Earlier this week, as the leading golfers in Europe steered their exotic cars off the main roads and made their way down the winding drive to the Wentworth Club in Surrey, some, possibly many, must have had a sense that they were coming home. Wentworth to golfers on the European Tour is what Sawgrass is to those on the PGA Tour. Just as the Players Championship is held at the Tournament Players Club in the lee of the PGA Tour’s headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, so the West course at Wentworth in the lee of the tour’s offices is where the BMW PGA Championship – the flagship event on the European Tour – takes place and, in varying guises, has done so for more than 30 years.
“It’s great to be home,” said Justin Rose, making his first visit this year to a golf event in his home country. “There is a lovely autumnal feel about the place. It’s good to be able to catch up with everybody, to experience for the first time the European Tour bubble side of things. You know, I’m excited about playing golf. The BMW PGA Championship is what I’ve always called a bucket-list tournament. I am delighted to be back.”
“The reason I like coming here is the vibes I get from the place. … Good vibes don’t necessarily mean you’re going to play great. It’s just the setup and how everything is run this week.” – Danny Willett
It didn’t matter whether it was Danny Willett, the reigning BMW PGA champion, Tommy Fleetwood, who lost last week’s tournament in Scotland in a two-man playoff, or Patrick Reed, who seems determined to establish himself as a world traveller. Reed saw no difficulty about making the transatlantic crossing in these COVID-19 times to be the only American who traversed from West to East to play. All expressed pleasure at the prospect of tangling with the distinguished golf course by competing in such an historic event as the PGA, which was first held in 1955. This makes it a child compared with the age of, say, the French Open, which began in 1906, the Belgian Open in 1910 and the Spanish Open in 1912. But few clubs, if any, in Europe have held so many different events and seen so many high-quality winners as Wentworth.
For years the World Match Play Championship was held at Wentworth in the autumn. In the earliest manifestation of this event, starting in 1964, a small number of the world’s best players were put up in a swanky hotel in London and driven to and from the course in Rolls Royces. Traffic congestion put an end to that but that was no hardship for the players. Large, luxurious houses for them to stay in, on and around the golf course for the week, were provided complete with cook and chauffeur. This spared them the 20-mile daily commute into and out of central London. Either Arnold Palmer or Gary Player won this event for the first five years. In 1970 came Jack Nicklaus, who had been beaten by Player in 1966. They were then the Big Three and they drew huge crowds to Wentworth for an event that was described as an autumn spectacular, played when the leaves were turning gold and falling and afternoon play took place in daylight that was fading fast.
What else has been played at Wentworth? The 1953 Ryder Cup when the Great Britain & Ireland team went close but not close enough to defeating the US. Three years later the Canada Cup – now known as the World Cup of Golf – was held there, with the team of Ben Hogan and Sam Snead winning while Hogan won the individual title.
Clearly then, it is no ordinary event and no ordinary venue. Other clubs might have public rooms that look as though a lick of paint would not go amiss and a golfer can leave a hat or a pair of shoes in the locker room one year and return to find them still there the next, but Wentworth Club has higher standards. It has tennis and squash courts, a gym and a swimming pool and 63 golf holes. But the course for which it is most renowned is the West, known as the Burma Road, the site of so many events down the years.
“The reason I like coming here is the vibes I get from the place,” Willett, the 2016 Masters champion, said as he put the final preparations to the defence of his title. “It’s a beautiful part of the world and that’s me being a Northerner saying it about the South. It’s a fantastic golf course and the support for me is usually second to none. Good vibes don’t necessarily mean you’re going to play great. It’s just the setup and how everything is run this week. It’s nice to come back year on year. I think this is probably the ninth or 10th time I’ve been down here and I’ve had some nice results along the way.”
Nice results, indeed. Last year Willett finished with birdies on the 71st and 72nd holes to thwart an onrushing Jon Rahm and win the handsome cheque awarded to the winner. “There were lots of great moments in that last round,” Willett said, “but just coming up the last and being able to enjoy the 200-yard plus walk with all the family and friends there. There was a spectacular backdrop on the 18th come Sunday. It has provided me memorable moments and I hope it will again this week.”
At Wentworth this week, Rose revealed he intends to move back to England in the near future after living abroad for two decades, including in Orlando, Florida, where Ian Poulter lived across the street, Henrik Stenson ’round the corner and Graeme McDowell down the road. His time in Florida was followed by a decade in the Bahamas. But now, with his son, Leo, at boarding school in England, his brother moving to Blighty and his mother, who has lived there for most of each year for some years now, there is a sense of the Rose clan gathering. It is no coincidence that Rose was 40 in July and that is traditionally an age when people start to examine themselves and their beliefs. In this momentous year, Rose has changed his coach and his golf clubs so changing the address of his primary residence from one continent to another is not such a big deal.
It is not set in stone yet, though, merely a possibility. “Mrs Rose is the boss of all this sort of stuff so if she says go, it gets done,” Justin said, a statement that will surely strike a chord with most married men. “I’ve been talking a lot to the kids about it (moving here) and schooling and the factors involved. You look at all these things, my Mum is in great health but not getting younger, my brother is here, my cousins all live in this country. It’s a dream, a goal and I think it’s on the cards for sure.”
Rose spoke for many of his colleagues in praising Reed, who would have been excused if he had decided that the complications of travelling to and from this country even for as important an event as the BMW PGA were too great. “Patrick, I give him a lot of credit always for travelling and for playing as much as he does,” Rose said. “He’s a guy that loves the game of golf and is full of praise for Wentworth. He came here last year, enjoyed the whole scene, the whole vibe, the whole tournament. There’s easy excuses for people not to travel at the moment. We are all using it as an excuse not to get on the plane and do things if we don’t have to. Every credit to Patrick for showing up.”
Reed is an honorary member of the European Tour, made so last year having finished second in the tour’s Race to Dubai the previous year. He is leading the 2020 RtD, otherwise known as the Order of Merit, and has committed to playing in the final event of the season, the DP World Tour Championship, in a couple of months. Reed doesn’t look British and he certainly doesn’t speak as a Briton would. But this week more than ever, in this most British of surroundings, he is certainly a Yankophile.
Top: The first tee and clubhouse at Wentworth as it appeared Wednesday during a practice round ahead of the BMW PGA Championship. Photo: Ross Kinnaird, Getty Images
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