Mark Twain once famously said, "Golf is a good walk spoiled". Well, I'm gonna go out on a limb and guess he never played Walton Heath Old Course on a beautiful summer's day.
Renowned for its thick, punishing heather and subtle undulation, Walton Heath has hosted a long list of premier events, including the 1981 Ryder Cup and several DP World Tour events, with a new chapter set to be written into the club's rich history when it hosts the AIG Women's Open in August of this year.
Ash and friends!— AIG Women’s Open (@AIGWomensOpen) August 7, 2023
Will any of these global stars be holding the trophy at the end of the week? pic.twitter.com/6lWYTwTtSi
The night before my round, excitement levels were hitting the lay-your-outift-out-before-bed zone, so I was fairly devastated when I woke up to pouring rain a few hours before my tee time.
Face, meet palm.
I soon put my disappointment to one side though and set off down the A3, for what promised to be an excellent day's golf.
Yardage: 7,331 yards (Championship Tees)
Location: Surrey, England
Upon arriving, I was warmly greeted, and quickly put my things away in the charming visitor's locker room.
From there I had a quick wander around the clubhouse, taking in the various wall-mounted homages to former club champions and historical moments, before grabbing a quick bacon sarnie and heading to the pro shop.
At this point, I have to give a particular shoutout to the pro shop staff who were very attentive when getting me fitted into some more appropriate golf shoes, for what I thought would be a wet four hours (spoiler alert, the rain stopped as soon as I got on the first tee).
A quick putt on the practice green and I was ready to go.
Opening with a par-3 is always a tense affair, but opening with a 195-yard par-3 is enough to get even the most experienced golfer a touch nervy standing on the tee.
Separated from the rest of the course by a road, the opening hole was my least favourite hole. Long and slightly lacking in memorable features, it's not a bad hole by any stretch, but it almost seems slightly at odds with the rest of the course.
Once we were over the road, the broad sweeping vistas of Walton Heath really became apparent. A series of short par-4s kickstart the front nine, with fairways meandering between patches of thick heather, waiting to gobble up your ball at any opportunity.
It was at this point I realised accuracy off the tee would be of paramount importance, with any visits to the heather almost guaranteeing a one-shot loss.
The third hole, a par-4 measuring only 279 yards is a classic risk-reward hole that offers longer hitters an excellent opportunity to reach the green in one. An iron off the tee is the smart approach and with that in mind, I spooned my driver straight into a large tree on the right-hand side of the fairway and walked off with a double bogey.
The fifth was probably my favourite hole on the front nine. If you draw the ball (I do), then it suits the eye immediately. Not a long par-4, measuring only 381 yards off the green tees, the fairway doglegs gently to the left, flowing towards the green with heather flanking each side.
It was the almost river-like look of the fairway that really caught my attention. Twisting delicately from right to left it encourages you to hit a soft draw and turn it around the corner to give you a good line into the green.
A good tee shot left me with only a short iron into the green and thanks to an accurate approach I was faced with only six feet for birdie. Sadly I dribbled a rather pathetic putt short of the hole and walked off disappointed but at the same time delighted to have played such a lovely hole.
The final four holes of the front nine feature a charming par-3 with a treacherous greenside bunker that I was relieved to have avoided, and a short par-5 that is reachable with two well-struck shots thanks to the summer conditions.
Reflecting on the front nine, it's probably the harder half of the course and this was certainly reflected in my group's scoring. Despite not being particularly long, there are plenty of ways to come unstuck off the tee, and the quick greens feature subtle break that can quickly see you making mistakes with the putter too.
Homeward bound, my group was buoyed by the emerging sun and we made the most of the warmer conditions to put some good scores together.
The 10th hole is a slight dog leg right that is best attacked from the left-hand side of the fairway. An uphill approach to the green was made shorter thanks to the fast and firm conditions of the fairway, and my well-struck 8-iron nestled nicely on the back edge of the green.
What sadly became a feature for the day, I really struggled to come to terms with the green speed on long putts, and the first of a few ugly three-putts made a mark on my scorecard.
A shortish downhill par-3 followed, with bunkers protecting the green on three sides. While I didn't go in many bunkers on the day, when I did they were in great condition, with plenty of sand. Living up to the hazard title, there are some truly treacherous bunkers out there, so beware not to get caught out, or your scores may start to soar.
After escaping with a bogey, we headed into the best stretch of holes on the course. From the 12th to 18th there are three par-5s, providing plenty of good scoring opportunities to the house.
The 12th once again rewards bravery off the tee, allowing longer hitters to cut the corner of the sharp dog-leg right. While the green is out of reach at 345 yards, you can set yourself up beautifully for a birdie if you manage to catch one clean with driver.
A reachable par-5 follows on the 13th, and then you are met with perhaps the best view on the course from the 14th tee box. Another shortish par-5, if you can get a good drive away you'll leave yourself with a mid to long iron in, for one of the best eagle/birdie opportunities on the course.
On to the final straight and a great set of holes that test every aspect of your game.
A centre-line bunker is the standout feature on 15, which if avoided can give you a great chance to get your approach close.
One of the more generous fairways on the course, you have plenty of width to use, but with plenty of roll-out on offer in June, a straight drive could see you struggling to make par if you find the hazard.
The 16th hole I found to be the toughest par-5 on the course. With an abundance of heather lining the left-hand side of the fairway, an accurate tee shot is key to ensuring you keep your score low.
Thankfully being the smart golfer I am, I started my drive at the right-hand side of the fairway hoping to peel one back with a baby draw. Sadly my driver had other ideas, and I watched in frustration as my ball sailed left into the aforementioned heather.
An overly aggressive chip out, then conveniently managed to find a fairway bunker and I started to picture my scorecard going up in flames. A quick bunker escape then proceeded probably my best shot of the day.
I stuck a wedge in nice and close to the pin, but sadly my composure evaporated in the hot afternoon sun and a two-putt for bogey left me hot and bothered.
The 17th hole is a fairly gentle downhill par 3 that appears fairly benign from the tee box, but bunkers lurking short left and right of the green will prove a good test for any player's short game.
It was a moment of mixed emotions heading on to the 18th tee at Walton Heath, one that I'm sure most golfers can relate to. On the one hand, I was absolutely thrilled to have played such a great course, and on the other, I was gutted that it was so close to being over.
I had to put my emotions to one side, however, and focus on the task at hand. The 18th is a great final hole that has witnessed the finishing of rounds for some iconic names including Jack Nicklaus, Sir Nick Faldo and even Winston Churchill.
With famous footsteps to walk in, I sent my drive down the middle of the generous fairway and managed to avoid the famous bunker that protects the front of the green with my approach.
Fittingly, a three-putt was my final act at Walton Heath, but not even that could dampen my spirits on what had been a glorious day's golf.
All in all, Walton Heath's Old Course is a tremendous golf course that is kept in stunning condition. From the true and fast greens to the beautifully manicured fairways, I've struggled to think of a course I've enjoyed playing more in the last few years.
A wide expanse of heathland has been cultivated and shaped to produce a fantastic layout, that although lacking in undulation, has an abundance of character and class.
If you ever get the chance to play Walton Heath, please do not pass up the chance. It's an English gem.