It’s just not golf

Investigating Wentworth Club

Arrive, as I did, last June, at Wentworth Club, in the middle of a beautiful summer’s day, the smell of trees in the air, the sight of humans lazily performing an act of golf on one of its three courses, and you may be forgiven for believing that all is right with the world. Add to this an itinerary that included a show around the newly refurbished clubhouse, a leisurely lunch with Wentworth’s CEO Steve Gibson, and an hour’s worth of technologically enabled learning at the hands of one of the club’s professional coaches, and you have something approaching that rarest of birds: a perfect day.

Originally an eighteenth-century country estate, Wentworth was added to by a series of aristocratic owners, before becoming in 1923 the imaginative plaything of one WG Tarrant, a builder from relatively humble origins, and whose vision for a wealthy residency set about a golf course has proved an enduring model for some the world’s best known golf and country clubs. Satisfied with only the best, Tarrant had the era’s preeminent golf course designer Harry Colt magic up two courses, East and West, the latter going on to host the Ryder Cup (intermittently), the World Match Day Championship (no longer), and the PGA Championship. A further golf course – the Edinburgh – was added in 1990. The club serves as the headquarters for PGA Europe, and includes restaurant, a beautiful art deco pool, a tennis and health centre, and conference facilities.

Protected by Tarrant’s original covenants, and latterly by a 1964 act of parliament, the residential estate’s in excellent nick. I would be lying if I said that I’d had the opportunity, while winding my way from main road to clubhouse, to gaze upon (let alone visit) any of its houses. I did not. They’re very much out of sight. However, I’ve Googled a fair few, and if I had to choose, and the goose in my backyard starts laying gold eggs, I’d plump for either one of the smaller early Arts and Crafts numbers or the Oliver Hill house, once the home of US Ambassador Jock Whitney. As Tarrant hoped and expected, the residents play a big part in the club. A house on an estate and somewhere to meet and eat and beat a little ball up and down giant lawns. This, friends, is the life.

Of course, nothing’s really perfect, whatever the bright joys of that summer day in June, and not least a club for which its newest owner – the Beijing-based Reignwood Investments – harbours the grandest of designs, namely that Wentworth should become the ‘world’s greatest golf and country club’. A promise made in 2014, it’s an ambition that’d entail a £20 million upgrade of course and club, a wholesale change, says Gibson, to ‘Wentworth’s hardware and software’, while all the time preserving the institution’s ‘unique culture’. Unfortunately, what it also meant were plans for a substantial membership cull, an attempt to both reduce the numbers of people leaving and joining each year, and to have ‘less feet on the golf course’, thereby ‘raising the quality of the product’. It hardly needs saying that proposing to slash membership from 4,000 to around 900 did not go down well with Wentworth habitués, particularly when informed that their memberships would be revoked, and that they would have to reapply, and if (re)accepted, would be required to pay a debenture of £100,000. This on top of a doubling of annual fees from £8,000 to £16,000. Cue total war.

<For more, see London Luxury Magazine >