Burnham and Berrow

Harry Colt, Fowler, Alison, Mackenzie, Hilton
A championship links wending between a ridge of dunes through the spine of the course
On the Bristol Channel. Off Jn 22 of M5. (postcode: TA9 2PE)
Karen Drake
01278 785760
David Haines
Green Keeper
Richard Whyman
Access Policy:
Visitors welcome
Dog Policy:
No dogs
Open Meetings:
B and B Challenge Salver- May. West of England Matchplay- Sept.
Fees in 1960s
Fees today


The golf club, founded in 1890, which came to be named after the prosperous town of Burnham and the relatively poor village of Berrow, has an illustrious history in amateur golf.

If the ‘Open’ championship courses are part of the icing on Fine Golf’s cake, this course is part of the thin marzipan layer immediately beneath, before we come to the majority of the 200 ‘fine’ courses that make up the cake.

A member of the famous triumvirate, J H Taylor (with Vardon and Braid) was their first professional and no fewer than 40 residents of Berrow became professional golfers. The Whitcombes, Bradbeers and Days achieved particular acclaim and gave great service across many English clubs. Uniquely four of the Bradbeer brothers qualified for the final stages of the 1928 Open Championship.

from behind 1st green

from behind 1st green

The Club seems to have been blessed with committees which, despite whatever other problems they may have had, (for example, in early days maintaining the relationship between ‘Burnham’ and ‘Berrow’!) always had the improvement of the golf course as their main objective. It seems as if this started from day one and still continues today, particularly with regard to greenkeeping practices as discussed later below.

The development of the course took 50 years to reach today’s shape and many of the leading course designers during that period had an input. Herbert Fowler and Hugh Alison were Club members and had an important part to play in improving the links. So too, to a lesser extent, Harold Hilton and Dr Alistair Mackenzie but the shape of today’s course is mainly due to Harry Colt.

The course originally was known for its massive dunes and numerous blind holes and the sculpture of the present first five and last six holes that now go ‘through’ the dunes continue to provide that for which Burnham & Berrow is most loved.

Playing in the Western Schools championship in 1967, I remember my driving being erratic and was advised to play an iron through the narrow gap off the 1st tee. This set up a successful few days for me, as the prevailing wind blows across this out-and-back course and to stay out of the then threatening buckthorn and dunes is the first requirement in matchplay here.

from 3rd tee

from 3rd tee

I can do no better than quote James Finegan from his delightful ‘All Courses Great and Small’ in describing Burnham’s start:

“The 2nd is an altogether splendid two-shotter: high tee, down into a dip, then edging left and climbing through the dunes to a long, narrow green with sand at the left and an abrupt little falloff at the right.
The 3rd, an invigorating 370-yarder that sees us on a dune-top tee where our falling drive must find a scrap of fairway far below and then our shortish iron must search out an evasive green deep in a dell of dunes.”

the short 5th

the ‘cocked up’ 5th

New equipment has reduced the curving 4th to a short par five but it gives a beautiful view of the Bristol Channel.

The difficult to hold 158-yard 5th presents a small target and I enjoy Finegan’s description of it being “cocked up mockingly in the sandhills.”

The 6th is all about curbing the thrill of cutting the corner and giving yourself a fair chance to the green with a safe drive to a narrow fairway.

The 7th and 8th, more flat and open, are formidable holes that highlight a different facet of the terrain, a welcome variation. The ridge across the 7th feeds the drive in the bunker on the left and the humpback green sheds your approach. The 8th is a realistic birdie four chance with the prevailing wind if you can run your second shot to a raised green.

The Mackenzie 9th

The Mackenzie 9th

The 9th has been described as an Alistair Mackenzie short hole, played across a valley to a green dug into a dune behind and with pot bunkers defending the fall off. Beautiful; classic.

Perhaps the drive at the 10th over an enormous sandhill is a little contrived but nevertheless fun for the anxiety created before discovering whether your ball has found a safe lie for a shot across the sharp dogleg to the green.

We then have two beautiful strategic slight dogleg fours where there is no need to cut the corners, with a challenging second across the pit in front of the 12th green, nestling next to the old church and giving one of the iconic images of Burnham and Berrow.

The 12th and the 13th were created since the 1960s around behind the church so as to not disturb worshippers on a sunday morning and has given us a great hole in the 13th par five. A long narrow green high in the dunes requires three well placed shots across deep undulations to a narrowing funnel. A true card wrecker that epitomises the ‘joy to be alive’ feeling this course gives.

The short 14th

The short 14th

After another high green with plenty of movement at the short 14th, we then enter the renouned finish that has played such a significant part in shaping the destiny of many great matches across the many national tournaments played here over the years.

A match that is still spoken about is the 36-hole final of the 1963 English Amateur Championship between Michael Bonallack and Alan Thirwell. The former got up and down in two on no less than twenty-two occasions(!) against brilliant tee to green play.

It is not surprising that Bonallack, who went on to be Secretary and Captain of the R&A, should be so effusive in his foreword to Philip Richards’s enthralling centenary history book of the Club:

“The magnificent true and speedy greens, the beautifully close-cut fairways and green surrounds, the wonderful contouring and definition of each hole and the surrounding sand hills and gorse are all elements that provide the maximum challenge and enjoyment. The variety of shots that are available test the full repertoire of a golfer and the inevitable breeze and its varying strengths and directions means that the course is always changing. I loved it at first sight and loved it even more when I won the English Amateur Championship there in 1963, when I stole it from Alan Thirwell who outplayed me from tee to green, but putting on the finest greens I had ever experienced, I holed from all over the place. Even I was embarrassed.”

It is sometimes difficult talking about finely designed courses that nevertheless continue down the ‘target’ greenkeeping route. But there is no such problem here any longer, as after twenty years of following the 1970s trend to faster and faster poa annua greens, the club has come back to sustainable policies and in appointing Richard Whyman as head greenkeeper, who is brilliantly leading the re-establishment of fescue/bent grasses on the greens, has been able to cut its budget for water and fertilisers/pesticides while improving their winter condition and firmness.

Richard gave me recently a fascinating laptop presentation on his team’s achievements, which other courses would do well to copy, as a backdrop to their own unique requirements.

The 15th, a 440 yard tester, is another example of that attractive design of a high tee to an undulating fairway and the 17th a wonderful 200 yarder to finish the quartet of great short holes.

Bernard Darwin and many after him describe the 18th as one of the best last holes to be seen anywhere. This is how he describes it in his book ‘The golf courses of The British Isles’, noted for its evocative water colour illustrations by Harry Rountree.

18th green and clubhouse

18th green and clubhouse

“Two raking shots will be wanted and the second of them, if it go as straight as an arrow between two flanking bunkers, will be rewarded by as good a piece of turf as the heart of the putter can desire.”

Donald Steel describes it as “a hole to do rich justice to a course that more than lives up to its promise and reputation”.

The Club has been lucky that the sea has retreated over the years, increasing the land owned by the Club from 210 acres in 1928 to 500 acres in 2001. It seems that ‘climate change’ can be beneficial!

This has allowed an extra nine-hole course to be built by Fred Hawtree in the 1970s. It has one hole that can bring back memories of the wonderful matchplay short hole at Hoylake’s 7th (before it was emasculated), containing such danger that the only safe option in a wind is to opt out completely and play short, hoping for an up-and-down from a bump and run.



The land is an ecological jewel with SSSI status granted in 1952. Natural England and the Club have co-operated sensibly in managing the site, each recognising the value of the other. The co-operation has worked well, with the removal of the buckthorn in most areas an example.

No review of Burnham would be complete without mention of the Hill family, good friends to the Club for sixty years. All great Clubs need special people to give backbone to the implementation of long term policies.

John and his son Tony were uniquely both Presidents of the English Golf Union, a great honour for the Club.

See ‘Between the Church & the Lighthouse’; the history of Burnham & Berrow Golf Club by Philip Richards.

Review by Lorne Smith 2008.   Leave us a comment below.

Reader Comments

On January 16th, 2009 Jeremy Robinson said:

You have obviously not played the course recently – there has been a major attack on the buckthorn and it is now no threat to any hole until the 11th where, strangely, there is now a wall of the bush running between the 11th and 12th and the road, and then you find it to the right of the 13th and 15th. But many of the former buckthorn clad hills have now reverted to open dunes.

Lorne’s reply: Firstly may I congratulate you on having been a member of Burnham and Berrow for 60 years. A proud achievement!
Secondly, many thanks for the update on the Buckthorn. I have ammended the review to delete ‘planned’ from in front of ‘removal’ in the penultimate paragraph.

On June 21st, 2009 James Smith said:

Dear Lorne,

Best wishes from Zurich and thank you for taking the mantle of highlighting Fine Golf to spread the delights of playing traditional courses.

Burnam & Berrow brings back memories of a Inter-University Golf match and Royal Ashdown was fun playing with fellow Dornoch member – Hugh Strode.

May your drives be long and straight


On October 23rd, 2009 Sean Arble said:


Wonderful piece! It is always interesting to read a review of a course I know well.

My hat is off to you for starting a website which focuses on the finer aspects of golf and why they matter. I must get you over to Kington and Pennard as I am sure they wouldn’t disappoint.

Keep yer head down


On April 21st, 2012 Robin Pomeroy said:

An enchanrting experience. A course that give those of us not blessed with great natural talent.the opportunity to score reasonably well, albeit occasionally.

On October 2nd, 2012 Bill NICKSON said:

I was a member at Burnham and Berrow throughout the 1970s and played my best golf there using the “chip and run”. Joined Northamptonshire County for the following 30 yrs +—- between the two haven’t I been fortunate ,to have been a member of and played two of Englands “Finest” —- but, regret needing to stop using the ‘chip and run’ at the inland course where the aprons were less conducive and moved to a ‘drop and stop’ shot. Now a member at breezy Barton-on-Sea and need to relearn the ‘chip and run’!
Dear Bill, you will be pleased to hear that the aprons at Church Brampton are much improved recently and when the weather allows it to dry out, the ‘bump and run/chip and run’ is useful.
Best wishes Lorne

On October 9th, 2013 robin brown said:

Finally got to play B&B today in bracing conditions.A great pleasure with the par 3’s a match for any links in the UK.Reminded me in parts of Deal,Murcar and Littlestone.
Fine golf indeed.

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