Walton on the Hill,
- +44 (0) 1737 812380
2 miles N of M25 J8, 15 miles S of London
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The New course at Walton Heath Golf Club was designed by Herbert Fowler and opened for play in 1907 as a nine-hole layout. Fowler extended it to 18 holes in 1913.
Both courses (Old and New) are intertwined and have a very similar look and feel. The Old is tougher and a marginally better test, although the New is a demanding course with memorable holes of great variety; taking the two courses together can only be described as a real treat.
After a gentle start (the first two holes being pleasant, but straightforward), the New course really starts to show its mettle. The heather comes into play and the holes progressively become more challenging. There are six par fours measuring over 400 yards in length; the stroke index 1 is a massive 469 yards from the white tees.
It would be remiss not to mention James Braid when writing about Walton Heath. Braid loved the Heath; he was the club professional from 1904 to 1950. For much of his life, he lived at Walton on the Hill, close to his beloved golf courses. He proudly called his house Earlsferry after his birthplace in the Kingdom of Fife.
Bernard Darwin wrote the Biography of James Braid and nobody was better qualified to perform this task. After all, Darwin knew him for more than 50 years. In the early 20th century, Walton Heath had a decidedly political atmosphere. Lord Riddle was an authority at Walton Heath and probably introduced Lloyd George, Winston Churchill and Arthur Balfour to the Heath. In Braid’s Biography, Darwin refers to a speech made by Sir Fredrick Hamilton at Braid’s 80th birthday celebration. Hamilton, quoting Winston Churchill, is said to have declared that golf “seemed a good game for conversation”. Braid and Hamilton regarded Churchill as the inventor of “Greensomes”. The actual inventor of greensomes seems a mystery as Darwin commented: “I may add that whoever else did invent it, his name, like that of the last Laird of Ravenswood, is ‘lost for evermo’.”
This is heathland terrain in the purest sense. At Walton Heath, there’s a vastness to the ground that both courses cover. It’s an immense wide open space. On some parts of the course you must be able to see about twelve other holes in all directions. Added to this, the fairways here run firm and fast, they had a lovely scorched colour when I played here in July and were playing very links-like. The heather topped bunkers are also excellent, very well positioned so that they enter your thought process for practically every shot. The greens too are smooth, fair and fast.
I’ve only played the New Course so I can’t compare it to the Old, but the New is far from easy. It's a purist’s course, one for the shot makers and you have to be on top of your game and put the ball in the right positions to score well. My driving was a little crooked to say the least and I found the heather to be tortuous, there’s masses of it to suck up those wayward shots. In the depth of Summer, it’s very thick and provides a severe punishment.
One of the negatives for me was that there's no framing of the course, in other words, it's a large expanse of very flat land and there's no scenery to take your eye other than the sparse heathland landscape that lies in front of you. It's really quite a desolate location, something I thought I would really enjoy, but looking back on my round there are relatively few holes I can fully recall.
It’s the subtleties at Walton Heath that people will fall in love with, the shots that the course demands you to play and the gentle undulations in the greens that keep you guessing. My taste for golf is maybe a little too unrefined for Walton Heath - I still like a bit of eye candy.
Golf at Walton Heath is as close to seaside links that you’ll get whilst playing inland, particularly surprising given its proximity to London, but seaside links offers all of the same positive features whilst providing that aroma of salty sea air, the sound of seagulls, dune landscapes and sea views.
Overall, Walton Heath New is a course that’s worth playing, but at £150 for the standard green fee, it’s a price based upon its history, reputation and the stern test you'll receive rather than a course that's going to captivate you with its beauty.
Is this the best golf club in the South East ?
If it is not, it must be a very, very close race with Sunningdale. We played both courses at Walton Heath in what must be very close to their best condition, two days after the U.S. Open Qualifying in June and they played magnificently, being testing but not at all unfair.
As a visitor to this site you may use ranking as a basis for picking which courses to play. In that case my view is that you risk making a serious mistake of omission if you decide to skip the New Course at Walton Heath.
Having played both courses with the New in the morning and the Old after lunch, I cannot see the disparity in ranking (78th and 28th respectively) to be justified and the recommendation must be the same as for Sunningdale: make a whole day out of it and play both courses.
Some other reviewers have commented that the first two holes are too easy. Personally, I much prefer the easier start on the New Course: driveable par-4 followed by short par-3 to the more difficult one on the Old Course: long par 3 followed by long par 4. I know that I have Harry Colt on my side of that argument...at least in general.
Finally, when the club and its members manage to use influence and financial resources to sort out the crossing of the very busy road in the beginning and persuade those who need persuading that resurfacing the M25 with a quieter surface is in the general interest, the non-golfing part of the experience will improve significantly.
Walton Heath provides a 36 hole offering the equal to Sunningdale, including, in my view, minimal difference in quality between the 2 courses on the “resort”, including similar length off the whites. The New offers pretty much what the Old does but has a slightly more open feel to it, which I personally enjoy ie heathland vs parkland. World class holes include 3, 5, beautiful and tough, 9 (although the trees encroach on the eye line) 11 and 13. The finishing hole is also very strong.
Walton Heath’s two courses, both originally laid out by Herbert Fowler, intertwine gracefully and whilst the Old is clearly the superior of the two the New is the more playable.
Walton Heath is not without flaws but these are easily forgotten. The New suffers from a stuttering start too but kicks into gear from the fifth although it also concludes in a less than satisfactory manner for my taste. The drone of the M25 towards the top end of the heathland, which caused some significant alterations to the Old course when constructed, is a minor irritation.
As you would expect there are some brilliant green locations; some are natural extensions of fairways whilst others are more dramatic. It’s not easy to single out individual holes because both courses work so well as collectives. However, the fifth on the New is of an extremely high quality.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.