A look at the names teeing up says everything you need to know regarding what the players think these days about Wentworth’s West course.
It’s pretty close to a who’s who of European golf – a star-studded field headed by the continent’s most high profile player, Rory McIlroy, and with a host of Ryder Cup stalwarts and contenders flocking to have a crack at the Rolex Series opener.
Sixteen of the world’s top 50 and seven other major champions will line up – creating a spectacle that was not always guaranteed in years’ past.
That change is down to the £7 million investment in the Harry Colt-designed course by owners Reignwood Group, and the work of Kenny Mackay, Wentworth’s director of courses and grounds, and his team.
The revamped course, with completely refurbished green surfaces and bunkers, was launched to huge acclaim at the BMW PGA Championship 12 months ago.
Now, having had a year to bed in, but also forced to withstand the challenges of a wet and frigid winter, we caught up with Mackay to ask how the West was looking ahead of this year’s event…
How are things shaping up ahead of the championship?
The course is looking great. We had a terrible wet winter but, all of a sudden, in May it has been so dry with very little rain and the course has come on great.
As always, it is just a waiting game when you are preparing for a May event. You’re just waiting for all the trees to come out and that sunshine brought everything out.
The greens are ready to go and we are right there – and probably even better than last year.
How are those greens now they have been in for a year? Have they flourished with the other turf?
They were very young last year. This year, the STRI have done all the measurements – trueness, smoothness, green speeds, firmness – and, last Friday, we were in a good position and probably better than last year at this time when compared to the year before.
We’re expecting good results over the next few days.
Is it an exciting time? The comments you got last year from a lot of the players were fantastic and yet you know how the course has improved since…
Yes, I think that, but it all depends on weather, conditions and how it plays for each individual. All the players have a view and, generally, the players that do well have a better view. That’s normal and that’s golf.
Is this your most nervous time of the week – waiting for the tournament to get under way having done all the preparations?
It’s all fine-tuning between now and the Pro-Am. That’s now such a big day that we can’t actually do much once it’s started.
We are ready to go, and have been ready since practice on Monday on the main areas. It’s just all the small, little jobs, and getting everything right. The big jobs are all in hand.
How has the winter hindered you, and how welcome has this recent dry spell been?
From everything outside of the greens, it’s tricky. With the greens themselves, we limit the play so that doesn’t really affect us too much.
We have a winter closure, and two other great golf courses you can play, so that doesn’t affect us and the Sub Air system dries everything down.
The greens performance is what the whole thing is about for me. The rest of the course is a little bit trickier but it has all come together with the weather.
That’s a very unusual situation, where you can close one of your courses for the winter. Take me through the process of that?
For the winter just gone, we closed in December and January and extended into February. We just felt it was the first year of the golf course and bent grass doesn’t like low levels of light.
So we definitely wanted to make sure we didn’t put a lot of traffic on there while it was at its weakest. That’s still the case and we’ll want to do that going forward – to protect it when it’s at its weakest.
But we have such an opportunity because we have two other golf courses. We have a poa annua bent mix at the other two courses and they cope with a lot more wear and tear in the winter.
Would Wentworth get a lot of play in the winter?
Let me say that if the West course was open it would get played. Most people come, bring their guests and if the West was open it would be played.
We play the other two courses and it just balances the traffic out a little bit more on the East and Edinburgh.
You’ve often talked about the challenges of getting a tournament ready for the end of May in the UK climate. What has it been like this year with those adverse weather conditions?
It has been a bit of a worry – up until it dried out and everything has come together. It’s amazing. We got a bit of rain, a bit of moisture and then the sunshine and high temperatures and everything has grown.
It has been a bit of a weird spring. We kind of went from winter to summer and it feels like spring hasn’t really happened.
Does that give you different things to think about – going from wet and frost to really hot and dry?
Not really. Everyone loves it and as soon as you get that weather everyone is out playing golf with their T-shirts on. We know the growth is going to come so we need to repair and then we are back on track.
We don’t really change much of the programme. The hardest thing is that it’s usually cold in the spring, with an easterly wind, and you don’t get any growth.
This year, it went totally the other way – wet and then really high temperatures and loads of growth.
How do you feel the course is now compared with where it was 12 months ago? How much more forward are you for having that extra year under your belt?
I do think the greens have improved and, with the STRI and all the measurements we are seeing, they are showing that.
It will be interesting to understand that in play but I think, overall, the greens have matured well, the bunkers have settled down and it just needed that year to bed in.
Although it was good last year – really good – I think it could be better this year.