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.
Date: February 29, 2020