Bearwood Lakes is a Martin Hawtree design tucked in wonderful Berkshire countryside between Reading and the heathland delights of London. My first two thoughts upon seeing the view of the 1st, 7th and 18th from the house were the course looks American and very modern. The style of the bunkers screams American. They are often huge to match the scale of the property, but they are also shaped like many American bunkers - sort of a clover shaping. I would also say that many of the tees are perched up so the player can read the map the bunkers create, another concept very popular in the US. I mention the bunkers first because it seems to me Bearwood Lakes, for better or worse is defined by its bunkers. There is barely a shot on the course where sand isn't an issue. This too is quite an American concept. However, Bearwood is a good property for golf and I would have liked to see more ground features utilized. Anyway, onto the course.
The 1st slips down the hill and a bit right. The golfer gets an immediate sense of openness and freedom which for the most part is carried throughout the round. From behind the green the sense of space is apparent.
A look at the green.
The second is a down and up par 5 with a strong two tier green.
For some reason, the fairway ends at the drive zone. There is a bunker left (out of picture) pushing players toward the green. I can't see why that bunker shouldn't be in the fairway protecting against the long ball.
The medium length one-shotter 3rd is a good hole with an interesting green, much of which is hidden to the right.
One gets the sense of the "road map" look on the 4th. For the most part, the bunkering is not very adventurous. It looks like space has been created behind the left bunker recently, but it still doesn't create the temptation bunkers should. The design dictates the player accept the poor view as the only option from the tee unless he is extra-ordinarily long or happy to play from the rough.
The reachable par 5 5th, is an interesting hole because of the blind nature of the approach with the combination of fronting bunkers and water to the rear of the green.
The short par 4 6th, the fairway is actually quite narrow.
The 7th takes us back to the house in grand fashion. I like how the fairway beyond the right bunkers kicks balls left toward the bad angle of approach on the left.
Due to the severe back to front slope, the uphill approach is much more difficult if the hole is located on the front of the green.
#8 is a sub 300 yard two-shotter which bends around a wee pond that has been recently enlarged. A layup to set up a wedge approach is prudent, but if the player can hit a high draw there is an advantage to be had if successful with the bold play.
Because of the larger pond, the par 3 9th now plays over water. Curiously, the hole seems naked.
Another big change was the 10th. The old disjointed ditch and green have been replaced by a pond to the right.
The 11th is in with a shout for the best hole on the course, but it too has undergone some changes. Two additional bunkers were added and the fairway now runs left of the bunkers whereas before it ended. Interestingly, it used to be that three par 5s had their fairways end! Hawtree was much more daring than usual in his bunker placement angling across the line of play well short of the green.
This is a clever hole because the focus from the tee is on the bunkers, but the real issue of the hole is the decision to bail left for a tricky side hill/down hill chip or take on the full frontal assault over the deep hollow short of the green.
The 12th transitions down to the lower lake section of the course for three holes. For many, this is their favourite part of the property, but I wasn't overly keen on these holes as a group. #12 - par 3
A moderate length par 4, thirteen plays over the arm of the lake and a stream further on. The water theme is continued on the one-shotter 14th. I like this sort of water hole because there is clearly a bail out zone on offer. A look at the green from the rear.
Unfortunately, the routing has us walking the transition from the lake area to the next tee some distance away. It is details like this which are so important to keep the flow and rhythm of a course intact. Luckily, the 15th is a good hole. Surprise, surprise, an additional bunker was built down the left.
A closer look at the green doesn't reveal the movement very well. An admirable aspect of the course is that all the greens are interesting to putt and chip without being ott.
#16 is an interesting par 5. The drive used to be blind over the crest of a slight hill. Now there are flanking bunkers used as a road map. The player has the option of laying back short of the large dip bisecting the fairway. Once again, the fairway abruptly ends, only this time 100 or so yards short of the green. There is talk of building a connecting fairway between the fairway and green. If done right as a fairly severe humpback fairway, it might prove to be a very interesting change.
The 17th may be the second best hole on the course. The bunkering on the left is separated by ~40 yards. One can either take on the carry of both sets (maybe 250 yards), lay-up short of the first bunker or take on the narrow right part of the fairway. This hole strikes me as based on Merion's 10th.
#18 does a good job of visually guiding players left toward trouble. This photo was taken from the 17th fairway.
I hope you enjoyed this tour of a London course which doesn't get much press. I had never heard of Bearwood until a few years ago! Its hard to sum up Bearwood because the course is sound from start to finish yet it lacks something in the sum of its parts. The greens have interest, there is good and ample land movement and conditioning is good. However, I can't help thinking that perhaps Hawtree should have been a bit more bold and built more holes in the vein of the 11th on such an a property of this scale. Of course, it could also be that Bearwood is near some of the most compelling inland courses ever built. All said, I like the course and it serves as a decent alternative to a heathland star if one can secure an invite. 2013