The BMW PGA Championship is being held on Wentworth’s worst course. The West Course isn’t a patch on the East, the first course Harry Colt laid out on the Wentworth Estate. The West comes third to the Edinburgh Course, too.
Yet you won’t get that impression this week.
You’ll hear lots of guff about how great Wentworth’s West Course is. The European Tour has tweeted photos of every hole in its promotion of what is commonly known as the European Tour’s flagship event. Sky Sports presenters will wax lyrical about the challenges of the course.
It is challenging, long and tough, but it isn’t a patch on the East, Wentworth’s wee hidden gem.
How many golfers over the years have watched the PGA Championship or World Match Play Championship and put the West Course on their bucket list? Too many. Most are so enthralled with following in the footsteps of the stars as they walk down the first fairway they’re oblivious to the fact the first tee of the best course on the property lies just to their left.
Arguably no course in the British Isles has had more exposure than Wentworth’s West Course. It’s an okay golf course, just not a great one. Architect Tom Doak got it spot on when he said the following about the West Course in his seminal book, The Confidential Guide:
“It is not my favourite of the heathland courses. … It has become vastly overrated from overexposure. … The Burma Road is comparable to Medinah No 3 and Butler National as a tough course that would benefit from finishing school.”
Doak, like many aficionados, favoured the East.
“Wentworth’s East Course, which hardly anyone ever looks at anymore, is by contrast a much more charming and less brutal course on which mortals can enjoy the game again.”
Whether old Harry would actually recognise the West course were he to suddenly reincarnate this week is a moot point.
Some might venture to say Wentworth’s West is so far removed from Colt’s original intention it’s no longer worthy of the Colt tag. You can bet long-standing Wentworth members, those left following the cull a few years ago, would bristle at the very idea of removing old Harry’s name from the architectural list.
Wentworth’s West Course has had so many facelifts since Colt’s day it arguably bears no resemblance to what he laid out in 1924. Ernie Els, who has a house just off Wentworth’s 16th fairway, has had a hand in changing the West, not once, not twice, but three times. Many claim Els went too far in toughening up the West in 2006 after former owner Richard Caring bought the place and asked Els to give the West a bit more bite.
The West turned into a monster with cavernous bunkers and some greens that seemed almost impossible to hit. Thomas Bjorn had a serious head to head discussion with Els on the practice range of the BMW PGA Championship after the changes. The 2018 Ryder Cup captain once had a house on the estate, and didn’t mince his words in telling Els how he felt. Now there’s a heavyweight contest many would have bought box office tickets to watch.
Further changes were made in 2009. Yet notable names such as Ian Poulter and Paul Casey were still scathing about the course. More changes were made in 2016 after Chinese conglomerate Reignwood Group bought Wentworth from Caring for £135 million. Bjorn and fellow Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley had a hand in trying to take the course back to what Colt had originally intended. Whether Colt would approve is obviously impossible to know.
Of course, the West is the tournament venue because it has the length to challenge today's top players. It also has the space for all the paraphernalia needed to stage a modern golf tournament.
Thankfully, the East has largely remained untouched since Colt laid it out. While the West is a slog for mere mortals, the East is a delight for normal golfers who can’t blast drives 300 yards plus.
From the moment you stand on the high, second tee and stare down at the fairway flowing away from you, you know you’re in a for a great experience. The diagonal, cross fairway bunkers at the short par-4 third are pure Colt, an enticement to play safe or go for broke. The course winds through the estate offering a mixture of interesting design features, from bowl-like greens (the par-4, 5th), driveable par 4s (3rd and 14th), fiendish par 4s like the uphill 11th that wouldn’t look out of place on the West, short and long par 3s, holes played uphill and downhill, interesting green complexes and even a bunker in the middle of the 16th fairway, you get a sense that Old Harry put every ounce of his nous into the East. The West seems like a mere after thought by comparison.
Unfortunately, Wentworth’s uber exclusive policy means the club is now off limits to all but rich members and their guests. Take it from me, though, if you can beg, steal or borrow a round on the East then go for it. You’ll get a chance to experience pure Harry Colt at his best.
#JustSaying: “Too much stress cannot be laid upon the necessity of seeing and using the natural features present on each course to the fullest possible extent.” Harry Colt