hat is a hardest test for a Wedger?
Is it playing the most imperious seaside course at Royal Cinque Ports, with its beautiful sea wall tees, perfectly cut undulating fairways, superbly manicured pot bunkers that surround firm, hard, slick greens all year round. Or is it the rugged and romantic heathland tracks at Walton Heath. Walton has big tees, big fairways and big greens. But big bunkers and big heather. Everything at Walton is big. Big rewards when you play well – but big trouble when you are slightly off your game.
Both courses offer completely different challenges, but the largest test for any Wedger is surely whether he can drag himself away from male bonding at the bar, nail one more kummel en route to the changing room, arrive roughly near his tee time, put the tee in the ground, balance his partners brand new golf ball on the tee after lunch, rise above the inevitable barracking and banter from surrounding Wedgers, and bunt the ball just far enough to get past the ladies tee. That, my friends, is what the Wedge is all about.
Here is my offering and Wedgers guide to the Old Course at Walton Heath.
1st Hole – 235 Yard Par 3
This is an absolute bastard of an opening hole. Best bet is to pick your ball up and walk to the 7th tee and start your round from there.
However, if you are a bludgeon for punishment and you fancy putting yourself through a horribly tough front 6 holes – give this a whirl.
Without a warm up, you are expected to scorch a 3 or 5 wood onto a green where the pin is invariably cut tight behind the right hand bunker.
Carve the ball right off the tee, you are either on the road or in the woods – call your partner back to reload. Tug the ball left (and you manage to avoid the first of two ponds on the course), you are in the Renshaw’s garden – call your partner back to reload.
Take a 3 here, and you are certainly 1 up. Take a 4 here, you are probably 1 up as well!
2nd Hole – 461 yards Par 4
The first hole on the Ryder Cup course. The fairway starts very close to the front of the tee, so not too much danger for the top off the tee. Best try and not block your partner out by putting them behind the single tree on the right. All going well you should leave your partner between 150 and 170 yards, uphill to a blind green. Take an extra club as you will never go long.
Be prepared to shout FORE to the group in front that is teeing off on the 3rd as the carve you thought you got rid of on the first makes another rude appearance for your shot in to the second green.
3rd Hole – 289 yards Par 4
Once you have avoided the air raid of golf balls from the group behind, you are greeted by a short par 4. You can have a crack with the driver, not worry about the green side bunkers that you will undoubtedly get tight up against as it is not your shot next! A par 4 should be fairly straight forward.
4th Hole – 441 yards Par 4
Stroke index 1, and for anyone unsporting enough to take shots off their opposition, you can take advantage of a shot here.
Avoid the bunker in the middle of the fairway that is placed perfectly in range to fly the driver straight into. If you manage to do this, your partner is still left with a long iron in to a very long green. 3 putt territory is definitely on – especially as this is the point in the round where the nagging hangover starts to kick in and you are now regretting that extra kummel that your opponent so kindly treat you to.
5th Hole – 391 yards Par 4
A classic Walton Heath hole. A sweeping par 4 down the hill to a green that resembles a teenagers face with an aggressive bout of acne. Pray your partner avoids the deep green side bunkers and puts you within 10 ft of the pin – try and avoid the embarrassing 3 putt.
6th Hole – 427 yards Par 4
Bunkers down the left, heather down the right – a ripped drive should put your partner 160 – 180 yards out. Hit in to a green that slopes hard from back to front. Another great opportunity to rack up some big numbers with the blade.
7th Hole – 174 yards Par 3
If you did not play the first six holes, welcome to the Old Course. A lovely 170 yard par 3 with one of Fowlers classic green side bunkers that is a magnet for the faded ball. A cunning top off the tee can sometimes be fortunate enough to make its way down the footpath.
A par 3 here, and you can again expect to win the hole.
8th Hole – 494 yards Par 5
The first par 5 on the course, and one that is relatively straight forward. It has a remarkably low stroke index of 3. Most Wedgers should comfortably arrive on the green in three shots, take your first putt, accept the 4 ft gimme and move on to the next.
9th Hole – 400 yards Par 4
Nearly at the turn now and a challenging par 4 down the hill.
50% of Wedgers will pull it left off the tee and leave their partners stuck behind the trees. 50% of those Wedgers will try and take on a shot that only Phil Mickelson or Tiger Woods would have the audacity and skill to take on. Hooking or slicing the ball around the trees 50 yards sideways will never work and your ball will be in worse shape than where you started.
Lost ball, concede the hole and move on.
10th Hole – 399 yards Par 4
Another difficult tee shot with another magnet bunker on the left. If you are lucky enough to be repelled to the other side of the hole, you are met with deep heather. Hopefully your partner walked ahead and got an accurate spot on it – if not, call him back to reload.
Once back in play, you are faced with a shot into a green over an excellent bunker short right of the green. One of the quickest greens on the course as it slopes hard from back to front. Your putter may be starting to get tired from over use at this point.
11th Hole – 189 yards Par 3
190 yard par 3, where the pin is normally near the back of the green. A well struck long iron is required here. Another belter of a hole to give your partner another long putt. Take a 3 here and again you will be favourite to win the hole.
12th Hole – 371 yards Par 4
Voted by the Walton Heath members as one of the best holes on the course, a short dog leg par 4.
Long iron or 3 wood off the tee will hopefully get you down onto the fairway. No need to cut the corner – you will only put your partner in the rubbish, or failing that face a more challenging shot in.
You may be met by some runners, horse riders or cyclists on the 12th as they take their time to make it across the fairway. Give them a condescending nod and smile which so obviously lets them know that you are the superior being as you are undertaking a sport that requires skill, power, cunning and guile. Their sport doesn’t!
A short iron then needs to be thread in between the varying style of bunkers.
13th Hole – 512 yards Par 5
The first of back to back Par 5s and a chance to get back in the game if you are down.
Pick your spot on the largest tree in the distance and open the shoulders. Hopefully you do not come off it and go in the bunkers – or get too excited and pull it into the heather on the left. If you are lucky enough for your partner to put you in the fairway, you need to position your shot to give your partner an easy chip on and subsequently a birdie opportunity. A green that slopes heavily from front to back, again a fantastic opportunity for a 3 putt.
14th Hole – 510 yards Par 5
One of the most welcoming drives on the course. Put your partner a long way down on the dancefloor and he has a chance to put you on the green. Again a pin that is normally tight on the left side of the green, try not to be coaxed into going after the flag. Miss the green and you are met with steep slopes that mean that you either duff or thin your chip. Best bet is to plonk the ball in the middle of the green, try and get down in 2, take your birdie or par and move on.
15th Hole – 408 yards Par 4
Stroke Index 2, which is surprising as it looks fairly straight forward.
Get your drive away (if you carve it onto the 16th fairway on the right, it isn’t the worst shot in the world!) The green is undoubtedly the hardest bit of this hole. A pin is normally placed right half which brings a long greenside bunker into play. Your partner will have his lob wedge at the ready if you decide you are going to go aggressive.
16th Hole – 510 yards Par 5
The beginning of a fantastic set of finishing holes. A nice par 5 with elements of trouble wherever you look. Heather the whole way down the left, heather the whole way down the right. If you manage to negotiate a good drive, keep your fingers crossed that your partner does not put you in the deepest bunker in Surrey. Another vast green that slopes from back left to front right. Hopefully the nerves are intact as your game gets to the business end.
17th Hole – 181 yards Par 3
A 180 yard par 3, recently reshaped to allow Wedgers (and old people) to run the ball up the front of the green. Avoid the steep greenside bunkers if you can as you can kiss good bye to an up and down from there. Another hole where a par should secure you the hole.
18th Hole – 404 yards Par 4
One of the hardest drives on the course, made even harder if you are still in a match. There is about a 15 yard alley for you to aim your drive down. Go left of this and you are in a steep bunker that you have to chop out sideways from – or into heather on the right that is littered with tree roots.
Once back in the middle of the fairway, you have a relatively short iron in. Another fantastic piece of golf course design from Fowler as the bunker short of the green has plenty of dead ground behind. Wedgers will more often than not come up short of this green and then rely on an up and down.
You have now successfully negotiated your way around the famous Walton Heath Old Course – now retire to the bar and discuss with the other Wedgers where it all went wrong!