My Daily Journal from England - Day 6

The end of one tour marks the beginning of another.  Today, I paired up with fellow architect Richard Mandell and we set off on our own “extended tour” of golf courses in England… beginning at none other than Walton Heath, a return to the heathland courses near London.  Herbert Fowler designed two courses here, beginning with the Old in 1904 - and this was the course we enjoyed.  Nine more were added in 1907 and the completion of the second, full 18 hole course (New Course) was finished in 1913. We were also treated to a tour of the clubhouse, which like many here, oozed of history.  James Braid served as the club professional here for 45 years!!  We also peered at memorabilia from the 1981 Ryder Cup, held at Walton Heath… and all of the US Open qualifying events.

I was immediately struck by the atmosphere at Walton Heath, which perhaps seemed a bit more relaxed than others in the neighborhood.  We were warmly welcomed by all.  Uniquely, the Old Course begins with a par 3… not too strenuous or tricked up… plenty of room to get out of the gate, but a “3" is still a VERY good score to begin the day here.
The Old Course is arranged in sort of a loop with an outward strand along the outer reaches of the property (always with the boundary on the left side), while the New Course fits more into the interior.  The homeward holes bisect the New Course through the central part of the site.  At times, it appears that there are holes all around you, darting off in varied directions… all comfortably spaced.  The entirety of the two courses are arranged so beautifully and naturally on the landscape...
Walton Heath is most certainly different from the other heathland courses I’ve visited this past week.  Here, the site is more open, with less trees and less constricting heather impacts - it’s more of a properly adjusted heathland meadow, as I see it.   The course sits atop broad, high ground and the terrain has a continuous, long slope character with little deviation and/or abrupt movement (other than Fowler’s touches.  These qualities certainly make Walton Heath distinctive and they set the tone for architectural influence… perhaps different here than what we experienced at Fowler’s other nearby works at The Berkshire. 
Approach to the par-4 4th
Greens at Walton Heath are slightly simpler, I think…more subtle contouring.  The bunkering (including the hummocks and hollows here may actually be the star of the show (along with the arrangement of the holes).  Not only are the features placed very strategically, but their presence on the landscape really serves to define the holes…forms that are mainly constructed as pits with adjacent banks or mounds, laced with heather.  They really stand out nicely… some of the more attractively conceived I have seen and yet so very simple to conceive and construct.

One must appreciate the simplicity in which Fowler developed the definition of this course - the bunkering and features…. beautiful stuff

Fairway bunkering and features on the par-4 6th
Sometimes we are prone to favoring courses where we play well (or disdain for those where we struggle).  I did not play well here at all… a frightful display, frankly… with slightly wet conditions.  But I can assure you that this is a course I would enjoy playing often… it had the sort of qualities that I appreciate and tend to produce the best golf experiences (width, angles, definition, variety and a natural landscape quality).  Walton Heath is a great walk and a pleasant, yet demanding test on a very typical sort of English landscape… very much full of variety and also a natural fitting application of golf.  I don’t know if this is Fowler’s best work… some say it is.  I have not the knowledge yet to make a judgement.  I saw pieces of Eastward Ho! (Cape Cod) here… and I very much like that course as well.  But if Walton Heath is Fowler’s best, I would not be at all surprised.

Par-4 10th - gorgeous hole Hard to beat the par-5 16th… what a great piece of classic architecture

Shame you got it on a wet day. It's usually incredibly firm and fast and I think that makes a huge difference to the appreciation of the design...
Comment by Brian Sheehy - posted on 07/03/2017 11:49 am

A bad day at the golf course never deterred you or diminished you love of the game. After al these years I am glad nothing has changed. Beautiful course!
Comment by Mom - posted on 09/19/2015 05:04 pm

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