Sunday, April 15, 2012
Sunday, April 1, 2012
Friday, March 23, 2012
Old Course, 1904
Architect: Herbert Fowler
The first course of many laid out by Herert Fowler, the Old Course at Walton Heath is located on one of the highest points in the heathlands in what was once a jungle of heather and gorse. Unlike many of its fine Surrey neighbors, Walton, surprisingly, is built on clay. What is even more amazing, is Fowler, and his crew of barely over 10 men, 2 horses (1 borrowed from a local girl), a wagon and a handful of shovels and rakes, was able to fight through the field of unrelenting nasty plants and created some of the most brutal and hazards found in inland golf. Unlike most hazards in todays game, Walton's actually pose a threat to modern technology. Made famous by four time Open champion James Braid, the course is not as photogenic or dramatic as many of the other heathland layouts, but when it comes to providing a fun and interesting golf on a championship layout, few can compete.
Walton is a stern test of golf, all the way around, as evident by the many tournaments it hosts, but is more than playable for its large membership. The combination of large greens and firm turf gives players plenty of options in finding their way around the seas of heather and nasty hazards. Relatively flat for this area of the country, the out and back routing takes great advantage of the contours it does have, using the firm turf and undulations to send balls bounding to the right places in some situations and gathering them into places you wish you had never seen in others. Fowler, who designed the course from horseback, clearly spent most of his time on the details, as the natural layout shows virtually no evidence of a mans influence on the property aside from the bunkering. Although the course has seen a few changes, due to the M25 motorway, which shortened the 8th hole, a new (25+ years ago) 9th hole, lengthening for tournament play, and the maturing of many pine trees, the course feels as natural and classic as any I have come across.
The golf course itself, has big greens, but relatively small and subtle contours. Because of its length and difficult hazards, if it had wildly shaped greens, it might boarder on unplayable, and certainly lack a lot of the fun and charm it has. With so many good holes, and a remarkably strong finish it is hard to pick out a single favorite, although most, including longtime Pro Ken MacPhereson prefer the 5th, with its unusually wrinkled green. For myself, holes #7, the difficult mid-length par-3, the long and angled par-4 10th and short par-4 12th stood out to me, but on a golf course that has more great holes than most, you could go back and forth days.
Friday, March 9, 2012
The course starts out a little slow, as holes # 1-5 are not terrible special aside from the fact it starts with an uphill par-3. Once the 6th tee is reached, everything changes. The stretch of holes from #6 to #9 is as strategically sound and exciting as any in golf, with stark shot values, treacherous hazards and a few bridges over some of the deep ravines. Each of these holes offers something unique. #6, a relatively short par-4 has a two options off the tee, no matter which is chosen the idea is to avoid one of the deepest bunkers in existence, cut into a ravine short right of the approach, at all costs. While it should be easily be avoided, the deep bunker needing a large staircase to enter and exit will often eat up balls from over zealous golfers. After a partially blind tee shot on the par-3 7th with some trenched out bunkers placed high above the green creating extremely difficult short game shots, the 8th hole, a bunkerless gem provides the par-player one of the most exacting tee shots on the course. Although not entirely clear from the tee, the ideal line is just inside the tree line on the left to using a diagonal ridge at the crest of a hill to gain an advantage of length and full view of the green. The final hole on outward nine surely cannot be replicated anywhere, jumping over deep ravines on both the tee shot and approach. Club selection is at a premium on the 9th as driver is probably to long for most, but any shot no long or left enough will create problems on the approach as trees will be hide the green or distance over the 2nd ravine will be to great to conquer.
The best holes on the back nine are two of the most natural par-5s, numbers 12 and 16, as well as a pair of exacting one shot holes. With so many interesting and unique holes, it would be nearly impossible to describe them appropriately. All I can do is suggest you take the time to experience this incredibly fun and demanding golf course for yourself the next time you are in London. I took my boss' advice and certainly owe him some credit for my love of The Addington, so Tom Doak... thanks for sending me in the right direction, now I will try to convince more to do the same.