Why It's Time To Bring Back The World Match Play Championship At Wentworth

There couldn't be a better time to resurrect the much-loved match-play event

Ernie Els and Seve Ballesteros at the 2003 HSBC World Match Play Championship
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The end of the World Golf Championships era this year also spells the end of match-play events in the men's pro game outside the established team tussles and the LIV Golf finale, for however long that lasts.

As confirmed by the WGC Match Play executive director Jordan Uppleger, the tournament is to be scrapped, rumoured to be replaced by the Houston Open on the 2024 PGA Tour schedule.

There are murmurings that Jay Monahan has plans to establish a new match-play event in the near future, but was it not to happen, it would represent a huge own-goal by the smart suits at Sawgrass HQ. But where one door closes, another shuts on your foot, and maybe this disappointment could pave the way for something better.

For those who grew up watching European Tour golf, one of the standout highlights every year was the World Match Play Championship at Wentworth. Founded in 1964, it was as prestigious as it was loved by fans and players alike. 

It had a unique allure that included listening to the late, great Peter Alliss in full pomp and watching golfing legends compete against each other in the purest form of the game.

Arnold Palmer at the 1964 Piccadilly World Match Play Championship

Arnold Palmer at the 1964 Piccadilly World Match Play Championship

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Arnold Palmer, so often golf's pioneer in the 20th century, captured the inaugural title to start a roll of honour that would rival any great championship. 'The King' won it twice but as the decades passed, the exploits of some of the European Tour's finest exports would come to define 'the match play'. 

Sandy Lyle's prowess with a one-iron was on full display in the '80s as the Scot powered his way to five finals. The West Course was also the scene of the famous fruitcake incident between Seve Ballesteros and Nick Price in 1991, the Spaniard's choking fit at the top of his opponent's swing one of many tales that lives on as part of his legacy. That year was the last of Ballesteros' five triumphs, placing him two behind Ernie Els in the all-time standings. 

But it wasn't just the greats of the Old World circuit that featured. Over the years, there was a strong international presence that included a host of big-name PGA Tour players who journeyed over to test their mettle in one-on-one combat on away soil.

Tiger Woods even made two appearances, losing to his good friend Mark O'Meara at the 36th hole in the 1998 final and exiting early in 2006. But like a lot of the old-school tournaments of yesteryear, it would come to a sad end.

Els wrapped up his last win in 2007, after which HSBC pulled the plug four years into its 10-year sponsorship agreement. It returned in 2009 after a one-year hiatus but with a new venue and format, everything that had made it great was instantly gone, and it was officially scrapped in 2014.

Mikko Ilonen of Finland (left) shakes hands with Henrik Stenson of Sweden after winning the Volvo World Match Play Championship

The 2014 Volvo World Match Play was the last before it was removed from the European Tour schedule

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Now, nine years on and with the threat of LIV Golf still looming large, there could hardly be a better excuse to showcase the best of the PGA and DP World Tours in a classic format at a classic venue. It's something Matt Fitzpatrick alluded to ahead of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am when discussing the merits of the recently strengthened strategic alliance. 

"Unfortunately, due to the pandemic and kind of everything that came with that, Europe struggled and a lot of things changed," Fitzpatrick said. "They were in a good shape, having eight Rolex Series events at eight, nine million and all of a sudden the pandemic comes along, wipes that completely out. I think we got two or three now, maybe four. Obviously there's another player in the game that's kind of hindered that even more, which is obviously a big factor in it as well. 

"But I'll be honest, I do think the strategic alliance is good. But at the same time I feel like there probably needs to be a little bit more done from the PGA Tour to Europe. I do think it's probably a little bit one-sided for now."

Tiger Woods and Mark O'Meara at the 1998 World Match Play Championship

O'Meara got the better of Woods 1-up in the 1998 final

(Image credit: Getty Images)

It's a sentiment shared by many. Now imagine, say, 32 of the world's best going toe-to-toe across four days at Wentworth in straight-up match play, with the two circuits represented equally. It would be immense and a great way for the PGA Tour to prove there is more than just self-preservation at the heart of this strategic alliance.

It's almost always a bad idea trying to relive the past, but among all the talk of new formats and contrived ways to encourage a fresh breed of golf fan, this would be a brilliant exception.

Andrew Wright
Freelance News Writer

A lifelong golf fan, Andy graduated in 2019 with a degree in Sports Journalism and got his first role in the industry as the Instruction Editor for National Club Golfer. From there, he decided to go freelance and now covers a variety of topics for Golf Monthly. 

Andy took up the game at the age of seven and even harboured ambitions of a career in the professional ranks for a spell. That didn’t pan out, but he still enjoys his weekend golf at Royal Troon and holds a scratch handicap. As a side note, he's made five holes-in-one and could quite possibly be Retief Goosen’s biggest fan.

As well as the above, some of Andy's work has featured on websites such as goal.com, dailyrecord.co.uk, and theopen.com.

What's in Andy's bag?

Driver: Callaway Mavrik Sub-Zero (9°)

3-wood: TaylorMade Stealth 2 Plus (15°)

Driving iron: Titleist U500 (17°)

Irons: Mizuno mp32 (4-PW)

Wedges: Titleist Vokey SM9 (50°, 54° and 58°)

Putter: Titleist Scotty Cameron Newport 2.5

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x