‘Beautiful But It’s Terrible To Be In’ - Pros On The Heather Challenge At Walton Heath

Pros have given their thoughts on Walton Heath's famous heather ahead of the AIG Women's Open

The heather at Walton Heath
There is an abundance of heather at Walton Heath
(Image credit: Getty Images)

While the men’s Open is played exclusively on links courses, that isn’t the case for the AIG Women’s Open.

However, that doesn’t mean that this year’s heathland course, Walton Heath in Surrey, is a type familiar to many of the players in this year's field.

After all, for many LPGA Tour players in particular, tournaments in the UK are few and far between, so the characteristics of its heathland courses – including challenging areas of heather – are not as well known to many players in this year’s field.

Before the final Major of the year begins, several top players were asked about the course, and its heather in particular drew some intriguing responses.

Ashleigh Buhai claimed her maiden Major victory in last year’s tournament at a links course, Muirfield in Scotland, and the South African defends her title this year. If she is to win it, though, she will need to master the abundance of heather on the course – a shrub she admitted to being far from an expert on.

Asked about her thoughts on the course following a practice round, Buhai said: “I don't know what those little purple flowers are for but you don't want to be in those. I said to my coach, ‘If you're a weekly member here and you don't hit it straight, I think you lose a lot of golf balls.’"

Buhai was far from alone in unfamiliarity with heathland courses. For Lydia Ko, though, it appears warnings about Walton Heath’s heather have left her with a clear strategy.

She said: “This week's golf course here at Walton Heath is very different. Before I came here people said, ‘Oh, this is a heathland-style golf course,’ and I said, ‘I have no idea what that means,’ and everybody was like, ‘Stay out of the heather, stay out of the bunker.’ And I was like, ‘So you pretty much want me to hit it like from fairway to green,’ and obviously that is the best-case scenario.“

Lydia Ko speaks to the media before the 2023 AIG Women's Open

Lydia Ko discussed the Walton Heath heather with the media before the AIG Women's Open

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Despite her lack of experience with heather, Ko was full of praise for the course. She continued: “I think when you know you're going to a golf course that isn't super linksy, you are a little skeptical because we only play over on this side of the world like a couple times and I wasn't really sure what it was going to be like.

“But you know, the golf course is super nice. It's in really good condition, and it actually feels more linksy than you think, and the heather definitely comes into play.”

One player who has some experience with heathland courses is Charley Hull, who is in her homeland for this week’s tournament, and she will be hoping her knowledge of Walton Heath will stand her in good stead.

She said: “I’ve actually played it a few times but I’ve not played it off these tees. Like, I’ve played it with my friends and we’ve both been off the backs, so it’s actually playing quite short out there, and I think it will be very scorable.”

“It's nice, it's got the heather and the trees on it, as well, even though there's not a lot of trees. I just like the feel of it.”

The fifth hole at Walton Heath

Walton Heath hosts the AIG Women's Open

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Rose Zhang, meanwhile, was struck by how different Walton Heath is to other UK courses she has played. She said: “I knew that Walton Heath when I first came here, and when I first heard about it, it wasn't really a links-style golf course. When I was out here, it definitely was different from the previous British Opens that I've played, Muirfield and Carnoustie, those are very traditional links-style golf courses.

“So when I came out here, I was well aware of the heather. The heather is beautiful but it's terrible to be in. Not somewhere you want to be this week. And I will say that I believe the course is beautiful.”

Whether she, or the other players, still hold Walton Heath in such high regard on Sunday evening could well come down how successful they’ve been in staying out of its troublesome, albeit beautiful, heather.

Mike Hall
News Writer

Mike has over 25 years of experience in journalism, including writing on a range of sports throughout that time, such as golf, football and cricket. Now a freelance staff writer for Golf Monthly, he is dedicated to covering the game's most newsworthy stories. 

He has written hundreds of articles on the game, from features offering insights into how members of the public can play some of the world's most revered courses, to breaking news stories affecting everything from the PGA Tour and LIV Golf to developmental Tours and the amateur game. 

Mike grew up in East Yorkshire and began his career in journalism in 1997. He then moved to London in 2003 as his career flourished, and nowadays resides in New Brunswick, Canada, where he and his wife raise their young family less than a mile from his local course. 

Kevin Cook’s acclaimed 2007 biography, Tommy’s Honour, about golf’s founding father and son, remains one of his all-time favourite sports books.