Wentworth (East)

Wentworth (East)

Turning into the Wentworth Estate is one of golf’s quintessential experiences. Central London, not 20 miles away, is instantly forgotten in a sweep of giant pines. Some of England’s most exclusive properties can be glimpsed to the left and right, as can the occasional swathe of a lush, green fairway. This is Virginia Waters, home to the great and the good – and the world-famous West Course, venue for the World Matchplay and the BMW PGA Championship.

Of all our great championship courses, this is the one British golf fans undoubtedly know the best. While The Open only comes to the Old Course at five-year intervals, the West is beamed into our living rooms every September.

But the Burma Road, as it is also known, is not the only layout of the highest quality in this exceptional estate.

Indeed, depending on who you ask, it might not even be the best course this side of Sunningdale, a couple of miles further down the A30 on Surrey’s glorious heathland belt.

What is certain is that it isn’t the oldest. That distinction belongs to the East Course, at 80 years old some three years the West’s senior.

In its early days –1926 to be precise – an informal match between British and American professionals took place there. It became the Ryder Cup. Six years later the inaugural Curtis Cup came to Wentworth. That too was played on the East.

Harry Colt designed both courses and if the West has gone on to become the preferred Championship venue, the East remains the preferred choice of many of the members, not to mention former professional and Ryder Cup captain Bernard Gallacher, who still lives at Wentworth.

“I can understand why a lot of people prefer the East,” he said. “It’s shorter, a bit easier and just a really enjoyable course."

So do not make the all-too-easy mistake of assuming the East is a junior partner, a warm-up, the place where novices play while the experts are tackling the West. At over half a mile shorter, it’s an impression that, at first glance, is understandable.

But a look at the respective pars shows why such an opinion is misconceived. While the West plays to 73, the East is only 68, and contains just a solitary par five. Such a discrepancy is surely worth at least 600 yards in terms of length.

In fact, there are probably fewer out-and-out birdie opportunities on the East, with only the modest, downhill 14th describable as easy.
The East is altogether more inviting. It’s also more heathland than the West in nature, the rich turf a dream to hit iron shots from.

Elsewhere, six of its par fours measure in excess of 400 yards – four by a distance – while the memorable quintet of short holes ensure there is no sense of monotony.

The 7th measures some 226 yards and traverses a turf bank that runs diagonally down the length of the hole.

The 17th is also over 200 yards but the green is set way below the level of the tee and the greatest challenge lies not in covering the distance but in controlling the landing to avoid bounding through the back.

To complete the variety, the 12th is just 159 yards and finding the unusually contoured green involves avoiding the six bunkers that surround it.

While the West intimidates, the huge trees creating avenues to thread your ball through, the East is altogether more inviting.

It’s also more heathland in nature, the rich turf a dream to hit iron shots from, and the surroundings often more floral than arboreal. A mixture of holly and rhododendrons provide a glorious backing to many holes.

With some decidedly marked changes in elevation and a routing that roughly wends a circular path, it is one of those rare courses that constantly surprises, a new vista always opening out in front of you.

Take the view at the 2nd. Originally, what is now the opener at the West was the East’s 1st hole, and from there a par four travelled gently uphill to the current 1st green. Move on to the next tee and the fairway is unfurled beneath you, the drive played into an inviting valley before the raised green is to be confronted.

This is the first of a selection of wonderful two-shotters. As you might reasonably expect from a course of this quality that has 12 of them – six on each half – the variety is immense. Some are short, but, with exception of the curiously under-protected 14th, all have their strengths.

At the third, the fairway is across a small ravine and littered with bunkers. Find it and the approach is no more than an inviting pitch to a large, flat green. Miscue and you can quickly run up a six.

A simple drive into the bowl at the botttom of the 5th leaves just a short iron – but it needs to be a good one. The incredibly wide, shallow green stands on top of a ridge. All that can be seen is the top of the flag – which always makes judging distances difficult – and with bunkers short and long, weighing up the strength is a ticklish proposition.

Holes like these contrast delightfully with the longer par fours.

At the 462-yard 11th, understandably rated the hardest hole on the course, you drive out of a basin to a plateau fairway that turns from left to right. From there it’s probably everything you’ve got to reach the distant green, travelling uphill all the way.

Then at the 13th, only an approach of real authority will be good enough to carry all the way to the elevated green that is somewhat inevitably protected by front bunkers that catch the almost-perfect.

Three yards shorter than the 11th is the 16th that vies for the dubious honour of hardest hole. Here, a bunker slap in the middle of the fairway at what looks like driving distance is most off-putting. So too is the expanse of heather that must be carried to reach the short grass in the first place. In fact, the sand is further away than it looks – the bad news is that so too is the fairway.

On a course where many of the holes occupy their own private kingdom, it comes as a surprise to reach the 18th tee and survey the broad parkland in front. The hole itself, though, is deceptively tight and four here is always a score to cherish.

Back up at the famous clubhouse, all that can be seen is the West Course. That’s the way the East seems to like it – it doesn’t crave attention like its younger sibling.

So if you ever get the opportunity to play at Wentworth, by all means take on the West. Just don’t ignore the subtler charms of the course that no-one talks about.