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.
Date: February 28, 2020