The course has 18 fantastic chapters. The first few set the scene, you are then taken on a wondrous journey, with a few twists along the way, before the closing stretch crescendos to a suspenseful finale and a very satisfying conclusion.
What Herbert Fowler has created here at Cannock Chase is sublime. Beau Desert borders on greatness. And whilst it doesn't quite reach the dizzy heights of a Sunningdale or St. George's Hill it comes extremely close and is much more than a very fine example of heathland golf.
Perhaps it is the par three's that hold it back slightly. Aside from the truly excellent seventh the others (3rd, 10th & 16th) are all good holes but lack the complexity that the rest of the course possesses. However, on my most recent visit here I played the 10th from the yellow tees and although much shorter the change of angle and increased visibility made a refreshing change.
Although new tees have recently been added at half a dozen holes, still only stretching the course to less than 6,500 yards, it is not length that is the main defence at this Staffordshire masterpiece. The greens are among the best, most challenging and enjoyable to putt on that I have ever encountered. Blessed with sneaky borrows putting really does become a game within a game at Beau Desert.
The intricacy of not only the putting surfaces, but the green surrounds too, is a fabulous test of your short game. Many of the greens feature drop-offs and gullies towards the back and sides requiring delicate recovery shots. On occasion you may find yourself chipping to avoid double-bogey rather than to save par.
The photogenic course is now played through spectacular woodland providing tranquillity throughout the round. The scenery is also outstanding making this one of the most enchanting places to play golf.
There are a couple of short par fours in the opening holes but the wicked greens, especially at the first, mean nothing should be taken for granted. However, for me the course really comes alive from the fifth, a sweeping hole with a unique three-tiered green (highest in the middle) followed by a glorious looking downhill par four flanked by forest. The seventh ranks amongst one of the best short holes I've played and whilst the eighth is a little tame in comparison the ninth more than makes up for it.
At just 260 yards this is one of the finest short par fours in golf. Nestled at the far end of the estate the picture perfect setting is ideal for this scintillating hole carved out of the mature timberland. The yardage entices you to reach for the driver and have a go for it but the size, topography and bunkering of the green mean that if you miss, even by a fraction, a par is not guaranteed. Indeed it is arguably easier to hit and hold the green from 100 yards out than it is from ten. However, resisting the bold option and opting for a lay-up isn't necessarily the sensible choice either as you will still be faced with a partially blind and treacherous uphill pitch which could easily mean you leave your second shot where your drive would have finished should you have succumbed to its temptation. There's an important decision to be made on the tee of this risk-reward hole and I'm still unsure what the correct one is.
The 11th, 13th, 14th and 17th are all very strong par fours each with their own character and add substance to the course as well as length. Meanwhile, after several visits I'm still undecided on the 'S' shaped 12th. My initial reaction was one of dislike and whilst I've tried to appreciate its merits I'm still to be convinced about this unusual hole which has an approach obscured by a copse of trees which in my opinion would enhance the hole greatly if removed or at least cut back a little.
The 15th is an excellent par five with hummocks across the fairway restricting the longest hitters in a similar fashion to the 12th does at Moortown. And the 18th is another par five, one of my favourite holes, which is reachable in two for many. I can't easily recall a more inviting approach than the one you play into the final green at Beau Desert. It boasts a gigantic sloping green just in front of the clubhouse with contours aplenty. It is played over heather and shrub-land just short of the green which means you have to fly it all the way.
The routing of the course is of the highest order as it winds through the towering pine tree corridors giving a sense of isolation from other players.
Beau Desert translates to Beautiful Wilderness and never has a name been so fitting.
It may not be as familiar as some of the well-known Surrey and Berkshire heathland venues but it more than holds its own in comparison. It has lots of delightful nuances combining to make a fabulous, almost great, golf course.