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The Berkshire

Yardage
6379 (Red)
Par
72
SSS
71
Built
1928
Architect(s)
Herbert Fowler
Nature:
Heather,soft sand; two pine-clad undulating heathland courses; Quality club.
Location/Address:
On Bagshot-Ascot Road. SL5 8AY
http://www.theberkshire.co.uk
Secretary
Col. John Hunt
Telephone
01344 621495
Professional
Paul Anderson
Green Keeper
Ian Morrison
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Access Policy:
Visitors welcome weekdays
Dog Policy:
With Sec's prior permission
Open Meetings:
The Berkshire Trophy and Astor Salver, - June
Fees in 1960s
£1
Fees today
£120

Review

The Berkshire is run as an efficient machine that provides superior facilities to its members and visitors who feel welcomed in classic style.

A new bump-and-run and long-driving practice area,  a renovation of the Clubhouse with an attractive and functional, newly designed locker-room and an ingenious practice net that delivers the ball back to your feet, is an investment that clearly recognises the ambition of the Club to give members the best possible facilities and remain a major venue for societies.

Nick Jenkins by practice net

Nick Jenkins by practice net

The two courses, Red and Blue, are both on heathland that possesses an abundance of heather and soft sand cut from a pine forest. Built in 1928 by Herbert Fowler (designer of those other fine courses at Walton Heath, Saunton East, Beau Desert and Delamere Forest) with it is said the help of Tom Simpson, the course’s trees have grown thicker since his day.

Clubhouse from 3rd tee

Clubhouse from 3rd tee

The Club follows an enlightened policy of heathland regeneration with a thinning of trees in parts. Though initially this policy may have come as a bit of a shock to some people in sacrificing a degree of seclusion, it is now for example pleasantly possible to see through from the 1st blue tee to the 2nd fairway.

There are a number of holes that become damp in winter and annual meadow grass (Poa annua) predominates. Deep slitting is being used to aerate and drain but the courses are best played in the summer when it is naturally drier and the heathland sandy base helps the greens become firmer though still receptive to the high ball.

1st on the Blue

1st on the Blue

The Blue course has some great holes, such as the intimidating short 1st in front of the Clubhouse that requires a long iron over a valley of heather. Foursomes are a favourite method of play at The Berkshire and there has been many an amiable squabble as to which partner will play first after one of the best lunches there is around, provided by chef Tony Dugard.

I particularly like the strong finish on the Blue course with the four exquisite doglegs all requiring a well-placed drive and a testing second with differing clubs.

Nevertheless it is to the Red course with its unusual format of six par 5s, six par 4s and six par 3s that I prefer to turn. All the par fives, except the 17th, can be within the range of two modern club shots and birdie chances are plentiful, balanced by very testing short holes.

Herbert Fowler is known for his natural routing often defined by finding excellent short hole sites and the Red course exemplifies this.

The Calamity-like 10th on Red

The Calamity-like 10th on Red

The 2nd needs the correct short iron to a plateau green and I am nearly always short at the valley-like 5th hole. The 7th gives great satisfaction if it can be completed with a long iron and the 10th over a deep gorge requires real nerve and has some design aspects to it, similar to the famous ‘Calamity’ at Royal Portrush. The 16th is the best of all and always plays longer than it looks. A low 1 iron will, however, check quickly into the sloping and usually receptive green and give immense enjoyment.

The par 4s are varied and all good. The short dogleg short par four 6th comes in for a lot of praise and it does give a high risk/reward without modern penal aspects.

second shot to Blue's 16th

second shot to Blue’s 16th

Perhaps the only weakness on the Red course is at the 18th, requiring a mid-iron to a short hole on rising ground that somehow gives the impression of being tacked onto an otherwise glorious round of golf. It has though been much improved by being opened up with many trees being removed around the green.

For fun, I would suggest a different routing (though some dislike two par 3s in a row) with the 17th made a par three, with a potentially magnificent finishing par five that could be constructed with the green in a similar place to the present 18th green. Conceptually I think this is an improvement but it may not have been practical!

A full English breakfast is available from 7.30 a.m. and it is well worth taking the day in style and treating yourself to a caddy while, if your dog is trained and well behaved, the Secretary, if requested in advance, may grant the dog a delightful walk with you.

18th on the Blue

18th on the Blue

The Berkshire is wonderfully designed and though sustainable greenkeeping may not be its priority, with a lack of firmness in its annual meadow grass (Poa annua) dominated target-greens, neither course is long with forty stableford points enjoyably possible, a day out at The Berkshire lifts the spirits and must be awarded a high “joy to be alive” factor.

There are a number of different stories told as to how The Berkshire was stripped of or did not become The Royal Berkshire. As all the protagonists are now dead, hopefully the following interesting little story will not embarrass anyone. It is from Nicholas Courtney’s book to honour Swinley Forest’s centenary :

“Rice Pudding is still a permanent fixture at Swinley, ever since the Prince of Wales brought James Braid into the Clubhouse. The Prince had been playing with the professional at the nearby Royal Berkshire Golf Club and took him for lunch after their game. The secretary reminded him of the rules that professionals could not enter the Clubhouse and that Braid was therefore not welcome. The Prince of Wales was incensed. He removed their Royal status and drove straight to Swinley for lunch, where Braid tucked in happily to the rice pudding.” !

Reviewed by Lorne Smith, 2009.

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