The West course at the Wentworth Club is the most famous of the Surrey heath and heather courses. The club is also the most televised in Britain, once hosting three professional tournaments every year (World Matchplay, PGA and the Seniors Masters), but now only the PGA Championship is staged annually at Wentworth. The West course was also the venue for the fiercely contested 1953 Ryder Cup, resulting in a single point American victory 6½ 5½.
It must have been an absolute delight for Harry Colt when he was asked to design the West course, which opened for play in 1926. After all, he was already familiar with this landscape, having designed the East Course (founded two years earlier).
The West is a relative youngster in the scheme of things. Many of Surrey’s famous sand-belt courses were established around the turn of the 19th century. Wentworth was also one of the first golf course developments to feature fairway-side houses, quite a number of which are owned by well-known celebrities. It’s a sort of up-market 1920s golf and country club complex.
Bernard Darwin refers to the West Course as the Tiger Course in his book, Golf Between Two Wars. He writes: “The course is intended to test that rampacious animal to the full. It is a little hard to assign the Wentworth country as a whole to any precise class. There is heather and there are trees and yet it is not quite of the same nature as its near neighbour, Sunningdale. It is set in park-like surroundings, and yet it is certainly not what is usually called a park course. It is a cross between the two, although the Tiger Course has about it least of the park and most of the heathery character”.
At the start of the Second World War, the Army requisitioned the clubhouse and labyrinths of underground bunkers were built. Deep below the famous clubhouse lies a secret wartime HQ. It was the Second World War that gave rise to the other name for the West Course – “Burma Road”. The course was allowed to grow wild because it was feared that enemy aircraft might land on the fairways. Towards the end of the war, German prisoners were brought in from a nearby internment camp to clear the course. One of the officers overseeing the clearance operation reputedly said: “Let this be their Burma Road”.
There are many memorable holes on the West course. The 2nd is a charming, exacting short 155-yard par three; a huge sentry oak stands between two bunkers guarding the right-hand side of the plateau green, the tee is level with the green, but the tee shot must carry across a valley to find the putting surface, don’t be short. Next, we come to the 3rd, a brutal, uprising 448-yard par four; avoid the bunkers on the right-hand side of the fairway, positioned 250 yards from the tee. Otherwise any chance of reaching the green in two has gone. A crisp accurate long iron or a fairway wood will reach the huge, 37-yard deep, three-tiered green that is protected by a bunker to the left and a bunker to the right; three-putting is commonplace. The 13th is yet another of the West’s long par fours (par five for the ladies). The hole sweeps around to the left, the green is invisible from the tee; the obvious line for the tee shot is down the right-hand side of the fairway, but here lies a cleverly located bunker. A good drive down the right of the fairway will leave a tough approach to a subtly contoured green that is protected by two bunkers to the left and two to the right. A par here will definitely feel as good as a birdie.
The last hole we'll mention is the famous bunkerless 17th. It’s a huge 566-yard par five that seemingly sweeps infinitely to the left – from the narrow tee there are tall trees on both sides, creating a tunnelling effect. A footpath dissects the hole some 200 yards away. The ball must be struck down the right-hand side of the fairway – anything left will be blocked out by trees or, worse still, out-of-bounds. Only the longest hitters should take the strategic line down the left side of the fairway, a solid 300-yard swish will make it to the corner of the dogleg. The approach shot is played blindly over a rise, aim for the large oak in the distance, but be aware that everything slopes onto the green and then everything seemingly slithers off again.
When you step onto the first tee of the West course, you will feel an overwhelming sense of familiarity. It is definitely a place most people would be more than happy to call home and play the monthly medal here for the rest of their lives. The holes weave their way through sprinklings of heather and across gently undulating terrain with mature trees lining each and every fairway. This is a truly classy golf course and it's a tough one too, especially after Ernie Els gave the West a new set of teeth. It now measures more than 7,300 yards from the tips and with many new bunkers and some new tiger tees, the Burma Road is now a serious 21st century challenge.
The West course closed to visitors for twelve months from 1st June 2009 for an extensive £6.5m renovation programme. Ernie Els was in charge of the changes which included 18 new USGA specification greens, new bunkers and a new canal-like stream, which protects the green on the famous closing hole. The new-look Burma Road received mainly positive comments from the pros at the 2010 BMW PGA Championship, but Paul Casey argued that the changes had stripped the West course of its character. Click here for the 2010 press release – “All Change On The West”.
The West came in for further criticism during the 2011 BMW PGA Championship. Ian Poulter joined forces with Paul Casey stating, “I don't like this golf course. Period. End of story.” Poulter went on to say, “Some of the fun of the last few holes has been taken away.” Wentworth’s former owner, Richard Caring, stated after the 2010 event that he had not quite got it right first time. Caring admitted, “the 18th was a dream I had, I wanted to give the spectators a bit of excitement, a bit of theatre. We might have gone slightly too far because it’s proven to be quite difficult.”
Ernie Els was against the changes to the 18th, and the green was lowered for the 2011 event with the depth of the putting surface extended to invite second shots. However, the 18th still proved to be too difficult for most pros and the vast majority opted to play the home hole as a three-shotter.
The 2011 PGA Championship took its toll on most of the field but the play-off was all set to be a thrilling affair featuring World No.1 Lee Westwood and World No.2 Luke Donald pitching their wits in a sudden death head-to-head on the 18th. Neither player opted to go for the green in two and both players had similar pitches into the green. Donald judged his pitch and spin to perfection but Westwood’s pitch spun off the green into the new canal. The play-off turned into a flop rather than a thriller. Donald not only claimed the PGA Championship title but also knocked Westwood off the World Number One spot in the process.
The West course closed immediately after the 2016 PGA Championship for yet another major redevelopment. Ernie Els Design, in conjunction with European Golf Design, were commissioned to handle the renovations, which includes the redesign of five greens, the installation of sub-air systems on every green (the first of its kind in England) and a reduction in the number of bunkers. The project completed prior to the 2017 PGA Championship.
Despite numerous multi-million pound renovations over the last decade, the West course has continually fallen from favour in the golf course rankings. Will the latest iteration arrest the decline? The rise and fall of the troubled Burma Road
I've played the West a number of times over the years, but not since the recent changes. It's a tough cookie this course, unless you're a low single digit player, don't even try to play from the back tees. Pick your set of tees as this course plays long, especially when soggy.
I have both topped and shanked a tee shot on the first to great delight of Sean, the starter. Sean is a wonderful guy. Oh, I've also hooked a tee shot onto the first tee of the East. Always shout Fore.
Anyway, I find that the course is a brute, it's too difficult for my liking. Once you hit the last 4 holes, I feel like I've been beaten over the head one too many times. I best enjoy the stretch of holes 4-8 leading to the halfway hut just before the 9th. The greens are fantastic and with the new sub-air system should play wonderfully all year round.
Before the renovations, I found the green complexes and the bunkers too tricked up. They sometimes really knock the stuffing out of you (16th green for example, or the 8th).
Given it's a private club, it's best to go with a member or get invited. I think there are some tee times but they run into the hundreds of pounds. For me, it's not worth it. I prefer the East, as it's more playable but overall if you have a limited time and budget, I think there are better places to play in the area.
Reviewing and rating the West course based on playing it prior to the most recent changes is unfair and inappropriate. Apart from being tough, which it still is, your criticism of the greens and bunkers is outdated as they have been redone. I don't understand why you reviewed the course now and not after you've replayed the revised course.
Fair point but I made it clear that this review is for the course before the recent revisions. And since the course is still mostly the same, I think it's fine to review the course based on what I saw on numerous previous rounds. Courses change over the years but reviews can only take a snapshot of each course in time. As long as the reviewer specifies it, I think it's fair.
I dont understand people who rate a course that is no comparison to the course before it has had monumental changes. It also sounds like the course beat you up and its too tough for you so you paid it back by slating its rating. I really dont get it.
I for one do not understand why it would such a big deal. I saw this remark on other topics as well and I think it's unnecessary to discourage anyone to write a review which - apart from this dispute - in my opinion is well informed and pleasant to read. Hendrik disclaims his standing where necessary and on the contrary, I think his specific remarks about certain greens can be of value when assessing the success of renovations. As this website is a platform for golf and golfcourse architecture enthusiasts, there will be many readers interested in the history of a course and the changes it has undergone. Don't forget there are also readers who have not and will never be able to play the course as it was before the renovations. Together with the reviews of more recently played rounds, one can track changes and developments and form an own opinion. Lastly, when you dislike a course and it is renovated, wouldn't you take your initial review into account when considering to replay it after these renovations?
Steve - “It also sounds like the course beat you up” is usually a cheap shot dished out when a reviewer’s opinion doesn’t match that held by person making the comment.
You don’t have to be an elite golfer to understand quality architecture & difficulty alone certainly doesn’t make a course good - as Alister Mackenzie alluded to in his 13 principles:
“ Courses should be so arranged that the long handicap player, or even the absolute beginner, should be able to enjoy his round“.
Perhaps Wentworth simply fails in this regard?
Maarten, this isn't a site that rates a course from bygone times, it is site that allows you to tell people what your opinion of the course was that you played so that people can go and compare. Its like going to a Hotel 20 years ago, that has been refurbished, changed owners and is nothing like it is today and rating it on something that's not relevant today. BB, yes the course beat me up on a lot of holes but boy did i enjoy it. It wasn't a cheap shot, it was an opinion on what he wrote and i don't get his rationale of rating a course from so long ago, that bears no relevance to today's course, in the slightest as far as ratings go. I still read his post and think there is some annoyance because it wasn't an easy ride, just what i got from his words and reason to slate a course that has now been changed so radically.
I have been fortunate to have played the West course at Wentworth numerous times. I played the Harry Colt design many times but only once following most of the alterations made by Ernie Els. Full disclosure: I have played golf and been with Mr. Els numerous times and helped to start his annual golf charity event for his autism foundation in Jupiter, but I hope this review does not show any bias. The West course is a nice mixture of challenge, strategy and fairness. I like that it is a relatively easy walk around the course although there are a few hills to climb. It can be very unforgiving if you leave the fairway or attempt a heroic recovery shot but can’t execute it: which is as it should be.
The bunkers are large and deep much like at Augusta National. Most of the greens are the appropriate size and are well conditioned and undulated. All of the greens look and feel very different.
The championship tees are over 7300 yards with the white tees at nearly 7000, the yellow tees at 6731. It is only when one is playing the red tees at 6085 that the average player gets a bit of a break. In the corporate outings we always played the red tees. In playing with members or as a visitor, I have never gone beyond the yellow tees, although sometimes we played a mixture of whatever tees we wanted between the white and red.
I like the routing which basically goes out and back clockwise in an elongated circle. Trees define most of the playing corridors and it is rare that one sees much open space. The course is long and some of the elevation changes can make a few long holes play even longer. It is a very good course for professional tournaments although some dislike the changes made by Mr. Els, particularly to the eighteenth green complex, some of the “new” undulations in the greens and the shape of the bunkers. Yet the routing, many of the greenside bunker placement and greens designed by Harry Colt are very much still evident. I do think that if Mr. Colt was designing courses today, he would have approved of the modifications. It is a true test of golf and one I tell my American friends they should not pass up in an attempt to play the more highly rated courses near London. I always tell them to add a day and stop here. Yes, it is expensive but I think very much worth it to play it at least once.
As for the changes, I am in favor of them as it provides a better test for the professionals and better players. This is a course that was once used in two very important tournaments on an annual basis. It is a shame the World Matchplay ended due to competing events. The BMW is perhaps the most important event on the European tour alongside the season ending event in Dubai. Additionally, for even the better amateurs the course had gotten a little too easy. The additional length, the changes to the contours on the greens, and a few additional bunkers were necessary. This is not a course built for every day play by double-digit handicappers and that is okay. As to the most controversial change which is the change to the eighteenth green, quite frankly for me while the look is very different versus the rough stream that used to snake in front the green, it has always been a three shot hole for me on most days and I like the risk:reward decision the pros have to make. The current iteration of the eighteenth is fine. Whether there is a widened manicured stream or a small pond set hard against the green, either one required a deftly judged pitch onto the green.
I have played numerous courses in the British Isles that have hosted European Tour or Ryder Cup events. Putting aside the courses hosting the Open, I always think it to be a bit of fun to play courses that the Tour plays, although obviously I do not play in their course conditions nor their length. Still, it is fun to see how one’s game stacks up to the pros and the West course is the best inland course in the British Isles to do that.
The West course has slipped a bit down the ranking lists. I have several hypotheses for that. Visitors do not like to pay the green fee; whether hosted or not it is an expensive place. Secondly, currently many favor the traditional “classic” courses where the primary defense is often the weather condition as many of these courses have wider fairways, less complexity on the green, and fewer bunkers. Thirdly, the chance of recovery through playability is a factor that favors other courses – difficult courses that can be overly punitive are not currently admired. Finally, a course such as the West is not viewed as natural anymore while minimalism and naturalism have become very important with dunes, humps, and bumps more highly appreciated.
But if one wants a golf course where one has to make more strategic decisions and shot values are still important (a rating criteria for Golf Digest USA), then Wentworth West should be viewed more favorably than it currently is. When I look at the various rating lists and the courses ranked above it, I think the major UK magazines have it wrong and only the top100courses has it right. While I see three-five courses I would place lower than Wentworth West, I also see 3-5 I might place higher. As for the magazines, I do not pretend to know how they came to their conclusions.
On every hole at Wentworth West making a par is a well-earned score. There are not many easy holes on the West course for the average player.
The first hole is a really good long par 4 for the pros and the addition of the flanking bunkers on the fairway before the valley is a good move as it provides defense and definition. Even now the bigger hitters can see their ball land down the valley although the better shot is to stay on the level fairway before the dip. As a short par 5 for the average player, it is meant to be a gentle tee shot and then it gets more interesting. For either the pro or average player, there is immediately a decision to be made. Teeing off here is a joy, with the castle-looking clubhouse being you.
The same decision making applies to the mid-length uphill par 3 second hole where one has to decide whether to shot for the middle of the green or go at the flag on this thin green. The bunkers are much closer to the green than when I first played the hole and again that is a necessary change. Come up short with the tee shot and one is either in a bunker or likely down towards the valley. If one was not awake after playing the first hole, one should be awake now.
The long uphill third hole is very difficult and for the average player, a bogey is a good score. It is listed as 465 yards but plays closer to 480-490. The bunkering on the hole is very good as there are 3 bunkers down the right side to catch the longer hitters and one on the left for the longest hitters trying to avoid those right-hand bunkers. Two large and deep bunkers front the multi-tiered green. Is this hole too difficult? Perhaps, but it is fair.
The first par 5 is the fourth, a long par 5 as it plays uphill over a knob and down to the left. Go over the rise and one can pick up some additional yardage. This is another hole requiring strategy off the tee for the better player perhaps trying to reach the green in two shots while the average player needs to decided how much land they want to take on for their first and second shots. It has another good green complex.
A long par 3 comes next playing slightly longer as it is uphill to a green with a false front surrounded by four bunkers. Perhaps there is one too many bunkers here given the undulations in the green.
The sixth hole is a mid-length par 4 but plays uphill again. It plays much longer for the pros. It requires a straight tee shot. For the shorter hitter, the fairway bunkers are not in play. This has one of my favorite green complexes on the course as the green sits above you and is fronted by bunkers with a second on the left side that is hidden. Whether one is hitting their second or their third at this green, it requires careful calculation as to the length and placement.
I like the seventh which begins my favorite part of the golf course, a mid-length par 4 bending slightly to the right over a hill. The longer hitters have to avoid a ditch around 285 yards out. The green is raised with a steep two-tiered green and two deep bunkers on the right. This hole takes perfect advantage of the terrain and I can imagine Mr. Colt’s excitement as he laid out this hole.
My favorite hole used to be the eight, a mid-length par 4 that had a pond fronting it. The pond has been lengthened unnecessarily so and the hole now looks a little too “finished” whereas before it looked very unkept and natural. The large bunker at the back right is perhaps a bit too large. However, I still like the challenge posed by the approach shot to a green angled slightly away from you. Getting close to a back-pin location is a daunting challenge and one I have never quite pulled off. One has to find the fairway on this hole as this is one of those holes that if one tries to get too heroic they can run up a big number.
My favorite hole is the uphill ninth over the heather with a series of fairway bunkers that do not really come into play for me. The hole is 450 yards from the back tees but plays even longer. There are two fronting bunkers and a ditch on the right. There is out-of-bounds down the left. I like how the green sits amongst the trees. It is perhaps an overly difficult hole for the average player but is a hole that tells a player how good their game really is. Making a par here feels like one won a prize.
The elevated tee on the tenth plays to another angled green with two fronting bunkers and a steep slope down the right to the trees. While it appears the safe play on this longer par 3 is to go long over the green, one is then faced with a lie in rough to a green going away from you. The extension to the right back side of the green has improved the golf hole although a pin located there is quite difficult.
My second favorite hole on the course is the mid-length par 4 eleventh hole. From an elevated tee you play slightly down and then turn left to a green on a hill where you can only see the flagstick. Two large bunkers are on the corner and one on the right demanding a straight tee shot. There is a large bunker either side of the green. It is another hole where a par is a real accomplishment. From the seventh to the eleventh is a very good stretch of golf.
The mid-length par 5 dogleg left is next and has one of my pet peeves with trees going across before the start of the fairway. There is a ditch crossing the fairway short of the green that is an issue for the shorter hitters. I do not like this hole.
The long and difficult thirteenth is next. It is another dogleg left with bunkers on either side of the turn on a hogsback fairway. Trees pinch in from the left. There is another ditch running across the fairway with four bunkers fronting the green. This is another hole where par is a good score. I do not find this hole to be visually interesting.
The last par 3 I think is the most difficult and as uphill 180 yard hole playing much longer with three bunkers left and one right. Anything hit short of the green will find a bunker or roll far back down the slope. Hitting over the green means one has to hit a soft chip back that hopefully does not roll down off the green. It is my favorite par 3 on the course as it requires an excellent tee shot or recovery shot.
The fifteenth is the longest par 4 on the course, although as a flat hole perhaps it does not play as long as some other long par 4’s. You play over heather. The trees come to the edge of the fairway on the right side. The green is situated off to the right. There is another ditch crossing the fairway diagonally. Large, deep bunkers await at the green which has slopes that are have more break than they look.
The last par 4 is a shorter hole at 383 yards and bends to the left. Bunkers are on either side of the fairway and deep, large bunkers at the slightly raised green. I like the hole.
Seventeen is an odd par 5 that has a near 90 degree turn to the left. This is a long par 5 that requires a straight tee shot as there is out-of-bounds left with the trees almost hanging over the fairway while the fairway slopes to the right leaving a shot hit down the right at risk of going into the rough. The fairway is sloped to the right all the way to the hole. Thankfully, I think the green is one of the easier ones to read as its banks sharply left to right.
Eighteen is a sharp dogleg right and a shorter par 5 with trees tight against the right side of the fairway. For the average player the line is at the fairway bunkers on the left side. Much like seventeen, once on the green I think it is one of the easier ones to read. I do not particularly care for the final two holes due to the sharpness of the turns.
As stated, I like the West course and am in favor of the changes made. On nearly every hole, the average player who makes a par should be delighted. For the longer/better player, the changes have improved the strategy and challenges of the course. Anyone playing a stableford match and scoring above 30 has had a good day of golf on a challenging, yet a fair course. Mr. Colt’s routing took prime advantage of the rolling terrain for both tee and green sites. It is a perfect course for one of the premier events on the European Tour.
Very good balanced review and i agree with most you have written. I haven't played it since its most recent changes but have been to watch tournament's. I have been to or played many of the courses in the top 100 but i am still a way off comparing it to many more but all i can say is, Wentworth West is the toughest, fairest, greatest experience i have ever had playing golf by some distance. It is the hardest course i have ever played and i can only say the changes have made it look harder. I thought it was a masterpiece before the changes and i personally think its our Augusta. I plan to go back to play it in its new guise and i am blown away by all that is Wentworth. It is an amazing place and somewhere that nowhere i have played has matched as an experience. I gave it 6 balls in my review, so when i go back, i might want to give it more. It for me is golfing heaven but im sure there are better courses. The experience i had playing it, i doubt will ever be beaten, if it is im in heaven, i love the whole place, its great.
I felt I should write a review as there have been none since the club went private and the west course was redesigned following harsh criticism of the old design. This is now relatively old news as two BMWs have been played since. As can be researched from many points of feedback from PGA tour pros the new course has met with unanimous high enthusiasm. I have played with many on it both low handicappers and mid and without fail it is perceived as the best there is - taken on its own terms. What I mean is this. Do not compare to Sunningdale as it is a different product. I adore Sunningdale and I adore this but they are totally different so comparisons are odious - but make no mistake Wentworth has many things Sunningdale nor indeed perhaps any other course on these shores has (and before you shout from the roof tops... vice versa with Sunningdale). What are some aspects of the Wentworth West experience: the greens:- you may argue - well my greens are fast enough and true enough. All I would say is reserve judgement until you play them. It is likely a different experience to anything you have ever experienced, and it is not just the act of putting itself. It is the aesthetic quality of the contours of the greens combined with the flawless creeping bent grass and the beautiful surrounds that makes standing on the greens and taking it all in such an experience. I regularly hear best greens in country/ever played. The course is stunning and the redesign has enhanced the aesthetic brilliance moreso that even the original but not over the top and lots of subtle cambers etc which delight the eye. There are so many places on the course that just look amazing. It has 18 great and varied holes, which challenge you from first to last. Whilst it has been taken back more to the old Harry Colt design it needs to defend itself against the best in the game - which the original course did not (any more) and it is very technical around the greens mostly due to the thick grass, speed of greens and bunkers. I would imagine the play around the greens in more US PGA style, rather than links (heathland) style, and though I am no expert I think this is how it needed to play in order to be challenging for championship play. The technical challenge it presents will tax you to the full but is an absolute joy to take on and you get to play shots perhaps you would not be able to play many places.... ie have to chip on to a 2 foot patch of green only to see the ball roll Augusta style all the way down to the hole. Add to this the peace of the round, the relaxation of the half way hut, and the impeccable course condition which is result of the new structure, and every time you play there it doesn't feel like just another round... it feels like a very special occasion. A word or two about the new club structure. The work and the investment by the new owners is nothing short of outstanding. Beyond the West, the Clubhouse is wonderful 5 star environment and an absolute joy to relax in, and contributes to a highly relaxing and enjoyable day.
I returned to Wentworth last month and played the West course for the first time since the renovations. Clearly the West divides opinion with Colt purists furious about the changes, while other more open-minded golfers are delighted to try and tame a 21st century course that is an incredibly challenging test. For me (an out of practice mid handicapper), the West course was way too hard and I found it brutally tough, even from the yellow tees. I doff my cap to those professionals who make this course look easy.
I think, if my memory serves me well, that the heather is rather in decline and indeed the course is becoming even more parkland in nature, but the turf was dry and springy despite overnight torrential rain and the greens were true and fast.
Put me down as an admirer of the changes. I think the water feature, which has been significantly extended on the 8th hole, is simply stunning and the water in front of the 18th green has created a thought-provoking home hole.
Judging by some of the comments printed in reviews and responses on this website and recalling comments made by some of the Tour pros I was expecting a monstrosity. What I found was an improved West course that is still very much the West I fondly remembered but possessing even more features that are simply unforgettable.
If you want to play the most famous course in the country then you will have to dig deeply into your pocket, but it would appear that most golfers don’t pay the full green fee and some play here for free, in which case there is nothing whatsoever to moan about.
What really amazed me about the Wentworth property was the overwhelming parkland nature of the three courses, especially if you consider that Sunningdale, with its revered heathland fairways, lies immediately to the south west. If parkland golf is your thing, then the West course is probably the finest example of that golfing genre in the whole of England.
It’s a BIG track – 6716 yards off the regular yellow tees – so if you don’t hit a long ball, don’t expect to be scoring 30+ Stableford points. On the other hand, if you’re a professional, you’ll love it around here – why else would this place have held so many big money tournaments if it wasn’t geared up to challenge the men who make a living out of the game?
Bunkers apart, which were compacted with hard sand after recent heavy rain, the conditioning of the course was simply superb (no surprise, considering the BMW PGA had just finished the week before).
The recent high profile facelift to renovate much of Colt’s work may well extend the life of the course as a major tournament venue but I can understand why many will question (a) the price paid in millions of pounds, and (b) a perceived loss of architectural integrity.
Overall, Wentworth’s a brilliant golf experience, especially if you’re given the chance to indulge in an overnight stay. The West is certainly the talisman track at Wentworth but if I was a member here, I’d be inclined to play the East more often than either the Edinburgh or the West.