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.”
Nothing is hidden at Walton Heath, there is no trickery or cunning. The course shows you all of its cards and simply asks you to do your best to match them. Inevitably the course won on the day but I didn’t go down without a fight, in a sporting kind of way the nature of the layout doesn’t allow you to, and came away with much respect for this great golfing sanctuary.
Unlike its equally illustrious neighbours to the West you won’t meander through beautiful playing corridors of pine and birch here nor will you find backdrops of vibrant rhododendrons on any of the holes. Walton Heath isn’t as intimate as Sunningdale, as charming as The Berkshire or as elegant as Swinley Forest. Yet it has a polished refinement that is alluring and captivating. What it may lack in perceived style it more than makes up for in substance.
The appearance is expansive, albeit not as much as it was in the early 1900’s when originally laid out, yet somehow the openness creates a certain mental claustrophobia as you play over swathes of heather to the perfectly firm and sandy fairways trying to avoid deep, heather-topped sand pits.
The intimidating bunkers proudly announce their presence on every tee and strategically ask to be avoided or challenged. Finding one will cost you a stroke, as will surely the heather, but advancement is always possible. Walton Heath will not kill you with doubles and triples; your likely fate will be death by bogey.
The 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.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
The Old Course at Walton Heath is a lovely heathland course. Like its more famous English course Royal Lytham, Walton Heath starts with a good par three and has a particularly good set of finishing holes. I found the par four fifth hole to be quite difficult, and its undulating green to be a real challenge. Like at Sunningdale, I love the topography and look of Walton Heath with the purple hues and trees along the perimeter of the course that don’t hem in the fairways. Walton Heath doesn’t have an over-abundance of greenside bunkers, but those that are present are well placed and tricky, of special note is the greenside bunker at the long par-four 10th hole. The club and members were very welcoming to me when I visited.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs
What a great course and a true test for all. I have had the pleasure of playing through some
friends who are members. Both courses are equally challenging and you just need to avoid the heather! The course has great features and an amazing history, a Ryder Cup amongst others notable events over the years.
Staff within the club are ok, however,they don't share the same passion as the professional staff. They always are attentive and always keen to help, the members have a great team within the professional shop and the service is superb.
There is a small thing that could be looked into by the club, I have played on a weekend and at times it is crowded and there is no course marshall to assist you are basically in a queue to tee off.
I always look forward to my game at Walton Heath and it is a great experience.
I’d say it’s a course you need to be warmed up for as right out of the starting gate it doesn’t waste any time by throwing a 200 meter 3 shot hole right at you. The second hole was also a tough ask at 400 + meters. I’d imagine that it’s key in matches there to hold it together through the start then in my opinion the course seemed to ease off a bit. Or perhaps I was warm and the shell shock of the tough start was over.
What I loved about the course was the fantastic conditioning and firm and fast fairways and greens. The bunkering is fantastic and very strategic. While quite long from the back tees I’d say due to the excellent conditioning the course plays considerably shorter. It wasn’t a case of smashing drivers all day long which was nice.
The terrain is far more wide open than I had expected as well as much flatter. That also means that as long as you keep it in the fairways (and out of the centerline bunkers) you nearly always have a flat and near perfect lie to work with. The green complexes and surrounds were impeccable. They were running fairly quick and the surrounds were mown short with countless run-offs and collection areas to catch near misses. The greens were extremely large as well full of gentle undulations but hitting the greens and looking at a 20+ meter putt is not uncommon. This greatly adds to the challenge there. I think I had more long putts there than I can remember anywhere.
My favorite holes were oddly enough 15-18 which seemed an excellent set of closing holes coming in demanding excellent drives and solid approaches. In all a superb day on an excellent course that plays firm even after a wet period the way I believe all heathland courses should strive towards playing. I would also mention that it seems to be a fabulous members club with something for everyone, as challenging as want to make it yet a gentle enough walk for all levels.