VIRGINIA WATER, England – Ernie’s off the hook. After days of taking flak from his peers, Wentworth owner Richard Caring has restored Ernie Els’ reputation as a golf course designer.
Els had a hand in redesigning the Wentworth West Course for this year’s BMW PGA Championship. Laid out by Harry Colt in the 1920s, the West was a quintessential English parkland course.
Until this year.
When Europe’s elite turned up for the European Tour’s flagship event, they discovered a course that was as far removed from the layout that had held the PGA Championship since 1954, as well as the 1953 Ryder Cup and 1956 Canada Cup.
And most of the pros hated it.
Els has been getting slammed all week by his fellow pros. Defending champion Paul Casey went as far as to say that what had happened to Wentworth called for traditional courses to be protected. He advocated treating traditional golf courses like historic buildings, so that future architects did not vary from the original architect’s intention.
What upset most players was the drastic change to the par-5 18th. This hole used to yield many birdies and eagles. In past years most players had a go at the green. This year they turned up and found an artificial water hazard in front of the green, and discovered it had turned into a genuine three-shot par 5.
They weren’t happy, and let it be known.
Els admitted earlier in the week that he and Caring had a few battles over the course changes, most notably over the 18th. Els did not favor the water hazard or raising the green, but Caring was paying the bills and got his way.
Turned out Caring was wrong and Els was right. On Friday, Caring was man enough to admit it.
“The 18th was a dream I had,” Caring said. “I wanted to give the spectators a bit of excitement, a bit of theater. We might have gone slightly too far because it’s proven to be quite difficult. I think the green could be slightly lower, which is what Ernie Els wanted to do. I was a bit more theatrical than he was. I liked it a little higher. I thought we should tempt the pros to hit the second shot into the green rather than laying up. I must say Ernie was right and I was wrong.”
There’s a good chance the changes will be implanted by the time Europe’s best players return to Wentworth.
“We will talk to the pros who we really want to listen to give me a few ideas,” Caring said. “It’s Ernie’s call at the end of the day, but I believe the 18th will have changed and there might be one or two other tweaks.”
The other tweaks will probably come at the eighth and 12th holes. The par-4 eighth features a water hazard in front of a small, raised green that is hard to hold. The 12th, meanwhile, has been turned from a par 5 to a par 4. However, the green is not designed to accept a long iron shot.
Look for both to be changed along with No. 18 before the 2011 BMW PGA Championship. Those changes will please Europe’s elite and restore Els’s reputation as a course designer.