The past winners of the Berkhamsted Trophy, one of English amateur golf’s majors, reads like a who’s who of the game in modern times.
Sandy Lyle, Peter McEvoy, Gary Wolstenholme, Luke Donald and Tom Lewis. All household names who had their hands on the silverware and went on to greater things.
Maybe this year’s winner Jack Bartlett will follow in a similar path.
Other champions include Carl Mason, who has earned more money than anyone on the Seniors Tour, former Rookie of the Year Jim Payne and Sky Sports presenter John Hawksworth. Among those who have tried and failed are Sir Nick Faldo and Lee Westwood.
The Berkhamsted course is unusual because it’s sited on common land, with public footpaths criss-crossing its fairways. And there are no sand bunkers to serve as further hazards on this demanding layout.
But don’t be tempted to rub your hands in anticipation. The humps, hollows and heather that feature here, along with unforgiving undergrowth, will prove more than a handful for the unwary, whatever your ability.
Originally conceived from grazing land on Berkhamsted Common, the course needed its rough edges smoothed so in the 1920s the club called up the distinguished James Braid to give it the professional touches he had introduced at Gleneagles and Carnoustie as a multi Open champion. The esteeemed Harry Colt, reputedly, also had an influence in its development.
Little has changed today apart from the machinery used to keep the rough under control and the greens immaculate. The course demands the straightest of tee shots - not always with the longest club in the bag - an ability to shape approaches and a deft touch around the green.
As many of my relatives discovered, a wild tee shot will be lost to the ferns, the rabbits and foxes and even possibly to an unsuspecting pedestrian out for a walk across the Common with their dog.
Having been ushered to start on the par-3 10th, it reminded me of the opening hole of the Old Course at Walton Heath - a large sloping green demanding a fairway metal tee shot and where a bogey is a popular score. Then it’s across a busy road to the first of the ‘Potten End’ holes dominated by the appropriately-named Grims Dyke gravel path cutting across the fairway at about the point where the unsuspecting might lay-up.
The 13th at 358 yards is the original designer’s most famous, dominated by a hawthorn tree and needing accuracy from the tee and from the fairway. We let a group of members through but they looked equally perplexed by its demands. Back across the road to 14 where more mounds hound the unwary, then to the short 15th where all four of my group parred it with relief.
Compared to 16, the closing holes on the back nine pale in my opinion but two well-hit, consecutive fades with a driver got me within a 9-iron and two putts and lifted my spirits for the front nine. This stretch starts with a ticklish approach across that re-emerging Grims Dyke to a two-tier green that strangely slopes away from you.
Famed golf writer Bernard Darwin, grandson of naturalist Charles, once described the May tree that guards the second as both ‘threatening and magnetic’. I have to concur, having finish behind it and mighty glad to claim my bogey four. The sixth also has celebrity anecdotal history in that the early 20th century legend Ted Ray once drove his gutta percha ball 270 yards over the clump of trees with a hickory mashie! I can only surmise he must have been playing off what today is acknowledged as the ladies tee!
I had to wait until the 9th to sample my final - and favourite – hole; an uphill dogleg back toward the clubhouse and over the busy road that splits the course.
As dark clouds mustered, it demanded a solid tee shot to the angle and an 8-iron approach to a green tucked around the corner. A far better finishing hole than the 18th in my opinion and positioned where a gallery of onlookers can far better witness the winning shots.
It’s a mystery to me how Tom Lewis, he of the Portugal Masters Tour title just weeks after turning professional, could shoot consecutive rounds of 67 to claim the Berkhamsted Trophy in 2009 but he’s an outstanding talent and worthy to have his name etched in the club’s history.
Berkhamsted Golf Club
Address: The Common, Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, HP4 2QB
Contact: 01442 865 832 (office); 01442 865 851 (pro shop)
Green fees: Weekdays: £50 (18 holes) or £60 (day pass); Weekends £55 (only after 11.30am); Juniors: £20
Course: Par 71, 6605 yards (white); Par 71, 6220 yards (yellow); Par 73, 5773 yards (red)
Public transport: Trains from Euston take around 25 to 35 minutes to Berkhamsted then a short taxi journey to the club