Betwixt Red and Blue
Or, "some sort of golfing heaven"
The rivalry between Red and Blue exists throughout sport, it seems. United v City, Arsenal v Chelsea. The Red Sox v the Yankees, and the 49ers v the Rams. You make your choice, pin your colours to the mast, and watch the drama unfold.
But there’s a quiet spot in the nearby heathlands where few seem to distinguish between Red and Blue; where the two exist side by side in harmony, rather than in competition. When the entrance gates swing open and you enter the golfing enclave known as The Berkshire, along with a definite sense of arrival, you note an immediate change in atmosphere.
For, as you park up and make your way past the patient black labs that observe your every move, and climb the broad stone steps into this magnificent clubhouse, there is a tangible feeling of anticipation.
The surrounding property is a gorgeous heath, through which two great golfing adventures are routed. Back in the late 20’s, Herbert Fowler laid out the Red and Blue courses, and one of golf’s best-kept secrets was born. For, despite their architectural pedigree, and the fine conditioning that the various custodians of these gems have ensured, The Berkshire remains to some degree under the radar.
Both courses appear in the top 100 lists of the UK, and rightly so, but rarely does a single club boast two courses of this calibre, and so well matched. Elsewhere, one course is favoured over another, and for a few, a composite course is created for competition, but the Red and Blue are so well matched that you wonder if they are overlooked because they are so consistent. There are few headline holes - no obvious signature photos - but instead two full rounds of individually fine challenges. The courses could be said to both complement and compliment each other.
We happen to play the Red today, and as we weave our way through the pine and heather, each tee promising and delivering another fair and exacting challenge, the conversation flows as effortlessly as the routing. Wodehouse said “to find a man's true character, play golf with him”, and in this rarified atmosphere of excellence, we cover all the topics of golf and life while grappling with the ever-changing contours before us.
We stand in awe at certain points, as the late winter sun tries to peer through the trees, and soak up this gallery of golfing eye candy, all heather clad bunkers and false fronts. And all the while the buzzards mew from above, and the deer peer out nervously from the forest, and as England wakes up from another strange winter, The Berkshire is already in wonderful condition, as befits such a fine pair of layouts.
A couple of years after the Red and Blue opened, Bernard Darwin described Fowler as “a golfing artist”, suggesting elsewhere that he was “perhaps the most daring and original of all golfing architects”. With a canvas as naturally stunning as this, Fowler’s blend of the strategic and aesthetic made him the perfect candidate to perform his magic here.
Throughout both the Red and Blue, his trademark natural green sites are to be found, and his achievement in making two coherent routings work without any of the weak holes that blight other courses confirms Darwin’s high opinion of the man, who was in his 70’s by the time the club opened, in 1928.
Not only are the courses of equal standing and quality, but it is quite hard to even pick out particular holes for praise or discussion, so high is the general standard. It would be clumsy to suggest that the architecture is “bold”, for that implies a hint of flashiness, and there is none of that here. Instead, perhaps we might say that every yard of this enormous playground offers fine golf on a grand scale.
Throw in the relaxed ambience, the charming staff and members, and one of the finest lunches on the golfing circuit, and you have, inside those pearl-free gates, some sort of golfing heaven within a few miles of London and Heathrow.
There’s no better way to describe it, I fear. We all have good days and bad, on and off the links, but to me, after perhaps a couple of dozen visits, The Berkshire seems only to offer the former. Everything here is in its right place, just as it should be, and so you can understand why time spent here feels so effortless, enjoyable.
I’m going to stick with the earlier phrase…“some sort of golfing heaven”…
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In case you are new in these parts, here’s one from the archive that perhaps sits well with golf at The Berkshire: