views

ABOVE PAR golfbreaks

AS the nights start to close in, golfers will be looking at the skies with some nervousness. Before the sleet and hail start, though, autumn is the perfect time to squeeze in a few rounds. Luckily for those of us who live in and around London, there are plenty of stunning golf courses just a short hop away.<br /><br />One of the most famous is at Wentworth, in Surrey. The club bought by fashion industry manufacturer Richard Caring in 2004 for &pound;130m certainly has a luxurious feel to it that spreads from its three championship courses, 13 tennis courts, nine hotel rooms and spacious gym and spa facilities&nbsp; right down to the Campari and orange I ordered at lunch, which had more fruit floating in it than was really decent. <br /><br />However, the club everywhere demonstrates such manicured attention to detail that you suspect very little is ever left to chance at the Virginia Water venue, just 40 minutes from London.<br /><br />The golf club, with its world famous turreted clubhouse, was the first acquisition Caring, the 60-year-old London born multimillionaire, made before he spent &pound;500m buying up large swathes of the capital&rsquo;s best restaurants and clubs. Among his holdings he owns The Ivy, Scott&rsquo;s, Le Caprice, Soho House and Harry&rsquo;s Bar.<br /><strong><br />WELL-HEELED<br /></strong>Wentworth, which hosts the BMW PGA Championships every year, is priced with the well-heeled in mind. Full membership with use of all the facilities costs &pound;15,000 in joining fees and then around &pound;7,000 a year in subscriptions.<br /><br />The club has 4,000 members and you get a select cliental for that kind of money. The club boasts celebrity members such as Bruce Forsyth, Sir Michael Parkinson and Russ Abbott, but you are just as likely to spot Tullow Oil founder and chief executive Aidan Heavey or former EMI boss Eric Nicoli discussing that difficult bunker on the 15th in any of the sprawling clubhouse rooms. <br /><br />In fact Heavey, who owns one of the 400 homes &ndash; which go for anything up to &pound;35m &ndash; on the private estate surrounding Wentworth, holds his company&rsquo;s annual golf day at the club. <br /><br />The beginnings of the club is linked with the estate and goes back to 1912 when builder Walter Tarrant began to build a high-class development, with houses set on at least an acre of land, as well as its own churches, shops, and train stations such as Virginia Water. <br /><br />Tarrant decided to add a golf course to the development and hired Harry Colt to build the 6,201-yard East course in 1924 and the more challenging 7,308-yard West in 1926, whose consecutive par fives at the end are enough to trip up pros and amateurs alike. <br /><br />Two other courses were added later &ndash; the Edinburgh as well as a nine-hole Executive course &ndash; and the estate and golf courses now cover 900 prime acres of the southeast countryside. <br /><br />However, playing time for visitors is currently restricted because the club&rsquo;s famous West course is in the middle of a 10-month, &pound;4m overhaul, masterminded by South African champion Ernie Els, that will see all of its greens replaced before the course is reopened at the end of next March, by when they will be &ldquo;the best in Europe, according to director of golf Stephen Gibson <br /><br />The club&rsquo;s chief executive Julian Small adds that because the business is owned by one man rather than by its members means that the decision to close its most renowned course for the best part of a year was a quick one. He says: &ldquo;Richard provided the funds, and once we knew this would benefit the club we were able to move forward without having to go through loads of committees.&rdquo;<br /><br />Caring is also keen to cross-promote his ventures, and Wentworth members get priority booking at his London clubs and restaurants. <br /><br />However, the restaurant at the golf club itself is none too shabby. It has an impressive range of fish including brill, lobster and hake. I did not feel all that adventurous when I dined there, but the oysters were fresh and my rack of Suffolk lamb sheared perfectly off the bone. <br /><br />If after dinner you can&rsquo;t face a trip back home, or if you plan a 7.00am tee-off, you can stay at one of the club&rsquo;s rooms which range between &pound;90 a night for a single up to &pound;455 for its largest double. The rooms are well prepared and neatly presented &ndash; these words could easily pass as the club&rsquo;s motto.<br /><br />A round costs between &pound;90 and &pound;285, depending on the course and time of year. See: www.wentworthclub.com.