A visit to the East Course at Wentworth - Tales from the 19th
- Credit: Various
In this month’s visit to a top Surrey golf course, John Whitbread, of the Surrey Golf Partnership, reports on one of his favourites, the East Course at Wentworth
The mystery of the East is that it would be far more famous if it wasn’t where it is. If that sounds like a piece of bizarre convoluted logic, let me try to explain.
The hidden gem I refer to is the East Course at Wentworth, the oldest and yet least known of the three championship 18 holes at the esteemed Virginia Water club.
Over the years, thousands of fans have trudged from the car parks across its fairways hardly giving it a second glance as they made their way to watch the PGA and the World Matchplay on the West and the Senior Masters on the Edinburgh. A hidden gem For those of us who have been privileged to play designer Harry Colt’s original masterpiece, this public neglect provokes distinctly mixed feelings. Like someone who has discovered a marvellous restaurant, we cannot help telling everyone how good it is, while secretly hoping it won’t be swamped as the latest fad.
It was not always in the shadows, however, hosting the unofficial forerunner of the Ryder Cup matches in 1926. It was after the British beat the United States by a thumping 13.5 to 1.5 that a chance remark by seed merchant Samuel Ryder in the Wentworth bar led to one of sport’s most famous transatlantic contests.
Six years later, the East was the setting for the inaugural Curtis Cup match between the lady amateurs of America and a team representing the four Home Countries. America won that one 5.5-3.5.
So what made the East such a magnet for those early international stars?
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When Surrey developer Walter Tarrant bought the Wentworth estate from Ada Cabrera in 1920, he shared a desire with Colt (the architect who had designed his first gem at nearby St George’s Hill Weybridge) to build a club that would set the standard for years to come.
From the 1880’s to well into the 1930’s, Colt built or remodelled more than 100 courses in Europe and America including Sunningdale Old and Swinley Forest, as well as gaining a reputation that made him, even up to today, one of the most revered course designers in world golf.
The East is a perfect example of his craft, underlined by the fact that of the 18 holes he designed almost 90 years ago, 15 are still in play, with only a few minor alterations.
Matter of course
First things first. Well not quite, as the original first hole on the East was transferred to be the first on the West, going on to become, through many hours of television coverage, one of the most famous opening holes in world golf.
The first we now play cuts away at 90 degrees, halfway down what was the original fairway.
From there, you embark on a delightful sweeping journey through tree-hugged fairways and across strips of glorious gorse and heather (although not quite so glorious if you tangle with nature too often).
The second, like the fifth and the 14th, affords sweeping vistas from an elevated tee, tempting a big swish with the driver. Beware though, because – in addition to the gorse and heather – there are also strategically placed bunkers and hollows to catch out the intemperate.
The third, for example, at 325 yards long, should be a simple enough par four, and is, if you can carry a yawning gulf and a diagonal row of bunkers to give yourself a short second to the green.
Diagonal hazards appear to be a favourite feature on this course with a thickly gorsed ridge guarding the 229-yard seventh (just after the delights of the Half-way Refreshment Hut).
Then you have the 11th! Open and Masters champion Nick Faldo rates this 462-yard teaser as one of the best par fours in the world. Who are we mortals to argue?
Indeed, in a perverse way, the hardest hole on the course, and perhaps the entire 54 holes on the estate, remains a firm favourite, requiring a tee shot hit from left to right and a second shot hit from right to left, if you want to reach the green in two.
Thankfully, relief soon arrives, with the pretty short 12th, although accuracy is paramount here.
Then there’s the testing finish, starting with the challenging 458-yard 16th, where I once saw John Paramor, the European Tour’s chief referee, hit a mighty drive over the row of bunkers that stand like sentries across the fairway some 300 yards from the tee. One for the road It is followed by the demanding downhill par three 17th and finally the 18th where the more courteous motorists wait for you to try and drive over the road.
Your round concludes in the shadow of the imposing clubhouse on the slope above you. You are now within moments of enjoying the liquid refreshment you deserve. By then, unless you are not human, your sporting senses will already be sated to the full.
The East is one of three championship courses at Wentworth Club, the most famous of which is the West, which hosts the BMW PGA Championship annually. For more information about golfing memberships, contact Julia Walters on 01344 846337 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. To visit the club and stay and play, see the website: wentworthclub.com
The Surrey Golf Partnership comprises 111 clubs, which are also affiliated to the Surrey Golf Union and the Surrey Ladies Golf Union. For more details about getting involved, visit their website at surreygolfpartnership.com