The BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth 2009
PUBLISHED: 08:00 26 May 2011 | UPDATED: 16:01 20 February 2013
Surrey's most famous golf tournament, the BMW PGA Championship, starts on Thursday at Wentworth. Here, JOHN WHITBREAD explains why this prestigious event attracts thousands every year
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine May 2009
Surrey's most famous golf tournament, the BMW PGA Championship, takes place this month at Wentworth. Here, JOHN WHITBREAD explains why this prestigious event attracts so many thousands every year and picks out some of the golfing stars who could be in the running this time
When the riot of rhododendron at Wentworth burst into flower, it can mean only one thing - the imminent arrival of the world's top golfers with their fans and the media close behind.
This simple piece of logic has been ingrained in the minds of golf-lovers everywhere ever since the PGA Championship made its permanent home at Wentworth, in Virginia Water, 22 years ago.
The tournament has become accepted as the blue riband event of the British golfing calendar and is a spring spectacular to match those other quintessentially English sporting set-pieces: Wimbledon, Royal Ascot and the Henley Regatta.
"We are all extremely proud of this championship, which has to be ranked within reasonable reach of the four Majors and alongside the World Golf Championships," says George O'Grady, chief executive officer of the European Tour. "This is reflected in the total commitment to quality and excellence in every aspect of the event - from both BMW and the Wentworth Club."
Watched by thousands
Crowds gather in their thousands to see the cream of the world's golfers battle it out over Wentworth's famous West Course for a mouth-watering 3.6m prize fund.
One such star is Colin Montgomerie, a one-time Surrey resident himself and one of Britain's most successful golfers. Winner of the title in three successive years, from 1998 to 2000, he knows better than most the feelings attached to this special Whitsun week.
"This is our flagship event and it was a great honour and thrill when I won it three years in a row," he says. "But the standard and depth of golfing talent in Europe is becoming better and better every year and it will be incredibly hard to get back-to-back wins in future against such fierce competition."
One man who would love to add the title to his already staggering collection is South African ace Ernie Els, who has a home by the 16th fairway on the West Course. He has also played a big part in the multi-million pound restoration of Harry Colt's 1920s masterpiece. Els has won no fewer than seven World Match Play titles at Wentworth but has never matched his autumn form in the PGA.
"I absolutely adore this place and I think I know it as well as any of my home courses in South Africa," says Els. "I would hate to finish my career without having the PGA in my locker."
However, he faces stiff competition. Last year's champion, the cigar-chomping, red wine-loving Spanish star Miguel Angel Jimenez, is sure to put up a strong defence of his title, while there will be vocal Irish support for Padraig Harrington, who made history last year by successfully defending his Open Championship title at Royal Birkdale before going on to become the first European to win the USPGA Championship in years. Naturally, there will also be solid backing for such strong British hopes as Ian Poulter - Europe's top scorer in last year's Ryder Cup, Luke Donald, Justin Rose, Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke.
Surrey boys to cheer
Home fans, meanwhile, can make a very strong case for this year's champion to come from Surrey. The county's 'awesome foursome' will be led by Weybridge ace Paul Casey, who is a product of Foxhills' scholarship programme and a member of Burhill Golf Club in Walton-on-Thames. He has also tasted triumph at Wentworth before, having won a world record breaking first prize of 1million in the HSBC World Match Play in 2006.
Casey will be joined by two of the most likeable men in golf, Virginia Water's David Howell, who is re-discovering the form that won him this title in spectacular style in 2005, and Weybridge's Oliver Wilson, who put up such a superb show before being beaten in a sudden death
play-off by Jimenez last year.
Last but not least is Wentworth's very own Ross Fisher. The 28-year-old is a product of the club's scholarship foundation and just missed out on a Ryder Cup place last year after winning the European Open and finishing sixth in the European Tour Order of Merit for 2008. In February, Fisher also proved he can take his golf up another level when he reached the semi-final of the World Match Play - beating several top Americans on the way, before losing an all-Surrey battle with Paul Casey.
Relax at the 18th
So, with plenty of home-grown talent to cheer, whoever wins, it is sure to be a fascinating weekend for both the seasoned golf fan and those watching the sport for the first time.
And, if you want to follow your heroes up close, there is even the opportunity to relax and take in the action on a huge screen in the burgeoning 18th hole tented village, which includes a champagne seafood bar. Now that sounds like an ideal way to watch a round...
All about Wentworth
- The club and the course was developed in the 1920s by Walter G Tarrant, following his earlier success with the American style country club at St George's Hill in Weybridge.
- The Wentworth Estate is arguably the most exclusive housing estate in England - a 400-house enclave that has served as home to foreign royalty, sports stars and celebrities of the calibre of Bruce Forsyth and Sir Cliff Richard. Infamously, the Chilean dictator General Pinochet also called the estate home in 1999. A million pounds here might just about buy you a garden shed - if you're lucky...
- Wentworth is also the founding place for the Ryder Cup. "We should do this again," said Samuel Ryder after an unofficial match between a group of British and American players in 1926.
- Past captains of Wentworth include a count, a wing commander, an air marshal, a brigadier general, a lord, two earls, five admirals, a prince and a reverend. These days, they are more likely to be captains of industry.
- Among the hundreds of bunkers, there is one never seen by the public. Finally sealed in 1978, it leads to a huge underground complex, built 45ft beneath the Virginia Water clubhouse at the start of World War Two. Code-named WW, it was built for the imperial general staff in case their London HQ had to be abandoned. After the war, it was earmarked for food storage in the event of a nuclear attack on London.
- The annual warm-up to the PGA Championship is the often celebrity packed Pro-Am. Last year's event saw Bruce Forsyth, Gary Lineker and Tim Henman all showing off their golfing talents at Wentworth.
Need to know
What: BMW PGA Championship
When: Thursday May 21 to Sunday May 24 2009.
Where: Wentworth Club, Wentworth Drive, Virginia Water GU25 4LS
Tip: There is full catering in the 18th hole tented village, with free transport for spectators from village to vantage points on the course.
Prices (if bought in advance): Season ticket (includes pro-am/practice day plus four championship days), 49; adult weekend ticket (Saturday and Sunday), 39; adult day ticket, 24.50; concession season ticket (over 60s and juniors), 24.50.
How: From the European Tour at www.europeantourtickets.com or by calling 0800 023 2557