BMW PGA Championship: Bruce Critchley looks back at the history of Wentworth Golf Club
Last Updated: 21/05/14 12:59pm
Crowds outside the clubhouse at the 1953 Ryder Cup at Wentworth
To most Wentworth is the great inland championship golf course where all events of any consequence around London have been played as long as anyone can remember.
The Ryder Cup of 1953 was played here, so to the Canada Cup of 1956 - the only glimpse those of us in the South ever had of Ben Hogan and Sam Snead in competition - and then for the best part of 30 years, the World Match Play Championship each autumn.
Growing up and living alongside the courses at Wentworth was a dream for a young golfer. Tom Halliburton - Bernard Gallacher's predecessor and his mentor in so many ways - was a wonderful and wise teacher of the game.
Wentworth was also more than a golf course; with a swimming pool, tennis courts and squash courts, balls in the winter and barbecues in the summer, it was as near to an American Country Club as existed in this country.
But Wentworth also has its own history. It was one of the first golf and residential developments - where the golf course would be the shop window for selling houses - that became commonplace in the USA, but would not really catch on in the UK until the great course construction boom near the end of the 20th century.
George Tarrant was a builder of fine, substantial houses in the south-east. In 1910 he acquired a piece of hilly ground near Weybridge in Surrey and built St Georges Hill; Harry Colt designing the course. So successful was Tarrant that, within 10 years, when he came across the Wentworth Estate, he bought that too.
Wentworth was twice the size of St Georges Hill, so Tarrant had Colt design two courses, so giving him the chance to build even more grand homes. Not content with that - and with the railway line running nearby - he built the village of Virginia Water and got trains from London to stop there. Then came the Great Depression of the 1930s and an overstretched Tarrant went bust, his development at Wentworth going with him.
Bruce Critchley with the Ryder Cup - won by the Americans at Wentworth in 1953
During the war, just by the clubhouse and running under the estate road, underground tunnels were constructed that were to be the bolt hole for General Eisenhower's Imperial General Staff in the event of a German invasion; so vast a construction that the other end was supposed to come out by the 3rd tee of the East Course!
Post war the homes remained in private hands, the rest passing onto the balance sheets of various corporations. Then, with petrol rationing and money short the likes of Wentworth, and indeed Sunningdale, struggled; short of members and those it had not able to make the trip that often. Wentworth with its two courses and castellated clubhouse was always hard up.
An ill-advised debenture scheme, whereby 400 members contributed £100 (or the other way round!) and then had their subscriptions pegged at £10 a year, brought temporary relief, but there were long term cash flow problems. Even while the Ryder Cup, Canada Cup and World Golf Championships were going on, Wentworth only just kept its head above water; 2000 members meant the courses were always too busy, lots of green fees, and rounds taking five hours or more.
So slow was some of the golf, I once went through the same group twice in a day as I played two rounds to their one!
I often thought it would be great to see just how good Wentworth could become given sufficient resources. Elliott Barnard and his development company Chelsfield made that possible; the clubhouse was rescued from the ravages of time and the courses made as good as could be.
Then the West Course revamp under the ownership of Richard Caring and the design skills of Ernie Els turned what had become a bit of a toothless monster back into the long, hard, tough inland championship course always intended. Having seen Wentworth during its difficult days, it has been a pleasure to see it at its best.