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Walton Heath 2023

Walton Heath's history


Taylor proud to follow in Braid's footsteps

James Braid as Walton Heath professional

Walton Heath will host its first AIG Women’s Open in 2023, a landmark occasion for a club with a rich history and deep links with both The Open and AIG Women’s Open.

Walton Heath was founded in 1903 to great fanfare, with the Old Course having been designed by architect Herbert Fowler who would design the New Course later that decade. The club was christened with a game between the Great Triumvirate, Harry Vardon, James Braid and JH Taylor, who between them won 16 Open Championships.

Walton Heath is the only British golf club to have had a reigning monarch as Captain. The Prince of Wales had become the club’s first Captain in 1935 and, following his father’s death in January 1936, he became King Edward VIII and served out his term of office as Captain of Walton Heath.

In addition, four Prime Ministers have been members of Walton Heath, yet it was to be Braid who would go down as the club’s most iconic figure. The Scot became the club’s first professional in 1904, having won The Open in 1901, and went on to win a further four Claret Jugs in the following six years.

Playing a significant role in the changing perceptions and fortunes of professional golfers, Braid became a part of the furniture at Walton Heath, where he remained the head professional until his death in 1950. He is remembered to this day with a permanent exhibition in his old workshop on the grounds.

Joanne Taylor, PGA professional at Walton Heath and the club’s first female professional, has been with the club for two years, and is cognisant of the legacy that Braid left behind for pros like herself.

“It’s a club with an enormous amount of history”, she said. “I’m actually the first female professional they’ve ever had work here, but obviously we’ve only ever had five head professionals here, and following the likes of James Braid is pretty special.”

Walton Heath has hosted the 1981 Ryder Cup, five European Opens and, more recently, the 2011 Senior Open and the 2018 British Masters, while it continues to host US Open final qualifying. However, the club also has a rich history involving women's amateur golf.

Walton Heath has hosted three Women’s Amateur Championships, in 1968, 1982 and 2000, and hosted the third ever English Women’s Amateur in 1914, won by Cecil Leitch. Leitch also famously beat two-time Open Champion Harold Hilton in a 72-hole exhibition match over Walton Heath and Sunningdale's courses in 1911.

As well as hosting events, Walton Heath has a celebrated amateur champion currently serving as its President, Jill Thornhill. Thornhill won the Women’s Amateur at Silloth on Solway in 1983, and, in one of her four appearances in what was to become the AIG Women's Open, the Curtis Cup legend proceeded to claim the Smyth Salver for low amateur in 1985.

Joanne Taylor head pro at Walton Heath

Joanne Taylor has been a professional at Walton Heath for two years

Thornhill has seen many changes at the club, and as President is excited about the future of Walton Heath, starting with the 2023 AIG Women’s Open.

“Well there have been quite a lot of changes (at the club)”, Thornhill said. “The courses have remained virtually the same, the odd tweak here and there, but the membership has expanded, and the ladies are now more involved in the every day playing of the game here, and we hope that will improve over the years too. But it’s always been a very happy club, and a very encouraging club to all standards of players.”

Taylor too is excited about the number of women taking up the game at the club, and is herself leading a number of initiatives to increase that number in 2023.

“We have a women’s academy here, and we are an R&A Women in Golf Charter signatory, so it is something that we’re really putting a lot of effort into is encouraging the number of women and girls playing” Taylor said. “So we have a women’s academy which has encouraged a good number of new members, and that sort of being fed by beginner coaching. So we’re actively trying to encourage more women and girl into the game. There’s loads to get involved in here. Not just because of the AIG but in terms of coaching lots of women, loads of juniors, there’s loads to get involved in.”

Taylor knows first hand how the AIG Women’s Open can inspire young juniors to take up, and even pursue a career in the game of golf.

“The first I went to was in 2003 up at Royal Lytham. I made my dad drive all the way from Essex to Lytham just because I wanted to see Annika Sorenstam! And obviously she ended up winning the tournament that year and I got her autograph so I was pretty happy. And then I’ve been to Sunningdale a couple of times, and to Woburn, and I also worked at the Championship when Georgia Hall won again up at Lytham in 2018, I was delivering the Swingzone giving lessons that week, so that was pretty cool to be part of. I think just actually seeing it all take place and take shape (in 2023), grandstands being built, hospitality pavilions being built, I think that’s going to be pretty exciting.”

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