Bearwood Lakes

Bearwood Lakes

Courses like Bearwood Lakes simply did not exist in Britain until recently. Enthusiasts have long travelled from the world over to experience our seaside, and to a lesser extent heathland, courses but when seeking inland, parkland-style layouts with plenty of water, America is the first place that springs to mind. That is not to say Britain has always been bereft of top-quality parklands, just that this style of golf is not one done better here than anywhere else. Nor have we always been known for providing the visiting golfer with an overall experience to remember.

And finally, our courses have always been seasonal. Parkland courses suffer more than most over the winter, calling to mind bare tees, muddy fairways and lumpy greens.

The reason, then, why Bearwood Lakes stands apart is that it does not conform to any of the above preconceptions. Designed by Martin Hawtree, the man the R&A routinely turn to ahead of each Open to advise on course presentation, Bearwood Lakes is still young, first opening in 1996.

It has an enormous advantage in terms of its setting, the undulating fairways snaking away through pine woodland towards the largest of the eponymous lakes from where the dominating Jacobean-style mansion across the water can best be admired.

Modern advances in agronomy, coupled with a strong greenkeeping team, have given Bearwood some of the best surfaces in the land. And not just for six weeks in June and July, but months on end. The greens here are both contoured and slick.

You get to play around and over water on several holes, most notably the stunning par-3 14th, where anything even slightly short or leaking right will end up wet. And from the chance to warm up on the range to the facilities of the modern clubhouse, there is every reason to enjoy your visit in its entirety.

It would be easy, and lazy, to describe Bearwood as an American-style course, a term that comes with a perjorative inference. Modern would be a better adjective, and immaculate another.

There is an intriguing comparison to be made between it and the nearby likes of Sunningdale and Worplesdon, but it is apples and pears. Bearwood is neither a heathland nor a hundred years old. It should not have to apologise on either count.
Now 16 years old and renowned for the speed and quality of the greens, conditioning alone makes it stand out from the crowd.

Instead, let us celebrate its many virtues. It is easy to concentrate on the holes where water is most obviously in play but the pick of the par 5s is surely the 5th. The shape of the fairway is beautifully framed, the ideal drive being a high draw to follow the gradual dogleg. You can find the green from distance, taking advantage of a hop forward, but find the wrong portion of the green and two-putting is an achievement.

Another fine hole is the 10th, with a downhill tee shot that must be placed between the long fairway bunker on the left and trees on the right. The green here is attractively sited, beyond a stream and with a stand of trees behind.

After the drama of the 13th and 14th, the former a par 4 calling for a drive over water then a second over a stream, it is uphill all the way to the 17th green. Then the large clubhouse is back in view at a final hole where you dream of driving over the crest of the hill to leave a shorter second to a green sloping from back to front.

Collectively, it is an impressive experience and one out of the ordinary. Bearwood Lakes is a rare treat – and better still you can be there within half an hour of turning off the M25.

Top Holes by Dan Murphy, editor:

5th 527 yards, par 5

A tempting tee-shot with the prevailing wind behind that can set up the chance of taking on the green in two. Any such attempt will ideally demand a high draw to carry the cross bunkers and follow the shape of the fairway.

10th 427 yards, par 4

Another elevated tee and this time the entire hole stretches out in clear view. The further left the tee-shot, the shorter the hole plays but a fairway bunker is ideally placed to force you that little bit wider than you would like. The two-tiered green is framed by pine trees.

14th 176 yards, par 3

This is a special short hole, played across the corner of the lake to a green that somehow seems much larger when you reach it than when you are standing on the tee 180 yards away. Anyone bailing out to the left will be faced with an extremely awkward chip back towards the water.