A planned housing development on Reading Golf Club’s property brought about the club’s merger with nearby Caversham Heath Golf Club in 2018 then the resulting renovation of the golf course at the latter in 2019/20.
The original Caversham Heath course was a David Williams design that opened at the start of the new millennium but Canadian Tom McBroom was the architect chosen by the new club’s tender process to renovate the layout.
McBroom felt the course was long, lacking variety and interest so his main objective was to reduce the walks from green to tee and transform it into a more playable and walkable layout, giving it the same variety of holes that Reading had.
This involved several routing changes, starting with the 1st which now doglegs right (rather than left) to a new green located on the highest point on the property. A new par three 2nd now follows, playing downhill to the old re-bunkered 1st green.
The uphill par three 13th was removed, replaced with a new short par four that now plays in the opposite direction. This driveable hole, along with a similar one at the 4th, adds considerably to the variety of the new course.
The old par four 16th was been converted to a par three and the closing hole was significantly altered, with the home green shifted to a new hillside location underneath the clubhouse. Overall, the changes are designed to make the course more fun and interesting.
Ely Golf carried out the construction work, with Ecobunker installing Ecosward liners in all the re-shaped fairway and greenside bunkers. Course manager Jon Scoones covered the new putting surfaces in cores from the old greens, overseeding them with bent grass.
Unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to play Caversham Heath before it closed for a Tom McBroom makeover in 2019, which came about due to the sale of Reading Golf Club and the subsequent merger of the two clubs. The reincarnation officially opened in April 2021 sporting a new name – The Caversham. I remain unconvinced by the use of the determiner THE as a prefix for a golf club’s name, but it’s not yet a crime, so I decided to put my prejudice aside and take a look at The Caversham last week.
There’s been an awful lot going on and there’s quite a lot still to do around the clubhouse and car park areas, which will I’m sure be completed nicely in due course. The house itself sits proudly above the 1st and 18th holes whetting the appetite for what lies ahead.
The card of the course is interesting and at first confusing. There are five sets of tees. The Black markers measure 7,265 yards and the forward Orange tees measure 5519 yards. In between there’s Green (6003 yards), Blue (6445 yards) and Gold (6720 yards), but there are also three mixed courses that combine various tees – Gold/Blue (6584), Blue/Green (6180) and Green/Orange (5757). We decided (eventually) to play the Blue/Green combo and headed off up the hill on the dogleg right short par four opener.
The most striking aspect of the course is the bunkering, which is bold, irregularly shaped but not over the top for the relatively subtle Chazey Heath topography. The bunkering visuals at the first set the tone for what’s to come – the bunker shaping throughout is well done (as is the build) but maybe there’s a tad too much sand in the traps – the ones I visited were very deep.
I’m not sure whether the 6th green is a David Williams original or a new surface, but I liked it very much with a hump in the middle. I think the par five 7th (maybe the original 6th) is a really strong hole with its approach over a pond to a double green that’s shared with the par three 15th. I also appreciated the old-fashioned cross-bunker at the 10th where another interesting green lies beyond.
The refashioned layout has enough variation to create interest from the first to the last and will only improve as the construction blemishes heal over time. The new closing hole is also an excellent way to finish the round to a green that’s benched into the hillside below the clubhouse.
Only time will tell how far the re-imagined layout will travel in the rankings and if you’re an ornithologist you’re unlikely to see more red kites anywhere else, even at Huntercombe. I like the course more than I thought I might (and we did play from the wrong tee occasionally) however, one key question remains unanswered. How on earth did Canadian stalwart Tom McBroom land a renovation project in rural England?
We contacted Tom McBroom who kindly answered my question as follows: “I can tell you that the Club did have a design competition which included Faldo and perhaps another firm. I do know that Gary Stangoe the GM has played a number of courses in Canada, particularly the Muskoka courses and loved my work. This led to my being invited to prepare a proposal.”