Simon Wittenberg talks to Stephen Gibson, CEO of the Wentworth Club, discovering what it has to offer, its plans for the future, the world-class golf facilities and what make it a ‘Bucket list’ destination for all fans of the sport
LM: Can you give our readers an overview of your career highlights so far please?
SG: I started my working life as a chef and, through that role, became interested in hospitality and facility management. However, things took a turn when I discovered the game of golf. After picking it up quickly, I turned my hand at becoming a golf pro. After working at a number of the UK’s top clubs, I became the Director of Golf at Wentworth in 2007, giving me the opportunity to combine my passion for golf and interest in management. I spent eight years in that position before Reignwood Group’s acquisition of the Club, when I was appointed Chief Executive.
Golf has given me so many fantastic opportunities – picking specific highlights is tricky. However, playing at Pine Valley, regularly cited as the number one course in the world, was fantastic. I have also been fortunate enough to play regularly with top professionals, from Adam Scott to Darren Clarke, throughout my career.
LM: Have you always been a fan of golf?
SG: I started playing at the age of 16 after watching Nick Faldo win the Masters. I was instantly hooked. Within two years, I was playing off scratch and decided to pursue a career as a golf pro. The rest is history. I am honoured to have spent time with Nick, who has been a Wentworth member for many years. In fact, I walked the East Course with him recently to get his view on the future direction of all three courses. It is very humbling to spend time with the man who inspired me to take up golf in the first place.
LM: You are investing £20 million into Wentworth Club. What will this be spent on?
SG: Reignwood Group is investing in wide-ranging improvements as part of the vision to make Wentworth Club the world’s premier private golf and country club, both on and off the course. Its iconic Clubhouse will be restored and revitalised to create a more modern and luxurious environment, whilst upholding the building’s unique character and history. This refurbishment also extends to the tennis and fitness facilities, along with an upgrade of the fine dining experiences.
The upcoming relaunch of the famous West Course represents the first and arguably most significant development at the Club ahead of the BMW PGA Championship this May. Working with world-class design teams at Ernie Els Design and European Golf Design, we have invested over £5 million to create a course that is both challenging and rewarding for professionals and members alike. This will then be followed by improvements to the two other courses, the East and the Edinburgh. Wentworth will then be home to three outstanding and unique Championship golf courses.
LM: What is unique about the course?
SG: The West Course is widely regarded as one of the most prestigious in England and is famous as birthplace of the Ryder Cup. As a Championship venue, we have welcomed the world’s greatest players to Wentworth for 33 consecutive years (36 years in total) and tournament golf has become part of our DNA.
As with any leading golf venue, the West Course is constantly evolving and this latest renovation project is another development in its evolution. Phase 1 of the programme is complete, with all 18 greens fully reseeded with 007 Creeping Bentgrass and England’s first Sub Air system, which is capable of controlling moisture levels even in the darkest depths of a Surrey winter. Visually, we are returning to the traditional vision for the West Course, as conceived by Harry Colt almost 100 years ago. As such, Phase 2 involves a comprehensive planting scheme to return native heather and woodland species to the landscape.
We could not have wished for a more complete advisory team to deliver this project; Kenny Mackay, our Director of Golf Courses & Grounds, has been supported throughout by Ernie Els Design, continuing the great work they started in 2009, and European Golf Design, who have acted as the voice of the Tour. The results achieved so far are spectacular and we are so excited to open our tees again this spring.