The numbers 666 stand for the sign of the devil and conjure up images of hell. Not at The Berkshire they don’t. They signify a little bit of golf heaven.
I’ve never played a golf course like The Berkshire’s Red (Pictured above: the 17th by Will Bailey) that features the unique set up of six par 3s, six par 4s and six par 5s. It seems such an obvious layout that I’m surprised more courses aren’t laid out the same way.
Renowned architect Herbert Fowler, he of Walton Heath fame, laid out the Red Course, a layout that runs through mature trees and Rhododendron bushes. The Red Course doesn’t really have rough as we know it. What it has more than compensates.
Heather lies just off the fairways to await any sprayed tee shot. It provides the course with a more than adequate defence against low scores.
I once played with my brother in law over the Red. As a Canadian, he’d never played a ball out of heather before. He didn’t really give the wiry plant much thought as he stood on the first tee. He knew all about it after he hit his tee shot into the right-hand heather. After his third attempt to get his ball back in play, he asked the question golfers have been asking for nearly 100 years.
“How the hell do you play out of this stuff,”
I wish I knew. Hint: stay out of the heather.
The first actually provides a gentle opener since a good drive should reward you with a fairly easy par. The same can be said of the other par-5s. Get a good drive away and getting to the greens in more two shots shouldn’t be too taxing on all six three-shot holes. Therein lies the beauty of Fowler’s 666 layout: the par 5s allows you the chance to score well on those holes. I wish the same could be said of the par 3s.
It’s said the Red has the best collection of par 3 holes in England. It’s hard to argue with that.
While Fowler gives you a sense of respite with the par 5s, he gives you nightmares with the par 3s. They are all good, tough one-shot holes. There isn’t one you could single out and say, “well that was easy.”
You get a sense of what’s to come from the uphill second. Although this hole only measures 147 yards off the back markers, it’s a tough wee one shotter that sets the tone for the rest of the round. It’s the shortest hole with the 221-yard 16ththe toughest in my book. That’s because it’s actually a short par-4 for most of us! The 5th, 7th and 18th call for good mid to long iron shots depending on your handicap. The 10th is an absolute beauty, which is why I’ve named it best par 3 below.
There’s a good mix of par 4s with the 360-yard 6th hole punching well above its weight. The drive is key on this dogleg right hole, while Fowler gives you a well countered green just to compound to your feeling that this hole should play easier than it does. The 14th gets my vote for best par 4 (see below)
The Berkshire has undergone a programme of tree removal and heather regeneration in recent years that has helped take the course back to Fowler’s original design.
I’ve been fortunate to play a lot of golf at The Berkshire over the years. Club professional Paul Anderson is my best mate and I’ve played many a round over the two courses. Well I think he’s my best mate, but you wouldn’t know it from the stick he sometimes gives me for yet another bad shot! My saving grace is that he’s the guy largely responsible for the swing that created that bad shot.
Combine the Red with arguably the best carvery lunch in the British Isles and a round on the Blue Course and it’s hard to find a better day’s golf anywhere.
Yes, safe to say Herbert Fowler created a little bit of heaven on earth at The Berkshire
Best Par 3
10th, 188/148 yards
Don’t go right on this hole since you’ll face an uphill pitch to a green you can’t see because of a huge depression falling away to the right of the green. Hence the reason so many bail out left on this hole. You’ve got to fly your ball all the way to the green because the depression swings round from the right of the green back towards the tee. The hole plays uphill and therefore calls for a longer club as a result. This hole is arguably The Berkshire’s best example of Fowler using the natural contours of the land he was presented with when he laid out the courses in 1928.
Best par 4
14th, 434/428 yards
You play your tee shot from high tee and then face a demanding tee shot to a green that is well bunkered on the right with the land on the left sloping away from the green. Make four here and you’ll skip to the next tee.
Best par 5
15th, 477/468 yards
On paper this look like an easy par 5 but it plays uphill to a long narrow green that slopes from left to right, making the hole play longer than its actual length.
The Berkshire Red’s Amen Corner
The 14th, 15th and 16th are the best trio of holes for me. A tough par 4 followed by an uphill par 5 and a monster par 3 of 221 yards is as tough as it gets. Play these holes well and you’ll return a good score, but they can wreck your card.
Through no fault of the club or the designer, the Red is too short for tour professionals and elite amateurs at 6,452 yards. Technology has made sure of that. Thankfully it’s still a brilliant challenge for amateurs.