Walton on the Hill,
- +44 (0) 1737 812380
2 miles N of M25 J8, 15 miles S of London
Contact in advance - weekends limited
Both courses at Walton Heath Golf Club (Old & New) were designed by Herbert Fowler who was related by marriage to the founder, Sir Henry Cosmo Bonsor. “It was a stroke of genius on the part of Mr Herbert Fowler to see with his prophetic eye a noble golf course on the expanse of Walton Heath”, wrote Bernard Darwin. “It was in August 1902, that Mr Fowler had begun his survey. In April 1904 James Braid moved to Walton from Romford and in May the course was opened with a due flourish of trumpets,” wrote Darwin in the Biography of James Braid. James Braid remained the Walton Heath club professional until 1950.
Surprisingly, Walton Heath Golf Club was not given the royal charter, despite the fact that the Duke of Windsor was club captain in 1935. During his year as captain, he became King Edward VIII. Walton Heath is the only club in history to have a reigning monarch as its captain. His term as captain probably lasted longer than his reign on the throne. King George VI was also an honorary member and Winston Churchill played his golf here as a member from 1910-1965.
This is where links golf meets inland golf. There is no salty whiff of sea air, but the course plays and feels like a seaside links. A profusion of heather stripes the edge of the fairways. In the summer, when the heather is in flower, it is an absolute delight to look at, but a real challenge to play out of. The greens are true and fast and the undulations make it tough to read the lines and the pace of putts.
This is a course that favours the lower handicap golfer. Some of the carries across the heather are quite lengthy and if you don’t hit the fairways, you can often wave goodbye to your ball. There are some really strong holes on the Old course – one of the best of the outward nine is the 5th, a cracking 391-yard par four that demands a solid drive that must avoid the thick, tangly heather shrouding the fairway. A mid-iron approach shot will find the green, amply guarded by bunkers left and right.
The last three holes are especially challenging, especially the 16th, a 510-yard par five, well described by Bernard Darwin in his book The Golf Courses of the British Isles. In 1910, it was the 17th hole and it was played as a par four. “We must begin by hitting a long, straight drive between bunkers on the right and some particularly rete ntive heather on the left, but that is, comparatively speaking, an easy matter. The second shot is the thing – a full shot right home on to a flat green that crowns the top of a sloping bank. To the right the face of the hill is excavated in a deep and terrible bunker, and a ball ever so slightly sliced will run into that bunker as sure as fate. To the left there is heather extending almost to the edge of the green, and, in avoiding the right-hand bunker, we may very likely die an even more painful death in the heather.”
Walton Heath has hosted many important competitions, not least the 1981 Ryder Cup. Unfortunately, Europe was thrashed 9 ½ - 18 ½ by America, thanks to the likes of Watson and Nicklaus. For serious golfers, this is a fantastic venue for a golf day. Lunch in the clubhouse is simply stunning, well worth donning the jacket and tie, but probably worth passing on the dessert if you want to swing properly in the afternoon!
Bernard Darwin sums up Walton Heath perfectly: “There is no more charming place on a fine sunshiny day, none where the air is fresher and more cheering, none where the sky seems bigger. It is a place where it is good for us, alike for our game and for ourselves, to play golf.”
Walton Heath is one of a few 36 hole clubs that has two good courses. The Old is consistently rated as the better of the two which I would go along with. The opening hole is a very long par three that requires little thought and in my option would be far better if it was 60 yards shorter.
Holes 2 and 3 are very good…the 2nd is a long dog leg left to right par 4 which you approach to a raised green. The 3rd a fun short drivable par 4 with a green that slopes from left to right. The 5th is another shortish par 4 with a green that has more tiers and undulations than any green on the course. Holes 9, 10 and 12 are cracking holes all doglegs tempting the player to cut the corner or skirt bunkers to leave a shorter approach but if you miss judge the line from the tee bunkers, rough and heather await.
The closing holes are steady rather than spectacular although the 16th is the standout a cracking par five that sweeps from right to left to a green protected by a huge bunker. The condition of the course was fine and played very links like although the fairways were borderline as to whether preferred lies should have been in operation. This made it difficult at times to pick your line from the tee and with minimal semi rough keeping the ball on the fairway was a challenge. The greens putted well and the bunkering is decent with consistent sand depth throughout. I read a previous review that put WH on a par with Sunningdale, The Berkshire and Deal/RSG which it is not but it is still a very good 36 hole day out if you get the opportunity.
My second visit to Walton Heath's old course peeled back layers which I may not have appreciated first time around. Perhaps that is because I was keener to enjoy it rather than be intimidated by the tight tee shots, deceptive greens and ball-eating heather. And the impression, I gained second time was that the old course gives players a chance - particularly after the opening seven holes. There are opportunities on the pars fives and shorter pars fours but don't allow complacency to creep in - its deep bunkers, infamous heather and knotty gorse can wreck many a card. This time we couldn't bathe in the glorious history of its clubhouse because ours was the first society to play post-Covid lockdown but the staff made us heartily welcome and we downed a splendid before-round bacon roll and after-match burger and chips while keeping our social distance on the patio. Altogether, another wonderful day on a great British heathland course. The only quibble would be that the fairways were not as lush on some holes as we might have expected.
I have played Walton Heath Old three times, most recently the past two summers. I had plans to play it again (as well as the New) this year but it seems that Covid-19 might not allow for an international traveler to visit the UK in 2020.
For me, Walton Heath has truly the only inland “links-like” courses in the UK. Ganton is somewhat close but does not have the feeling of openness that Walton Heath has. This makes it memorable. Its difficulty also makes it memorable. If you do not hit the fairway, due to the high grass and thick heather, there is a strong chance of losing one’s ball or not being able to execute a meaningful recovery stroke. Unless one keeps a positive “golf isn’t always fair” attitude, then one can quickly go to despair despite the loveliness of the golf course.
I wonder whether people would not hold it in higher regard if did not start with perhaps the worst starting hole in all of golf on a very good course.
It is not that the first hole on its own is bad or without challenge. It is a long par 3 at 235/195 yards to a green that seems to run away from you. But it suffers from two flaws. People inherently do not like to start a round of golf on a par 3. Worse, it is completely disconnected from the rest of the golf course. One can’t help but wonder why the club does not swap a par 3 from the New course onto the Old and let the New course start here even if it is an even longer walk to the “second” tee. Or perhaps they build a new hole. As I walked around the course, I noticed some land between the seventh green and the eighth tee. Back-to-back par 3’s are not ideal, but wouldn’t that be preferable? Or move the tee back on the current eighth to keep it as a par 5 and then build a new green. Then add a new par 3 using the current eighth green? I know it would be a difficult decision to change a golf hole by a very good designer, Herbert Fowler. After all, James Braid, a gifted player and designer himself, never changed the course in all of his years as the head professional. Yet, holes eight and nine were changed due to the construction of the M-25 and holes 5-7 were re-designed as well. Finally, the beginning hole is completely out of character to the rest of the course as it is in a rectangular field lined by trees on three sides that resembles a school’s playing field while holes 2-17 are played primarily out in the open.
What separates the Old course from the New is additional length, but also much better green complexes, more variety in the terrain, and more doglegs even if they are gentle. The course requires a player to make more decisions off the tee such as whether to be bold or play conservatively. Seemingly, every conservative decision off the tee leads to a much more perilous second shot. The bunkers are also more numerous and raised thereby always being a consideration in the player’s mind.
While I believe Walton Heath is very much in the discussion of which club has the best two golf courses in the British Isles, I do place it behind Sunningdale where both courses have more interesting and memorable holes due to better land. Sunningdale is also more beautiful due to a better mixture of plants.
But I do believe that if one is a very good player at Walton Heath, they are likely the better player to the same handicap at Sunningdale such is the challenge of the Old Course. Sunningdale likely requires a much better short game? I wonder if they have inter-club competitions?
I also did not like the third nor did I like the eighteenth. Three other criticisms I have are that the more of the bunkers go down the right side of the fairways. While I realize most players are right-handed as well as they fade/slice a ball, it does seem to be a bit too much and often does not frame a hole. The greens, while smooth, are relatively flat. The greens are easy to read and not undulated enough. Finally, there are no bunkers behind a green which is a bit odd given the many holes where running a ball onto the green is part of the strategy.
The front nine is difficult while the back nine, due to three par 5’s in four holes, is more fun to play.
The championship tees are 7331 yards par 72 with a sss of 76 while the Medal tees are 6786 yards sss 72. The Club tees are 6364 yards, sss 71. I have always played the medal tees on the Old.
2 – par 4 461/451. A difficult hole for those who have only average length off the tee because you will have a downhill or sidehill lie for the long approach shot. This dogleg right has trees on the right that will block a second shot that drifts too far right. Missing to the right will leave one in an area of ground that is very uneven with heather. The land slopes down to a valley that gets deeper towards the trees on the right and then rises to the green. My high score on the hole is a double. My low score on the hole is a double and I think that is because there is no real difficulty at the green, the difficulty is getting there. The green is easy to read.
3 – par 4 289. This should be an easy hole unless one hits a very wayward tee shot into the thick heather. There is a bunker on the left side nearly in the trees. There is an interesting raised mound snaking its way up towards the green from the right. The green has a sharp fall-off to the right with higher ground behind the fall-off, which follows the bunker front right. The green is relatively flat.
4 – par 4 519/441. The number one index with a centerline bunker. Four other bunkers, three of them on the right pinch into the fairway while one comes from the left. There are no bunkers at the green. All of the bunkers have raised mounds at their front. Heather is more pronounced on the right side of the dogleg right. There is also a raised mound nearer the green although it should not come into play. While it is a difficult hole due to the bunkering and length, it does offer a chance at recovery which I think adds to this being one of the better holes on the course.
5 – par 4 485/391. Heather and the trees on the left are the primary obstacle after the length. The green is off to the left yet it does not look like a dogleg. There is a bunker right and another centerline bunker nearer the green. The green is flanked by bunkers. The green is the best so far on the course with several ripples in it. I found this to be a difficult hole.
6 – par 4 440/427. Another hole where I have only scored a double. The trees and two bunkers on the left have always made me push my tee shot into the heather and trees on the right. There is another small grass bunker on the left before the single bunker on the front left. Trees are near the back and right of the green. For me this hole tricks my mind and makes it the hardest hole on the course.
7 – par 3 190/174. This par 3 has a grass bunker not really in play followed by a long bunker on the right side of the green. The green slopes to the left from that raised bunker. There is another raised mound at the back right. It is an okay hole.
8 – par 5 558/494. This hole plays to the farthest corner of the course and nearest the M-25. The primary obstacles are the thick trees down the left and three scattered bunkers down the right. Near the green are a few trees on the right and then flanking front bunkers. It is sort of a double dogleg out right and then back slightly left.
9 – par 4 400. This dogleg left has trees all down the left. It is on this hole that for me the heather starts to feel less intimidating. There is a bunker short of the green on the right and another eating into the green on the left creating a more difficult back pin location. The green slopes back to front but is not overly interesting. This is a breather hole.
10 – par 4 442/399. This plays as a dogleg right which shortens the hole a bit. This plays parallel to the M-25 with trees down the left and a single bunker. Another bunker is on the right about 50 yards short of the green, and another one front right. I like the hole although the green is fairly simple.
11 – par 3 222/189. This is a good hole as the green is surrounded by four bunkers with the green set right to left from the tee. The green slopes to the left much like a redan.
12 – par 4 396/371. This hole sharply doglegs to the right where bigger hitters can cut the corner over the trees. This green has a bunker left and two on the right.
13 – par 5 529/512. This sweeping dogleg to the right is my favorite hole on the golf course. It has two bunkers spaced apart on the right that are raised, then another down the right after the dogleg and flanking bunkers at the front of the slightly raised green. This green has a decent tilt to it.
14 – par 5 564/510. Pretty straight hole with only one bunker on the right but three scattered down the right side and one right front of the green. This is my third favorite hole on the golf course as the heather to either side playing slightly downhill provides a nice visual. The heather surrounding the faces of the bunkers is lovely to see, painful to be in. There is a tilt back to front and right to left to the green.
15 – par 4 416/408. Seems Mr. Fowler likes his bunkers on the right as there are three more scattered down the fairway. There is another centerline bunker about 40 yards short of the green and then one right of the green. I like the hole.
16 – par 5 535/510. Trees line the left side with a cross bunker coming in from the right bout 150 yards short of the green. The green sits off to the left with another front right bunker.
17 – par 3 206/181. The best par 3 on the golf course with two deep bunkers at the front and small fall-offs at the green which is steeply back to front.
18 – par 4 404. “Weirdly, there are fairway bunkers down the left and then a long bunker at the entire front of the raised green sloped back to front. There are also deep bunkers to either side of the green. It is a nice finishing hole.
The Old course at Walton Heath is very good, but it is not at its potential which could be achieved with moving the first hole, adding bunkers down the left side of the fairway even if that means removing some on the right side, and having much more interesting green complexes. The greens, while often tilted, do not have enough undulations in them and so they lack character. There should be three-four bunkers placed at the back of some greens as well.
I know the club has discussed moving the clubhouse and first hole, which I believe might have been recently voted down, but I feel there must be a plan that can be approved.
I do like playing here and hopefully can return again soon.
Whilst I find the New course more fun and an easier walk, the Old is undoubtably the better course. It is long, but plays firm and fast which helps.
It is well known that the first hole is the worst of the entire property. A 220ish yard par 3 on the other side of a main road to the rest of the golf course. It is rumoured the club are going to relocate their [wonderful] clubhouse and the first hole to the other side of the road when the other 35 holes are, which I think will be a welcomed improvement.
The course is full of really good and great holes. The stretch of 2-6 is a masterclass in design, and are all fantastic par 4s. The weakest holes are 7 and 8 in my opinion. 9, 10 and 11 is a lovely stretch where the design is simplistic but brilliant. 12 is a personal favourite, a short, quirky dogleg right with a very narrow green. 13 and 14 are back to back par 5s which I love, 14 maybe being my favourite hole at Walton Heath, a long downhill par 5 with great views of the whole course and the purple heather. The 16th makes it 3 par 5s in 4 holes, and combines strategy and beauty just like the rest of the holes do. 17 is a nice par 3, and 18 is an excellent finisher, with the famous cross-bunker short of the green.
The green sites are maybe the best around London, with interesting slopes that have to be avoided or used to your advantage. The par 4 5th is the best example. The condition of the course is also always top notch, which makes the experiences even better.
36 holes at Walton Heath is up there with 36 at Sunningdale, The Berkshire, and Deal and Sandwich. If you only have time for 18, then play the Old, but 36 is a real treat.
It’s eight months since I was here and such a time lag between playing and posting a review really tells its own story. Normally after playing a highly ranked course I’m bursting to get a few photos and some words online as quickly as possible but I didn’t feel the urge to do so this time.
I certainly enjoyed a very pleasant round on a lovely afternoon after meeting up with a couple of old friends who I see every year when they come over to GB&I from Canada but I left the club with no great affection for the undoubted charms of the Old course – and neither do I have the inclination to return to play the New.
It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what I felt was lacking here – right enough, I’ll be first to admit the high expectations that come with playing a world-ranked course often cloud your perceptions. Then again, Swinley Forest managed to deliver easily enough the following morning.
On the positive side, I liked the right doglegged 2nd hole, dipping down from the tee then up to the green, and the centre line bunker on the 4th certainly captured my attention, as did the funky contours on the 5th green which were totally unanticipated.
On the down side, I thought the mounding around the greens on both the 6th and 7th holes looked a little out of place, along with the entire green site on the 8th, which looked way too modern and out of keeping with the general style of the other putting surfaces.
The stronger back nine has some great holes – the par four 10th and par five 16th in particular – and the raised home green positioned behind an enormous bunker provides a memorable conclusion to the round but, overall, I found the Old course to be something of a disappointment.
Walton Heath is an amazing piece of land that is as pure a golf playground as you’ll find anywhere. It feels more wild and adventurous than the more tree-defined heathland to its west, and it certainly has the history and clubhouse to match anywhere. Finding a James Braid exhibition on-site was a pleasant surprise.
I visited Walton for the British Masters so sort of knew what to expect. Like then, I preferred the back nine. I think my (slight) problem with the front is that you basically follow the site’s perimeter so you have some not very heath-like trees on your most of the way. It’s solid rather than spectacular, my favourite hole of the front being #2 which on the card’s a long 4 but you can chase your tee shot down into a valley.
The 10th similarly plays alongside the boundary’s trees then the about-turn into the middle of the heath is when for me it got really exciting. There’s more heather, there are more slopes, the bunkers seemed more cavernous, it felt more dramatic and fun. I could wax lyrical about any of the remaining holes, it’s certainly one of the best stretches and finishes I’ve experienced. It’s hard to pick a favourite as each hole had something loveable about it, then the 18th is a suitably grand ending.
The round was over far too quickly for me, which is always a good sign. It helped that the course was very playable, the fairways were surprisingly wide, bunkers placement’s about quality over quantity then putting on true greens helps keep scores respectable. However, I have to mark down the ‘Old’ a little as I wasn’t blown away until a bit too late in the 18.
The society I am part of plays here once a year and this was my first time in attendance. What a day. 36 holes including the amazing buffet lunch. We played the old course in the afternoon. Due to being so open on the heath itself, and the undulating ground, this has all the feelings of a links course other than the sea breeze, replaced instead by the faint buzz of the M25. Nonetheless this course is brilliant. Well kept. Greens run fast and true. The fairways are immaculate. For a true test, make sure you play off the white tees - we played from the green and I found it a little short (although I do hit it above average distance). The 1st is a disappointing start but it only gets better. The back 9 was my favourite of the whole 36. Well worth the trip if you get chance.
Walton Heath doesn’t get off to a great start. To get to the 1st hole, you cross a road from the clubhouse to reach this Par 3 (in itself rarely a good sign), and then cross another road to reach the 2nd hole.
Here you are met with the impressive expanse of heathland containing 35 golf holes. Not sure why they couldn’t just fit all 36 in this setting. Quirky features on a golf course are to be welcomed, but this just felt a bit rubbish.
At risk of straying a little too fair off the fairway, the 1st is not a bad hole, but is clearly isolated and has no connection with the other holes over the road. Worth noting that when something significant happens on the Heath, as it did this past weekend, the 1st gets left out. Maybe the road stops rabbits invading from the adjacent Heath. Not sure if they name their holes at Walton Heath, but they could consider calling the opener “Brexit”.
Okay, chipping back onto the fairway, there are no problems at customs when you do enter the heathland and things pick up immediately from the 2nd. It’s a very good hole and we wished it was the opener. You drive away on this dogleg right hoping to hit the slope, before hitting up to a green that you see in the distance. What follows is a lovely diverse collection of challenging & historic golf holes with a uniform look and feel. This is why we came.
The rugged bunkering was great (although felt set up to punish slicers) and the playing conditions were pretty firm. Wind was an influence. The fairly large greens were good to putt on. We caught it on a wet Spring day (would like to return in August when it’s having a purple patch) which made the fairways play a little wider than usual - no complaints from us though. It must be tough to keep your ball out of the heather in dry summer conditions and so you can understand why it’s used for US Open qualifying.
I liked the Par 4 5th and the Par 3 11th, and then the finish from 14 or 15 in was very good, playing to all directions of the compass. Loved the last 3 holes in particular. The routing in general is a good wander (excepting the 1st) and as you are also playing in and around the New course, it keeps you on your toes as there are times when you never quite know where you will head to next. I liked this discovery aspect - lots of nice looking holes around us - which one’s next up?
The course has a bit of a juxtaposed ambience: away from the clubhouse it felt like quality golf without embellishment, in a knowingly opulent yet rustic setting. Small grumbles would be a bit of unexpected traffic noise around holes 8-10, and the Par 3’s felt like they all played in a similar direction. Minor complaints though (especially as in a few years everyone will be driving electric cars). This is a better-than-most place to play your Golf. We only played 18, and I would suggest playing 36 if you have time.
There’s lots of club & tournament history on display in the clubhouse - my favourite was the photo of Richard Finch holding aloft the trophy for the 2002 English Amateur. All the staff were very welcoming, the facilities were fine, and when it came to the crunch (we’d heard a lot beforehand about the famous lunches at WH), the crisps in the clubhouse were the most satisfying I’ve yet to experience after a round
Walton Old hardly needs an introduction, this place is unique and it’s jam-packed full of history, and it’ll soon be adding to this history when the British Masters comes to town in October.
I’d previously only played on the New course and I’m happy to report that I found the Old more compelling. Whilst both courses cover the same largely flat piece of land, the structure of the holes on the Old offers more interest and is deserved in its reputation as the premier of the two layouts. The greens whilst still relatively flat, offer more undulation, and by and large the Old has better green sites and general shaping. And whilst the bunkering offers some of the best features across both courses, the Old mixes up its bunkering styles making excellent use of revetted faced bunkers that again elevate the course above its slightly younger sibling.
Many are critical of the course for starting with a par three and it’s far from my preference for an opener but once you cross the road, there’s no doubting that Walton Old gets off to a quality start. Two through six are toughies with strategic bunkering and heavy heather lined fairways thankfully blocking the opportunity for the pros to play the bomb and gouge golf they’re familiar with over on the PGA Tour. Admittedly, the level dips before the turn with some holes verging on the mundane, but the back nine offers a handful of excellent holes with the doglegs at 12 and 13 as well as both the 14th and 16th being highlights. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that 16 is the hole that remains most firmly within the memory, it sweeps and curves in a fashion that almost seems foreign to the rest of the course and comes complete with a monster of a sod-faced bunker guarding the right-hand side of the green. A real beauty. I also particularly enjoyed the built-up mounds that offered some variation in the landscape, albeit one or two of the new ones were a little untidy and artificial in their appearance and will take a little time to bed-in. I’m also still in awe of the open landscape and vast internal views across the property.
Overall, my advice to visitors to Walton Heath is to prepare yourself in advance for the type of environment and challenge you’re going to face, it won’t appeal to everyone. If your preference is treelined target golf with pristine playing conditions and neatly mown fairways then Wentworth is a few miles up the road. Walton Heath will appeal however to those who want to be challenged technically and mentally whilst playing across a classy course with flawless turf conditions and excellent sight lines.
Such a classic course that will try to break your spirit on the front 9 with a tremendous challenge of holes that play into the prevailing wind. The summer in the UK has been brutal and left the courses here hard, fast, and dry and Walton Heath is no exception. The positives are that there's a ton of run on the fairways and that the challenges off the fairway are less severe. While the front 9 is one of the more challenging stretches of golf anywhere, the back is less punishing but still has spots you need to avoid. As others have mentioned the road noise is noticeable and can detract from the experience if you let it but why would you? Lovely set of courses, great staff, and an overall wonderful day of golf on a world class course.