Many people say that there is nothing better than a day’s golf amongst the forest, heather and springy turf of the Berkshire Golf Club. Both the Red and the Blue courses are charming. The Red course is considered to be the more senior of the two, but frankly there is little to choose between them. Indeed it is likely that they will both merge into one unless you have been sufficiently fortunate to play them more than once.
Herbert Fowler, who had a gift for blending golf courses into their natural surroundings, laid out both courses in 1928. Fowler clearly did a great job because only minor changes have since been made to his original design. The land was once the hunting forest of the royals and dates back to the reign of Queen Anne. Each hole is played in seclusion, the mature sycamore, birch, chestnut and pine trees providing majestic tunnels for the rippled fairways.
The Red acquired its name from a military analogy with the Blue taking the opposite side. The Red course is highly unusual in design. The configuration of six par threes, six par fives and six par fours provide for much interest, variety and entertainment.
You need a straight and steady game to score well here otherwise you can very quickly become accustomed to chipping sideways out of the trees or hacking out of the heather. Needless to say, accuracy rather than length is all-important. The Red, measuring 6,369 yards from the white tees (5,733 from the reds) is the longer of the Berkshire’s two courses and it plays over slightly higher ground than the Blue.
The Berkshire is closely linked with amateur golf; its own Berkshire Trophy has produced some famous winners, including Nick Faldo and Sandy Lyle. Numerous ladies amateur competitions have also been held at the Berkshire.
If there is a downside to the Red course, it would be the par fives – four of the six are short by today’s standards. However, the par fours and threes more than make up for the minor criticism – after all, the short par fives might offer a birdie or two, or even an eagle.
There are many strong holes on the Red course but the best is probably the 6th, a shortish par four measuring 360 yards from the white tees. This hole doglegs to the right and requires an accurate drive to the left hand side of the fairway in order to leave a short approach shot to a raised green.
The Red’s hallmark is most definitely the six par threes – they are all quality in their own right. Actually, we think The Berkshire is delightful and will provide a memorable day out for any serious golfer.
Some people are in fact split on which course they prefer but I thought the Red was a clear notch above its sibling; both created in 1928 by Herbert Fowler.
As you might expect on this superb piece of terrain the par threes, of which there are six, are all very high quality with the second, tenth and 16th the best.
Unusually there are also six par fours and six par fives. And it is this equal distribution of par that helps dictate an exciting tone throughout the round. None of the three-shotters are overly long and as a result even the modest player will be presented with some birdie opportunities. The par fours offer a good variety with a few medium length holes and a couple of longer ones. The sharp dog-legging sixth, the exacting eighth and the uphill curving 12th stood out for me.
The Red course is arguably more scoreable than the Blue and has slightly more width from the tee but this is negligible in the grand scheme of thing. The design and set-up of both courses add to the appeal for an enjoyable day out as opposed to a demanding and mentally draining slog over 36 holes.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
There has been a redesign of the best hole on the course, 4. As with the changes to 10 on Blue, it is the work of those that must have no interest in the original architecture. Played it a month ago when in the U.K. Could not believe my eyes. Coffin bunkers with the heather on the wrong side. Sand lines that are totally different from the originals. And Fowler's famous asymmetric green design has been thrown out of the window. Had a chat with a member after we came in. A guy called Lobb did the work and is going to do the rest of both courses apparently. Get there quickly before Herbert's magic is gone for good.
In many ways the Red benefits from the unusual configuration of holes with 6 par 3s, 4s and 5s as this quirk gives the course a natural variety and interest. Undoubtedly an excellent golf course and the equal to most. Holes 4, 7, 8, 12, 16 and 17 are of high quality. In terms of aesthetics, my personal preference is for less trees. I found the trees too close, too stifling on a number of holes which hugely detracted from the experience. It is appreciated that cutting trees is a big deal but trees grow ! and the nature of the course changes and evolves into more of a parkland feel (which is not what you want, in my view). The green fee is quite high.
A decade has passed since I last visited The Berkshire and I took great pleasure reacquainting myself with the Red course last Friday on a pleasantly warm and sunny mid February day. Despite the heather not being in flower and playing towards the end of a long winter, the experience was truly engaging.
Some will bemoan the fact that the Red course is too short to test the best golfers, but it was certainly long enough for me. The greens were running at a healthy pace and the condition was remarkable for February – most clubs would be thrilled with playing surfaces this good in mid summer.
Nobody could possibly accuse the Red course of being dull. Its exciting 6-6-6 configuration keeps you on your toes and there’s only one consecutive pair of holes with the same par values at the back-to-back short par fours (11 and 12) and both these holes are set magnificently on the higher ground.
Clearly the standout hole is the one-shot 10th which has many similarities to the legendary 14th on the Dunluce course at Royal Portrush. Sadly this hole was calamitous for me after I slapped my tee shot into the steep heather clad gully. Still, there’s usually an opportunity after you’ve taken yourself quickly out of a hole – I was able to catch this pretty image looking back down the 10th.
I honestly don’t think there is a single weak hole on the Red course. The green surrounds are wonderful, the layout has width and there’s a great mix of large greens on the longer par threes and fours coupled with smaller greens on the shorter holes and the three shotters (which are reachable for bigger and straighter hitters than me). Being picky, the closing par three is not in the same league as the preceding one-shot holes, but #18 is certainly not a bad hole.
The Berkshire is a wonderful club and surprisingly understated. Its more glamorous neighbours shadow it but beauty is only skin deep – there’s genuine character and quality here, even when being critical.
I'm fortunate to have played twice at the Berkshire, both times on the red course with it's 6-6-6 format. On both occasions, despite having pretty poor rounds both times I thoroughly enjoyed myself. The course is fabulous. The turf is springy and greens in superb condition. It's naturally a penal course if you stray from the fairway, and despite being quite generous in terms of fairway the margin for error is very small. Clubhouse, food and welcome from the club are all very class as you'd expect.
The club house is such a nice place to relax in with the large patio which overlooks the putting green & the first tee on the blue course. All of the staff from the guys in the pro shop to the one's working in the club house was a real credit to the place nothing was too much trouble & we were made to feel really welcome.If you want to play on a really top course then you must come & play here, a real joy from start to finish, can't wait to come back later in the year & enjoy a day's golf at a class golf course. (Handicap 3)