Country houses for sale

Wentworth: 100 years and still going strong as Surrey’s most famous millionaire’s playground

Extraordinary houses, superb golf courses, set amid one of the prettiest swathes of southern England, and with easy access to both London and the rest of the world. Wentworth might be one of the most expensive spots in the country, but you can see why.

It’s the autumn of 1991. I’m walking down the side of the fourth hole of the famed West Course at Wentworth, the fabled ‘Burma Road’ — a nickname it earned for its reputation as fearsomely tough test of golf. A friend and I are here for what was, at the time, one of the undisputed highlights of the golfing season: the Volvo World Match Play Championship, which took place on this course each year, and attracted the very greatest names in the game. Jack Nicklaus and Tony Jacklin duelled on this very turf in the 1960s and 1970s; in another decade or so, Tiger Woods and Ernie Els would do the same. On this particular sunny October day, the game is ruled by the wave of European greats who are dominating the game: Nick Faldo, Ian Woosman, Jose Maria Olazabal, and, of course, Severiano Ballesteros.

As we walk down the hill of this par-5, a ball thuds to earth and rolls up to within a couple of feet of where we are. We can’t see back to the tee and aren’t quite sure which match is coming up behind us, but we decide to hang around to see how one of the world’s best might try and escape from under the branches of these trees. And the player who strolls up to us is the man himself: Seve. My friend and I are overwhelmed by coming face to face with one of our heroes; the Spanish legend cracks a joke as he appears, and even though we don’t catch what he says, we laugh nervously anyway. A few moments later, he’s swept his ball out of an impossible-seeming position and towards the green with uncanny style, and moves on. The late Seve — who died from a brain tumour in 2011 — would surely never remembered the shot. But I’ll never forget it.

Seve Ballesteros playing out of the (many) trees at Wentworth.

Fast forward more years than I care to count, and I’m standing not 50 yards from this spot, at one of the finest homes on the Wentworth Estate’s ‘Main Island’. The house in question is Cherry Hill, a graceful and beautiful Modernist home which is the only listed building among the hundreds of fine houses on the estate (there used to be another, until it was unlawfully demolished in 2003.)

The property-developer-brothers Jess and Tejit Bath bought the house in 2008 and spent the best part of a decade renovating, updating and sympathetically extending it. Cherry Hill has been is has been on the market for a few years now, and despite a string of near-misses with buyers from across the globe it’s still for sale. The current price? £24 million, via Knight Frank. It’s a prime price for a prime house in a prime location where top-end golf and top-end property have gone hand-in-hand from the start.

The fourth hole at Wentworth’s West Course wraps around the huge plot which Cherry Hill sits on.

Inside, the house is an extraordinary thing to behold, from the gorgeous round table in the dining room to the black-and-white bathroom upstairs, to the feature wall in the living room made from a vast piece of onyx sourced in Italy.

The house has an even greater showstopping trick up its sleeve: a ballroom on the lower ground floor where the herringbone dancefloor sinks down, at the press of a button, to turn in to a spectacularly lit swimming pool. It’s a show of theatricality which seems entirely consistent in a house which was once the home of the US Ambassador to Britain, and whose guests over the years have included royalty, presidents and Hollywood A-listers.

It’s extraordinary how accidents of geology and history shape the world around us, often without us even noticing. The world-famous Wentworth Estate is a perfect example.

For the last 100 years, this has been prime real estate — as prime as it gets, in fact, with exquisite, sprawling homes regularly changing hands for tens of millions of pounds. Yet for centuries — millennia, in fact — this entire area was largely ignored by settlers, for one simple reason. The vast belt of sandy heathland which stretches through huge swathes of Surrey, Berkshire, Hampshire and Sussex is pretty much useless for growing crops.

What it is good for, though, is golf. Very good indeed, in fact: 10 of the top 25 golf courses in England (as rated by our colleagues at Golf Monthly) are to be found on this stretch of land, a statistic that seems even more remarkable when you consider that most of the remaining 15 are seaside links such as Royal Birkdale.

Spectators look on as Walter Hagen of the United States follows his drive off the tee during the 1926 Ryder Cup Matches between Great Britain and the United States on 4th June 1926 at The Wentworth Golf Club in Virginia Water, Surrey, England. (Photo by Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

It’s also good for building beautiful houses, surrounded by towering, mature trees, on beautifully well-drained land that’s peaceful, secure, and brilliantly connected. London is easily accessed by road, rail, or (as is an important factor for those in the market for a £20 million house) helicopter. Getting beyond Britain is just as simple: Heathrow Airport is a 15-minute drive away; and the gleaming private jet hangars of Farnborough just a few minutes more.

On a fine day with the heather in full bloom, few places are as pretty as Wentworth.

Plenty of places are just as well connected, of course; you could say the same of Camberley or Croydon. So what Wentworth is really selling — and at a hefty premium — is a high-end lifestyle in a gated community of similarly blessed people, with full country club facilities. It’s something which is relatively easy to find in, say, the USA, but vanishingly rare in Britain.

The club and the houses are tied together: you could live here and not join the club; or join the club and not live here; but there’s little doubt that the full benefits really accrue to those who throw themselves in to both. ‘People tell me they could never live leave Wentworth — their whole lives are here,’ says Jess Bath, Cherry Hills’s developer. ‘Their whole lives revolve around Wentworth.’

Cherry Hill, Wentworth.

This hasn’t happened by accident or evolution. Housebuilder W.G. Tarrant, the original creator of this place, envisioned it from the start as a millionaire’s playground, and the Wentworth Club’s present owners, the Beijing-based Reignwood Group, have doubled-down on this since they bought the place in 2014.

They reimagined the place as a 21st century gated community, upended the membership model, and invested heavily in improving the three golf courses — The West, The East and The Edinburgh — as well as upgrading the other facilities. Today, there are tennis courts and padel courts, a spa and swimming pools, and fine dining in the restaurants. The days when the famous old castellated clubhouse was simply a place to change your shoes and have a post-round drink are far in the past.

Those members aren’t who they used to be. A club once full of doctors and lawyers, as well as entertainers such as Bruce Forsyth and Russ Abbott, used to be the mainstays, but estate agent Ed Shaw of the local Knight Frank office in Virginia Water explains that a younger, more international crowd is now settling at Wentworth. There are excellent schools nearby, racing at Ascot, the world-renowned restaurants at Bray a short drive away; add the club itself and you have a ready-made life waiting on the doorstep, ideal for those who, post-pandemic, have moved out of London.

Tiger Woods on the 15th on the final day Cisco World Match Play golf at the Wentworth Club England 15-18th October 1998. (Photo by David Ashdown/Getty Images)

Change always makes waves, of course, and none of this happened without a few feathers being ruffled among the longer-standing club members; but compromises were reached, and it very much feels like a happier ship these days. And especially for those who play golf.

The three golf courses — The East, The West and The Edinburgh — are all superb, and while most members will tell you they like The East course best, it’s The West that remains the most famous. The World Match Play has long since moved elsewhere, but each year the course still hosts a tournament that is arguably the second-best in Europe, behind The Open: the European Tour’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship.

The first tee and clubhouse during The BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth Golf Club in September 2021. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

The West Course is 98 years old, but has changed more in the last 10 or 15 years than in the previous 90-odd. A string of changes in 2009 were over-done as some of the old character was lost, but a second round of tweaks put things right while retaining improvements. Certainly in terms of condition, the course has never looked better; it remained wonderfully playable even during a visit on a stormy day in winter of 2023, where it took lightning to stop play where wind, rain and hailstorms had failed to budge us. Even then, one of our group was desperate to wait it out: he wasn’t just playing well, he was playing well on the West Course at Wentworth!, and that is a very special feeling indeed.

Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman in their semi-final in the World Match Play Championship at Wentworth in 1986. Credit: David Cannon/Getty Images

Is it the finest golf course in England? No, and indeed you’ll find few who’d even call it the best in Surrey — though as mentioned above, that’s an incredible high bar. What it has for a true golfer, though, is the magic that comes of playing in real life a course which you know so well from years of watching on television.

It’s why so many golfers make at least one pilgrimage in their lives to the Old Course at St Andrews; it’s why golfers all dream, above all, of playing Augusta National, the annual home of The Masters in Georgia; and it’s why Wentworth delivers a tingle down the spine, from the moment you tee off in front of the faux-castle clubhouse to the moment you make your final approach across the water to the iconic finishing hole.

The approach to the dramatic final hole at Wentworth’s West Course.

That brings us to the only down-side, at least for most of us. Back in 1991, the year when I saw Seve and Nick Faldo and Greg Norman and all the others make their way around, Wentworth was open to visitors — although it was, if memory serves, the only place in Britain which dared charge over £100 for a green fee. Today, like Augusta National, Wentworth is a fully private club, run purely for the members — a fact which explains why none of the three courses appear on Golf Monthly’s Top 100 courses list, from which exclusive private clubs are excluded.

That leaves you with two options: either make friends with a member, or try to join yourself. The cost of joining — via debenture — isn’t publicised, but you’ll be paying well into six-figures. If Cherry Hill’s price tag didn’t make it clear, that will: this is millionaire’s golf. But at least those who come here know that they’ll absolutely get what they pay for.

Find out more about the Wentworth Club at Cherry Hill is for sale via Knight Frank at £24 million.

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