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.
Absolute gem of a course and probably the most balanced members’ club around London with a great membership, two top courses and a great lunch. I visited a few weeks ago after being away for five years. The club has done some commendable work recovering the heathland feel of the course. Thousands of trees have been removed, heather restored and the fairways and greens were in impeccable shape. This is a world class golf course which never seems to get out of the shadow of some of its better known neighbours. In my opinion, after the recent work, the Red should indubitably be considered in the same category as Swinley, the Sunningdale courses and St. George’s Hill; yet the Red rarely features in world top 100 rankings. Perhaps the members are just content to keep this wonderful course to themselves and that would be completely understandable.
What is there not to like about the Red course at the Berkshire ?. A very good Herbert Fowler designed course, easy to book, reduced winter green fee, friendly, no air's and grace's, breakfast in the snack bar ready and waiting, quiet (no one in front and no one behind), understated and doesn't seem to have changed much since my list visit over 15 years ago. Very well presented and the hand cut greens were of excellent pace for November. Fairways reasonably generous but miss them at your peril because the heather is very penal; I imagine the abundance of heather when in bloom looks a picture.
No poor holes, although I thought the back nine (starting with a really nice run of holes from 10-12) was more interesting than the front. Standout holes for me were 4, 6, 8, 11, 12 and 14 (all the par 4's !) which were excellent and I can't help feeling a couple more would have been ideal. Par 3's were good, with the pick of the six for me being the 10th, 186 yards over a ravine. Best par 5 of the six was I think the 17th which would have been an excellent finishing hole, especially as I thought the 18th was possibly the weakest of the par 3's. Mix of holes on the Red course is often mentioned and for me (and this is only a personal opinion) I think possibly too many par 5's and par 3's; however that is the way the Red course is designed so I'm not complaining. Comparing with other courses I would say St.Georges Hill would just nudge it because of it's quality par 3's, very comparable with Beau Desert (another Herbert Fowler design and one of my favourite courses) and I would also say a touch behind Parkstone (slightly prefer the balance of Parkstone which only has five par 5's and five par 3's!).
Strength of The Berkshire's was that it was an absolute pleasure to play. .. an over-riding memory is of a couple of mixed groups of golfers rocking up onto the Blue course with their dogs (best behaved ever) and seeing them wandering around the other course at various times during our round .. quintessentially english !
The Red course at The Berkshire is every bit as beautiful as many of its peers in the local area. This is a serene, picturesque course with lots of land movement, rolling through birch and pine woodland all making this a beautiful setting for golf. As most acknowledge when writing a review of the Red course, its USP is that it has the highly unusual feature of having the same number of par threes, fours and fives through its card which means the challenge on the tee never feels repetitive. Appearance wise, there are many similarities with its near neighbour Swinley Forest, or nearby St George’s Hill. Greens with banked shoulders and bunkers with heathery surrounds are a regular feature, and the feedback from some critics that the trees encroach too much on the playing characteristics of the course were visibly being addressed during my playing of the course where the clearance of trees and shrubbery was being carried out. This should open up some of the wonderful vistas from the higher ground and make the undulating land features that the course is blessed with more prominent.
There are enough inherent qualities to The Berkshire’s Red course to make it potentially worth consideration for a World Top 100 list. At present, I’d probably say what holds the course back in this respect is that the individual holes themselves maybe lack the memorability to achieve that status. It remains to be seen whether the tree clearance has the desired impact to elevate the course’s ranking, maybe some feature bunker-work and mounding would also help. However, what it perhaps lacks in individuality it gains in strategy. Herbert Fowler did a great job here with many of the holes having a more obvious side of the fairway that needs to be struck from the tee to get the easier angle of attack into the green. To reference the individual holes, the clear standout for me was the par three 10th that shares many similar characteristics to the 17th at Royal Portrush, the Calamity hole. The quality of this middle stretch of the course is reinforced by the excellent back-to-back short par fours at the 11th and 12th; the former with its raised green guarded with sand embedded into the climb to the green, and the latter, doglegging slightly across heather to a rising fairway with a green that stands proudly, semi blind above the golfers approaching it. The short par five 13th with its raised tee and mid-fairway dip, recently improved strong par three 16th and the wonderful five shotter over the stream at 17 round off why I felt that the back nine just edged the front in terms of quality, but frankly there is no weak spell across the whole course.
Before mine, there have only been seven reviews of the course since 2012. I was surprised to read so few reviews for a club as prominent as The Berkshire so I’m not sure whether this is a reflection of a relatively infrequent number of visitors’ rounds or the club being passed by due to the quality of the competition on its doorstep? The Berkshire is less private than Swinley, less expensive than Sunningdale and better than each of the three Ws. A tour of the heathland belt west of London needs to include a day at The Berkshire or you’re truly missing out on a real gem. This is one of England’s best heathland courses.
Berkshire has some fantastic courses and this is definitely one of them. From the very first hole you know you're in for a great round and one that you will enjoy regardless of how you play. As far as heathland courses go this is well up there as one of my favourites, absolutely no weak holes on this golf course and its simply fabulous. The condition of the course is amazing, fast greens, great looking fairways, fantastic bunkers, everything is perfect. Its a very interesting course with six par 3s, six par 4s and six par 5s which makes it very fun and not feel like too much of a slog.
The first is a fairly short par 5 with a ditch up slightly to the left and plenty of heather either side of the fairway. The green also has 2 tiers and is very undulated so important to get the right club with your approach shot. The 2nd is a short par 3 playing about 160 yards with bunkers short right and heather leading up to the green. When you get to the par 3 7th hole you are met with a fantastic view overlooking the blue course. This is a great par 3 playing about 210 yards over a lot of heather and has a very complex green, all of us managed to 3 putt on this one! The 9th is a beautiful finish to the front with a great looking drive and another good shot required to reach this green in 2 on the relatively short par 5.
The back nine I seemed to enjoy even more than the front and the 10th hole was a great way to start. A 200 yard par 3 with a big quarry filled with heather all the way short of the green. Go right and you'll be lucky to find your ball. The 11th is the best driving hole on the course, a 350 yard par 4 with an elevated tee providing you with a stunning view. The finish to the red course is a tough one as there are 2 par 3s in the last 3 holes. 16 is a 200 yard par 3 with a tough green, 17 is a long par 5 and 18 is a 170 yard par 3 surrounded by bunkers short, left and long.
One thing that I liked about the Berkshire is that every hole was stunning and you would be rewarded with straight drives as it wasn't crowded with fairway bunkers unlike other heathland courses such as Woodhall spa which has plenty of harsh fairway bunkers. The Berkshire is truly a great course and made better by how friendly and peaceful it is, a great experience and a real joy to play. Cannot give this course anything other than 6 balls.
The club itself remains entrenched in the mid fifties with a rather sniffy feel. The course on the other hand is every bit as good as the reviews suggest . The condition all round is top notch with some great holes. Avoid the heather and it's possible to score well here if you don't expect some big numbers
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 returned to The Berkshire last Friday to play the Red course. There have been some notable course improvements since I last played it a little more than two years ago.
The main improvements centre on the clearing of shrub and tree clutter which is really noticeable. The Berkshire was beginning to lose its heathland characteristics and becoming more forest/parkland in nature due to aboreal and shrub encroachment. Long views are now being opened up and green sites are getting the light they need to thrive. Heather is also regenerating and the course is feeling bigger, more spacious and less claustrophobic.
The scars of last summer’s drought are still visible on some fairways, but the Course Manager and his team are doing a great job to return the fairways back to their best and are testing various drought tolerant grass seed combinations to help speed up the recovery process.
All in all, it was a joy to return to this delightful club, even though I once again managed to make a complete hash of the stellar par three 10th.
Note to self – get back to Ascot soon to re-play the Blue.
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.