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How Wentworth Club is becoming London's golf destination of choice

Wentworth Club is undoubtedly one of the finest golf and country clubs in the UK. Founded in 1926, its recent acquisition by the Reignwood Group represents a new chapter in its history, with £20m worth of investment going into the development of the estate over the next few years. Ben Winstanley talks to chief executive Stephen Gibson about what's to come

What makes Wentworth Club a world-class golf complex?

Wentworth's been around for almost a hundred years, and has been considered one of the top golf clubs from the very beginning. It all started with Walter George Tarrant, founder of the estate, and we're determined to carry on his vision for this place to be the premier private golf and country club. A lot of people will say that maybe Augusta or Pine Valley is the best course in the world but what constitutes the best club starts with the membership and the best people wanting to join it. I think great people join great places, and this is certainly one of those. Most recently, we've also been able to add what the Reignwood Group brings to the table in association with its other ventures. I think that will, and is, contributing to Wentworth something that no other club in the UK has to offer.

Reignwood Group's acquisition of Wentworth has been well documented in the press. How is it beginning to benefit members?

Right now is possibly the most exciting time in the club's history. There's so many changes going on: the clubhouse, the membership, the golf course. The amount of investment that Reignwood has poured into Wentworth to take it to the next level is absolutely fantastic, but one of the most significant additional benefits for members will be access to membership at the Ten Trinity Square project. When it opens next year, it is going to be one of the most exciting private members clubs to open in London so for Wentworth members to have the right to membership for a period of time is tremendous. Going forward, part of our membership for the future is that all members will have a way into Ten Trinity Square private club, which for anybody living and working in the City is massive.

The West Course is currently undergoing redevelopment. Can you talk us through the changes you have planned?

Ernie Els, one of our favourite sons here at Wentworth, has been working alongside European Golf Design with a lot of involvement from a committee of players and Ryder Cup captains from the past. It's important to us that we have that advisory board to make sure that everything we do on the West Course is well respected by the players.

The main changes will be regrassing all the greens, with consultation from Richard Harley who helped with the development of Augusta’s greens, plus hole reconstruction on 8, 11, 14, 15 and 16. We're seeing it more as a restoration than a redesign. It's looking at the principles of Harry Colt's original design – how he wanted the game to be played and the strategy that he envisaged for the course – and moving it into the modern era. That's really the premise of what we're trying to achieve. For sure, it is one of the most tinkered with, or upgraded golf courses in England but if you look at the top courses in the world who want to stay there, you have to keep going. If you just sit still, other people are going to surpass you: the quality of the golf course isn't going to be there if you don't invest in it.

We're also going to be the first course in England to put SubAir under the greens, which is a massive commitment to something that in this country that, honestly, isn't used that often. Essentially, it just gives you more control over the putting surface by removing moisture from it but it's basically sinking a million pounds into the dirt, in case you need to turn it on. That’s the price you have to pay, though, for putting real innovation into the course. It's not just about design, it's about quality and technology. We wanted to have that historic feel, but we need the technology in place so that when the big tournaments come around that we have the best course that we can possibly provide for the European Tour – and, of course, for the members every week.

Development is well underway now, and you can already see grass on the new greens. they were seeded a few weeks ago, and some of them have already been cut a few times so they're really looking great. Our members are really getting excited. After all, how many other courses can provide a tour-quality golf course week in week out for its members? It costs an awful lot of money to provide that so there aren’t many around.

What characterises the best golf courses in the world?

At Wentworth, we want a golf course that is playable for the other 51 weeks of the year for our members to enjoy, and for the other week we want a course that is a real test for the professionals but is still enjoyable. It's no good if those guys go away feeling like they don't want to come back every year. All pros love going to Augusta – I mean who wouldn't? But we want Wentworth to at the very least match the quality of that venue. What sets top venues apart is that eye on perfection. Our director of courses & grounds visited 18 golf courses, many of those in the top 10 in the world, and we've taken learnings from each one. How do you become the best? By beating everybody else by one percent in every area. There's some significant investment that we're making for some very small marginal gains.

Stephen Gibson, CEO of Wentworth Club

Stephen Gibson, CEO of Wentworth Club

Wentworth's West Course is one of the most familiar golf courses in the world. What makes it so special?

Many people grow up watching Wentworth on TV. I was the same: I aspired to play golf at Wentworth. It's a bit like St Andrews: you look at that club as the ‘Home of Golf’, and I would say that you look at Wentworth as the home of tournament golf, certainly in the UK. People do feel like they're coming home when they play here – and the fact that it's a proper members club, it isn't stuffy or old fashioned, means that it's also a very relaxed environment. I'd definitely say that the fact that 85% of our play has always been by members. You can turn up to Wentworth any day of the week and you'll always be able to have a game with someone you know – and if you don't, you'll know them pretty soon because it's a friendly place and a family club.

What would only the members know about the golf club?

Wentworth is the birthplace of the very first Ryder Cup. In our committee minutes from 1926, there's a note from our general committee to say that they'd written to the PGA to offer a trophy for this cup that was going to be played the following year. The PGA had written back to say: "Thank you very much for hosting the tournament between British and American professionals but, unfortunately, somebody has already donated a trophy – Samuel Ryder." That is one of the things that internally is spoken about quite a lot, and is a big part of our heritage here. It's one of those things that does give you a spine-tingling experience when you play the West Course: you're walking in the footsteps of champions.

Wentworth Golf Course, 2nd hole

2nd hole, West Course

How many of your members work in the City?

I would say about 40% of membership comes from central and west London, and I would imagine quite a large proportion of those members also work in the City itself. On a Saturday morning it's 35 minutes out here from Kensington so it's no surprise it's such a big catchment area for us, and because of that we have a massive tie to the City itself. A lot of our corporate members are City banks and major companies so we've always had a close connection there.

Our association with Reignwood's Ten Trinity Square will also give us the opportunity to have a club fitting facility and teaching facility in the City as well. We're going to have a simulator in the hotel where people can play the West Course with one of our golf pros and have a lesson at the same time. That's just something a bit niche, a little bit different for the guys in the City who might have an hour after work but don't have the opportunity to make it out to Wentworth. I don't think there's anywhere in the UK that really has that same kind of partnership – and will ensure those City connections only get stronger over time.

Wentworth received its share of negative press when it was first acquired by Reignwood Group. How are you reassuring members?

I think we always had a great belief that this place is a sleeping giant and it really could be something extra special. The members had the same belief, it's just really how they saw us going about it and whether the belief in the investment was there.

I think when any new owner takes over a club, and there's change afoot, people are a little nervous and a little concerned as to what might happen. But when they start to see the investment come through, they start feeling a little bit more reassured about what their future might look like at the club. There's a real buzz about the place right now. We were absolutely convinced that the right way forward for this club was what we were about to undertake: we had a lot of third-party endorsement from the European Tour, from KPMG who did a study and survey on the club membership, we'd really done our homework this time and what kind of investment it was going to take to do it. Simply put, it's coming up with the goods.

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