Course Review - The Caversham

Hello one and all and welcome to another blog. I hope now we're in the peak of the golfing season you are enjoying the warm weather (at least here in the south of England) and are out playing and playing well.

This blog is a course review. It has been a while since I have done once of these primarily as Covid put paid to a chance to play as many other courses as I'd have wanted. I was fortunate enough to be picked to play a club match for Royal Ascot away against The Caversham, based in Mapledurham, not far from Reading itself.

The Caversham was formerly know as Caversham Heath and I have been luck enough to play this fixture both home and away over a number of years and have built up some very strong friendships as a result. I haven't been to the club since the pandemic first struck but much has changed in the intervening period.

As you will see on the website (view it here) it is now the home of Reading Golf Club. Reading Golf Club elected to sell their land for development and as a result merged with Caversham Heath. The local golfing grapevine seemed to hint that it was more of a takeover and not completely well received but in whichever form it took, Reading Golf Club are now fully established and the name change reflects the new chapter in the club history.

Much has changed as a result. The fine clubhouse set into a hillside is still there and provides a warm and welcoming place for visitors upon arrival and to enjoy a pre or post round drink in. The food has always been excellent and the full English breakfast served prior to the match was top quality, warm and plentiful.

However the changes are obvious right outside the clubhouse. There is now a fantastic short game area just outside the clubhouse to give golfers a chance to hone their skills before a round or for the members to work on their game. It is heavily contoured which is a prelude to the fun to come but a dramatic and vast improvement to a tired old area perched high on a hill adjacent to the old first tee.

The driving range is still situated at the top of the same hill and so represents a trek to reach, but again, it has been improved and is over 300 yards long and with distance markers to help with distance control.

Whilst these changes alone represent significant improvements and are indicative of the money that has been invested since Reading Golf Club arrived, it isn't until you get onto the course itself that you really see what has been happening.

The original course was designed a David Williams design but it has been redesigned by Canadian architect Tom McBroom who felt it lacked variety and was hampered by some long walks between holes. This has involved some major changes including a new, redesigned first hole which now starts nearer the clubhouse and dog legs to the right to a newly designed green. The second now plays as a par three, down to the original first green.

The thirteenth hole has been removed and replaced with a short par four. The old sixteenth has been changed into a par three and the closing hole has been significantly altered with the green shifted to a new hillside location underneath the clubhouse which allows spectators a close up view of the closing dramas.

The construction work was carried out by Ely Golf. The club has also dramatically improved the bunkers and have installed many more fairway and greenside bunkers. These really ask the golfer a question off the tee now and a premium is now placed on placement rather than distance as was the case with the old design. The new bunkering is bold and sits perfectly in the topography and the bunkering visuals on the first hole very much set the tone of what is to come.

The course benefits from a number of sets of tees and measures 7,265 from the black tees (reserved for championship golf) to 5,519 off the forward orange tees. In between there are green tees (6,003), blue/green (6,180), blue (6,445), gold/blue (6,584) and gold (6,720). There is a board outside the clubhouse that recommends the tees to use based on playing handicap. The match was played of the green/blue combo although in hindsight I would have preferred it to have been off the blue tees.

The greens at The Caversham have always been heavily contoured. In our club matches this has always led to some "interesting" putts subject to the location of the ball and the pin placement and it would prove so again. The contours definitely provide some defence to the course and I can imagine when the club hosts professional tournaments or for their major events, the pin placements can be challenging.

So having played it in the original and new format, how would I rate the Eyston course. As with all my product or course reviews, all opinions are strictly my own and I don't receive any remuneration and the company or club have no influence or input.

Course Layout - As I've alluded, The Caversham has undergone major changes since my last visit in its guise as Caversham Heath. I have always liked the course, even in the original format and indeed were I to live nearer it would be one of the first I would be considering to join. However, having now enjoyed the new format, it is fair to say the course has changed significantly and very much for the better.

The new layout flows much better as a golfing experience without some of the gaps between holes. The new first hole represents a gentle introduction to the round and itself is one that no longer has a long walk from the clubhouse to the first tee. As you stand there your eyes are drawn to the flow of the hole as it dog legs right and the bunkering really shows the hole off and whets the appetite.

Every hole now benefits from additional bunkering. While the big hitters can still take these on, for the average player, you really have to plot where you are going to place the tee shot irrespective of which tee you are playing from. It goes further and the longer holes especially the par fives and longer par fours also have bunkers strategically placed to challenge the approach shots.

The closing hole is vastly improved courtesy of the new green complex cut into the hill and really challenges the player in terms of club selection with bunkers and large drop offs waiting for anything that doesn't find the target. The contoured green also makes sure you have to work hard to close with a par and its location offers those watching a grandstand seat on proceedings.

Score - It is always difficult to be subjective when a course undergoes such major changes but the work done here has been done sympathetically and has been subject to much thought and attention to detail. As a layout I think it works really well and is a step up on the previous course. 8.5/10

Condition - Let me start with a huge caveat. The club played the match shortly after there had been green maintenance and so there were issues. However as we all know this is necessary work that can't be helped and so it was just unfortunate that it coincided with the game.

As a result, the greens were very slow and sandy but were also rock hard meaning anything pitched onto the putting surface, even with a short iron would struggle to pitch and hold meaning a lot of shots had to be played in short and run up which with the green complex contouring isn't really how it has been designed to be played.

On a more positive note, the tee boxes were in excellent condition with a decent swathe of grass on each. The tee markers were all aligned squarely in the direction of play (a real bug bear is lazy greenkeeping where the tee markers line you up way out towards the rough or away from a green) and there were a large amount of seed boxes so golfers could repair any damage.

I was fortunate on the day not to visit too many bunkers on the course but those I did go in along with the one on the short game area were all in excellent condition with a nice quality of sand and more importantly a uniformed depth. Some of the bunkers are quite deep meaning anyone hitting into one off the tee will struggle to make the green in regulation (so are a real hazard and to be avoided) and those around the green will need a precise shot to get the ball close. Indeed some represent a challenge to escape from at all and so a strong bunker game around the green is recommended.

Score - This is difficult because of the work that had been done and the impact it had on the condition of the greens. I feel I can only score based on my experience on the day but do feel if I was to revisit my thoughts on the conditioning will be improved according. 7/10

Facilities - The clubhouse is warm and guests receive a warm welcome from both the staff in the professional shop and in the bar area. It is designed in a airy modern manner. The locker rooms are accessible via a key pad entry system (code available from the pro shop) and is large with plenty of wooden lockers for the members and significant space to get changed. It lacks any visitor lockers but aside from that the locker rooms are perfectly adequate.

The clubhouse has the bar area situated upstairs which is in good order. There are a good range of beers and wines on offer and the food has always been very good when I eaten there. The seating is comfortable and the clubhouse is regularly used as a venue for weddings and other events. The members also have a balcony area overlooking the eighteenth hole which is a great venue to enjoy the closing action. It also looks across towards the first hole.

From a golfing perspective, the club has undoubtedly benefitted from the investment made and the new short game area and revamped driving range are excellent additions whether it is for a visitor to warm up before a game or form members to look to improve. The condition of the short game area matched the greens on the course (which isn't always the case) and was in constant use during my visit.

Score - the clubhouse has always been a welcoming retreat and I am pleased it has remained so. The short game area and range have really improved things 8/10

Welcome - This is always an important aspect and I'm sad to say even in this day and age so many clubs seem to want to take your money but don't make you feel welcome. I'm pleased to say this has always been far from the case either as Caversham Heath or now as The Caversham. The staff throughout are friendly and welcoming. Having been a regular visitor for many years I've built up a great rapport with some of the former Caversham Heath members but on this visit all of the hosting side were gregarious (except out on the course in the match). It was great to see some old faces, especially after these difficult few years, and to make some new golfing acquaintances.

Score - I have always been made very welcome and this was no exception. It really has a happy feel to the place and I really enjoy my games here and the way I am looked after. 9/10

Value For Money - This is another area that is hard for me to quantify as I've only played as part of a team and so haven't had to pay a green fee. The prices are on the website (and can be seen here) and county cards are also accepted. Looking at the prices and then judging these against criteria such as location, layout, condition etc I would suggest they represent a fair representation of green fees in the current golfing environment which has seen the sport flourish since lockdown.

Score - I've based this purely on where the prices sit with other local courses including The Club at Mapledurham which sits on the other side of the road. 7.5/10

Overall - As always I enjoyed my visit. The Caversham is clearly a new club with a new identity but it has ensured it didn't lose what it had before and I think it has come out of the merger stronger as a result. The course has certainly manifested into a really good track and is now an interesting and question asking layout irrespective of the tees in play.

The new features both on and off the course have enhanced a visit and the welcome before and after a round is as good as it has been. It is definitely a club match I long to play every year and always have great fun even if the result rarely seems to go my way. I feel I have to go back to the condition of the greens which was the only real negative but one of those things and don't feel anyone reading this should be put off. The work has to be done

Total Score - 8/10

I have taken everything into consideration and feel with time the changes to the course will only improve it further and that mark will improve. It is definitely worth a visit and I don't think you'll be disappointed. I am keen to play it again and can imagine the greens at this time of year will be very different.

Thank you for taking the time to read this review. It has been a while but I have several more coming for you to enjoy in the next few weeks. If you have any comments please let me know especially if you have played The Caversham. Do you agree with my assessment? Comments can left at the bottom of the blog or via my social media accounts:

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I hope you'll join me for more interesting golfing stories, reviews and exploits soon. Please get involved with your comments and keep playing well.

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