WENTWORTH (west) - 16 POINTS
There are few courses in England which followers of golf of a certain age know as well as the West Course at Wentworth. In the days before wall-to-wall TV coverage of the European Tour we would wait expectantly for the Autumn days to roll around for the World Matchplay. 36 holes a day of seeing the top players battle it out on what looked like one of the great British golf courses. We’d watch Woosie, Faldo and Seve all do battle - normally with a random Asian player courtesy of sponsors Suntory - or Mark O’Meara thrown in for good measure. And we’d also have an insight into the lives of the rich and famous. Look, Brucie’s done up his back garden this year, General Pinochet is in there somewhere, maybe we’ll see Fergie doing a spot of sunbathing (the Duchess rather than Sir Alex thankfully). It really was the Beverley Hills of the London commuter belt. If you have 4 1/2 minutes to spare this video will bring the memories flooding back!
As a result of such a history, I have had Wentworth on my list of courses to play for many years and was delighted when an invite arrived. I played it on a beautiful March morning. The ground was a little heavy from overnight rain but the sun was shining and the frost soon cleared. Heaven.
The clubhouse facilities were what you would expect from the headquarters of the European Tour. A little bit of history with a bit of corporate thrown in. To continue the glamour, Ian Wright was putting on his shoes next to me in the changing room and there were a couple of ex England footballers warming up on the range. Stereotypes were being lived up to all round!
The range was very nice. Hitting off of mats but with a little gizmo that teed up the ball for you and plenty of targets to hit to. We took a forecaddie for the round. Normally I am not a fan of having a caddy. I feel enough pressure anyway on the course without someone else concentrating on my round too but Simon was brilliant. He had seen worse swings than ours and didn’t feel compelled to give advice, wasn’t overly talkative as to take over (cf Sandy Lane…..) but gave some great tips on lines from the tee, yardages and reads of the putTs.
The first hole is a really pleasant opener. For the pros it is a long par 4 but for us amateurs it is turned into a par 5, bringing the par of the course to 73. The fairway is wide and while you can see trouble in the trees they are only in play for the wildest of shots. A drive, a mid iron and a wedge got me on to the green and 2 putts later it seemed like plain sailing! Then the course showed its teeth, and the character changed.
Overall thoughts on the course was that it looked very playable from the members tees. Generally speaking the holes were pretty wide and forgiving. However, as you headed for the greens the story changed. It seemed that virtually every green was elevated and protected by vicious, deep bunkers. And at 6,700 yards from the middle tees you were hitting a lot of long clubs into greens which played all of their yardage and then some. The fact that virtually every green was elevated meant that there was no option to run the ball up to a green, instead you had to go the aerial route and it was this that turned a lovely spring stroll into, frankly a bit of a slog. Of course, these changes to the greens means that the test for the pros is a stiffer one than it may have been in years gone by, but they have also succeeded in taking some of the character and fun out of the course.
A lot has been said about the greens in the past. Padraig Harrington boycotted the event on the back of their inconsistent nature and the Els redevelopment of 2007 was squarely aimed at bringing them on to modern professional specifications. As well as putting in 30 bunkers Els also resculpted many of the greens, raising them up and putting in new swales.
Many say he ruined the finish. With two closing par 5s it was previously possible for a player to come through the field with two eagles to snatch a tournament. Now they have put astream in front of the green and I have to say it led to a rather disappointing end to my round. Needed to score a point to get to 30 points I hit a good drive, laid up with an 8 iron and the promptly put a wedge into the slightly ridiculous looking creek in front of the narrow raised green. No chance of running it up to the green in 2 for an eagle putt for me. I’m afraid I can’t land my hybrid on a narrow elevated strip of green from 220 yards so I was led to a watery grave instead.
While the service was perfectly polite through the day I thought one incident said a lot. On the 5th hole I realised I had left my 7 iron by the range. Our forecaddie called the concierge who said he would go and look for it and bring it out. At the halfway house I enquired but was told they couldn’t find it. At the end of the round I went to the range and picked it up – sitting exactly where it had been. When you are paying over £300 for a tee time you kind of hope that the service is something a little special, but it wasn’t.
Having never played it before I can’t really comment on how it compares to the Wentworth of old but you don’t feel like you are playing one of the classics, and I can’t imagine it bears much resemblance to the original Harry Colt design. Luke Donald described it as a course you may not want to play every week, but one that would prepare you well for a US Open. Fair enough.
The course continues to come under criticism from the pros and recently the Chief of the European Tour himself called into question the status and prestige of both the course and event.
The course is now under new ownership and they seem hell bent on making this a bastion of wealth and power. Maybe that will improve the course. If it doesn't its fall from grace may be completed.
BOOKING THE COURSE
When I played there early in 2015 anyone with a handicap of 18 or lower could play the West Course. Green fees started at £195 in the winter and rose to a barely conceivable £360 in the Summer months. That included your compulsory caddy fee but it was still quite a breathtaking amount of money for what you get.
However, you no longer have the privilege of paying through the nose for a 16 rated course. The new owners have decided to keep this for members only now and are looking to trim the membership dramatically and take the club uber private - a real rarity in the UK. Of course, where there's a will there may be a way but it is likely to be through society or charity days when they choose to allow us mere mortals in to have a look at the place. I just hope the improve the greens.
Alas, I do not have a huge amount to say on this point as I just came in and out from London to play the course. The train from Waterloo to Ascot is about an hour’s journey and we stayed at the nearby McDonald hotel which was perfectly adequate, if a little staid.
If you have managed to blag a round here and want to add some other top quality courses to the agenda then Sunningdale has 2 courses in the world top 100 – the Old and the New – and Walton Heath, Swinley Forest and St George’s Hill are all relatively close by and are grandees of the English game. There’s definitely a great Surrey golf mecca visit in there somewhere, but the other courses may serve as a more accurate reminder of the heydays of the Surrey heathland.
The Wentworth Club
Telephone: 01334 842201
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