Saturday, December 01, 2012

Wentworth (West Course)

When I first played Wentworth seven years ago I was tired, didn't have my camera and did not do the course justice in my writeup. I returned recently with camera in tow and present this new and improved post.

The Wentworth West Course (ranked #78 in the world) is part of the sprawling Wentworth estate in Surrey. Originally owned by the Countess de Morella, the development rights for the housing estate and golf course were acquired in 1923. The West course was designed by H.S. Colt in 1924. Today, Wentworth has a large golf footprint with three 18 hole courses. Wentworth is located in the Surrey region outside London in Virginia Water, across from the Windsor Great Park, part of the Queen's Crown Estate. Virginia Water got its name from Elizabeth I, the 'Virgin Queen.'

The Wentworth housing estate is large and occupied by the jet set, to borrow an expression from the 1960s. Among today's leading European golf pros who live or have lived at Wentworth are: Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Colin Montgomery. One of the attractions of Wentworth is its proximity to Heathrow airport, but it is also one of its pitfalls, as you can hear the jets all day. The 1953 Ryder Cup was played at Wentworth and Ben Hogan and Sam Snead played on the U.S. team.

Clubhouse Rear
Wentworth's castle clubhouse

Surrey is blessed with sandy soil and beautiful terrain and Wentworth makes the most of it. I must say I hated the course the first time I played it, but this time around I saw that it is better than I realized the first time. The first hole is a nice par five playing 473 yards. Before you hit your tee shot the starter presses a button that puts up red lights on the entry road, so that you don't hit a car if you skull your tee shot. There is a big dip before the first green.

1st Green
Approach shot to the first green on Wentworth's West course

The second hole is a 154-yard par three that plays from an elevated tee to a shallow green guarded by a big tree on the right side of the green.

2nd green
The par three 2nd hole's green

I enjoyed the par four seventh hole very much. It is 396 yards and sweeps down the hillside to an elevated green sited up a big dogleg right. You can see the beautiful Surrey countryside clearly on this hole.

7th from tee
The beautiful Surrey heath land from the 7th hole at Wentworth

The green is interesting and challenging.

7th green
The green on the nice 7th hole on Wentworth's West course

The terrain at Wentworth is demanding and the course is long and the walk wore me out both times I played it. It is one of the most difficult courses I have ever played and is very long at 7,302 yards from the tips. The course's nickname is aptly, the Burma Road. Because the estate is so sprawling, the course is spread out and many holes have hills to walk up as well. The course also has active roads running through nine holes. I did find this to be very distracting. A lot of the world's great courses, in fact, have roads running through them including the National Golf Links of America, Cypress Point, Maidstone and Merion. What makes it different at Wentworth is the overall volume of traffic and the large number of holes where cars cross while you are playing. The view below is off the tee on the 203-yard par three fifth.

5th hole crossing


The long 449-yard par four ninth hole was also very good. If features an active railway along the left side, which, like many U.K. courses is quite charming. The hole features a really interesting and well-protected green.

9th green 1

The green on Wentworth's 9th hole

Ernie Els has made changes to Wentworth over the last decade, many of them controversial, including to the 539-yard par five finishing hole. I rather liked the hole as it stands today. The hole sweeps to the right and the shot to the very small green is over this new burn.

18th Green
The approach to the green of Wentworth's final hole

The estate grounds are idyllic, especially the giant rhododendron plants and the way the roads and houses are set back around sweeping drives. Wentworth also serves as the home of the European Tour and as a result the overall feel of the club is more like a resort or large corporate entity rather than a private club, which it also is. My preference is for more intimate clubs such as nearby Sunningdale.

On balance, I came away with a much better appreciation for Wentworth than my initial impression gave. My chief complaints are the demanding shots the course requires and the fact that between the planes from Heathrow overhead and the cars criss-crossing the course, it feels a lot like the movie Planes, Trains & Automobiles. The Wentworth Estate is also now a favorite place to live for ├╝ber-wealthy people from the Middle East and Russia. There were several mega properties being built on the estate just off the course when we were there, also adding to the less-than-idyllic noise levels. A security-minded bunch, many of the houses feature cameras and some warn of guard dogs and one even has an electric fence.

House on Wentworth Estate
An entrance to one of the large estate homes on the drive into Wentworth

My biggest complaints, however, are the $600 cost of the greens fee and compulsory caddie, and the fact that the round takes over FIVE AND A HALF HOURS!!!!!!! which is frankly not fun. Wentworth does a lot of corporate outings, so on the days they do allow visitors, it is a grueling experience.