Sunningdale, Wentworth and Walton Heath are the only clubs in the whole of the British Isles other than the Berkshire Golf Club that can boast about having two heathland golf courses positioned in the British Top 100. It’s an amazing surprise 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 superb 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.
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.
A day out at The Berkshire is always a treat and is up there with the best two course experience in the UK. The Blue which is deemed slightly inferior to The Red is slightly tougher in my opinion. The first hole is not really one for the faint hearted, this long par three to a relatively sloping green requires not only accuracy but the correct club selection to be successful. I am a fan of the 4th a shorter par 3 that plays very slightly uphill guarded by bunkers..judging the breeze can be the fine line between success and failure on this hole. The 7th is a nice dogleg right to left par 4 and 9 which plays uphill is cracking short par 4. The 16th is probably the best hole on the back 9 this long dogleg par 4 requires a decent drive before attempting to find this devilishly sloping green. Hole 18 is pretty much straight in front of you but again be wary of where you position your ball on the green because if you miss it left your quest for a par will be very difficult.
I love The Berkshire. If you've read my review on the red you'll be able to tell that it is my favourite. However, the blue is not to be sniffed at.
The 1st is a wonderful long par 3 infront of the clubhouse over heather. 2 and 3 provide good birdie chances.
4 is one of the best par 3s in England. A beautiful short uphill hole, with the green guarded by bunkers and heather.
7 is a very underrated hole IMO. A lovely dogleg left around heather and pine trees, which only requires a 3 wood and wedge. 9 also flies under the radar, being a short uphill par 4 with great angles and options off the tee.
11, 12 and 13 is a fantastic stretch. 11 is a double dogleg par 5 with a huge tier in the green. 12 is a very straightforward par 4 with one of my favourite bunkers in golf - a trench bunker all the way down the left of the green - and a crazy punchbowl back half of the green. 13 is similar to 4. A beautiful short par 3 with fantastic bunkers, and great views over 11 and 12.
Other strong holes coming in are 14, 15, 16. 18 is a very tough finishing hole, after which you will deserve a drink in the clubhouse.
36 at the Berkshire is the perfect day of golf
I will begin this review of the Blue course by copying the first three paragraphs and final paragraph of my review of the Red course, which I wrote first.
A day spent playing both courses at The Berkshire is in my top ten list of private clubs with two courses. This excludes resorts such as Pebble Beach, Bandon Dunes, Barnbougle Dunes, Trump Turnberry, Gleneagles, Streamsong, etc. While The Berkshire is not at the level of Sunningdale, Baltusrol, Winged Foot, or Walton Heath, it is in the conversation due to the joy one has with the walk and variety of golf holes placed in front of you from both courses. The beauty of the golf courses are also at the same level of some inland courses in England due to the trees, flowering bushes, and heather.
I narrowly prefer the Blue course over the Red, which is contrary to what I read or hear. The reason is that the Red is quirkier with six pars of 3/4/5’s while the Blue is more standard. I also find the Blue course to have a few more “better” holes than the Red and the best nine. Both courses have a weakness in most of their par 5’s lack sufficient challenge. Both courses succumb to a few too many short par 4’s as well. Both the Red and Blue have very good par 3’s. One of the best debates I have had is which course is the superior as one can be easily convinced for one course but then suddenly remember something else about the other course that changes the winner of the debate.
Both courses are cutting back the trees which make the fairways seem wider although they are not. But the beauty of the course is more evident. I would like to come back when it has completed the process….so much golf, so little time.
The Blue hits you right away with one of the best par 3’s in the UK. The first hole would fit into any of the nearby more highly thought of courses and one would still go, “wow.” The heather goes from the tee stopping short of the green and makes for a visual delight. This long par 3 of 217 yards has a green that is well guarded with fronting bunkers on either side and a fall-off on the right that one must carry as it is very punitive. One wishes this hole came much later in the round.
The short par 4 second is again visually pretty but despite having three bunkers at the green, it is too easy of a hole. The short par 5 third is also too easy for the better player and perhaps at 475/460 needs to be converted to a par 4 (shortened by ten yards if one wants), add similar bunkering to the second hole to make the green even more interesting as it slopes front to back, or add at least forty yards. While I do not know who owns the land behind the green, it certainly appeared to have plenty of land available.
The mid-length par 3 fourth hole is a gem. It is the right length due to the defense of the green with three bunkers and a nice slope from the right to the back left. After playing this hole, I wanted to walk back and play it again.
If the short par 4 fifth hole of 330/306 was the only short par 4 on the course, it would be a good hole due to the strategy involved for the better player. This dogleg left has a bunker on the left corner, and three bunkers fronting the green. For the average player, there is no decision here; play out to the right off the tee and wedge on. For the better player it is a true risk:reward hole. However, given there are numerous short par 4’s on the course, it becomes a bit “lost.” Once again, it appeared that one could take the tee back to where the fourth tee is and not change the character of the hole for the better player. I would think it would be fine to have a 420/330 par 4.
I like the sixth hole, a medium length par 5 bending to the left that has a stream winding its way across and along the fairway. The longer player has to consider it for the tee shot while the average player has to think about it more for their second shot. I also liked the green a lot; long and skinny and different to the previous green shapes.
The seventh, a short but sharp dogleg left par 4 at 364/345 has a nice green complex, but I did not think much of the hole and felt there should be a fairway bunker on one side for visual purposes. I thought there should have been a more interesting green for the length of the hole.
Eight is a mid-length par 4 with no bunkers but a nicely sloped green. I wish a similar green had been on the seventh. There is room to lengthen this hole by as much as the club might want.
The short par 4 ninth at 310/298 would be a better hole if it did not remind one of the fourth. However, the rise in the fairway is noticeable and there is another nice green at the end. One almost wonders with today’s technology whether Mr. Fowler would have shortened the hole by 80 yards and made it a splendid long par 3. There is no room to lengthen this hole due to the road behind it.
My summation of the front nine is one fabulous hole which is the first and one really fun hole which is the other par 3, the fourth. The greens are very nice. There is room to lengthen three holes which I think should be considered or lower the par.
The inward half is the better nine as it has better land than the front nine.
Another long par 3 kicks off the back nine at 232/191 although it plays a bit shorter as it is downhill. There is a pond on the right that should not be in play and two bunkers fronting the green. The more difficult recovery is missing to the left. I liked the hole.
The short par 5 eleventh once again has a stream that crosses the fairway and parallels it on the left. This 477/465 hole again should be considered for conversion to a par 4 or more fairway bunkering added. The only true interesting feature to it is the double dogleg.
Another short par 4 of 355/345 dogleg right with a fairway sloped to the right is enhanced by perhaps the best green on the course due to the two-tiers. I still felt it needed another bunker.
Another mid-length par 3 with an excellent tilted green follows. Much like four, I wished I could play this more than once. The bunkering around the green is very good and visually this is another attractive hole.
The fourteenth is another short par 4 of 363/353 going to the left but with trees blocking the line into the green if one goes too far right. It is a better hole than many of the other short par 4’s due to the trees cutting into the fairway as well as a left to right sloped green.
Finally, another mid-length par 4 of 406/392 dogleg left to an uphill green with two fronting bunkers. I felt this to be the second-best non-par 3 on the golf course.
A dogleg left par 4 follows but this is a longer one at 452/439 which plays at least a club longer due to the uphill green. It is an excellent green sloping back to front. I found this to be the best and hardest hole on the golf course other than the first.
Seventeen is a dogleg right at 378/368 with a large tree. This is another uphill hole so it requires at least a club more into the green.
The Blue ends with a lovely dogleg left par 4 of 418/383 with yet another uphill green. It completes an excellent stretch of holes on the back nine from thirteen into the finish.
Two holes could be lengthened on the back nine. The fifteenth could have the tee placed between the sixth green and fourteenth green. However, doing so would change the nature of the hole and it would play straight and the hole is already 400 yards. Perhaps the tenth tee could be shifted to make the twelfth longer. However, on the back nine, as many of the holes play uphill, the short total yardage is not as noticeable. Yet one cannot help but notice how many short par 4’s there are on both courses.
Between the Red and Blue courses, I felt the back nine of the Blue to be the best nine holes.
I have mixed feelings about The Berkshire. I wish both courses could find another 250-400 yards of additional length and add a few bunkers both at the some of the greens and in the fairways. Perhaps both courses need to convert two of the par 5’s into par 4’s. I really like both courses and recommend them to Americans who are looking for another course to play in the London area without moving hotels. I think so highly of both courses that I wish I could consider them in the same league as Sunningdale, Walton Heath, Swinley Forest, etc. I enjoy the day so much at The Berkshire that I want to discuss these courses in the same breath as the other nearby greats. But I cannot because for the better players or for a player of average length but with a good short game, they lack adequate challenge. A player does not have enough holes where one considers alternatives as to how to best play the hole. The lack of length and inadequate defense makes the holes straightforward and do not do enough justice to the greens. I would like to see more holes with a chance for more decision-making to get from the tee to the green.
On the other hand, if both courses were more compelling, the club might be overwhelmed with additional visitor play. Both courses certainly are good as they are and the members can be very proud of both courses.
I read other reviews that stated that one should play here before the three “W” courses (I am assuming Worplesdon, Woking and West Hill), but I would add to that Wentworth as well. For me, playing both of these courses at The Berkshire on the same day is a superior day to one round at those courses, or two rounds on the West and East at Wentworth, even if those courses might be superior. In sum, The Berkshire is never a grind: it is always fun. Mr. Fowler created yet again two wonderful golf courses. He is often an under-appreciated golf course architect.
As I said, a day at The Berkshire is a splendid day of golf.
Golf courses have to cater for their members: they aren’t always designed to be as hard as possible. Maybe, just maybe, the club and its members don’t want a couple more 450 yd par 4s. Maybe they are happy with the current mix.