The Rose Ladies Series Grand Final at Wentworth was halted in dramatic circumstances on Friday when wildfire swept through part of the course, leaving a number of players struggling to breathe before the event was cancelled on Saturday morning.
“With a heavy heart, the Major Incident Command Centre have closed Wentworth tomorrow due to the severity of the ongoing fire risk,” organisers tweeted on Friday night. “The Grand Final restart is cancelled until further notice. Most importantly, players, caddies & staff must be safe.”
The alarm was raised at 3pm and emergency services quickly evacuated the course and also closed the nearby Sunningdale course.
It is understood the fire started on Chobham Common in the morning and spread to the Wentworth course in the afternoon with the undergrowth tinder dry following a week of rising temperatures. Players on the ninth and 10th greens were guided away as flames drew nearer.
“We were going down the ninth and there was suddenly a lot of smoke and we had a lot of difficulty breathing,” said Cara Gainer. She was in 16th place when play was suspended, but was more concerned about her safety than her scoring, adding: “I am very stressed. It was quite terrifying how quick the fire was moving.
“But we finished the ninth and when we got to the 10th tee we could hear crackling. We then saw flames on the other side of the railway. We felt we shouldn’t be playing. Then suddenly the fire jumped the railway and onto the heather into the Wentworth course.”
Felicity Johnson, the Ladies European Tour professional, said: “As we were playing the ninth, we could see the smoke in the distance but it seemed to get closer pretty quickly. We were waiting on the ninth green to see what was happening and then [there were] some flames – and you could hear it.
“It is pretty scary when you suddenly see flames. We all know how fast fire can travel, so it was pretty scary for a moment there. We just had to stay at a safe distance and hope it could be brought under control.”
There were chaotic scenes as the players were initially evacuated into the ballroom of the prestigious club with rivals huddled around coffee tables including 2018 Women’s Open winner Georgia Hall.
The 24-year-old, who was in a neck-and-neck race with Solheim Cup team-mate Charley Hull to win the entire Rose Ladies Series, was accompanied by boyfriend Harry, who acts as her caddie.
They were joined by European Tour rookie Alice Hewson who, on six under par and two shots ahead, could have very well won what was supposed to be a three-day Grand Final event held on North Hants Golf Club on Wednesday and the Berkshire on Thursday. Hull was two shots behind, while Hall was a further one off.
Kate Rose was another anxious observer in the Wentworth ballroom. She and husband Justin put their names to the series after reading in Telegraph Sport of the efforts of golfer Liz Young who was trying to organise a tournament to help English female professionals who were struggling for opportunities to play competitively before the resumption of the Tour with the Scottish Open next weekend.