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.