St. Christopher's Way,
- +44 (0) 1278 785760
1 mile N of Burnham-on-Sea
Handicap certificate required – contact in advance
“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.
Tom Doak made a point of replaying Burnham & Berrow (Championship) in 2016 and awarded the course a rating of six out of ten. He commented as follows in his Christmas 2017 Confidential Guide update:
“My one previous experience at Burnham was on a cold rainy day in the winter of 1982; however a recent return visit proved that I had seriously underestimated the course. The three opening par-4’s are a cracking start, with the approach to the punchbowl 3rd green one of the last remaining vestiges of the bold blind holes described by Bernard Darwin in 1910. The short 5th is one of the UK’s finest, and you would not be able to convince a soul walking off that green that it is in fact the easiest of the four par-3’s on the course. Some of the holes have a more modern feel, due to the water in play at the 6th through 8th and the very steep banks off the edge of the greens at the 13th and 14th. But my previous review that there aren’t any must-see holes was emphatically wrong: holes like the 11th and 15th were the reward for going back.”
The first hole seems to tease you into believing you're in for a nice gentle stroll by the sea. Don't be drawn in by this gentle starter though as what comes next is as brutal a test of your skills as you will find for many a mile. The 2nd and 3rd are not particularly long holes but when played straight into the teeth of the aforementioned stiff breeze, they seem like quite a trek, with multiple undulations over sand dunes and plentiful pot bunkers waiting to gobble up any shots hit slightly off line. Take some time to savour the views from the 4th tee - they are spectacular, out across the Severn and over to Wales. Although this par 5 is not the longest in the world there are several elevation changes which make you think about your club selection, and make sure you aren't above the hole as you could well putt off the green and 50 back down the hill. The 5th appears simple, but club selection must be spot on once again. The 6th is a very pretty par 4, again with devilish bunkers positioned expertly around the green. 7 and 8 are monsters that look straight forward enough, but the subtle burrows, borrows, mounds and ridges on both holes make them a delight to play and once again stress the importance of hitting your ball to the right segment of fairway and green - classic links holes. The 9th is a lovely little par 3 and finally gives you some respite from the wind as it turns away from the sea (2 to 8 all play in the same direction along the line of the shore).
The 10th begins with a blind drive over a monster dune reminiscent of those at Saunton and St Enodoc. If you hit the fairway there's a good chance of making par or better. If there is a weak hole on the course, then 11 is it. For me it was just a bit bland and not as difficult as the SI2 suggests. However, the 12th more than makes up for it. This is the signature hole because of the church that stands some 20 yards left of the approach to the green, as if it were a sentry standing guard. The hole plays all uphill to the church and then there is a deep hollow that must be carried in order to reach the two tier green. Once again, it's about putting the ball in the right place. Do this and you can score well around B&B. The 13th is the third and final par 5, and plays as a dogleg left from the tee, although this may be reduced as another tee was being built further back and right of the current location. The approach to the green is superb, as you negotiate a narrow gap and trying to stay as staright as possible to avoid the nasty little run offs left and right that inevitably lead to trouble. 14 plays alongside the houses as you head back towards Burnham. Don't dare miss the green on this par 3, or bogey will start to look like a good score. The 15th is another smashing par 4, with a narrow fairway threading it's way through the dunes and another narrow approach to the hugely undulating green. The variety offered by this approach shot is a nice feature, as the green is set lower than the level of the fairway allowing you to run the ball in, whereas many of the other greens are raised and demand shots to be flown all the way. More variety awaits at the 16th as this short par 4 is driveable if the wind is at your back. The green is possibly the most eccentric I have ever seen with a 45-degree bank running right through the middle of it, and it just so happened that the pin was right at the bottom of it. Muggins here managed to hit his approach to the upper level and was very pleased to still be on the green for my second putt! The 17th is a beast of a par 3 and the 18th is one of the finest finishing holes around. It is flanked by probably the highest dunes on the course, nestled between which is a very narrow fairway. A long second shot is required to a huge and very flat green ideally located right in front of the majestic old clubhouse.
Whilst this course is fantastic in all aspects, a special mention must be for the greens - they were the fastest and truest I have ever played. I can't wait to try them in the summer. I can guarantee two things when you walk off after the handshake, 1) you will have had bags of fun, and 2) you will be mentally and physically drained. Therefore, it's a fine thing that the beer and food in the clubhouse is good. The mince pies were particularly good with a decent dollop of clotted cream just to remind you that you're in the West Country. Well, it was Christmas, after all!