A classic English woodland course touched by stellar architects and with a rare claim to fame. Chris Bertram explains
There are courses which you struggle to remember shortly after you’ve played them, and then there’s Berkhamsted Golf Club.
This classic English woodland course has a rare claim to fame and is a course that lives long in the memory.
Berkhamsted Golf Club: The back story
They first played knockabout golf on Berkhamsted Common in the 1880s.
Willie Park Jr (Sunningdale Old Course) helped turn it into nine holes, before Harry Colt (Pine Valley, Wentworth West, Royal Portrush) expanded it to 18.
But it was the prolific James Braid whose course you play today. He was commissioned to redesign it in 1926.
Aside from a slight lengthening here and there, that’s the Berkhamsted Golf Club that awaits you at the western edge of Hertfordshire, near Hemel Hempstead.
Berkhamsted Golf Club: The course
Don’t bother heading for the practice bunker when you arrive – there isn’t any sand on Berkhamsted’s 6,701 yard, par-71 layout.
In fact, other than the Bronze Age Grim’s Dyke earthwork path which you play across several times, there are no man-made hazards at all. It’s golf as nature intended.
But don’t think that makes it easy. A Top 100 England candidate, scratch golfers make an annual pilgrimage to play in the Berkhamsted Trophy, the curtain-raiser for the men’s elite amateur golf season.
Nobody ever takes it apart.
In the last two decades, average winning scores in the Trophy have actually gone up, despite advancements in technology.
Braid’s cunning design makes good use of heather and gorse, with countless grassy mounds surrounding the greens. A confident short game is essential here.
Berkhamsted Golf Club: The key holes
On many holes you’re firing down a narrow tree-lined fairway, but you emerge from the woods briefly on the 9th tee where an attractive tee shot across a small valley gives a good view of the distant clubhouse.
The hole dog-legs left to a green which is beautifully-lit at sunset.
And the magnificent 13th, surely one of the best short par fours in Hertfordshire, effectively has an island green: the fairway ends long before you reach your destination, in a dell surrounded by Berkhamsted’s famous mature trees.
Berkhamsted Golf Club: In summary
Braid’s heathland masterpiece at Berkhamsted has its own atmosphere. It is one for the connoisseurs, for feel players, and for the shot-makers.
Berkhamsted Golf Club: How to play it
It’s £60 to play Berkhamsted (£65 at weekends), or just £40 with your National Passport (free of charge if you are a member aged 18+ at an England Golf affiliated golf club). Visit the Berkhamsted Golf Club website or call 01442 865832.