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Burnham and Berrow Country Club

This distinguished club in southwest England offers numerous challenges on its natural landscape

By: David Gould

Appeared in January/February 2006 LINKS

Present-day holes 6, 12, 13 and 14 were involved in the rerouting, and a player today catches sight of the stout, crenelated tower of the Berrow Parish Church of St. Mary on No. 7. Other views of the edifice appear sporadically until the difficult 12th, where the green sits closely adjacent to church property. On No. 15, the grass turns golden with afternoon light. It’s a tough but glorious par 4, with a tiny kingdom of rises, hollows, shoulders, gulleys and marram-crowned knolls.

Playing down the 18th fairway, I got a glimpse of nature’s role in the design here. I was playing an accurate drive from reasonably undulating ground and stopped to notice how the dune fields left and right—though more or less level with the mown turf—were just too fiercely furrowed to be playable. They were destined from eons earlier to be the hazards along this hole. Before any mowing implement defined the path of play, sheep would have been cropping those areas less effectively. Herdsmen would not make that the customary land to walk or, later, play their prehistoric stick-and-ball game along, and no greenkeeper would ever declare that the “faire way.”

In other words, logic and land contour dictated where the ball should go. And however your 18 logical paths were drawn up or officially designated, it would be clear from the start that, hundreds of years later, people of good sense would be following those pathways thankfully.

Through a perilous winter night in 1897, 10 Norwegian sailors aboard the SS Nornen fought a gale chasing them up the Bristol Channel toward the town of Burnham. At first light, her sails in tatters and both anchors dragging, the Nornen came upon a crew of oarsmen who had rowed their rescue boat through surf and sleet. All Nornen hands (including the ship’s dog) were ferried to safety. Their abandoned ship survived only as splintered remains, known from then forward as the Berrow Wreck, perpetually visible at low tide in the mud flats.

Contrary to what I had thought, Burnham and Berrow, the golf course that thrusts boldly through sand hills along the Channel beach between the neighboring villages of Burnham and Berrow, doesn’t permit a view of those fabled ruins before swinging back for the inward nine. A minor matter. As I left the 9th green and turned for home, a glance at my scorecard revealed wreckage enough.

Burnham and Berrow is a dignified, convivial club in a prim neighborhood only a few minutes’ drive from the motorway. Its parking lot is situated down a short street from a main thoroughfare; the clubhouse is plunk in the middle of the lot; the putting green and golf shop are three steps from the clubhouse; the 1st tee abuts the putting green intimately.

There the tidiness ends, and a unique, howling landscape bids you enter. The par-4 opening hole plunges players straight into a funhouse of high dunes and deep hollows. Tee shots are partially to completely blind and the distances of approach shots are hard to judge due to the scale of the surrounding peaks and ridges.

The original club was founded in 1890 on a rudimentary nine-hole course. Membership drew from prosperous Burnham, but some players hailed from working-class Berrow. An eventual five-time British Open champion, J.H. Taylor, signed on as golf professional, exercising his leadership ability to quell disputes and enmities stemming from the differences in fortune.

As can happen in these situations, the stronger players emerged from the lower social ranks. Berrow clans that produced keen competitors included the Whitcombes, the Days and the Bradbeers. One of these lads, Reg Whitcombe, won the 1938 British Open at Royal St. George’s.

No. 3 offers your first open-water view—but just a glimpse. A proper Channel vista greets the eye atop the 4th tee, which pulls alongside the Channel course, a nine-hole knockabout built in the mid-1970s, at the same time Burnham and Berrow governors revamped their Championship layout to no longer ramble through a churchyard.

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