1981 was my first ever visit to Walton Heath for the Ryder Cup and how times have changed my parents took the dog! It was probably the strongest USA team ever assembled and they thrashed Team Europe, but I can remember loving the course which for major Tournaments is a composite, selecting some of the best holes from each course.
Open Hosting Course
The club is hosting the AIG Women’s Open in 2023, so I invited Georgia Coughlin, a Ladies European Tour Player, to join me and give her a shot at “The Round with Niall Challenge”. Stuart Christie has been the Secretary at the club for many years and sadly will be leaving in July. Stuart and I go way back, as we were young Tournament Controllers working for the PGA in the early 90’s. Stuart highlighted that the course had suffered from leatherjackets and the fact that both courses needed a new fairway irrigation system,, which is to be installed during the winter of 21/22.
Unleashing another perfect drive
As Georgia, who had never been to the club before, and I walked to the first tee of the Old we discussed strokes and agreed she would give me full handicap,9 shots each round. A challenging 219-yard par 3 sets the course up and Georgia hit it to 15 feet and holed the putt for a 2 this was going to be a tough day!!
The second tee, where the championships all start from, is across a very busy fast road ,where you must take your life in your hands to make it to the other side. One reason why there are discussions to move the clubhouse across the road.
Arriving on the second tee the heathland courses are spread out in front of you, and it just makes you want to play well. Georgia certainly did making two more birdies being 2 under par at the turn I had done well to be just 3 down.
You could see the need for the introduction of the irrigation system, some areas that had been laid bare by previous harsh summers and the cold spring had now been turned into wet muddy patches due to the wet weather in May. The greens however were in great shape, fast and true, the bunkers were well presented with just the right amount of sand.
I was delighted to make birdie on the tough 10th into the wind with hope of making a comeback on the back nine. One of the criteria for deciding the top 100 courses is the flow of the course with positioning of walk offs between greens and tees , important point of any review. The Old course doesn’t disappoint, there are 5 different tee blocks ranging from 7406 yards to 5617 yards but all easy to reach from the previous holes and the flow of the course is part of its charm.
Georgia started playing golf as a junior in Saudi Arabia, due to her father working there for BAE. She returned home when she was 17 and joined St Annes Old links. Georgia now represents Golf Saudi and is part of the ambassador programme that is doing so much for ladies’ golf, more of that to come in a future blog when I chat to Ed Edwards the CEO of Golf Saudi.
Despite the number of shots, I had and my game improving, Georgia was too steady finishing at 1 over par for the round and leading after 18 holes 2 up for the challenge. I hadn’t played 36 holes in a day for a few years and now a grandfather I was worried the legs might go and Georgia would run away with the game.
Something for everyone
Walton Heath is a great venue for a society or corporate day, the courses are subtly different requiring you to use all the clubs in the bag. We played from the green tees, which on the day played approx 6,500 yards in length on both courses, probably slightly less than they will play for the Open in 2023.
Thankfully I didn’t seize up too much after lunch and with the short par 4 and short par 3 easing us into the New Course, I managed to get a quick start and won a couple of holes getting me to all square in the challenge match.
The New, whilst being ranked 25th in England in the last review, doesn’t in my opinion have the charm or the flow of the Old course which was rated 13th. I felt the fairways were in better condition on the New than the Old, but some of the teeing grounds struggled. The greens again where in great shape and at 7195, off the backs a tough test for the very best.
Remarkably and maybe down to the design and flow of both courses, I didn’t feel that tired and played well managing, to hold onto my 2-hole lead which meant that the Challenge finished all square. Georgia played very nicely, and you can see how good the ladies tour is becoming and has benefited from the likes of the Justin Rose Series and more sponsors backing ladies’ golf.
Overall a wonderful day on two great courses, in great company and even better we didn’t get a drop of rain and neither of us lost a ball over the 36 holes (a very rare event for me apparently not for golf pros)!!
Until next time