Which region in the United Kingdom provides the best links golf? A much discussed question – with more often than not the same answer. Scotland. Northern Ireland. England’s Golf Coast.
While all of the above are perfect examples, South West England often finds itself unfairly shunted to the back of the queue. But don’t dismiss the Westcountry next time you plan your home-based golfing trip; the area is home to some of the finest links courses in the world.
And with an Indian summer predicted to last well into October, I can think of no better way to spend a few days golfing.
Burnham & Berrow Golf Club
I started my Atlantic Links adventure at the northern-most course. Nestled on a strip of land called The Warren between the quaint Somerset seaside towns of Burnham-on-Sea and Berrow, B&B is as classic as it gets when it comes to old-fashioned English links.
Originally a nine-hole track when it opened in 1890, the club’s first professional was 19-year-old Devon-born John Henry Taylor – who went on to win the Open Championship twice in his tenure at the club. (Taylor won it three more times after leaving to join Royal Mid-Surrey GC in 1899.)
In the 30-year development of what is today known as the Championship Course, there was input from some of the biggest names in golf architecture, including Harry Colt, Herbert Fowler, Hugh Alison, Harold Hilton and Alister Mackenzie.
A classic out-and-back links course, the significant feature is the church which sits alongside the 12th green. Over the years, changes have been made to this part of the course to ensure churchgoers aren’t bombarded by wayward shots.
B&B hosted the English Men’s Open Amateur Stroke Play Championship, better known as the Brabazon Trophy, in 1956, 1990 and 2011. It has also hosted the English Amateur six times between 1930 and 2006.
While researching Burnham & Berrow before setting off to play, I discovered it was a particular favourite of Charles Darwin’s first grandson, Bernard – a golf writer, accomplished amateur, and a World Golf Hall of Famer.
“Hole succeeds hole, and still the endless range of hills goes on,” he writes in his 1910 book The Golf Courses of the British Isles, “and from the summit of each one we get the most lovely views, with the Cheddar Gorge in the distance; to the left the Bristol Channel, with the islands of Steep Holm and Flat Holm and an expanse of dim country on the other side.
“When we turn for home at the ninth, we see the sandhills stretching tumultuously away towards Weston, with their range of fantastic shapes and occasionally a narrow ribbon of turf in between.”
How can you not be excited about playing a course after reading that kind of eulogy?
Meandering its way through the dunes towards Berrow, the Championship Course opens quite dauntingly with a tight par-4, pictured above, offering very little room to manoeuvre – not to mention the virtually guaranteed headwind.
The second, below, provides the first of several elevated tees; a hole typical of this picturesque course.
But it’s the fourth where it really starts to take your breath away. Another elevated tee offers views, which you can see below, across the Bristol Channel and to Barry Island in Wales – while a large target really allows you to open your shoulders.
The Stroke Index 1, 450-yard par-4 eighth offers something of a rarity for links golf, as the drive demands you carry some 200-yards of water with little in the way of relief for anything wayward.
At the turn, the course follows the coastal road back into Burnham. The 12th is quite a spectacle, sweeping dramatically up the hill towards a green shadowed by the church. Pictured below, playing partner Andrew putts out in the shadow of the church. (Though it isn’t clear which ball is his!)
The home stretch, winding its way beside the houses on the outskirts of the town, requires careful tee shots with the advantage of almost always having a downwind tee shot. Play on a day like we did and the 330-yard par-4 16th is almost driveable.
The 18th is as good a finishing hole as you will ever play. A blind drive over the dunes sets up a lengthy approach into a tight green protected by menacing pot bunkers and overlooked by the instantly recognisable grand clubhouse.
And if that isn’t enough – everyone inside can see your every move…
Colt and co sculpted a magnificent track in this small corner of the Westcountry, providing the perfect blend of challenging and enjoyable. A Somerset stunner.
The fourth, with its tee shot set to a stunning backdrop, the church-flirting 12th and the spectacular 18th are the obvious choices. But I’ll plump for 15, pictured below; a tight 440-yard par-4 with small, bowl-shaped green. It helps that I birdied it, too.
A suitably aged clubhouse, top picture, provides good food and plenty of viewpoints of the 18th and, across the path, a well-stocked and friendly pro-shop neighbouring the driving range and large short game area. (And I always know I’m back in my native South West when I get change from £10 for three pints of ale.)
Address: St Christopher’s Way, Burnham-on-Sea, Somerset, TA8 2PE
Contact: 01278 785 760 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Course: Par-71, 6925 yards (championship tees); Par-71, 6658 yards (white); Par-71, 6436 yards (yellow); Par-74, 5744 yards (red)
Green fees: £75 (weekdays and Sundays) and £85 (Saturdays) for 18 holes until November, when the winter rate of £50 will be introduced.
Club website: www.burnhamandberrowgolfclub.co.uk
Atlantic Links website: www.atlantic-links.co.uk
In the second of the series, I head in to Devon to take on Saunton Golf Club. Stay tuned to Golfmagic.