With only a few days until all the reviews for the top 100 courses had to be submitted by the panellist’s Dan Murphy, our erstwhile leader, put out a note to see if someone could review the Blue course at The Berkshire.
I put my name forward and was given the go-ahead to reach out to Michael Newland, the Secretary of the club. He kindly returned my call and agreed to take on “The Round with Niall Challenge “ on 7th October.
Both courses at The Berkshire have a great reputation with the Red being considered by some to be the better course. My first visit to The Berkshire was in 1988 when I was a young tournament controller for the PGA South region. The end of season event for Assistant professionals was the Macgregor Assistants Championships that decided the final order of merit table and the exemptions into events the following year. The championship was played over both courses.
We had a four tee start across the two courses with 120 professionals in the field. Unfortunately, the weather was terrible with torrential rain. I got to know the cut-throughs of the courses very well that day, but I could not stop the tournament from being abandoned due to both courses being flooded which caused a number of problems trying to resolve the Order of Merit that year.
Thankfully no rain was forecast on the day Michael and I played although for the first time this year I encountered a Scottish style mist as we teed off. The Blue opens up with one of the toughest opening shots, a 213-yard par three over a valley of heather. We were joined by Neil Gray another top 100 panellists who had previously taken on “The Round with Niall challenge” at West Surrey and won.
Michael has been in his current post since 2018 has been the Secretary at another top 100 courses Royal Porthcawl for 6 years and prior to that Deputy Secretary at Sunningdale so an impressive career record to say the least. I gave Michael 2 shots as he was playing off 11 managing to win the first hole with a par which I was absolutely delighted with.
When I worked at Wentworth back in the ’90s The Berkshire, Sunningdale and Wentworth had a very longstanding and friendly relationship involving a yearly staff match with eight department heads playing together in three balls. I enjoyed playing with the other two Secretary’s at the time Stewart Zuill and Major John Clarke even though they were about thirty years older than me. Michael informed me that the match still continues today along with an invitation to the Secretary’s to attend the club dinners.
Ian Morrison, the Golf Courses Manager at The Berkshire worked with me at Wentworth heading up the Edinburgh Course before moving across 11 years ago to look after the Red and Blue courses. A number of trees had been cleared as I have seen so often on my travels to the top courses this year and has helped the views and the natural vegetation to blossom.
Ian came and found us on the 7th and explained that he had also worked really hard on the greens and the fairways had many tonnes of sand worked into them over the past few years making them still firm despite some heavy rain from a couple of nights before.
It was great to see the improvements with more to come as Martin Ebert has been commissioned to help develop a long term development plan for both courses.
Michael has overseen the building of a new halfway house which sits between the 8th green of the Red course and the 11th green of the Blue and again in line with other top venues is real quality providing a great service to members and the many visiting societies the club welcomes over the course of the year.
I was having one of my better days with the putter holing a couple of 20 footers and Michael was struggling with his game allowing me to be 4 up when we reached the halfway house. The Berkshire has always had a full membership with a long waiting list.
The Berkshire has always been known to attract the very best society and corporate days and at £290 for both courses plus a terrific 3-course carvery lunch I think is really good value for money considering the condition, presentation and prestige of the courses.
The way the trees now stand out and the undulating heathland landscape reminded me of Pine Valley which I was lucky enough to playback in 2002. With the drainage and the sanding of fairways, I believe that the MacGregor Assistants may have been completed all those years ago if today’s methods had been in place back then.
Michael found his game, but I managed to keep holing putts and kept the 4-up total to the end of the game which was most enjoyable and a rare win for me. As we sat overlooking the first of the Blue with the large clubhouse behind us Michael showed me areas that could be improved in the building to help the flow and the upgrading of some areas. I liked the fact that even though The Berkshire is one of the top clubs in the country it is still making sure that it is aware of keeping up with its competition in a very conservative but professional manner.
I have been invited back to play the Red Course and I can’t wait as if it lives up to its reputation of being better than the blue if so Pine Valley will have a real competitor in the world’s top 100 reviews.
Until next time