Golfing the Warren – Burnham & Berrow Golf Club
by Sean Arble, February 2010
Considering one of Colt’s objectives at Burnham was to eliminate blind shots, the turn for home is most curious. Approximately 175 yards of rough country over an imposing dune must be cleared to reach the 10th fairway. However, given the endless range of grand dunes and the history of sporty golf at Burnham, it would be unthinkable not to have one blind hole which demands the golfer hit it high if not so far. Before Colt’s revisions this sort of hole was de rigueur at Burnham and Darwin seemed to take particular delight in attempting the required heroic carries. ‘It is the modern fashion to despise sandhills, but if you come to Burnham to scoff at them you will remain to pray that the wind will not blow so strongly in your teeth that you cannot get over. These hills revive some of the ancient joys and sorrows of the gutty era, when you were quite simply and naturally pleased with yourself for having hit the ball far enough and high enough. I really do not think that there is any other course which on a windy day gives so much zest to life by its tee shots.’
There is another peculiarity concerning this hole; the green site. Many a golfer may wonder why the current flat area for the green was chosen when there is a range of unused dunes a mere 50 yards to the right. Perhaps Colt thought it a step too far in expecting the golfer to blindly hit the optimum spot in the fairway which would enable the golfer to see the target. It is likely we shall never discover why this decision was taken, however, the current green site has more about it than is immediately apparent. Colt used the out of bounds down the left to great effect. One must challenge the boundary fence and adjacent rough to gain the best angle of approach to a green which slopes away from the player. Playing cautiously to the right of the fairway leaves an obscured approach over a green side bunker.
The 11th is another hole which has the advantage of very different teeing areas some 60 yards apart with the far right tee turning the hole from a fairly straight one to a dogleg right. This hole is similar to the 6th in that the driving area is not readily detectable. A lone fairway bunker awaits on the left. The green hugs the floor perfectly, a majestic example of grade level design. Well placed bunkering ensures that the proper angle of play is rewarded. The two bunkers short and right of the green were pushed further to the centre of the fairway in November 2008. The effect of which was to constrict the ground option gap to approximately 15 yards of width.
Burnham’s story of change continues on the following trio of holes. Because Berrow Church was problematical in terms of playing on Sunday, in 1972, the club decided that change was necessary. It isn’t quite clear why this was the case, but F W Hawtree was responsible for the 12th & 13th and F Pennink for the 14th. The work around the church was completed in 1978 and despite the loss of the much loved Old Mill hole; the new course configuration is deemed a great success.
The 12th signals the start of one of the great finishing run of holes in England. This brilliantly difficult 401 yard hole takes us straight past the previous green, turns gently right and rises back into the dune country. The eye seems to suggest that keeping right is a sly play, but the angle of the dogleg dictates that the centre of the fairway is more prudent. The green lies quite near Berrow Church and is difficult to hold no matter which club one approaches with. Just shy of the green there is a large dip which forces the player to make the decision of carrying the plateau green or running an approach through the hollow. Needless to say, most fours are earned with an up and down.
On many great strategic holes, the player must decide on the tee what his ambitions are, the 13th is one such hole. Should the sandy trodden bridleway to the beach be carried, the player is often rewarded with a full view of the green and an opportunity to get home in two. If the player chooses to lay up off the tee, it is an odds on bet he will choose to play the more often than not blind second conservatively as well.
Once safely over the bridleway, this three-shotter continues winding its way through the dunes to a green which falls deceptively hard toward perdition on the right. If Burnham has a weakness it lies in the double edged sword of its dunes. These hills provide charm, interest and beauty for the golfer, but they also constrict the field of play. Sometimes the golfer can lose a ball 5-10 yards off the fairway or find himself in a near impossible position on the slopes of rough clad dunes.
The 14th is the last of the newer holes and perhaps the most demanding of Burnham’s par 3s. Many golfers opine that the hole plays rather awkwardly. This may be due in part to the green site being originally designed to receive a shot from fifteen’s left tee.
Much admired and hard to imagine being built in this day and age, the 15th is one of Burnham’s more idiosyncratic holes primarily for two reasons. First, the fairway runs hard against the course boundary to the left, yet the best angle of approach is from the right rough in or near a large hollow named the Kitchen. Beyond the Kitchen the fairway ripples with undulations into a dell where the green lies. Second, the tees are divided by four dozen yards creating entirely different angles. Additionally, in December 2008, an old tee some 30 yards behind the left tee was reinstated.
Many great golf courses have at least one drivable par 4 and perhaps this is one architectural element Burnham is lacking. There are two short par 4 candidates which are certainly within reach for the longest of hitters, but neither the 3rd or the 16th offer a tee which allows the player of more modest capabilities to have a go at one of the most thrilling shots in golf; taking aim at a two-shotter with the intention of putting for eagle. As it is, this 344 yarder is often seen as a bit of a drive and pitch breather. Yet, as is the case with every hole at this Somerset gem, there is at least one feature to give the golfer pause. In the case of the 16th, the challenge is heightened near the green. In fact, two characteristics help to conspire against the big hitter brigade. Even if one manages to carry the front right greenside bunkers, the lower section of green runs right to left, often thwarting a less than ideally judged shot and leaving a dicey recovery. Second, the elevated rear of the green is split with a slightly off centre hump creating two mini bowls. This is the sort of hole which many are slightly disappointed not to have a decent go at a birdie, but a three doesn’t come without some good shot-making.
The penultimate hole takes us once again to the summit of Majuba to play a long 200 yard knob to knob par 3 which can take some stout hitting to reach. As with the other short holes, the front of the green usually needs to be carried, but it is possible to scamper a low draw onto the putting surface. An under-hit aerial shot will tumble back. Mercifully, the bunker which once guarded the front of the green was removed.
James Finegan proclaimed the 18th as ‘among the half dozen finest finishing holes in the UK’ and it is difficult to argue with him. The home hole measures 445 yards, whips sharply left around large grassy hollows and eventually straightens around the 150 yard marker. In favouring conditions a well executed raking hook can leave but a short iron approach. Much of the time, however, it is a more realistic expectation to reach this front to back sloping green in three shots.
Burnham & Berrow remains one of the elite links of England not because it is the host of important amateur events, but because of the extent for which it serves as a subject for spirited dialogue. The boundless variety of Burnham’s linksland allows the natural hazards of humps, hollows, ridges, valleys and noble sandhills to come fully into play. It may be the case that many modern golfers eschew Burnham because of its reliance on natural hazards which results in awkward lies and blind shots, but enthusiasts of links golf expect and appreciate the opportunity to play cunning scuttles or wristy flops as the situation demands. Surely there are better courses, but few offer the allusive character of Burnham, which make golf courses enthralling fields of play.
As I am not by nature a writer of merit, I am grateful to Mark Rowlinson and Anthony Pioppi for guiding my pen. Thanks must go to James Boon and particularly Philip Young for their generous editorial assistance. Dr Richards and Mr A.J. Hill were very helpful in responding to my many queries concerning the flotsam and jetsam of Burnham. As ever, I am deeply indebted to my wife Julia, who is always on hand to answer pressing questions of any nature.
B. Darwin: The Golf Courses of the British Isles
B. Darwin: The Times 13 September 1930
J. Finegan: A Golferâ€™s Pilgrimage to England and Wales
For information on Majuba see: http://www.britishbattles.com/first-boer-war/majuba-hill.htm & http://samilitaryhistory.org/vol052gr.html
P. Richards: Between the Church and the Lighthouse
D. Steel: Classic Golf Links of Great Britain and Ireland