VIRGINIA WATER, England – The retouching of Harry Colt’s Wentworth West Course is nearly complete.
At least Ernie Els hopes so. As the man responsible for altering Colt’s creation, Els is sick of the slings and arrows thrown at him over the last few years. The three-time major winner is hoping his re-design of the course Colt laid down in 1926 finally gets the seal of approval from Europe’s elite during this year’s 4.5 million euro BMW PGA Championship, the European Tour’s flagship event.
Els owns a property on the elite Wentworth Estate, home to some of the richest people in England. He’s also won the World Match Play title seven times around the Wentworth West Course. So, he was a natural to overhaul the layout. He first had a crack at redesigning the course in 2005.
However, when new owner Richard Caring decided he wanted a total revamp of the West Course, Els was asked to go just a little bit further. He made radical changes two years ago.
The South African’s handiwork didn’t meet with choruses of approval from Europe’s top players. Just the opposite. Many players were almost apoplectic at what Els had done. In fact, he and Thomas Bjorn, who once resided at Wentworth, had a face-to-face showdown two years ago. Suffice it to say, the Dane wasn’t a huge fan of Els’ modifications.
“You make changes on a great golf course like the West Course, people are not going to like it,” Els said. “You do something that you feel fits your eye and hopefully it fits most of the other golfers’ eyes but it’s not going to and you’ll have people that are not going to like it.”
Most of the criticism leveled at Els came from what he did to the par-5 18th hole. The South African radically altered 18. He placed a stream in front of the green; making what was once a two-shot eagle opportunity a genuine three-shot par 5. Indeed, players went from routinely trying to hit the green in two to laying up short, so severe was the penalty if they went for it and failed.
Word is that owner Caring was the man who wanted the 18th to be so dramatic, but because Els’ name was on the design – and on a handsome check – he took the flak when Europe’s elite howled in protest. Els was forced to soften the hole for last year’s tournament, and has retouched it for this year’s BMW PGA Championship, too.
Lee Westwood spun his wedge approach shot into the water last year during a sudden death playoff with Luke Donald. Donald won the playoff, but Westwood’s loss forced Els back to the drawing board.
The Wentworth greens staff has taken steps to make sure a well-struck pitch doesn’t spin into the water this year. They’ve also leveled and raised the fairway.
“There’s a thicker fringe around the green this year, so that kind of shot won’t happen again,” Els said. “He didn’t hit a bad shot. He hit it left of the hole but the penalty was quite severe.
“I think it’s going to be a great finishing hole again.”
Let’s hope so, or Els’ ears might be ringing come Sunday evening.