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.
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
The links at Burnham & Berrow begins at a pulsating pace and rarely lets up until the moment you reach the comfort of the historic 100-year-old clubhouse where you are able to relax and reflect.
This is true championship golf of the highest order with the opening three holes epitomising everything that is great and superior about links golf.
The tantalising glimpse of the first green through the funnel of dunes, that frame the slither of fairway, sets a wonderful and intriguing tone that resonates throughout the entire round. At this opening hole a drive that favours the left-hand side of the fairway is rewarded with a better view of the green but finding the putting surface is still no guarantee and a ball missing the green to the right can easily result in a bogey or worse thanks to a severe drop-off into a deep hollow.
After an exhilarating drive from a high tee at the second, to a billowing fairway below, you are posed with a similar dilemma where anything missing the green to the right will require a deft pitch, 'bump & run' or even a putt from the tightest of lies to a long, narrow and sloping green. Bunkers to the left magnify the precision required with this approach where only the straightest of shots will be rewarded with a birdie putt.
The third hole is a seemingly more generous driving hole but that sense of openness merely lulls the golfer into more lackadaisical thinking when they should be concentrating on hitting the left-hand side of the fairway to give the best angle of attack into a green located behind a high dune and set in a clover-shaped amphitheatrical dell. A drive down the left however must carry two menacing pot bunkers.
I struggle to recall a better opening three holes to a round of golf than those at Burnham & Berrow.
After playing Burnham & Berrow for the first time it has catapulted itself close to the top of my list of finest links golf courses. A second visit confirmed my initial impression.
There is also a relief nine at Burnham & Berrow; the Channel course. This is virtually the same as the main course but in miniature. The first five holes are played on flatter land close to marshland which separates the course from the sea before the final four make their way back through the dunes.
In truth none of this closing quartet would be out of place on the championship course and although not as long they have rolling fairways and fine green complexes, none better than the one at the short eighth. A quick loop of this course would be a fine way to introduce yourself to the delights of Burnham & Berrow.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
We played today in lovely sunshine and a 2 club wind. The greens were playing extremely true and quick (the Somerset Amateur championships were out earlier in the day), the staff are great, some big sand dunes, the dormy house very comfy, nice town, and yet and yet... The course reminds me of Aberdovey in that it seems to have all the ingredients of a great dish but lacked that certain something. I don't mind water hazards on a links course, Prestwick has similar, but the Channel holes were damp and crusty underfoot, with some dull holes around the turn. Excellent start and finish, some of the best greens I've played on and the other pluses previously just make it a five, but I sympathise with the reviewer criticisng the six ball reviews.
Very good golf course but not great. The reason is a couple of “ordinary” holes (the most inland holes, 11 to 13) which it seems afflicts a number of courses including Open venues. Some very good holes however including:- 3, 7 & 8 and a very good finish from 14 onwards.
Burnham is a quality track that tests every part of your game. You have to concentrate fully on every shot, from the first tee shot, which looks less daunting than it actually is due to the bottleneck fairway to the very last putt. Whilst I would agree that there are a couple of holes that are less visually appealing (7 and 11 spring to mind), they are certainly not weak holes at stroke index 1 and 2 respectively - try playing the 438 yard par 4 11th into the teeth, for example!
I love the start of the course – the first is a great opening hole and whilst the second looks like an easy tee shot, the approach is anything but, with runoffs and bunkers aplenty. The third offers something different with a blind approach shot, before the first real birdie opportunity on the par 5 fourth. Again, there’s a sting in the tail though if your approach shot doesn’t hit the green and this pretty much sums up Burnham and Berrow – there are very few safe misses. The middle section of the course changes character slightly and after the first of the picturesque par 3s, you go down to near the channel. This brings some seriously tough holes, with the 8th (the second par 5) being the only real scoring opportunity. The 6th has one of the hardest greens on the course, with run offs left and right, whilst the 7th is just a long slog of a par 4 – it’s not the prettiest, but it’s certainly not a walkover. Reaching the end of the front nine, you will have used most clubs in the bag and won’t have faced one weak hole. The back nine starts with a blind tee shot over an intimidating dune, before the aforementioned tough 11th hole. Without going through all of the remaining holes, you face a quirky par 5 where you may choose not to take driver, another two top par 3s and a closing hole that must rank up with the toughest in the country.
In short, Burnham is a real challenge, but a fair one. You won’t lose many balls, but the test is in the approach shots – there are few easy up and downs and you will hit a huge variety of shots. The weather plays its part as well; when the wind is up, it adds that extra level of difficulty. I don’t believe there to be a weak hole from a golfing point of view and whilst there are a couple that aren’t as aesthetically pleasing, you won’t find many better tests of golf.
I am tired of seeing people hand out 5 and 6 "ball" ratings to every course! I am writing this post to bring back the ratings to actually mean something. This course is a 3-4 Ball rating at best. Here is why, it isn't the caliber of a rare 6 ball rating like County Down, Ganton, or the experience of playing The Old Course. It isn't that of Saunton East, West Sussex, or Formby. The rating system is being devalued and 5 & 6 Balls don't mean much anymore. This course is good, that is it.
Though there are many wonderful holes in the magnificent dunes there are too many awful holes. The bad stretch starts at 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, with 13 and 14 getting better. These 7 holes of awful blah with the last two holes having a pulse beat (only because they are designed within the dunes but are not special). 9 is a nice par 3 out there all by itself...
The early holes and the closing holes are positioned beautifully within the dunes. Let's not get bonkers for this course, the only saving grace here are the magnificant sand dunes, the best holes on this course aren't going to take your breath away you'll just think to yourself "nice sand dunes." I played here a few years ago and the bunkering wasn't of championship stature, some quirkiness (too tight in places), nothing stood out to me except the dunes. I remember driving off from the car park wondering what all the fuss was about at B&B. Yes, it is a good course but lets keep it in proper relation to other courses.
Burnham and Berrow sometimes splits opinion and there’s nothing wrong with that, life would be dull if everyone agreed with each other.
You’ve reviewed Burnham and Berrow based on having played the course a few years ago. How many years is “a few years”? B&B has changed significantly (for the better in my opinion) since I first played it in 2003.
Our rating system could be improved by having a 10-point range rather than 6 points. It would then allow a little more flexibility. However, the Top 100 website is not a golf course directory. We only list, on average, the top 15% of golf courses throughout the world, therefore it’s no surprise reviewers’ ratings are weighted towards the positive.
I’ve played a few courses over the years and I agree that Burnham is not quite as good as those you mention. My review of B&B is posted directly below yours and it is based on a recent visit. I personally think it’s a notch better than you suggest, but I’m not going to split hairs.
The point I’m trying to make is that many golfers have played numerous courses, the vast majority of which will never feature on the Top 100 website. When a reviewer makes a post for any top ranked course, is he or she comparing the course against all the other “average” courses they have played (I’ve played hundreds of average to poor golf courses), or is the comparison made against the best of the best? Many golfers who are chasing a Top 100 list do not return to re-play many courses in the list, so their opinion is fixed based on their experience “a few years” ago.
Our rankings are based on the here and now, which is why the rankings change over time. Courses improve in all kinds of ways and they also go backwards from time to time.
It would be helpful therefore if you refrained from posting reviews for any courses based on outdated experiences. Keith Baxter, Editor-in-Chief
I joined Burnham in March this year as a second course and its well worth the hour i travel to get their.
based on the way ive always rated courses on here i would say its a 5 ball course, but its certainly better than a 4 ball!
I prefer Saunton (East) but dont see how you can rate it worse than West Sussex, they are completely different courses, and i personally think WS is massively overrated.
Burnham and Berrow is a course that does not immediately strike you as amazing. The entrance is uninspiring - a bit surburban - some holes seem a bit dull at first, etc. It does not wow you like pulling up at Saunton. But, play it half a dozen times and it starts to dawn on you why it is so highly rated. After visiting Burnham and Berrow now for many years, I totally agree with its very high ranking among the great courses of the UK and so do most well travelled golfers. It is beautiful, challenging, has an amazing start and finish, four fabulous par 3s and, in wind, it can be brutally tough. A 5 to 6 ball course without doubt.