All but one of the 36 holes that comprise both the Old and New courses are laid out on a wonderful piece of golfing terrain that is hauntingly barren yet stunningly beautiful.
On the miserably wet and cold day that I played here the landscape was desolate, the sky was grey and a chill wind blew in from the North. There was a sense of alarming isolation and a startling realisation that getting a little white ball into a small hole, hundreds of heather-clad yards away, was going to be the most brutal of challenges.
On reflection, I couldn’t have asked to play it on a better day because it encapsulated everything that Walton Heath is; a true test of your golfing ability and character. Man against golf course.
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.
Walton Heath is not without flaws but these are easily forgotten. The Old has a disjointed start, where a busy road now segregates the bland opening par three, from the rest of the property and the 18th is a rather tame finishing hole. In-between it’s nothing short of exceptional. The New suffers from a stuttering start too but kicks into gear from the fifth although it also concludes in a less than satisfactory manner for my taste. The drone of the M25 towards the top end of the heathland, which caused some significant alterations to the Old course when constructed, is a minor irritation.
As you would expect there are some brilliant green locations; some are natural extensions of fairways whilst others are more dramatic. It’s not easy to single out individual holes because both courses work so well as collectives. However, I will remember the fifth, tenth and 16th from the Old course with great fondness whilst the fifth on the New is of an extremely high quality.
I’ll spare you a hole-by-hole account of both courses but simply urge you to go and sample one of the UK’s finest inland venues for yourself. Enjoy it, drink it in and savour it for a lifetime.
Following a 4:00am alarm call we’d already driven for more than six hours and covered over 350 road miles before boarding a ferry at Oban sailing to Lochboisdale.
The Halifax Golf Club, often better known as Ogden, is a course that divides opinion.