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 course is 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. Both courses have a weakness in most of their par 5’s lacking 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.
Herbert Fowler wonderfully routed the Red through terrain with ditches, swales, fall-offs, uphill shots, gullies, etc. to consider. The Red has the slightly better terrain than the Blue. The routing for the Red is lacking in length at less than 6500 yards despite a par of 72. One recommendation I would have is to change two of the shorter par 5’s into long par 4’s and change the overall par to 70. While one should try to record a total score rather than a comparative score to par, for some very good players their score to par is important. Making this change might determine how one plays those two holes. Would a player hit a different tee shot to a long par 4 rather than a short par 5? The likely candidates are the ninth, thirteenth and fifteenth. There is room to lengthen these holes although one would have to ensure it does not change the character of the holes perhaps too much into while requiring a large amount of tree removal.
If not lengthened, the par 5’s should have more defenses that make the better player consider the penalties for a poorly executed shot. I feel most of the par 5’s could use bunkers in the fairways and nearer the greens. The first has no bunkers and despite a strongly tilted green, needs more defense than a small stream crossing the fairway. Fifteen could be an excellent par 5 if the green surround looked more like the eleventh green.
The par 3’s are adequately bunkered, albeit some bunkers could be placed closer to the green. One wants to meet Mr. Fowler and ask, “did you make the par 5’s easier to balance the par 3’s as the more difficult holes?” It is interesting to me that Tom Simpson did not address the imbalance of the par 3’s versus the par 5’s.
The highlight of the Red course are the slopes and tiers of the greens. Much like the more famous nearby courses, the greens have good slopes, tiers, bunkers, and nearby fall-offs and humps. This is a difficult golf course to list my favorite holes because I liked the shape and complexity of nearly every green. Some of the holes are stronger than others from a visual perspective as well as length yet an excellent green transforms what seemingly is a weaker hole relative to ones just played all of a sudden to a very good hole.
I make various notations and notes on my scorecard to designate the quality and memorability of the hole I have just played. In the case of The Berkshire Red course, I had many notations for the greens.
My favorite holes are five, eight, ten, fourteen, and sixteen to eighteen. It is not that the other holes are not good or weak; they are fine golf holes.
On five, a slightly downhill par 3 of 178/166 there are two bunkers that are somewhat disguised. Despite this being one of the less sloped greens is a compelling tee shot.
The eighth is a slight dogleg right, par 4 of 428/412 with two fronting bunkers and a green sloped sharply back to front. I very much like the look of this hole from tee to green.
The par 3 tenth at 188/148 has a sharp fall-off on the right side and a bank on the left side. It is one of the prettier holes from the tee and one of the more punitive holes if one misses the green.
Fourteen is a longer par 4 at 434/428 with another green sloped to the left so the ideal approach shot should be center or right, yet on the right side of the green are two fronting bunkers. I do wish more of the holes, particularly the par 5’s had this type of shot-making to consider.
Sixteen is the longest par 3 on the course at 221/205 to a green that has two bunkers on either side but well short of another tilted green. This is another visually pleasing golf hole.
Seventeen is the longest hole on the Red course at 562 yards and plays longer as a dogleg right. The green has two tiers and fronting bunkers. If only the other par 5’s were equal to the challenges posed by this hole.
Eighteen is a par 3 of 175/163 and is uphill back at the clubhouse with another two-tiered green. It is not as beautiful as other holes, but it is a substantial challenge and likely decides the outcome of a match.
The club could make the player have more decisions to make with the addition of more fairway bunkers and moving some of the greenside bunkers closer to the green. Many of the green side bunkers are merely “eye candy” to distract one from the green but actually are not very close. It is clever, but likely makes the course a bit easier than the original architects intended.
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 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 another wonderful golf course. He is often an under-appreciated golf course architect.
Date: February 27, 2020