By Elliott Heath published
The Royal County of Berkshire lies just west of Surrey and, just like its neighbouring region, has some of the country's best golf courses. Whilst pound-for-pound its top courses match and perhaps even beat those of Surrey's, it doesn't quite have the strength in depth.
It's number one course, Sunningdale features near the top of our UK&I Top 100 courses, with the Old Course ranking as the best inland course in the entire UK and Ireland and the New Course just one place behind. Some lists count Sunningdale as a Surrey course due to its affiliation with the Surrey Golf Union but officially it lies in the county of Berkshire. Other top quality courses in the county include The Berkshire and Swinley Forest.
Sky Sports' Wayne Riley is a big fan of Berkshire golf. "If you’re pushing me for my favourite heathland courses, I’d have to say Sunningdale, which is heaven on earth," he told Golf Monthly. "If you wanted to play golf every day of the week, that’s where you would choose, for sure. Swinley Forest is also right up there, and what an amazing lunch by the way, as is The Berkshire. All these brilliant places just offer the quintessential English golfing experience."
Sunningdale's courses are two of the best heathland golf courses in the world, and it is undoubtedly the best 36-hole golf club in the UK and Ireland. Its Old and New Course can barely be separated, with members and visitors undecided on which they prefer. They're both so good that the Old ranks 9th and the New ranks 10th in the Golf Monthly UK&I Top 100 golf courses rankings.
The Old Course opened in 1901 and was designed by Willie Park Jr and was tweaked by the legendary Harry Colt, who was the club's first secretary. It measures 6,600 yards with a par of 70 and has hosted numerous professional events down the years including the British Masters, European Open, Walker Cup, Senior Open and Ladies British Open.
The New was designed by Harry Colt and John Morrison and opened for play in 1923. It measures 6,700 yards with a par of 70. Whilst the Old may get the edge with more people, the New is arguably the tougher test that certainly has the pick of the par-3s on the property.
Another of Britain's finest 36 hole clubs is The Berkshire, located just down the road from Sunningdale, to the south of Ascot. The club has two of the best heathland golf courses in the country, the Red and the Blue, with the Red course ranking highest of the two in our Top 100 courses list. They both opened in 1928 and were designed by Herbert Fowler, the man behind fellow GM Top 100 courses Walton Heath and Cruden Bay.
The Red course is unique in the sense that it features six par-3s, six par-4s and six par-5s. It measures 6,450 yards with a par of 72. On the Red course, there is only one hole - the 12th - where the par of a hole is the same as the previous one. There are no weak holes, and among the best are the par 3s at 10 and 16, the tricky dogleg 6th, and the genuine three-shotter at 17. The Blue course is flatter than the Red but more difficult and measures 6,400 yards with a par of 71.
Swinley almost borders the Berkshire and is without doubt one of the country's greatest courses and one of the best heathland golf courses in the UK. It ranks highly in our Top 100 and measures 6,300 yards with a par of 69. Swinley Forest is one of a kind – no captain, no strokeplay competitions – very much its own club.
The course appears in many world lists, and is one that lives up to the highest expectations. It's truly beautiful and the 4th is a much greatly admired Redan par 3, as the 15th at North Berwick, with a green slightly above the tee and a sea of sand and fall-off areas. A simple concept but a wonderful hole. A day at Swinley is a special one for sure.
Bearwood Lakes near Wokingham is Berkshire's only exclusive club, meaning visitors must know a member to get a game. It's one of the UK's most exclusive golf clubs in fact.
The gorgeous course plays around lakes and through woodland with walls of rhododenrons throughout. Whilst it appears like it has been there forever, it actually only opened for play in 1996. It was originally within the grounds of Windsor Great Park and the Bearwood Estate formed part of the hunting grounds for the Kings of England since the 11th century.
Bearwood was designed by Martin Hawtree and is a 6,500 yard par 72. It last ranked inside our Top 100 in 2015/16 before going exclusive, meaning it no longer met the requirements of the list.
East Berks in Crowthorne is one of the best heathland golf courses with the layout lined by heather and towering pines. The course was designed by Peter Paxton and opened in 1903.
It doesn't have the biggest acreage but the course winds its way through the pines and heather very nicely, with signature holes coming at the short par-3 5th featuring a stream just short of the green and the delightful par-3 9th which feels like it's in its own forest. There's only one par-5 on the course so making a good score can be tricky.
The contrasting nines at Sand Martins are located just down the road from both East Berkshire and Bearwood Lakes. In fact, all of the clubs in this list so far are located very close to each other on Berkshire's east side.
Sand Martins, opened in 1993, features a lovely parkland opening half before a challenging linksy back nine featuring dunes and whispy rough. It's a brilliant test of golf with some standout holes, like the downhill par-3 17th over water.
Sonning Golf Club celebrated its centenary in 2014 and is a challenging treelined course. It was designed by the legendary JH Taylor with a helping hand from Harry Colt a few years on and was then re-designed in 2012.
The course measures just over 6,300 yards with a par of 71. It places a premium on accurate driving and has a number of undulations which makes club choice crucial. Peter Alliss described the par-3 17th as “one of the best short holes in the South of England."
Calcot Park Golf Club on the west side of Reading is a historic club that opened in 1930. It was designed by the legendary Harry Colt, the man behind Sunningdale, Wentworth and Swinley Forest.
The course is an undulating parkland, measuring 6,300 yards with a par of 70. The standout hole is the glorious par-3 7th which plays over a lake. Three-time Open champion Henry Cotton is said to have stuck it in the water here during a News of the World tournament.
Hennerton only opened for play in 1992 but has matured into a fantastic parkland course over the last three decades. It works its way through the Berkshire countryside with views of the Thames Valley and features plenty of undulation thanks to the natural hills and valleys.
It was originally a nine holer but was made into a full 18 in 2006, where it now measures a short 4,400 yards with a par of 65. Today the course offers up a stern test where strategy and accuracy are key to putting a good score together.
Maidenhead Golf Club, positioned between Slough and Reading, is a historic parkland course in a lovely setting. The club was founded all the way back in 1896. The course measures over 6,300 yards with a par of 70.
Maidenhead may well have to find a new home if plans go ahead to relocate it. The club had sold back its lease 24 years early in 2016 to make way for 1,500 homes on the 32-acre site. Members agreed to move out within three years although the course is still open for play as things stand.
Elliott Heath is our Senior Staff Writer and has been with Golf Monthly since early 2016. He graduated in Sports Journalism in 2016 and currently manages the Golf Monthly news, courses and travel sections as well as our large Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. Elliott has interviewed some huge names in the golf world including Sergio Garcia, Thomas Bjorn, Bernd Wiesberger and Scotty Cameron as well as a number of professionals on the DP World and PGA Tours. He has also covered three Open Championships on-site including at Carnoustie in 2018 when he was inside the ropes with Tiger Woods. He has played 31 of our Top 100 golf courses, with his favourites being both Sunningdales, Woodhall Spa, Old Head and Alwoodley. He currently plays at West Byfleet Golf Club in Surrey, where his handicap index floats between 3-5. His golfing highlight is making albatross on the 9th hole on the Hotchkin Course at Woodhall Spa, and he has made one hole-in-one.
Elliott is currently playing:
Driver: Honma TR20
3 wood: TaylorMade SIM2 Max
Hybrid: TaylorMade SIM Max
Irons: Mizuno MP5
Wedges: Titleist Vokey Design
Putter: Odyssey White Hot OG #5
Ball: Titleist Pro V1x
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