St. Christopher's Way,
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“Hole succeeds hole, and still the endless range of hills goes on, and from the summit of each one we get the most lovely views, with the Cheddar Gorge in the distance; to the left the Bristol Channel, with the islands of Steep Holm and Flat Holm and an expanse of dim country on the other side. When we turn for home at the ninth, we see the sandhills stretching tumultuously away towards Weston, with their range of fantastic shapes and occasionally a narrow, meandering ribbon of turf in between.” Burnham in “Somersetshire” was a favourite course of Bernard Darwin, and so, it seems fitting to allow him to introduce Burnham & Berrow.
Burnham & Berrow Golf Club was founded in 1890 and soon after, they hired a youngster called J.H. Taylor. His task was to be the club’s first professional and keeper of the greens. One of the great triumvirate, Taylor went on to win the Open Championship five times.
Charles Gibson, professional at Royal North Devon, laid out the original rudimentary course for the members. According to the book by Phillip Richards, entitled Between the Church and the Lighthouse: “The development of the course took thirty years to reach today’s shape and just about every one of the leading course designers during that period had an input into the course architecture. Herbert Fowler and Hugh Alison were members of Burnham and both had an important part to play in improving the links. So to a lesser extent did Harold Hilton and Dr. Alister MacKenzie but the shape of today’s course is mainly due to Harry Colt.”
There is a church in the middle of the course and that in itself is unusual. Consequently over the years, changes have been made to the layout ensure that the faithful congregation does not get injured by wayward shots; additionally, some of the blind drives have been designed out.
Burnham is a traditional out-and-back links course and as per Darwin’s introduction, taken from his 1910 book, The Golf Courses of the British Isles, Burnham is “ringed round with sandhills”, gigantic ones too. It’s a challenging layout with the tumbling fairways laid out in narrow valleys, protected by deep pot-bunkers and thick rough. The greens are fairly small, requiring precision approach shots and once you are on the putting surface, the fun really begins. Burnham’s undulating, slick greens are amongst the very best in the British Isles.
There are many notable and varied holes at Burnham, with a strong collection of par threes. The first six holes are especially good and the back nine is magnificent. Burnham closes with a classic 18th, one of the best finishing holes in golf, a dogleg left over dunes and an intimidating long second shot across another ridge of dunes towards a green protected by deep threatening pot-bunkers.
Burnham has played host to many important amateur championships over the years and the course is regularly used for Open Championship qualification. A round at Burnham & Berrow is an absolute must for links purists and comparatively good value too for such a quality course in these times of escalating green fees.
The Championship course at Burnham & Berrow Golf Club had long been on my mind to play since hearing of it during the time I lived in England from 1993-1998. Alas, I never made it there as I had other compelling options near London, in Scotland, or Ireland. I had three thoughts in mind after reading about the course sometime in early 1994: 1. Brian Barnes had played here and I was curious about a course that had shaped a young teenager who would later go on to win multiple times as a professional, make six Ryder Cup teams, and famously defeat Jack Nicklaus twice in the same day at the Ryder Cup held at Laurel Valley. 2. the course was known for having some of the finest greens in England, and 3. seemingly every famous architect in the past had added something to it, although it was H.S. Colt who gets the most credit for making it a worthy championship course.
As for Brian Barnes, I don’t know why people were so surprised that he beat Jack Nicklaus twice the same day. He was a longer hitter who when he hit the ball straight was quite formidable. Still, it is a good story especially after Jack Nicklaus requested the afternoon pairings be changed so that he could face him again, Nicklaus birdied the first two holes, yet still went down to defeat 2 and 1. Arnold Palmer famously remarked after the matches concluded that the English team had an extra player since it was obvious Jack was playing for the other side. I had always wanted to see if Burnham & Berrow had provided the young Brian Barnes with a course the equal of what Nicklaus had at Scioto Country Club, a more traditional parkland course. What I found was a course nearly the equal of Scioto, although very different.
When my friends put together a group of courses during a tour of English courses in the summer of 2018, I added my support for Burnham & Berrow as well as Saunton. Upon arrival after playing St. George’s Hill the day before, I liked everything about the club, from the small clubhouse to the lighthouse behind it, and how close everything is to the clubhouse including the putting green, the first tee and the eighteenth hole. Perhaps the only disappointment was the too-short practice range, but maybe that was because a young teenage girl was striking her balls so pure with a swing so rhythmic and flexible that I felt embarrassed to be within twenty yards of her.
Fortunately, I felt less intimidated as I looked at my playing partners also warming up on the range.
This area of Somerset/Devon is blessed with three top golf clubs in Royal North Devon, Burham & Berrrow, and Saunton. Saunton is the class of the three with two terrific golf courses while Burnham & Berrow runs a close second having a fabulous course and an additional nine holes. Yet Westword Ho! might have the nicest beach nearby and a town with views, dining and entertainment options. One cannot go wrong whichever one chooses.
We had a medium wind and a slightly overcast day for our afternoon round. I played as I expected which meant I liked the course so much I gave away some strokes because I wanted to study the golf course. Being able to remember a course on my initial visit if I find it to be good is far more important to me than my score.
All of us liked the front nine. We liked many of the holes on the back nine. We liked how the golf course incorporated the church at the twelfth and thirteenth holes. We did think the greens were very smooth and constructed well. We liked the routing, a traditional out and back. We liked the elevated tees and the changes in the terrain, especially the higher dunes and the valleys. Burnham and Berrow looks and make one feel exactly how one wants to feel on a links course.
In looking at some of the rankings from various publications, I would agree with the ones that place the championship course in the top 50 in the UK and Ireland.
It starts with a very good opening hole, a short par 4 but the fairway is fraught with danger on all sides with a narrow gap in the fairway around 285 yards out. Dunes line the left while one can have a blind shot going too far right. The green has a steep dip right and mounds left and behind. The green has no bunkers, nor does it need it as the green itself is well shaped. This is a good starting hole as any score is possible from a 3 to a 6.
The second takes the course up a notch playing as a mid-length par 4 from an elevated tee with dunes on either side and a fairway that has undulations, valleys, and fall offs all the way to the green. Bunkers are well placed on the fairway and nearer the green. There is a big dip fronting the green as well as to the right of it. It is another well sculpted green. This hole would fit in place on any highly ranked golf course. Our foursome greatly admired this hole and made us eager for the next.
The third as a short par 4 slight dogleg left with a punchbowl green is visually quite attractive. Playing from another elevated tee one gets a good view of the course. Dunes and two bunkers are the defense to the left side of the fairway. The negative of the hole is that it is wide open to the right as it parallels the sixteenth fairway. Even if one goes too far right they should be able to handle the blind shot to the green which will gather slightly off struck balls back to the green. I like the valley fronting the green and the look of the green. Despite it playing longer due to the prevailing wind, the hole is easy unless one hits into the dunes on the left.
The fourth has an even better view of the course from its elevated tee. It plays as a short par 5 dogleg right ending to an uphill green that has no bunkers as it is expertly placed. Dune hills are the defense to the right side of the fairway. The green felt relatively flat to me with more of the tilt nearer the front. Despite playing into the breeze, this hole represents a birdie opportunity and one has to truly mess up at least one shot not to make par. Visually it is another attractive hole.
Five is a gem of a par 3 ranging from 150 to just under 200 yards. This is another hole that could be placed on any of the world’s best courses and it would fit right in. Valleys, swales, depressions front and surround the green which also has three large and deep bunkers at the front and either side. But missing long right or behind might be a more difficult recovery shot. The green is very well contoured. A back pin location would be very difficult given how narrow the green is the closer one gets to the back. At this hole one almost wants to go back and play it again.
From an elevated tee, the sixth hole is a slight dogleg left longer par 4 which continues the consistent lovely views from many of the tees on the front nine. This hole provides a stern test. For the longer hitters, a small pond and wetlands provide defense on the right side of the fairway while a series of mounds provides defense on the left. A larger pond and wetlands sit off the tee on the left but should not be in play. The green has a single bunker on its left and is elevated slightly. We found this to be one of the more difficult green complexes to try to recover from just off the green on either side although the green itself was easy to read.
Water comes into play on the long par 4 seventh hole which is rated the toughest on the course. The real defense of the hole is the undulated green more so than the small pond near the front right of the green with the burn running down the right side of the fairway. This hole is not visually as exciting as any of the previous holes because the dunes have ended but it is likely the hardest to make par despite an easy green.
The short par 5 eighth requires aiming at three bunkers on the left side of the fairway of this dogleg right hole. The tee shot has to carry the burn and the bolder player will try to cut off as much of the dogleg as they can without ending up in the burn. After a successful tee shot, the hole does not ask a lot of you other than at the green where contouring creates fall-offs around the green with the largest depression back left. The green has no bunkers as the bunker on the left is 20 yards short of the green. All of us found this hole to be too easy and felt bunkers should have been added near the green.
The ninth is an excellent par 3 of mid-length but playing slightly uphill with six deep bunkers surrounding the green and fall offs and run-offs everywhere. There is danger short in the bunkers or long behind the green getting caught up in the taller grass. It is a toss-up as to whether the fifth or ninth is the better par 3. The green is wonderfully shaped and a two putt is not a given. Once again, this hole could be placed on any of the world’s finest golf courses and it would fit right in.
Heading back towards the clubhouse is the short tenth par 4 dogleg right with a blind tee shot with two markers to guide you. Missing to the right of the markers will likely leave you in smaller dunes and slightly taller grass from which recovery is not difficult except for the bunker fronting the green on the right. The fairway itself is generous to another pretty flat green. It’s an “okay” hole.
The number two index comes next playing flat as a longer par 4. The green is well defended by six bunkers and a sloped green. One is not inspired by this hole, but it is a difficult hole.
I very much like the twelfth, a mid length par 4 slight dogleg right that has a generous fairway. If one goes right off the tee the result can be a blind shot or be stuck down in one of the hollows or on a rise in taller grass. The green sits up and has no bunkers but it is long, narrow and goes every which way. It has a false front which likely will not allow a run-up shot to make it on the green. It is perhaps the best green on the golf course. This is a well-conceived golf hole. The view of St. Mary’s church behind the green makes the hole quite appealing.
The thirteenth is a mid-length par 5 and is the best par 5 on the course. The tee shot is fairly simple but for the approach shot the fairway narrows with quite large dunes on the left and smaller ones on the right. The dunes on the right seem to be the more difficult ones to recover as they are sharper and more numerous but it is likely one could lose a ball on either side. These dunes pinch in as you approach the green which is elevated and has a sharp fall-off to the left side and behind and a slightly less steep fall-off to the right. This is another good golf hole.
A tough par 3 follows with a green that has no bunkers but is undulated, in two tiers with steep fall-offs on the left and behind. The green is slightly uphill. Visually this hole is no match for the previous par 3’s, but it likely more difficult.
The longest par 4 on the course is next and has an undulating fairway rolling up and down like waves. Tall gorse and trees creates an out-of-bounds down the left side. One likely will not have a level lie and if you are left some of the green can be partially hidden. The ball can kick onto the green if landed on the right side. It is a difficult hole but fair.
Sixteen is a short par 4 with a gentle dogleg to the right. Out of bounds is on the left. This is a good risk-reward hole for the longer hitter but for average length players this hole is too easy as the fairway blends into the third fairway. While the green has some tiers to it, it is not difficult to read or judge the pace.
The long par 3 seventeenth is next and completes an excellent set of par 3’s that can rival the best par 3’s on any other top golf course. There is a nice view from the high elevated tee of some of the clubhouse as well as the lighthouse behind it. The green is fairly difficult and thankfully there are only three bunkers and a false front to consider. As we drove towards the hotel for the next round, we had a long conversation regarding the quality of the par 3’s.
The final hole is a nice long par 4 with danger everywhere for the wayward tee shot and the approach shot. The tee shot has to find the fairway on this dogleg left as there are mounds on the right and a series of deep grass depressions on the left. Near the green there are four bunkers that must be threaded if running the ball on. It is a very fine finishing hole.
What is truly amazing about the championship course at Burnham & Berrow is how often it has been changed. Moreover, seemingly every change has made the course even better. The revisions have not been simple such as adding a bunker or re-shaping a green. The entire routing has changed with previous holes discarded and new ones created, ending in a new routing. This club has a dedicated and forward-thinking membership that is truly focused on how to keep the golf course relevant and interesting. The do have the benefit of very good land for their course, but it still takes vision and commitment to get the maximum out of it. When I think of the today’s best “minimalist” designers, I wonder how many made a journey to see this course because most of the course is a template for exactly how a course should be built if this type of land is available. The greens are accessible, but not overly large or shaped to silly undulations. The fairways are generous but not so wide that one cannot get into real trouble. While there are a few holes where additional bunkers should be added for both additional defense as well as to visually enhance the hole, the course uses the variations in land to maximum effectiveness.
From the championship tees it can now stretch to approximately 7000 yards. For all but the very best amateurs and professionals, it continues to stand the test of time. Obviously, the best golfers in the world would likely be under par as too many of the holes lack both adequate length or difficult greens. If the wind was consistently above 25 mph perhaps it would be a test for them. But for every other golfer it is a very good mixture of fun, challenge, and enjoyment. I would highly recommend playing this golf course more than once if in the area.
Undoubtedly the nr 1 course in Somerset and there is nothing better in the south west until you get down to Saunton
The opening four holes are fabulous, links golf at it's best. Holes 5 and 6 are also good, but 7 and 8 are fairly bland, whilst the 9th is an excellent short par 3 to finish off the front nine. You are at this point at the furthest point from the clubhouse, not good if the wind changes or rain starts. The front nine is on the estuary side whilst the back nine is on the inland side of the dunes and whilst not of the same quality do provide some good holes. The finish is good with 17 an excellent par 3 and 18 a tough par 4
A very good and demanding golf course, that for me peaks at the start and just doesn't maintain the quality of the early holes otherwise it would surely be ranked higher. Greens always very good.
I’m not a huge fan of links courses and so try not to play too many as the weather can always be hit or miss. Unfortunately, i caught a very blustery day and shot well over par. But despite this, the course was excellent and had many stand out holes. Playing between the dunes also made the course look particularly great as well.
Some of my favourite holes would be the par 3 third, with a blind 2nd shot you could get quite creative with the contours of the green. All the par 3’s looked stunning as well, however my favourite par 3 would have to be the 17th, 196 yards, slightly elevated tee shot, beautiful hole.
The only negative I have to say about Burnham and Berrow is that the greens were not as quick as I would expect them to be and some were faster than others. However they still rolled well and were very true, not a bobble in sight.
Overall it was a great day out and would definitely like to go back to play there again.
I’m assuming you played the Junior open on Sunday just gone, and I know how windy it was. If the greens were much faster the ball would start moving on the greens due to some of the elevation. The greens at Burnham are always exceptional, and trust me they are quick enough. Leave yourself 6ft above the hole on the 4th and tell me they’re not quick enough
BURNHAM & BERROW (Championship) This is a serious test of golf with high dunes which Harry Colt had a hand in the excellent design with the traditional nine out and nine back formats which we enjoyed with the sea breeze holding as we set off and helping on the way in. The ambiance and overall feel of the course reflect and uphold the traditional values of the game. The holes do pose a variety of risks and rewards and equally test length, accuracy and finesse. The design variety is good with differing lengths while the 16th (index 18) is nearly derivable.
Great greens many of which are on a shelf so be up with your wedge or the ball will return to your feet Augusta like. In reality it looks tougher than it plays and every hole has some bail out area which we realised and utilised when we played again the next day. If you’re not on your A game avoid ‘tiger lines’ and play left to where you will see your ball particularly the two par fives at 4th and 8th which slide around to the right.
You will get a pause from the dunes from the 7th (index 1) until 11th which is flat around the channel course. After that respite brace yourself for a great finishing stretch. The only hole we did not like was the 13th par 5 called Pill Box blind almost from tee to green! Four great very testing par threes all around.
We stayed in the comfortable dormer house and settled the lost bets in the members snooker room. 8/10; May 2019, pd
Burnham & Burrow- In the creation of a SW English itinerary. It is a bit of a jaunt out there from the London airports...so a stop along the way seemed appropriate. B&B was it. It was our first round of 11. It is a fabulous place. Very welcoming and a joy to play. A great mix of dunesland links with some hillside blind shots and boundary defining water hazards. This is a challenging course which requires proper entry angles thought of prior to play of the hole. It is understandable that competitions have been held here often. One of the strongest finishing holes is here also. This is a course which rightly is rated quite high. In any list there are always winners and losers. But remember beauty contests really don't have any losers. My list of the 11 we played...
1] Sunningdale Old
2] Sunningdale New
3] Royal Porthcawl
4] St Enodoc
7] Burnham Berrow
8] Saunton East
10] Saunton West
11] Royal North Devon
A projected 90 minute journey turned into 210 due to the seasonal traffic escaping back up the M5. “Bleddy Grockles”, as Mum might say. The Pro was great about it, and after rushing to the first tee without so much as a stretch (excepting any muscles warmed up during the dash), I hastily placed my opening drive atop a dune on the left. I then proceeded to negotiate the first 5 holes like a ageing Spaniel searching for Golf balls. Like all impartial reviewers, my own score definitely (maybe) doesn’t influence my opinion of the course, so I should mention that the opening 4-5 holes were pretty good. They are what you might expect of a top links course, and a journey to get here of (almost) any duration is confirmed as worth the effort.
The course did tail off in the mid section and as previous reviews have mentioned, the land simply becomes less compelling. However, these holes still have design merit and I enjoyed playing them. My own scoring had by now picked up though, so perhaps a little bias has crept into my review after all. My favourite holes going out were 2, 3, & 5. All had particularly good green sites. The 1st is also very nice, although quite difficult looking for an opener in breezy conditions. I later watched a few groups go off the 1st and several actually hit it down the 18th fairway. Not sure if these were windy accidents or cunning strategy by knowledgeable members?
The course picked up again for me at the 12th, and from then on in there is a run home of good holes with undulating fairways back amongst the dunes. Several of them feel a bit hemmed in on the left side, but otherwise they are fun to play. The 17th was my pick of what is a good set of short holes - requiring from me a very committed 4 iron into a wind with the flag at the back (while a 2 ball on the 18th tee looked on like Statler & Waldorf). And then the 18th itself doglegging away to the left, where you won’t see your ball come to rest if you’ve hit a good drive. The final 2 holes are similar in quality to those at St Enodoc. I actually scored okay in the end, so I would pause to ask if perhaps this course is a little deceptive off the tee and not quite as difficult as it looks?
Playing here completed my introduction to the Great Triumvirate of West Country links courses. In terms of comparisons, it felt more like a distant cousin of Saunton West - lots of dunes to start and finish, with a slightly different bit in the middle. I’d rate it just above that course, but slightly below the other two. The stylishly alliterated B&B does further highlight the quality of Golf on offer along the northern coastline of the South West and is a great option for a first or last stop on a trip to this relatively unheralded region. And if a few more of those cars clogging up the M5 were four-balls carpooling en route to the likes of Burnham et al, perhaps I wouldn’t mind so much
Enjoyable course but does not fall into great/6 ball territory. Like St Enodoc, the start is excellent as is the finish but there are few holes in the middle that are just average.
The greens were probably the best I played on (to be fair though every course has had at least very good greens). This is a fair course with not too many blindshots etc. Excellent dunes for the first 6 or 7 holes and again towards the end of the round. The holes in between are still good but they do not maintain the rage. I thought this was going to be a 6 baller after the opening holes but it falls into middle 5 ball territory. Warren from Aust
Yesterday was our annual visit to B&B. A lovely day with a one-club wind.
The course was in very good nick, particularly the greens which have to be some of the truest in the country.
The first 5 holes are one of the best starts to any links golf course. Part of the appeal is that they look more difficult than they really are, unless it is really blowing, so you can actually get off to a confidence building start.
The criticism of the section from 7 onwards is largely unjustified, other than on 'character' grounds. 7 is a bit of a featureless slog, but 8 is a very good par 5, just not very 'linksy', and 9 is a terrific par 3. 10 is back into the dunes, and is a very blind tee shot, which I don't like, but it is a good hole. 11 is decent enough, but flat. From then on the course gets back into true character.
The two par 3s on the back 9 are unforgiving brutes and the 18th is a great finishing hole.
The clubhouse is very unstuffy for a course of this type, and the catering is excellent.
Burnham & Berrow is a quality layout with an exciting start. The opening hole has been mentioned a few times and rightly so. It's wonderfully positioned between flanking dunes and pity the golfer who allows one's nerves to overcome the execution of a swing -- albeit the first of the day. Opening holes need a proper balance given the order of the round and the 1st at B&B is exceptional.
The 2nd hole ups the meter -- especially on the approach shot. There can be little doubt on a golfer's part when the pin is placed in the deepest part of the green.
My main lone issue with B&B is the middle portion of the course which drops off in terms of architectural elements of note. The land for those holes is fairly non-descript with little really being especially memorable. They are not inferior holes per se, but simply don't have the pedigree encountered when the round commenced.
Things do change as you head back on the inward side. The land noticeably returns to the qualities experienced when you arrive at the long and demanding par-4 11th. At this point the magic that started the round returns with vigor. The land plays a major role especially in the approach area. The dog-leg left par-5 13th is especially a treat because just the slightest error can mean a fast bogey when birdie was sought. The two par-3's on the back are also uncompromising holes with fall-offs for any approach that fails to be hit with top quality execution.
The closing hole is also well done. The 18th mandates two quality shots to find the putting surface. Three pesky bunkers hug the right side and need to be avoided at all costs.
B&B is a layout that does not draw much national acclaim and it's often overlooked by those outside the UK. Clearly, the course deserves a higher recognition and for those getting the opportunity to play it will certainly enjoy the time here because B&B is no bed and breakfast layout. Be ready to play the moment you arrive at the 1st tee.
by M. James Ward
B&B is for sure a traditional British links; dunes in abundance, scenic views, true/fast/undulating greens, humps and hollows, pot bunkers and of course a stiff breeze !
The course itself isn’t particularly tight by some standards of links that we’ve previously experienced – but remains a stiff test of golf for the average player, as was demonstrated by our (11) scores. Certainly, knowing your way around the course would be a sizeable help too, as a few shots were blind or simply hard to figure out from the illusion of the layout from a few of the tees.
That said, if you like your golf, then B&B should be experienced. It really is a quality links course that was in immaculate condition from tee to green. There are numerous notable holes, which makes it hard to name specific ones, but suffice to say that reaching the green, or at least near to it, on your average course means you’ve negotiated the worst – not so at B&B. Lots of run-off slopes, humps, hollows and some of the greens were just begging for a 3-putt (or more!)
The course is definitely in the league of Saunton and Royal Cinque Ports but take you’re A-game if you want to play remotely near your handicap.
Just a word for the 9-hole Channel course that we played in the morning. If you can buy a day ticket then this course is worth a try. Its arguably tighter in places than its big brother but it’s a proper 9-hole in terms of length - and the holes in the stretch from 6-9 are worthy of the Championship course itself.
Our rating is around 5.5 - somewhere inbetween the top two scores available