At 3 P.M. on April 26, Leon Wentz, a 68-year-old California businessman with a 10 handicap, putted out on the final green at Augusta National for a round of 85. It wasn’t his best score on a great course, but it was an achievement nonetheless — with that round, Wentz had played all of the courses on GOLF MAGAZINE’s Top 100 Courses in the World. From backtracking to faraway countries to keeping clear of falling monkeys, Wentz braved a lot to play them all.
We asked about the highs and lows of his globe-trotting quest, which began at Pebble Beach in 1996.
Playing the Top 100 Courses in the World is a fantasy for most golfers. What made you do it for real?
I was flipping through GOLF MAGAZINE, saw the Top 100 World list, and thought, “Now, here’s a challenge!” I asked my wife if it would be okay if I made this my chore for the next few years, and she said to go for it. I lost 11 courses because of the list changing. For example, I had to go back to New Zealand three months ago to play one that came up on the last list. I wanted to play the current list, not an old list.
What were some of the adventures along the way?
I traveled 28,000 miles to South Africa for one course. I had to network for three years to get on some private courses in Japan. I’ve had monkeys fall out of trees onto my tee box, snakes cross my path on the fairway.
What was the best course?
Shinnecock Hills was pure golf. It was the best for me.
The most overrated?
El Saler in Spain, Winged Foot East, Paraparauma Beach in New Zealand.
How about the friendliest?
Ganton, in England. The people were beautiful and I had the greatest time.
Which course would you most want to join?
Which course would you never play again?
El Saler. No offense to your panel, but it’s just not a world-class course. There are only two holes that justify its existence on the list, and it’s not even well-conditioned.
What were your best and worst rounds?
Best was at Quaker Ridge, I shot a 74. Worst was at Pine Valley, I had a 90.
What’s the toughest course?
Pine Valley, for sure.
And the most beautiful?
What’s the hardest course to find without a member guiding you?
Morfontaine in France.
Which one has the best bar?
Jefferson’s Bar at Shinnecock.
What was your longest journey to play a course on the list?
28,000 miles round-trip from San Francisco to Durban, South Africa.
What was the worst weather you experienced?
I used five gloves at Lahinch. Four inches of rain fell in four hours.