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.
Walton Heath played host to the 1981 Ryder Cup matches between the USA and Europe. Team Captains were Dave Marr (US) and John Jacobs (Europe). The US Team comprised of players who held 36 Major Championship titles between them and they were simply too strong for the Europeans. Larry Nelson and Jack Nicklaus won eight points on their own while Nick Faldo could only claim a single point this time round. European debutants included Bernhard Langer, Jose Maria Canizares and Manuel Pinero but Seve Ballesteros (1980 Masters winner) was left out of the team for playing too much golf in America. USA 18 ½ - Europe 9 ½. The Ryder Cup was played at The Greenbrier in 1979 and at the PGA National in 1983.
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 has a quite distinct and memorable atmosphere, defined by the rich history of the club and the remarkable quality of the expansive grounds the two courses are located within. Clearly, it is a difficult task to separate two layouts of similar vintage, designed by the same architect and routed across the same piece of land. The conditioning and general characteristics are usually replicated on both, and that is no different here, so it becomes a case of looking at the strength of the architecture and your own personal preferences to separate the two.
There is no doubt that both are two world class routings across some of the best heathland golf ground anywhere in England. I love the way the courses are entangled and the tantalising views that therefore gives you across so much of the property. There are subtle differences in the core design principles between the two courses, such as the cross hazards being a more prevalent foe on the New. However I do believe that it is correct that the Old just pips the New in the rankings, not because of any historical hierarchy, but because there are just a few more excellent holes across the 18.
The most divisive issue I have found when discussing Walton Heath with others is the 1st on the Old course, so I should perhaps deal with that now. I have no issue with starting on a par 3, nor do I have an issue with this hole in a design sense. Is it in keeping with the rest of the course? Well divided from the other 35 holes by a main road, and possibly flatter than much of the ground across the road, it could be said that this hole is an outlier. But could it be classed as a weak hole? Not at all! In fact it is probably one of the strongest holes to par on the course measuring 235 yards from the championship tee. You could surmise that people aren’t fond of the hole, maybe, as it asks one of the tougher questions of the amateur golfer and so early in the round. Divisive though it may be, I believe there is a quality golf hole there to be played.
Once you reach the second tee however, you enter another world and begin one of my favourite runs of golf I have played to date. The run 2-7 has just about everything you could ask for from an opening salvo of a world class golf course. Five memorable and varied par 4’s followed by a well defended par 3, constitute that part of the course, and it is a run you won’t easily forget. Picking a favourite hole amongst the six is difficult, and highlighting features to look out for is probably an easier task. The sweeping downhill tee shot at the 2nd is one of those drives you really want to hit well, as it is all laid out before you invitingly. The risk reward 3rd is a chance to attack the card early, but with severe consequences if you don’t execute your shot accordingly. 4,5 and 6 is truly one of the most magical yet arduous par 4 triple salvo’s I’ve seen in some time. The sheer length and clever bunkering (particular the gaping central one in the fairway) define the 4th. The tough tee shot and amazing rippled green site on the 5th mean for me, it takes the accolade of my favourite hole across the 36 at Walton Heath. And finally, the tee shot on the 6th is also extremely intimidating and the hole is a great example of how to make a straight golf hole both engaging and difficult.
I could go on like this with every hole, as my scorecard from my round is littered with annotations and notes, which is usually a good sign I was a fan of what I saw. Being extremely selective with what I mention from here, 11 is a striking par 3 defended by cavernous bunkers, 12 is a tempting and fun risk reward par 4 and 15 is another example of a brilliant straight away golf hole. The bottomless bunker to the right of the 16th green is one of those hazards to take a photograph of someone else playing out of, rather than visit it yourself. It is as close to the definition of a golfing ‘hazard’ as I have seen anywhere, and for anyone going for the green in two on this eminently reachable par 5, you must ensure you don’t end up in here.
Condensing my experience on the Old course at Walton Heath has been difficult. In my comments on my review of the New Course, I used the words ‘peaceful, regal and boundless’ to describe the property, and driving away from the club that evening, (other than grateful contentment generated after enjoying a memorable golfing experience), those were the overriding takeaways of my visit here. The differences between the two courses are subtle. The golf, both on the greens and from the tee can be exacting. But yet again, l leave a Herbert Fowler course invigorated by the experience and already dreaming of when I might return; surely the greatest compliment you can give any golf course.
Some really cool history at Walton Heath and the club’s architect (Herbert Fowler) and James Braid (first head professional). The member I played with told me that Braid, even after Fowler’s passing, refused to endorse any changes to the course as the original layout was that good.
I played the Old when the heath was in full bloom and parts of the course looked like a purple blanket canvassing the walks from many tees to the fairway as well as parts of the rough and pockets or areas edging the (sometimes very deep) bunkers. The course has a truly magical aesthetic.
Walton Heath was Fowler’s first design and the course offers an interesting introduction with a long par 3 opener that played ~230 yards the day I played – a bit of an odd opener that felt different from the rest of the course. The 1st hole is followed by crossing the busy M25 to face a strong, challenging par 4, and the 2nd hole better represents the rest of the course as holes 2-17 are on the same piece of land and generally in the open and not tree-lined, whereas the first feels a bit crowded. Not an easy first pairing of holes to start off with, and while Walton Heath is a stern test, it feels like a fair one throughout (though the heath can result in lost balls for wayward shots).
Some of the bunkering here is the best I have seen of any of the courses in Surrey, and that says a lot given the courses neighbors, but the more subtle part of the course design that plays more interesting than you think is the relatively flat areas of fairway that run up to meet the green. A lot of holes lack false fronts and other contours, and the fairway cut simply changes into a shorter cut green. While this can make it easier for the higher handicapper to recover and bump/putt onto the putting surface, some of the greens slope from front to back and can make it challenging for a better player to hit one tight for a real birdie chance too. While this design feature goes less noticed, I think it plays very well here and can help keep matches between players of varying ability close and exciting.
Course was in exceptional shape when I played, and the club has a welcoming and communal vibe, especially around the practice putting green. Nice touch by having the subtle green posts from the 1981 Ryder Cup that the club hosted on the tee boxes, reminding the player that Walton Heath is a truly historic and memorable track to play.
Steven - Do you think Braid should have altered Fowler’s original design?
The one glaring error for me is that opening hole. Am curious to know why it persists.
Fortunately the routing anomaly isn’t quite so bad that you need to cross the M25 to get to the second tee (which would arguably redefine the definition of penal architecture), but it’s definitely awkward.
Having said this, I agree with your review & Walton Heath Old remains my favourite 17 hole golf course.
If there were the opportunity to change the routing, the one obvious change would certainly be to move the 1st hole, but I just do not know the history behind what land the club owned back then and what could have been done prior (and after) the M25 was built.
I usually try to not let the opening hole of a course drastically alter my review and overall impression because I have played so many top rated courses in the US and GB&I that have a weak opener - I have conditioned myself to just expect it. I guess the difference here is, rather than having a weak par 4 opener, the course opens with a rather peculiar par 3 that does not help set pace of play and get groups off and that is also on the other side of the road from the rest of the course... It feels out of place in multiple ways. I agree with you that holes 2-18 are a great set, and the course was also in perfect condition when I played.
I am hoping to get back to Surrey in 2022, as it truly is one of the greatest areas for accessible (compared to US clubs) top golf in the world.
Walton Heath occupies a big landscape of wonderful rolling London heathland. It is sand based and perhaps more open and exposed to wind than many of the other heathland courses.
I love heathland turf, but for me Walton Heath is defined by magnificent purple heather and impressive bunkering.
The course builds in difficulty throughout the round, with the closing stretch longer and more challenging..
The Old Course has a number of good holes, but only a handful of memorable ones- for me holes 5,11 & 16 were both interesting and challenging, and the green complexes at holes 3, 9, & 10 were first class.
In summary, The Old Course at Walton Heath is a quality course that every Travelling Golfer should experience when visiting London.
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
Let me start by saying Walton Heath is not my favourite style of golf course. I do like a heathland but in terms of personal preference, my eye is more suited towards a West Hill, Hollinwell or Liphook. With that being said, it's hard to look at Walton Heath as a place and not love it. There may be an element of bias as I'd shot +5 off the white tees, the best round I'd had from my two year hiatus but Walton Heath does not dissappoint.
It's held some very prestigious tournaments, the Ryder Cup, British Masters, Senior Open and a catalogue of serious amateur competitions. Most being held on a combination of the 36 holes Walton Heath has to offer. Not to mention James Braid, renowned architect and professional, being the head pro the same time old Winne Churchill was a member here.
The moment you drive in there is a lot to take in, it did take me a minute to figure out where I was supposed to be going! But past the Artisans club we headed, golf bags in hand around the corner to witness probably the biggest putting green I've ever seen. One thing I love about this, which a fair few top 50 courses don't tend to manage, is the communal feeling at the golf club. Whilst you can't see the first or eighteenth of either of the two courses from the clubhouse, it's a lovely communal looking area with the patio looking over the enclosure in which the giant putting green and professional shop sits.
One thing I do love about Walton Heath, is the view you get after the fairly poor first hole. You cross the road and you instantly have a panoramic view as far as you can see of golf holes. 35 of the 36 are right in front of you on this giant piece of land, and whilst down the opposite end you may be surprised how close to the M25 you get, the sound of cars whizzing past didn't bother me in the slightest, I was in a trance!
Playing with a good friend and a member definitely helped. He hit the ball a similar distance to myself and Walton Heath is definitely a course you need to plot your way around. Very easy to lose golf balls even a few meters off the fairway which puts a huge premium on accuracy so it was incredibly helpful to have someone telling me what I could and couldn't do around here!
Everyone who knows me knows I do love a moan, and can find a negative about everything! Although there were many great things about this place I feel that there weren't too many holes that really stood out. Whether that's down to the consistent quality of good holes (believe me none were by any means poor) or if it's just the kind of place they all kind of blur into one, my memory is usually quite good a few days after however I couldn't tell you which hole was which.
The 3rd and 16th were the two I'd probably pick just above the rest as being memorable, maybe because I managed to leave myself a 20 ft eagle putt on the driveable Par 4! It is nice to see even with the purple tees, measuring a stupid 7300 yards, that this hole is still 290 yards even for them! The 16th however I did not score as well on! The wind tends to stay the so I'm told and this downwind par 5 measuring 510 yards off the whites is definitely reachable. A great bunker right of the green is ready to swallow up and short approach shots, very cleverly designed which must be 10 ft deep! A par would have to suffice for me!
Overall, you can tell this place is a fantastic place to be a member at. Heck I'd even consider it myself. The standard of good players here is very very good. Our host for the day plays off 2.0 and was the 70th best golfer there. Just a quick look at the latest medal comp, showed 6 players playing off + figures. More than any I'd seen for just a simple medal! Definately worth a visit, not so sure about the £225 green fee however!
I have been wanting to play Walton Heath ever since I went to watch the British master there in 2018. We played both the old and the new course and set out on the old first. The condition is simply fantastic. The greens are as pure as you could hope for. Its a beautiful looking course that intertwines with the new giving far stretching viewings of lovely heath lane.
I was really looking forward to playing the two Walton Heath courses given how highly they are rated. Unfortunately both courses failed to deliver. The courses were decent but there was nothing special about them. No holes stood out and the setting of a broad common was not inspiring (especially given I had played Hollinwell and Hankley in the previous two days). Add to that a course that was in relatively poor condition and the sound of the M25 on numerous holes and it puzzles me why these courses are rated so highly. I had a preference for the New over the Old as the back 9 in particular felt stronger. My sense is that the courses are living on past glories and perhaps because I have no recollections of the Ryder Cup that was played here I don’t have the emotional attachment that others have.
Mike - I'm so pleased to have seen your review, I agree with every word. Thought it was just me! I played both courses on a society day last year (Sept 2020) and thought the Old was nothing special. Oddly the only hole I can really recall is the first as it is just so bad. The fairways we're in a poor state on holes 2 and 3. Back 9 on the New course was also my preferred.
Yes the club has history but the condition needed to be in better state to compete with the rest of Surrey.
Strange first visit, with Covid times, you aren’t allowed in the pro shop or anywhere really, and also a member mentioned in 20 years of being a member he had never seen the course this wet!
We played off the back tees so it played hundreds of yards longer than its 7400 yardage!
In winter, I’m guessing it’s just not the same as summer, incredibly slow and bumpy greens which they can’t really do much about, so I had about 8 million putts, and no real strategy required just driver everywhere and slow greens meaning missing any side of the green didn’t really matter.
Can not hold that against the course, really hope to play it in summer one day with the heather in bloom and firm fast surfaces, and trying to negotiate the ball around!
The staff that were there were lovely, and all members we spoke to were super super friendly and welcoming.
Honestly on a day like today, it’s a 4/4.5 star, but so would any other course in Surrey be at the moment. I’ve given it 5, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it got the full 6 in middle of summer/with everything open to experience!
First time playing Walton Heath and I had a great day. For the time of year I thought the condition was excellent. Good tees, firm fairways in most places and great true greens. Overriding impression is how much sky there is; a feeling of deceptive openess!
I think the 1st hole is weird and not representative of the course at all but 2-18 are great. Stand out holes for me were the 5th, great contoured green and I loved 10-14. Two great consecutive par 5s, 13th and 14th and the right angled, right handed dog leg of the 12th.
I will be back someday and it would be great to see the course when the heather is in flower and the fairways are fast and firm.
Set on a sandy site with lots of heather and deep bunkers, the Old course at Walton Heath reminded me of Ganton in being as close as possible to a links playing experience with not actually being on the coast. Herbert Fowler wasn’t messing around after his cricket career, when he spent two years on horseback scouting the site for some great holes.
It’s another example of a brilliant heathland club, with two courses and a great clubhouse. The putting green (with a full 18 hole routing!) is outstanding, and the pro shop is on a par with Tara Iti in my opinion for being the best stocked.
The opener is controversial, and although a quirky start, the par 3 doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the course for me, set on a different part of the property and having no real interest to it. Having said that, when you cross the road the course reveals itself with great views of both courses as the holes intertwine.
It’s obvious from this point onwards that you are playing a historic course with lots of subtle strategy. A favourite hole early on is the strong par 4 5th, with a heather lined centre bunker to be avoided at all costs.
The greens are great- reminiscent of Royal Ashdown Forest in often sloping away from the player to add a bit of extra challenge. I loved the run of holes 11-14, a slightly downhill well bunkered par 3, followed by a dog leg right par 4, and two back to back par 5s that are very different in character. The closing stretch is also great, with the bunkering on 16 being particularly impressive.
It’s a sign of the strength of the course that when James Braid become club professional here, he felt that there weren’t any changes required to Fowlers original layout.
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.