walton heath golf club (old) - 17 POINTS
Walton Heath has been on my radar for some years. The 1981 Ryder Cup, hosted here, is a thing of legend. The US team is called the strongest ever and trounced the newly formed European team by a record margin. The course subsequently hosted several European Tour events and, these days, holds the final European qualifying tournament for the US Open every year.
My image of the course was that it would be the archetypal Surrey heathland course (the clue was in the title) and a I expected a great example of the genre.
While the course was perfectly enjoyable, if truth be told, it fell just a little short of the very high standard I had set mentally. Maybe the problem was we played the course after a run of West Sussex, Sunningdale Old and New and Swinley Forest. Compared to those gems, Walton Heath was just a little ordinary in places. Maybe if we had visited it first on the trip we would have appreciated it more.
The welcome in the clubhouse was fine. The woman checking us in was very helpful and the bar service was acceptable - although the menu was a little basic in comparison to the culinary highlights of the courses we had just visited. However the pro shop was first class and if you are in the market for a Walton Heath embroidered top, this is the place to come - the selection was vast.
Unusually, the clubhouse, pro shop and huge practice green are set a little walk away from, and not in sight of, the course itself. I’m struggling to think of a similar layout on any other course I’ve visited.
The first hole is, again, very unusual. Basically it is a rectangular field, just over 200 yards in length, with a tee at one end and bunker and green at the other. A par 3 opener. You then cross a busy road to the other 17 holes. The run of holes from 2 to 6 left me feeling pretty underwhelmed. They were all straight par 4s, running due south, with heather (the main feature) often in very straight strips left and right of the fairways.
The par 5 8th hole was a nice reachable par 5, although the sound of the nearby M25 was now at quite a volume. At this stage I would have struggled to imagine how this golf course could ever reach a score of 17.
And then it blossomed, bloomed and didn’t fade. The holes got more interesting - a few doglegs, well placed bunkers, more imaginative placing of heather. There was a lovely mix of short par 5s (from the members’ tees at least), strong par 3s and clever par 4s. The course had come into its own and became a real delight to play. My reading in advance had made me worry a little about the sternness of the test but I had no such concerns coming off. You need to play well to score here, especially over those first holes, but it is not as tight as I had been led to expect.
I was surprised just how open the course was - it was an open heath on which you could see virtually from one side to the other. While there are some rippled fairways, there was little in the way of elevation change and it was an easy walk. The conditioning was fantastic when we were there - the greens were probably the best of the tour - and had survived the tough summer as well as any course.
At £180 the green fee does seem a little steep and there will be better value to be found elsewhere. The course was solid rather than spectacular. I struggled with how to score this one as it was either a low 17 or high 16. In the end I came down on 17 because that closing nine is very good. However, if you are adding it to a tour that includes some of the greats nearby, get this round in early!
BOOKING THE COURSE
You can play at Walton Heath 7 days a week, although only after 9:30am on weekdays and 12 noon at weekends. Green fees range from £90 on winter weekdays to £205 on a weekend in the summer. Rather annoyingly, they were unable to book tee times more than a couple of months out, which doesn’t make it very easy to plan a trip. They will give you an idea whether there are any events on a particular day, but you can’t book a tee time. You can find details here, and a phone call is required to book.
Walton Heath is a little to the east of Sunningdale, Swinley Forest and the Woking courses, but all are within half an hour’s drive. Any of those would be a great addition to a trip as well as St George’s Hill which I haven’t played but which comes very highly recommended. If you are planning a trip, have a look on the Sunningdale pages for some more tips. It’s worth noting that you can get a discounted rate if you add the New course to your trip to Walton Heath, meaning you can play both courses on a summer weekday for £270.
Walton Heath Golf Club
Phone: +44 (0) 1737 812060