VIRGINIA WATER, ENGLAND | Psst. PSST!
The man looked around. He was sure he had heard something, yet he saw no one. He looked down a fairway that flowed like an emerald river into the distance. Seeing the birch trees, the oaks, the elms, the ashes and the larches, he marvelled at how well-treed the whole of the Wentworth estate was. It’s an arboreal gem.
Then he heard it again. A voice that seemed to come from the flagstick he had just been looking at. Psst, it seemed to say. PSST! “Want to know a bit about Wentworth? It’s really famous, you know, an aristocrat among golf clubs and one that has seen good times and bad.”
Famous for staging the Ryder Cup in 1953, when Great Britain and Ireland nearly beat the visiting Americans. Famous for staging the Canada Cup, the forerunner of the World Cup, in 1956, when Ben Hogan and Sam Snead won it for the U.S. Famous for being the venue for the upscale World Match Play Championship, an event that set a very high bar in the matter of accommodating and looking after competitors.
The first year, 1964, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, the game’s Big Three, were among the eight competitors. Palmer beat Player, 8 and 6, on his way to defeating Neil Coles, 2 and 1, in the final. They were housed in the sybaritic surroundings of the Savoy Hotel in central London and driven in limousines as long as a par-5 to the golf course. Ernie Els won the event seven times and for a while owned a house on the adjoining estate.
Have there been as many owners at other clubs as at Wentworth? Five might not be enough; 10, more like. Its crenellated and ivy-clad clubhouse has stood the test of time even though the West Course has had more facelifts than Kim Kardashian.
Soon after the turn of the century, Wentworth was the scene of the row between the European Tour and a group of leading players who insisted on independent auditors being brought in to analyse the ET’s books. It was where the tense meetings took place that ended with the European Tour gaining much more involvement in the Ryder Cup at the expense of the PGA of Great Britain and Ireland. The PGA might have owned the event, but the ET, as it then was, had the players. The place where Seve Ballesteros used to make assignations with Carmen Botín, his then girlfriend and later his wife, when he was competing at Wentworth and she was at school in nearby Ascot.
All that and more. Wentworth, a golf club with a talking flagstick. What a place.