Club Members, Step Aside: Tournaments Playing Through

Graham Hamilton Andrews has been a member of Wentworth Club, the site of this week’s BMW PGA Championship, for over 50 years. By this point, he is used to being kicked off his home course once a year.

“The members welcome the PGA to a degree because it gives the club some kudos,” said Mr. Andrews, a retired overseas director for Beefeater Gin. “We wouldn’t want to lose it. But there is considerable inconvenience with it, particularly with regard to parking.”

It is better than the 23 years when members had to give up the course for two professional golf tournaments. Wentworth hosted the HSBC World Match Play Tournament from 1964 to 2007, and the BMW arrived in 1984.

Being a member of a club that hosts a professional golf tournament certainly carries prestige. Golf being one of the few sports where amateurs can play the same setup as the professionals, tournaments allow players to compare their shots to the pros — and maybe best them on a hole or two.

But these events are not without hassles, particularly at a private club whose members are used to playing when they want. A modern professional golf tournament is like a traveling circus with big-top tents for corporate hospitality, which take months to put up and take down.

Wentworth, a former estate with a castle for a clubhouse, is unlike many elite clubs. In addition to the West course, where the championship will be contested this week, it has two other 18-hole courses and a nine-hole par-3 course.

Such an abundance of golf can make a member more nonchalant about the annual inconvenience of a professional golf tournament.

It also allows members to dream a bit. Mike Karpik, who works in finance, was a member when he worked in London for 20 years. He remembers playing the other courses during the tournament.

“We could play the Edinburgh course while the crowd was walking the West course, and that was kind of cool,” he said.

“You’d go in the clubhouse and watch the pros. On the whole we liked the tour; you’re playing a course every week, and then you’re watching the pros play the same hole you play.”

He admitted that the surfeit of golf helped. “The experience would be different if you didn’t have the other course,” he said.

Neil Coulson, general manager of Wentworth, said the club took extra steps to accommodate members around the setup, playing and cleanup from the tournament. The club also offers members dining and event options during tournament week.

Yet an annual tournament — let alone two in one year — can be a lot for any club. For five decades, Westchester County Club, a large and venerable club outside New York City, hosted an annual PGA tournament.

The Westchester Classic, as it was known, attracted a strong field to a challenging, classic course. The event’s champions include the golfing greats Jack Nicklaus, Sergio Garcia and Vijay Singh, who won multiple times.

Like Wentworth, Westchester’s members were able to play its other course during the tournament in the early years. More recently, members could not play golf, but they still had access to the club’s facilities, like its tennis complex and beach club.

But when the PGA Tour moved the event later in the season, to be part of what became the FedEx Cup, the club reconsidered.

“With the new contract, the tour wanted to take over the whole complex,” said Peter Knobloch, a member who has been a co-chairman of several tournaments at the club.

“That’s not sustainable, at least not every year. If it’s a big deal, we could easily accommodate it.”

Now, the Westchester club wants to have some space between events. “Our board has decided we’d like to have events here, but we don’t want to have events every year,” said Tom Pisano, the club’s president.

Since the Westchester Classic ended, the club has hosted a Senior P.G.A. Championship and a Women’s P.G.A. Championship. In 2021, it will be the site of the United States Women’s Amateur.

The biggest tournaments give members breathing room between events, but disruptions are still significant before play begins. Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y., is hosting the 2020 United States Open, and the club’s East Course will be closed for the whole year to allow for the setup of hospitality tents and the repair work afterward. The West Course, which will host the Open, will be available for member play until the week before and reopen the week after.

That means weekend players will be playing all spring and summer on a course, considered among the most difficult of the Open venues, set up to test the best in the world.

Still, club members had concern over the care of the East Course, which is ranked 52nd in the country. At any other club in the United States, a top course would not be used to park camera trucks.

“Getting that East Course back in condition quickly is important,” said Bryan Marsal, the chairman of the 2020 Open. “The U.S.G.A. has realized how important it is to reduce the intrusion and the damage that is done.”

Mr. Marsal said that the money the club received from hosting an Open was nice, that but it did not always justify the lost usage. Members are motivated by other factors, though.

“People who play at Winged Foot tend to be serious golfers,” he said. “And the bylaws back in 1923 said Winged Foot was going to be a place where championships are going to be held. You get an offer to host the national championship, that’s a pretty big honor.”

The second, he said, is a basic human trait: “Flattery. I’m a member of a club that hosts a national championship.”

As at any club, not everyone agrees with every decision, and Mr. Marsal said he did not play down the disruption for members during a golf season that is already short in the Northeast. “My biggest worry is that I not sit at a table all alone at the end of the Open,” he said. “I joke about it, but it’s really a big sacrifice for the membership.”

In this sense, great public courses have an advantage: They lose out on some daily fees in the short term, but they more than recoup them because the event serves as an advertisement for the course, as was the case with the Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links this year.

“One of the important benefits for us is to showcase the fact that Pebble Beach is open to the public,” said David Stivers, president of the Pebble Beach Company and chairman of the 2019 Open.

At Wentworth, one of Mr. Andrews’s favorite memories came in Nicklaus’s prime. He and a friend followed Nicklaus the whole round. The next morning the friend called from the airport. They had made the front page of one of the Sunday newspapers: The camera had captured them watching Nicklaus play the fifth hole.

“There we were,” Mr. Andrews said. “I spent all day trying to get a copy of that photo.”

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