Never was I happier to not play a round of golf that had been so much looked forward to.
All the way from Celtic Manor to Walton Heath, we slogged through persistent rain. We pulled in next to a Corniche and sat in the car park while deciding our strategy for getting one of our golf umbrellas out of the boot.
We arrived at this storied club to play #82 on the Top 100 courses (2009, Golf Magazine) well ahead of our 2pm tee time, which became tea time. Or rather, we opted for a glass of wine and bite to eat in the bar, after conferring with the Professional, Simon Peaford, over in the golf shop. We discussed the idea of coming back to play the following Monday, which gave me plenty of time to marvel that this personable young man was following in the footsteps of James Braid, winner of the Open Championship 5 times and their professional for 46 years.
Ho! What good fortune. We settled in a cozy corner near the bar, where an irresistible book entitled “Heather and Heaven, Walton Heath Golf Club, 1903-2003” by Phil Pilley was discretely displayed. I was completely absorbed from the first few paragraphs of the Introduction where Pilley confesses: The title of this book, by the way, is shamelessly plagiarised—though with consent from The Daily Telegraph of Augusts 5, 2002. That day Bill Meredith, reporting the English Amateur Championship, wrote that
a bewildering burst of back-to-back eagles followed by a birdie lifted
Richard Finch into a field of dreams at Walton Heath, a wonderful
mixture of heaven and heather.
I merely changed the order of billing to ingratiate myself with the heather.
It only got better from here, when a trio of members were passing through the bar and one stopped to chat with us—perhaps because he learned of our passion to play the highly revered parkland course. He introduced himself as Simon Creagh Chapman, and revealed that he is the Chairman of the Green Committee. Moments later, when I quoted one of my heroes, Bernard Darwin, who said: If there’s something golfers want and do not get at Walton Heath, I do not know what it can be, Simon disappeared for an instant and then presented me with a pristine copy of the centenary history book to keep. For me, this was on par with back-to-back eagles!
The whole magical encounter took a fantastic turn when Simon invited us into the inner sanctum of the clubhouse. There hung a magnificent life size portrait of the champion James Braid, by Sir James Gunn, RA, c.1925. On the way back to the bar, he pointed out another of the crown jewels—a Gunn portrait of the architect of Walton Heath, Herbert Fowler, who was an accomplished amateur golfer when he was commissioned in 1902.
Back at our table, Simon continued to astound us with stories of how his great grandfather was instrumental in founding Ballybunion.
Apparently it all started with an invitation to “Come see some grouse!”