The Berkshire Blue was one of the few remaining classic Heathland courses in the East Berks/West Surrey borders I had left on my must play list. I knew, if it’s sister course, The Red, was anything to go by, I would be in for a treat - and playing the course a couple of days after The Berkshire Trophy (a prestigious amateur event attracting only cat1 players) meant the course was going to be in spectacular condition.
I was informed by the pro and the secretary there had been an extensive clearing program and many rhododendrons had been removed from the surrounds of the course to return the original spacious feel. This was noticeable as it made the course extremely playable and relatively forgiving off the tee. Having said that, from the outset the course rewards straight and accurate golf. It’s possibly one of the fairest of the heathland courses I have played, whereby an errant shot can be recovered, even from all the bunkers, which are well sanded and well placed, but if you allow one error to lead to another almost every hole has the potential to become a card wrecker.
Although the par 3 1st offers a large target area a poor shot is heavily penalised, with a serve drop off to the right, bunkers on the left and a 150 yard carry to avoid the heather. The first third of the course offers holes with variety in length, orientation and shot selection, resulting in an equal mix of par 3’s 4’s and 5’s through the first 6 holes. This run of holes offer ample birdies opportunities if played well, but any lack of concentration or precision will certainly cause a dropped shot at best. The front 9 finishes with 3 strong par 4’s, the final of these playing uphill 310 yards with a green so well-protected that there really is no easy place to play your approach from.
The back 9 begins with a very inviting downhill par 3 with a front to back sloping green. Anything past the pin here leaves a treacherous putt making a par a good score, but keeping short of the pin should present a chance of a birdie. You then make your way through another strong selection of varying holes, the highlight for me being a beautiful yet dangerous par 3 13th. With so little room on the left the tendency in our group of right handers was to fail to commit to the shot and find your way into the sneaky bunker short right. The final stretch home consists of 5 consecutive par 4’s starting with a blind shot on the 14th. The ideal tee shot is your 210 yard club, 10 yards left of the market post. If the pin is short right don’t go for it, even with a short iron, keep left of the pin as the run off from the front edge swallow’s up everything and spits it out at the bottom of a 5ft swale!
Of the remaining holes the stand out for me was the stroke index 2 16th. This could well be in my all-time favourite golf holes from an aesthetic and strategic perspective. At 452 yards there is a high demand on the right to left tee shot. If you can carry a 230 draw you can fly the first bunker and take advantage of the downslope to make the approach less the 150 yards. You’re then left with an uphill approach to a large green sloping left to right. It’s an absolute gem of a golf hole with trouble everywhere. Take your bogey and move on.. make a par and put a circle around it on your scorecard! The last two holes are comparatively bland given the delights that have come before. The 18th is a straight forward par 4 with a short iron approach, should be a par but stay right of the hole as the green slopes left to right. When you've made your way back to the club house you can sit on the extensive veranda with your chosen tipple and watch the later groups tee of the first with a knowing smile.. You know they are in for a treat. Simon Bale
Date: June 24, 2014