Pulsating and true championship links golf

Burnham & Berrow (Championship)

Burnham & Berrow (Championship)

Burnham & Berrow (Championship)

Date Reviewed
May 6, 2018
Reviewed by Ed Battye
The links at Burnham & Berrow begins at a pulsating pace and rarely lets up until the moment you reach the comfort of the historic 100-year-old clubhouse where you are able to relax and reflect.

This is true championship golf of the highest order with the opening three holes epitomising everything that is great and superior about links golf.

The tantalising glimpse of the first green through the funnel of dunes, that frame the slither of fairway, sets a wonderful and intriguing tone that resonates throughout the entire round. At this opening hole a drive that favours the left-hand side of the fairway is rewarded with a better view of the green but finding the putting surface is still no guarantee and a ball missing the green to the right can easily result in a bogey or worse thanks to a severe drop-off into a deep hollow.

After an exhilarating drive from a high tee at the second, to a billowing fairway below, you are posed with a similar dilemma where anything missing the green to the right will require a deft pitch, 'bump & run' or even a putt from the tightest of lies to a long, narrow and sloping green. Bunkers to the left magnify the precision required with this approach where only the straightest of shots will be rewarded with a birdie putt.

The third hole is a seemingly more generous driving hole but that sense of openness merely lulls the golfer into more lackadaisical thinking when they should be concentrating on hitting the left-hand side of the fairway to give the best angle of attack into a green located behind a high dune and set in a clover-shaped amphitheatrical dell. A drive down the left however must carry two menacing pot bunkers.

I struggle to easily recall a better opening three holes to a round of golf than those at Burnham & Berrow.

Even at the best courses there normally has to be a few lulls during the course of the round for without these it is difficult to fully appreciate the highs. However, at Burnham & Berrow it doesn't seem to be that way. There are no obvious weaknesses yet the best bits still stand out as truly exceptional.

The par-five fourth, short fifth and two-shotter sixth continue their way through the duneland although the open vista to the left and view of the Bristol Channel is a stark contrast to what has just gone before. The course certainly becomes more open and expansive as you head towards the turn.

The sixth and seventh holes are both intimidating due to their length but they are not without their subtleties either; the innocuous ridge running through the latter can devilishly kick a ball towards a lone bunker on the heroic tee-shot and away from the green at the approach whilst the shot to the green at the former must be given the utmost respect because the front right-hand quarter of the putting surface will sweep anything away struck too weakly [Edit; this green has been remodelled on my latest visit in May 2018. It should also be noted that new championship tees have been added at the 6th, 9th and 11th].

The long eighth is also a fine par five; a testing drive over a stream allows you to decide how much to bite off, a couple of well placed mounds of rough just shy green unwaringly tempt you to go for the green without seemingly much danger - but find them and you are in trouble - and a fabulously located raised green with a steep drop-off to the right is not the easiest to find.

The outward half closes with a short par three played at right-angles to most of the other holes on the course and features not only some magnificent bunkering but a quite charming green with lovely borrows and hollows.

At this point you have made your way to the farthest point on the course. You begin your journey home with three very different par fours. The drive at the 10th is blind and you must be guided by a marker post. It's a hole that creates wonderment as you head up and over the dunes that obscure the view to see if your tee-shot is as good as you were hoping it might be. The next two are longer holes but are not as fearsome from the tee as some of the other drives on the course. If anything the 10th and 11th are the weakest moments at Burnham.

The bunkerless 12th is a simply stunning hole and worthy of special metnion. A drive down the right side of the fairway at this uphill hole is required in order to get a glimpse of the green and anything left off the tee will result in a blind second shot to a two-tiered green located beyond a large swale.

The lone par five on the inward half is the 13th and this is also a fabulous hole which really comes alive as you near the long narrow green. A drive over a bridle path will set up the chance of reaching the green in two otherwise you are faced with a tight lay-up with gorse beckoning for the wayward. The green breaks considerable from left to right but this isn't always visible to the naked eye at first glance.

Both the 14th and 17th are par threes played to plateau greens where only a well-executed shot will leave a putt for your second stroke; the former is no less than exceptional. They sandwich two differing par fours. The 15th is a strong driving hole before you play to an outstanding green complex partially hidden in a bowl behind another imposing dune. A shot from the right is perhaps favoured, if you can fly a pair of bunkers fifty yards short of the green, but the lie of the land allows a ball to be shaped into the green if necessary. Meanwhile, the 16th is shorter and perhaps the weakest driving hole on the course but the second shot to a brilliantly fluid green is undoubtedly a highlight of the round, especially to a hole located in the back right basin of the putting surface.

The famed closing hole at Burnham & Berrow requires a raking draw tee shot to the left of a large ridge and to the right of a couple of deep, grassy hollows. Those who successfully manage that will then face an iron shot which must be threaded between greenside bunkers that guard a flat green sitting close to the first tee and under the shadow of the clubhouse. It's a splendid end to a magnificent golf course.

Like at all true championship links golf courses you must be so precise to score well at Burnham & Berrow. Even if you are just a fraction out, especially when choosing your landing area on chip and pitch shots, your errors are magnified with the ball often running an unfathomable distance away from where you were intending. The turf here is brilliantly tight and compact yet retains a pristineness that makes playing from it a delight.

After playing Burnham & Berrow for the first time in September 2013 it has catapulted itself close to the top of my list of finest links golf courses. A second visit the follow May confirmed my initial impression and a third in May 2018 established it even further. It receives many accolades and is well known but I still feel it is one of the most underrated golf courses in Great Britain.

Read the review of Burnham & Berrow (Channel Course) here.

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