Walton Heath’s unique combination of challenges have been hailed as “an amazing test for golfers” heading into the weekend at the 2023 AIG Women’s Open.
The opening two rounds in Surrey have brought largely dry and settled conditions, the fairways firming up across Thursday and Friday following damp practice rounds earlier in the week.
But any inaccuracies off the tee have often led to peril, with the Surrey heathland’s combination of sheer-faced bunkers, thick rough and – notoriously – heather proving costly when located.
Talk of the heathland plant dominated press conferences in the build-up and plenty of players have been reflecting on landing in the unwanted purple patches thus far.
Gaby Lopez, who has carded back-to-back 70s to enter the weekend four-under, said: “Just hitting the fairways has been very important.
“I found myself a little bit in the heather today, and it's not fun. So it's a little stressful because you don't know how the ball is going to come out.
“You cannot give anything for granted out here. I mean, Walton Heath has been just an amazing test for golf for all of us.”
Andrea Lee, part of Saturday’s final group five shots behind leader Ally Ewing, admitted saving par after finding heather at the 15th ‘felt like a birdie’ and Perrine Delacour, who also entered the weekend in the top 10, concurred.
“When you're in the heather, you are just trying to get back in the fairway and just see,” she said.
“If you can make par, good. And if not, you just take your bogey and you get away. “I mean, you don't want to take much risk on it.”
Away from the talk of painful plants, the par-5s have proved particularly profitable across the opening two days – not least the 16th.
Eighteen of the 25 eagles across the opening two rounds came at a hole which has been playing at an average of around 4.3 throughout – lower than four of the par-4s on the course.
Three of the four ‘easiest’ playing holes are the trio of par-5s and for all the talk of the importance of finding the fairway, Charley Hull was among those to show that is not necessarily a necessity on the 11th.
Hull found rough and a bunker but still collected birdie at the hole on Friday as she surged into a share of second on a course she knows well.
Her compatriot Jodi Ewart Shadoff is less familiar but has enjoyed her first look.
“It's been very interesting to come out and play Walton Heath,” she said.
“It's not quite a links course and it's not quite a parkland course. It's kind of visually a little bit intimidating off the tee because really all you see is a sea of purple and you just don't want to be in that sea of purple.
“But if you're hitting your driver nicely, then you're going to probably put some scores together.”
Ewart Shadoff predicts the course will be running “firm and fast” by Sunday and with winds set to pick up across the weekend and the odd shower anticipated, attention turns to how the course may change over the weekend – and who that may suit.
Scotland’s Gemma Dryburgh is relishing the challenge – “I usually play well in the wind, so bring it on” – and Minjee Lee has promised to be “aggressive” as she looks to reel in the leader.
World number one Nelly Korda, meanwhile, plans to keep it simple.
“Try to stay out of the heather,” she said.
“Stay in the fairway. Take advantage of where you can capitalise on and then keep it in play and take your pars if it's going to be blowing a lot.”