There is a certain sense of familiarity about wandering down the tree-lined fairways of the West Course at Wentworth. It may not be the oldest or most historic layout in Britain but when it comes to public recognition it is second only to the Old Course at St Andrews. As the long-time host of the BMW PGA Championship and previously the World Matchplay, this is a venue thousands have come to know intimately without ever having stepped across its perfectly manicured lawns.
The sight of Wentworth in both spring and autumn is a quintessential element of the British golf season. Like Augusta, many of the holes are as familiar to us as those on our home course.
Gary Wolstenholme, the five-time Walker Cupper and double Amateur champion, says that’s not the only thing Wentworth and Augusta have in common.
“I’d certainly say Wentworth was as close an equivalent to Augusta as there is in Britain,” he said.
“It presents similar problems. When the greens are prepared for a tournament they are very slick – not as fast as Augusta’s, but still very fast.
“Both courses are much hillier than they appear on TV, with some real changes in elevation.
“But the real difficulty lies in judging the wind. It’s very difficult to determine at both courses and that’s because you’ve got exactly the same problem of tall trees concealing its strength and direction.
“Often it’s not until the ball is at the top of its flight that you realise how it will affect the shot,” he said.
For most amateurs – excluding the elite likes of Wolstenholme in his non-professional days – it’s far from the only complicating factor.
Because it’s such a common sight to see the likes of Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm breeze round in the mid-60s, it can be overlooked just how long and difficult it is.
While top players might make the par fives look like eagles waiting to happen, the truth is they’re far from easy, particularly the 17th.
At many of the par fours it’s a real achievement to find the green in regulation and of the short holes, only at the 10th can the bottom of the flag be seen from the tee, due to some subtle, and not so subtle, changes in elevation.
These factors are especially true on the back nine, where unless you’re hitting consistently long and solid shots it’s going to seem a long way back to the distinctive, castellated clubhouse.
But then on a course which has enjoyed a close association with tournament golf since it was designed in the 1920s, that’s probably not altogether surprising.
Wentworth is closer, perhaps, to an exclusive American country club than a traditional English gentlemen’s club.
Nowadays, the estate is home to the European Tour, and it was here in 1926 that golf’s most famous seed merchant, Samuel Ryder, derived his idea for what would become the Ryder Cup.
Following a friendly match between leading British and American professionals, Ryder said: “We should do this again.” And he was true to his word.
Accordingly, the matches came back to Wentworth in 1953, with the abiding memory being BBC commentator Peter Alliss fluffing his chip at the last on his way to a double-bogey as GB&I went down by a single point.
The Curtis Cup, the women’s amateur equivalent, also began here and Wentworth is part of an elite group, along with Ganton, Muirfield, Birkdale, Lindrick and Lytham, to have hosted both.
Despite this glorious heritage, the West is not even the oldest course on an estate that holds around 400 of England’s most expensive houses. Harry Colt designed the shorter and less austere East Course in 1924, only returning to add the West three years later.
Yet it is the Burma Road – so named due to its relentless difficulty – that is linked so strongly with tournament play.
And when the likes of Willett and Westwood are not strolling round here, expect to see stars from the world of celebrity, be it Ben Stokes, Niall Horan or Pep Guardiola, or even members of the aristocracy, tackling the course.
That’s the kind of place Wentworth is – closer, perhaps, to an exclusive American country club than a traditional English gentlemen’s club, such as the likes of Sunningdale and St George’s Hill just down the road.
Unlike many courses in this area, it is designed to test professionals as much as provide a playground for its estimable members. That should be apparent as early as the 1st, a par five except in tournaments, which it’s hard to believe can be brought to its knees by a mere drive and a short iron, as the pros often do.
The key to performing such a feat is to find the downslope with the tee shot – the difficulty being it’s the best part of 300 yards away. Playing across the valley with a long iron or wood as most are required to is an intimidating shot and five is generally a worthy score.
The short and pretty 2nd is one of few holes to owe more to craft than strength, with the 465-yard 3rd a more reliable indication of the West’s true character.
Rising steadily uphill throughout, it’s a hole summed up by the three-tier green almost 40 yards deep. Reaching the back level can sometimes seem impossible.
While the downhill, snaking 4th does present one of few birdie chances, the exclusive properties that border both sides of the fairway are out of bounds in more than one sense and come into play if an aggressive drive or second backfires.
With the hole being semi-blind, being committed to the shot is the hardest aspect at the short 5th, where a clump of bushes in front of the tee tend to obscure a clear view of the flag.
The 7th and 8th are two of the lesser known but most attractive holes. The former runs first downhill then back up to an evil, two-tiered green, where the rear is set a good three feet above the front and club selection is complicated by the angle at which it lies across the shot.
The 8th features a large pond short and left of the green which does little to make this medium-length par four harder but adds much to its appearance.
Running parallel to the railway line that connects Brighton with the capital, the front nine ends with a hole that will be out of reach in two to most amateurs. It’s the ideal time to warm up your fairway wood play, however, because you’ll be reaching for the same club several times on an inward half featuring three par fives and stretching to over 3,680 yards from the tips.
The par-five 12th marks the start of this run, with a couple of imposing trees to be flown with the drive. Running markedly uphill and turning progressively to the left, the 13th green is a destination at which slicers may fear they’ll never arrive. That’s followed by a par three that plays much longer than its yardage with the tee set way below the target.
Then comes one of the hardest par 5s in golf, the 17th. Devoid of bunkers, it rolls to the left at driving distance against the camber of the fairway, which rejects balls to the right.
Immediately left of the fairway is out of bounds, meaning that finding the fairway with a driver involves either a meaty draw or flirting with disaster by firing tight down the left side.
While this is a par five that favours the hooker, so the 18th is made for a fader. Some 40 yards shorter, it’s a much less demanding hole than its immediate predecessor, but the constant recent changes have made it a grandstand finishing hole nonetheless. Whether these changes have been for better or worse is another matter entirely.
What is for sure however is that the West at Wentworth is not just a top class tournament venue. The course’s history is easily matched with its quality and difficulty.