Great Courses of Britain & Ireland: Burnham & Berrow

By George Peper

5th Hole (Photo by Kevin Murray)

Burnham & Berrow. It’s a quintessentially British name, tripping off the tongue all toffee, treacle, and tweed. It could be—should be—the name of an elite firm of London barristers or perhaps the official haberdasher to the Royal Family. Instead, it’s a golf club, nestled in a quiet corner of southwest England and blessed with a very, very good course.

Like most clubs in the UK, B&B takes its name from the town in which it sits or, in this case, the two towns it straddles. When it debuted in 1891 with a nine-hole course, it was the Burnham Golf Club, a mile north of Burnham-on-Sea in England’s Somerset County. Five years later, the course expanded to 18 holes in the direction of the neighboring village of Berrow. Thus, Burnham & Berrow.

The area is hardly a golf mecca, the nearest Open Championship site being more than 200 miles away. If you’re a fan of BBC dramas, think of B&B as halfway between the Cornish coast home of Doc Martin and Poldark and the west-of-London locale of Downton Abbey and Endeavour. A good GPS will get you there, and once on site you’ll have guidance of all sorts as this course sits between a lighthouse and a church. 

Five-time Open Champion J.H. Taylor was B&B’s first golf professional, and several luminaries had a hand in the course design, including Herbert Fowler and Hugh Alison (both members), Alister MacKenzie, and H.S. Colt. Colt gets most of the credit for the current course, for it was he who transitioned it from the hickory-and-gutty era to the more modern layout that has held more than 40 national championships. That was a big assignment in the case of B&B because the salient feature of the course is its massive sandhills. The original design played over the tops of them, with numerous blind shots, while the current course weaves artfully through and around them en route to greens that are sometimes perched, sometimes nestled.  

Sand isn’t a big issue here—four holes have zero bunkers and three holes have just one each—but the sandhills are grown thick and the greens are smallish and fast so precision is paramount.

Colt’s routing follows the out-and-back design of a classic links, and the first six holes are a thrilling romp through the dunes with the highlight coming at the elevated tee of the par-five 4th, which offers a view across the Bristol Channel to Wales (on a clear day you can see Royal Porthcawl).

Although holes seven through nine are set on tamer terrain, number eight brings a stroke of genius from Colt. By positioning two alternate tees 100 yards across from each other, he turned this canal-side par five into a dogleg that can play either right to left or left to right.

Those who stray left on the uphill approach to the 12th hole will find themselves in the yard of the aforementioned church, making this perhaps the most memorable hole on the course. The closing six holes, like the first six, thread through the sandhills with the last two particularly strong—a 202-yard par three to a tightly bunkered green followed by a stern leftward-bending par four backdropped by both the red-roofed clubhouse and the lighthouse. 

The facilities at B&B include a Dormy House that sleeps 12 in twin-bed accommodations. For roughly $250, you get a bedroom with TV and Internet, breakfast and dinner in the clubhouse, and two rounds of golf. It’s all very worth the trip.