatter, more straight-forward course than the Red but no less strategic. However, the less undulating terrain makes it a bit less memorable, particularly on the loop from hole 3 to 9. There’s more woodland, less heather in that area and overall it played like a parkland – something I’m not keen on at The Berkshire is that is it’s well watered and soft. This is no doubt part of keeping it in tip-top condition, but I don’t think this is a heathland that gets very firm and fast.
The 10th is also a short par 3 that belongs on a parkland course, but I have heard a rumour that the pond will be removed and the hole will be returned to its more natural look.
There are many positives here, once through the 10th and playing nearer the Red’s land there are some spectacular holes and greens. On the 12th I’d missed short-right and was able to aim my chip about 10 yards left and use the green area’s contours. That kind of golf is a lot of fun. The strong final hole plays across a valley is an excellent finale and puts the Red’s 18th to shame.
This is a fine course but I personally would place it a little lower in the English rankings. It’s a hefty green fee so I think prioritise the Red, or of course go for the 36 hole option.
For those of you who read my review of the Red course, you’ll know what a huge fan I am of that Herbert Fowler gem.
A day out at The Berkshire would not be complete without lunch and a second 18 on the sister course, the Blue.
The intimidating opening 200+ yard Par 3 over a gargantuan chasm of heather is the entertainment for lunchers sat on the clubhouse veranda and must be one of the toughest opening Par 3’s anywhere in the UK and sets the pulses racing for the rest of the round.
Aside from this opening hole, the beautiful short Par 3 4th and the sharp dogleg left Par 4 7th, I found the majority of the front nine a little uninspiring. This stretch of holes sit on the flattest part of the course and the terrain doesn’t afford the variance that you find amongst the 27 other holes at The Berkshire. They also run along the busy dual carriageway, which when built must’ve been to the despair of the members here.
From the uphill Par 4 9th, the Blue comes alive and blends back into the standard set by its superior Red counterpart.
The stretch from 11-13 are fantastic. The double dogleg Par 5 11th that plays over two ditches is a cracking hole, the short Par 4 12th, played into a punch bowl green, guarded on the left by a huge bunker is a lot of fun and the short Par 3 13th that drops away at the back offers views of the previous two holes. This sets the tone for a tough finishing stretch of holes, where you have to position the ball well off the tee to score well.
Throughout the course, the conditions were sublime, fairways and greens alike and the bunkering throughout The Berkshire rival anywhere I’ve played in the UK.
I’ve read a few reviews stating that there is little difference between the Red and Blue, but that is not my experience. On it’s own, the Blue is a good course, well deserving of its place in the Top 100, but there is no doubt in my mind that the Red is the far superior 18. It’s more picturesque and varied but that said, I can’t think of many better days out than 36 holes at The Berkshire.
Others may have said, but the pro advised that the members prefer the Blue to the Red and I can understand why. The course has more of a standard flow to it in its make up and is not as penal as the Red, however, it also doesn’t have the standout holes that the Red does.
I did however really enjoy our round on the Blue and we lucked out as we played it 3 days before the ladies did on the Rose Tour and therefore the course was immaculate. The greens I have to say were some of the best I have ever putted on, not a single bobble on any putt.
I was happy we had played the Red in the morning as turning up and teeing off on the 1st of the Blue, as your first shot of the day, would have been just a little intimidating. A few holes stood out, those being 1, 13, 14 and 16. The Berkshire really does par 3s well. I cannot think of anywhere with so many standout par 3s.
At the end of the day and having played all 36, my playing partner and I both agreed that the Red is spectacular but you equally get as much from the Blue. The Blue is just a little bit fairer and a lovely track in fantastic condition.