Players criticize Els' Wentworth West redesign

Ian Poulter during Round 1 of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.

VIRGINIA WATER, England – Wentworth’s West Course will win this week’s battle with Europe’s elite in the €4.5 million BMW PGA Championship.

That was plainly obvious as the sun set on the second round.

For the second year in a row, the Wentworth West Course has come in for criticism from Europe’s elite. Seems the crème de la crème of European golf want their course back.

Wentworth’s famed West Course is on its third redesign in five years. Wentworth resident Ernie Els is the man in the hot seat for changes to a course many feel is among Harry Colt’s best.

The Big Easy is taking a lot of heat. Els lengthened the course five years ago, putting in many new tees. He made further changes to the layout in time for last year’s BMW PGA Championship.

The redesign was met with howls of protest. Europe’s elite mostly complained about the par-5, 18th, where a new water hazard forced them into lay-up mode rather than risk racking up a big number by going for the green.

The South African was forced to soften the 18th for this year’s tournament along with other changes. It hasn’t stopped the criticism.

“I don’t like this golf course, end of story,” was Ian Poulter’s scathing criticism. “You don’t need to do a lot wrong on this newly-designed golf course to struggle.”

The Englishman made a double bogey at the last when he laid up, and then watched as his approach hit the green and spun back into the water.

“I don’t have a problem with tough golf courses. I’ve walked off the golf course and I’m absolutely headless, absolutely fuming,” Poulter said.

Poulter wasn’t the only Englishman to slam the redesign. Paul Casey, 2009 champion, also passed judgement on Els’ handiwork.

“This is a golf course where you can do not a lot wrong and walk away double bogeys,” Casey said. “That’s just because of the way the golf course is designed now, and the way it’s been changed.

“I used to really enjoy playing this golf course, but now it’s a grind.”

The criticism didn’t sit well with Els. He took a lot of flak last year. In fact, the South African had face-to-face showdowns with several players. He was forced to issue a statement this year, defending the course changes.

“Wentworth is now a fair and honest test of golf,” Els said. “In two weeks at Congressional (for the U.S. Open), if you are marginally off, you will pay the price. This is by no means the U.S. Open, but it’s a great warm up.

“It’s two weeks before the U.S. Open, it’s the (European) Tour’s flagship event and should be played on a major championship style layout. The course is by no means unfair. It was last year, but it’s not this. It’s a true test of golf.”

Players before the redesign used to complain about the greens, that they had too much thatch. Padraig Harrington, Poulter and Retief Goosen were among the stars to skip the event.

Wentworth instigated the changes to ensure attendance of top stars. Unfortunately, Wentworth owner Richard Caring decided to get involved. Instead of a face-lift, he went for a total reconstruction.

One thing’s sure – Wentworth is no longer a Harry Colt course. In fact, Colt is probably rolling in his grave. In changing the 18th and moving the tee back at the par-5, 17th, Els and Caring have reduced the chances of a dramatic eagle-eagle finish that used to characterize previous tournaments.

Hardly any players go for the 18th these days. After 16 eagles in 2009, only one eagle was made last year and only two so far this year.

When Luke Donald finished his second round tied for the lead with Alvaro Quiros and Matteo Manassero, he was one of only 18 players under par with the halfway cut looking likely to be 5-over-par.

Someone will obviously emerge victorious, but no one will bring Wentworth to its knees this week. It’s doubtful anyone ever will again.

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