There’s been so much talk about heather in the build-up to the AIG Women’s Open, you half expect to hear Jimmy Shand and Andy Stewart music drifting across the fairways and greens of Walton Heath.

It’s not a White Heather Club in Surrey, of course, but the purple clumps that abound at this cherished, storied inland venue have certainly made an impression.

“I don't know what the little purple flowers are for, but you don't want to be in those,” said South Africa’s defending champion, Ashleigh Buhai, as she mulled over the bountiful perils and pitfalls of a stray ball becoming entangled in its withering embrace. 

Heather and Heaven was the title of a book commissioned to celebrate Walton Heath’s centenary back in 2003. It could be hell for some of the combatants this week, mind you.

Given the attention the heather has attracted, one presumes that most of the field are now experts in the fine detail of the Ericaceae family of flowering plants.

Who will blossom over the next few days on this delightful heathland course tucked inside the M25 remains to be seen but the final major of the women’s season should provide plenty to intrigue, excite and savour.

There will probably be a few talking points too. While Celine Boutier’s quest for a third successive victory, after a maiden major win in the Evian Championship a fortnight ago and success in the Scottish Open last Sunday, has been a sizeable topic of excited chatter, the old chestnut of slow play continues to get tongues wagging.

During that Evian Championship, Spain’s Solheim Cup stalwart, Carlota Ciganda, was disqualified after refusing to accept a pace of play penalty. She didn’t add the two strokes to her card and was subsequently given the heave-ho for signing for the wrong score. Ciganda pleaded her innocence but her bleatings didn’t wash with many. That was hardly surprising given Ciganda has a reputation for moving along with about as much surging impetus as a canal boat on the Norfolk Broads.

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In conversation with a couple of the golf writers at last week’s Scottish Women’s Open, Suzann Pettersen, the European Solheim Cup captain who will likely have Ciganda on her team for September’s match with the US, made her feelings clear on the issue. “I mean, she’s got to take the point and speed up, right?” said the Norwegian. “I had a chat with her. I said that ‘if they are on you, get the point, try to speed up and do what you can do’. In some situations, I know it is tough. You are going to get conditions on the course and situations that will cost more time. But, in general, for everyone’s sake, try to speed up.”

The pace of play topic made its way to Walton Heath yesterday with Nelly Korda, the world No 1, offering her own views on a contentious subject that remains one of the long-standing plooks on golf’s complexion.

“I really like Carlotta, she’s a great person,” said Korda. “I am a fast player and at the end of the day, the rules of golf are the rules of golf and it's good that they are being enforced."

There can be times when watching golf can make the painting of the Haywain by Constable look positively action-packed. “I think it should be monitored,” added Korda, who was a major champion in 2021 when she won the Women’s PGA Championship. “If I was a spectator and I was out here for 5 ½ to 6 hours, it's tough to watch, right? You want to watch a sport that's continuously moving and not continuously stalling. I would say I think it's really important for the rules officials to enforce the rules.”

While Korda and the rest call for whips to be cracked on the slow coaches, one thing that keeps moving at a brisk pace is the increase in the prize fund of the Women’s Open itself. 

In the last couple of years, it has made some significant surges and, following the jump to a $7.3 million pot at Muirfield last year, Martin Slumbers, the R&A’s chief executive, unveiled another considerable hike on the eve of the 2023 showpiece.

“We are raising the total prize fund to $9 million which is a 23 per cent increase on 2022 with the champion earning $1.35 million come Sunday,” he said. 

That incentive should help to keep them out of the heather.