The weather has been dire this winter and as such, the Winter Tour is merely lurching along. In only the 4th stop, play continued yesterday in Berkshire. No, the game wasn't at one of the more salubrious Berkshire venues, but at a modern course in the rolling Berkshire Downs, not too far north of Hungerford and Newbury. The Downs are continuous with the Chilterns to the east and separated by Goring Gap on The River Thames. The course is completely surrounded by open farmland, unfortunately, with the advent of tree planting; the feel of West Berkshire is more akin to parkland rather than a downland design. Too often trees are needlessly in play and worse still, sometimes planted in rows. Despite the trees, the course drains quite well. While not dry, I think the course is holding up well to the weather conditions and there is no evidence of muddy lies which are quite common on parkland courses in the winter.
West Berkshire is a surprisingly easy walk when we consider the surrounding hilly and very handsome landscape. The design is most decidedly of its time (mid 1970s) with mounding heavily featured throughout. Occasionally, such as on the par 5 thirteenth, the mounding is more of the 18th century ilk, looking more like ramparts, but attractively so. Additionally, several holes feature dips, shallows or dead ground shy of the green. Perhaps this technique is over done, but in the main it does add interest to what is often a straight-forward course. Finally, I would add that the routing is quite dumbfounding given a flat piece of land. There is a pinch-point in the property creating a figure 8 shape with seven holes isolated on the far side of the halfway hut, but there are several awkward cross-overs which somewhat hinders the flow of play.
A few holes of note:
An example of dead ground short of the par 5, first green.
Approach to the shortish two-shotter 2nd.
The third is an interesting short par 4 with several bunkers guarding the green; many of which can't be seen until closer to the target. This style of hidden bunkering is repeated on later holes. While I don't have any particular issue with blind bunkers, I question why so many exist on such a flat site. I would also add that these low areas are cause for concern where drainage is considered.
A note about the 5th, an ill-advised monster par 5. This 600+ yarder is a perfect example of design over-kill. There is very little driving room and if one does decide to take the risk with a driver, a blind ditch cuts the fairway in two; not clever.
Holes 6-8 form a loop. After a rather lengthy walk to the tee, #6 features one of the more interesting greens on a course not blessed with many. Askew to the angle of play (play comes from the left side of the photo), this hole greatly rewards length for length sake; a simple and effective design method.
After the 8th, we cross back over the 5th fairway to play another hole which perplexes me. One must hit a very solid drive to reach the corner of a leg protected by huge evergreen type trees. The space on the left has been eliminated by thoughtless tree plantings, effectively creating a second shot lay-up par 5 for the hitter who can't reach the corner.
#11 is an interesting par 3 with a big swale dividing the rear of the green from a mound. It is an interesting concept a bit marred by drainage being an issue.
One of a few short par 4s, the 12th green is long, narrow and raised above the fairway. With OOB hard right and the temptation to have a go at the green, the pond just short of the green spoils the hole a bit.
Perhaps the best hole on the course, the three-shot 13th plays between sentinel earthworks with fronting bunkers. The second shot is most attractive.
While trees are still an issue, notice the positive effect of the shaping without mounding.
Fortunately, the better par 3s are on the back nine with #14 being my favourite....though 17 is very good as well.
While not in the least a poor course, I wasn't overly impressed with West Berks. The style of the design doesn't suit my eye, but the biggest issue I have is with the exception of the 13th, there aren't many very good holes. The 5th is certainly a controversial talking point, but beyond that every course needs more than a one hole which the golfer can look forward to playing. The course consists of many solid holes and offers a very attractive green fee; however, unless in the immediate area, West Berks is not the sort of course one seeks out to play unless cost is the primary concern.
Previous stops on the 2012/13 Winter Tourhttp://www.golfclubatlas.com/forum/index.php/topic,37725.msg777627.html#msg777627
Next scheduled stop: Worplesdon