Review Wentworth West
During my time as a golf writer, I've been fortunate to play some of the most revered golf courses in the UK. The New and Old Courses at Sunningdale and the Marquess at Woburn are three exquisite layouts, and Wentworth's West Course - another track I feel privileged to have played - deserves to be mentioned in the same bracket. Southern England - and Surrey in particular - is home to some wonderful heathland golf courses. Wentworth, West Hill and Worpleston - an exceptional triumvirate of clubs all ranked inside Golf Monthly's Top 100 - are supplemented by the likes of Sunningdale and Walton Heath, which have staged, and will stage in the near future, Ryder Cups and Major Championships throughout their esteemed histories.
There are three golf courses at Wentworth, and all of them have staged significant tournaments. The East regularly hosts the European Senior Tour, but it's the West that garners most of the acclaim. Simply put, it wouldn't be chosen as the host venue for the European Tour's flagship event - the BMW PGA Championship - if it wasn't a fitting location for a tournament of such stature.
The West Course was designed by famous architect Harry Colt and opened for play in 1926. It's a unique course, given its mixture of heath and parkland characteristics. Towering trees are a prominent feature on every hole and heather comes into play intermittently throughout the course. It's laid out in the most beautiful of surroundings on an estate teeming with heritage and history. The European Tour is based at Wentworth and the Army took control of the grounds during the Second World War, with a secret wartime HQ located deep underneath the majestic clubhouse. The West is a mesmerisingly tranquil golf course kept in the most pristine condition, and although Ernie Els' changes in 2009 met with some disquiet, I think they've improved the overall character and challenge of the golf course.
The first three holes on the West Course present a stern test. The par-4 1st can be stretched to 470 yards from the championship tees, but the hole's characteristics haven't been dampened down to account for its length. Bunkers line the narrow fairway to protect the driving area, and sit inside areas of woodland to put immediate pressure on golfers from the tee. Most amateurs will struggle to get home in two, and face a blind third from a deep gully in the fairway to a well-protected tiered green.
The second is only 160 yards or so from the back tees, but it's a green you simply have to hit if you want to make par. The putting surface - sculpted out of a slope - is shaped like a kidney bean, demanding a longer carry when the pin is placed perilously on the back right. Anything missing leff will find a steep bank laden with long, tangly rough, and anything missing right will catch a devilishly deep bunker, where failing to escape in one shot is far more likely than an up-and-down.
The third hole is, in my mind, the toughest on the golf course. It's a long, tough uphill par 4 with bunkers guarding both sides of a narrow fairway. The green - which features three distinct tiers - plays some 30 yards above the level of the fairway, and is extremely difficult to hold with a long iron on fairway wood. If you walk off the 3rd with par, you've done very well.
Some temporary respite follows for the next few holes before my favourite hole on the front nine, the par-4 8th. It's only a short par 4, but one that simply can't be overpowered. The club of choice off the tee is usually a long iron or fairway wood, setting up a mid to short iron appraoch. The tee is set in the middle of some gorgeous woodland, and trees left and right, humps and hollows in the fairway and tufts of long rough place a premium on accuracy. While the approach isn't overly long, water both short and left make it a daunting challenge, as does the character of the green, which is long but etremely narrow. It's a really good test, and proof that a par 4 doesn't have to be long to be difficult.
The back nine presents more scoring opportunities than the front nine, although the easier holes are interspersed with some very tricky par 4s, namely the narrow, uphill 13th and the long, funneled 15th, which plays some 480 yards from the back tees. If you negotiate these holes, and make pars on the par 3 10th and 14th - two significantly uphill holes with tough green complexes - you'll be in a position to score well. My favourite holes on the back nine are the 17th and the 18th, which, when coupled with the birdeable 16th, make for one of the most exciting closing stretches in tournament golf.
The 17th is a 550-yard plus par 5 that sweeps downhill and round to the left. It's a daunting prospect off the tee, with dense tree lines on both sides of the fairway and out of bounds left. At the 300-yard mark, the hole moves further to the left and moderately uphill, and only the longest of hitters will be able to get home in two. Stray too far left and you'll be playing three off the tee; go to far right and you'll have to poke the ball under tree branches to get it back in play. After a good drive, a lay-up should be hit to the top of the hill, before a testing approach to a long but narrow raised green with multiple run-off areas.
The 17th does offer up a good scoring chance, though, as does the 18th - although it's become far more difficult since Els' changes, which raised the green and introduced a man-made pond to front the putting surface. It moves in the opposite direction to the 17th, and a bunker on the apex of the dogleg makes for an ideal target, especially if you can fade the ball. There is some room left, but any drive pushed to the right will result in a lost ball. From the fairway, laying up is a shrewd play - whilst the green has been deepened to accept long second shots, it's a strategy fraught with peril. Bunkers surround the green, and chipping downhill towards water isn't what you want.
Overall, Wentworth's West is a delightful golf course. It's serene and secluded, beautifully manicured and expertly crafted from land that must have been a golf architect's dream. Overall, I'd give it a rating of 8.5/10.
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