- Neil White
The Berkshire Blue
The mist was rising and, beyond the tranches of heather, the first green and its blue and white flag emerged.
The Berkshire is surely one of the finest venues to play golf and why it doesn’t receive more acclaim is a mystery to me.
From the moment that one drives through the gates, this is a place which oozes quality.
Its spotless locker rooms, glorious clubhouse, pristine paths and slick-as-ice practice putting green should heighten the spirits of any golfer.
There is always a hearty welcome at The Berkshire and after our breakfast bap and coffee, it was down to the serious business of the toughest opening par-three in golf.
I know it’s a tall claim but, trust me, finding the target, more than 210 yards from the tee with the first strike of the day is a seriously tall order.
I managed it… with my provisional ball after the first was hooked into the heather which lines the left-hand side. Players better than me came up short or found a greenside bunker.
It is as if the designers of the Blue Course felt a tinge of guilt for such a difficult opening because the next couple of holes yield opportunities.
The second is a reachable downhill par-four but I can report from experience that a slightly off-target approach can find sand to its left.
The third is a surprisingly short par-five which could be comfortably reached in two by low-handicappers.
I have played on a lot of top golf courses over the past few months and none has been as well manicured as the Blue.
The fairways are surprisingly lush given our very dry summer, the tee boxes are immaculate and the greens are very pacey.
My partner went around in just three over par but his score could have been even lower if he had been able to sink a few putts from less than 10 feet.
The Blue’s difficulty level is restored ascending the par-three fourth where accuracy is the key with three bunkers awaiting those who are short or slightly offline.
The sixth is a par-five where there is a chance of scoring if drives can keep clear of trees on either side and can avoid a narrow stream which crosses the fairway.
My undoing came on the ninth and tenth – two holes which look inviting and yet hold considerable peril.
The ninth is a short, steep par-four with a drive over the calluna and a sand trap protecting the target. My ball fell into both.
The 10th seems to be a very straightforward downward par-three but correct club selection is essential because a short approach will take the slope into a pond to the right.
It also has a green with a heck of an undulation, so the chip from the drop zone is also fraught with danger.
I’d say that the back nine is tougher, exemplified by the par-five 11th, with trees, encroaching heather, a tight fairway and a brook before a two-tiered green. Two Stableford points here are well-earned.
All of the holes on The Blue are worthy of mention but, for the sake of brevity, I will leap to its final three because they can undo the best of rounds.
For my money, the 16th is the toughest on the course – a long bending par-four which only the highly proficient, brave or stupid will try to reach in two because its elevated green is protected by water.
I was perplexed by the stroke-indexing for the dogleg 17th which is rated the third easiest hole on the course.
If the tee shot drifts even slightly to the right, the green is blocked out by trees and a bunker, forcing an approach down the left of a large and swirling green.
The formidable 18th is another which ascends and has the protection of two sand traps at the front of another mighty quick putting surface.
The Red at The Berkshire will always hold a special place in my heart because I have won a trophy there and I love the make-up of six par-fives, six par-fours and six par-threes.
But The Blue pushes it close and as a pair, they are truly wonderful. Not quite as fabulous as Sunningdale but not as far short as some might suggest.