Appeared in July/August 2001 LINKS
South of London, the Wentworth Club boasts two world-class layouts. The East was laid out in 1924 by Harry Colt, the father of British course architecture. Colt ran the East through a forest of fir and silver birch that afforded a natural sense of isolation. Patches of purple heather lined the fairways and large manor homes sprung up around the course’s perimeter.
Two years later the club opened the West, also laid out by Colt and intended to serve as a tournament site. Even so, it was the East that continued to host major events, including the 1932 Curtis Cup.
The East’s one drawback has always been its lack of length. At barely 6,200 yards, the par-68 layout gave way to the West after World War II. But not immediately, for the West had been completely abandoned during the conflict. The club employed German prisoners of war from a nearby camp to clear the ground and prepare it once again for golf. Club secretary “Rawly” Rawlinson likened the task to the arduous building of the Burma Road during the Sino-Japanese War in 1937. The nickname stuck.
In the 1953 Ryder Cup, the U.S. won despite the absence of Ben Hogan, who did eventually make an appearance at Wentworth, teaming with Sam Snead to win the Canada Cup in 1956. Crowds flocked to the course to see the “Wee Ice Mon,” who had triumphed at Carnoustie three years earlier. He and Snead came from behind on the last day to beat out the formidable South African duo of Bobby Locke and Gary Player.
Largely because of its close proximity to London and Heathrow Airport, Wentworth became a regular venue for some of Europe’s most respected professional events, including the annual World Match Play. Today the West is as well known to British golf fans as any course in the world.
The layout forms a large loop that wanders off into the countryside, with the back nine beginning well away from the clubhouse. Few courses open with such a demanding hole, a 471-yard brute. A short par 3 with a punched-up green follows, and then it’s back to playing long ball at the 442-yard erd hole, which has a treacherous three-tiered green.
Colt’s greens are the hallmark of the course, and none is more heralded than the one at the relatively short, downhill 7th. Most players can reach the green with a short iron, but the two-level putting surface is notorious for the spectacle of tour pros routinely taking three and even four putts on it.
The West ends with a pair of par 5s. Turning left, the 17th is a difficult driving hole with a fairway sloping down to the right, making the second shot longer and more difficult. In contrast, the 502-yard 18th swings dramatically to the right.
Behind the home green stands the Gothic, castle-like clubhouse, the architectural equivalent of the British stiff upper lip. The club’s ambiance has often been compared with that of an upscale American country club. Inside, the clubhouse is luxuriously appointed, with private function and dining facilities. Its oak-paneled Burma Bar overlooks the 18th green of the East and a small lake.
Fifty feet beneath the clubhouse lies Wentworth’s most famous bunker, a top-secret underground complex built during World War II that would have housed the nation’s military operations had the government been forced to flee London during the blitzkrieg.