Presenting immaculate greens, velvet fairways, pristine sand and stunning natural lakes, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better maintained course in the UK than Bearwood Lakes this summer.
The heavens may have opened as Golfmagic set sail around this parkland classic, yet for the duration of the round it felt like we were in paradise as we tripped our way through mature trees with skilfully designed and cleverly routed holes.
Having enjoyed breakfast in the splendid chalet-style clubhouse overlooking the 18th, we set off for the range. En route, we bumped into Bearwood Lakes owner Gary Holloway.
“When I was about to play Valderrama a few years back,” he told us, “the pro said to me, ‘I hope you’ve got plenty of balls.’ At the time I thought, ‘You cheeky bugger!” But it got me thinking.
“It made me determined to make Bearwood as challenging as possible while still keeping it thoroughly enjoyable to play.
“We’ve extended the lakes between eight and nine, as well as the one by the tenth green and 11th tee – so all four holes now have water in play.”
And he added with a smile: “I hope you’ve got plenty of balls!”
To score well around this Berkshire beauty, you need to bring your A-game. The fairways are generous in terms of width, yet if you stray off these carpeted surfaces you’ll be in all sorts of bother.
There’s no better example than on the par-4 first, which sweeps down the hill towards the pin. Several bunkers sit diagonally on the left-hand side of the fairway attracting you towards them, while deep rough awaits should you head right. Focus is required from the very first shot.
The par-5 second demands a good drive over the brow of the hill in order to reach the dancefloor in two. Beware, however, with thick rough lurking innocently down both flanks and behind the green, par is a very good score.
The long par-3 third lends some respite, provided you don't leave it short, while make sure you stop for a minute or two to take in the breathtaking views from the elevated fourth tee.
The pace quickly picks up again at the long par-5 fifth with trees aligning the entire left-hand side next to bunkers well within range off the tee. Be sure to lay-up, as anything just a few yards long will be swimming with the fishes.
The big-hitters have a chance to reach the green at the par-4 sixth, but with a very narrow entrance and big slope from right to left, the sensible decision is to play for position with the long iron.
And then you reach the dogleg par-4 seventh – arguably the strongest hole on the course and offering more scenery from an elevated tee box. Despite offering a relatively large fairway, the second plays uphill with at least a club longer than the yardage books suggests.
At the par-4 eighth, finding the fairway is vital. Anything right will require a spoonful of medicine; anything left is in Mr Holloway's re-sized lake. There's no hiding from the water at nine, however, playing 170-plus yards with nothing but the wet stuff between tee and green.
A welcome Cornish pasty or sausage roll at the halfway house will set you up for the back nine, which starts with a testing downhill par-4 with a large water hazard ready to gobble up errant approach shots with a long-iron.
Heather-edged bunkers in front of the par-5 11th steer approaches to the left, ahead of a string of shot-making holes, and the par-3 12th is a long iron or hybrid down the shoot.
The stunning 13th demands the order of the day - accuracy off the tee - avoiding two streams which feed Bearwood Lake, while the signature 14th plays a corking one-shotter that requires an accurate mid-iron across the corner of the drink.
Of the final quartet, Bearwood Lakes composes a glorious mix of aspirational parkland.
The par-4 15th asks for two decent shots into a back-to-front green, while the par-5 16th plays as a three-shotter to a raised green.
With a big hit at 17, you can reach the front edge, but with OB tight on the right and thick heather on the left, that's really your call. The 18th is a pleasant drive and iron down to a green in front of the delightful clubhouse - and gives you a chance to finish in style in front of those in the bar.
So did we lose balls? Well, yes actually - about eight between us. But it was most enjoyable and at no point do you feel like you're being beaten up.
Bearwood Lakes may only have been first played in 1996 but the maturity Martin Hawtree designed into it makes it as good an inland course in the UK that you'll ever play. The course has lots of natural woodland beauty that requires strategy off the tee and good sense with approaches. Keep your ball in play and there's a fair offering of birdies out there.
Address: Bearwood Road, Sindlesham, Berkshire, RG41 4SJ
Contact: 01189 797900
Green fees: £100 per person Monday to Thursday inclusive. A limited number of Day Memberships, subject to availability.
Course: Par 72; 6,892 yards (black), 6,488 yards (white), 6,279 yards (yellow), 5,482 yards (red)
Designers: Guy Hockley, Martin Hawtree
Facilities: Pro shop, practice green, driving range, trolley hire, bar, buggy hire, club hire, restaurant
Public transport: Waterloo to Winnersh - roughly an hour - and then five minutes in a taxi.