Played by NCG: Wentworth’s redesigned West course
This might go down as the greatest 23 points I’ve ever scored.
Normally, a front nine of 11 and a back of 12 would send me into a spiral of despair – a dark, depressive episode that has me wondering why I play and how I can better spend my time.
But I came off Wentworth’s West course, after failing to pick up anything on the epic closing hole, exhilarated. If only I could go round again.
Is there a layout that elicits more comment than the home of the BMW PGA Championship?
Ernie Els was brought in nearly a decade ago to revamp the Harry Colt classic. Then, over the past 12 months, he had another bash – this time teaming up with European Golf Design.
You have to admire the ambition. Days after Chris Wood got his hands on the trophy last year, the diggers moved in and turned this venerable track into a building site.
Every green was re-turfed and re-seeded. Several of them were rebuilt and another five were partially rebuilt. Every bunker was redesigned. Nearly 30 were taken out altogether.
That’s the sort of project that would hospitalise your average greens team. Yet Wentworth director of golf courses and grounds Kenny Mackay, and his squad, had only a year to get it back into championship condition.
Before we get into the nitty gritty, let’s say from the outset the staff have done a proper job.
It all looks like it has been down and settled for years.
Changing the greens to creeping bent grass sounds a logistical nightmare but, a couple of weeks before the BMW gets under way, I can attest to the superb quality of the putting surfaces.
Set the ball off on a line and it won’t deviate. They are smooth, true, and very quick. Add a couple of feet of pace to them, as Mackay plans to do when the professionals arrive, and they’ll never have experienced anything like it in the UK in May.
Things started well for me. A very solid hybrid on the first led to a chased 6-iron to the bottom of the dip. Then it started to get interesting.
The clue was my 9-iron that pitched on the front of the green. When I got up there I was a little surprised to see the ball sitting at the back.
When I hit my downhill putt and watched it roll some 25 feet past the flag, it scared the life out of me. I escaped with a 6.
Jeremy Slessor, managing director at EGD, told me one of the reasons behind the bunker changes was to make them less of a penal experience.
I decided to investigate properly, finding a greenside bunker on both the 2nd and 3rd. Just for good measure, I also popped a drive into a couple of fairway traps further out on the front nine.
Europe’s top dogs should have no complaints. Splashing out was easy from the fluffy sand and I was tempted to take a couple of 7-irons from decent lies 150 and 160 yards out. That would have been impossible previously.
Chris Wood, in a post round press conference, talked about how tough the course had previously been from tee to green.
But I found it eminently playable and no end of fun.
The bunkers will punish a wayward drive but the fairways felt wide enough that I could open my shoulders and have a bit of a lash.
It gets progressively harder, though, the closer you get to the green. I can’t tell you the number of times I stood following a decent tee shot and came away with 6.
That’s partly because the rough, both off the fairway and particularly around the green, is deceptively thick. It’s the kind of sticky stuff that traps a club on impact (I’ll never laugh at a pro for chunking a greenside chip again).
Get it in the wrong spot on the green and you have no chance of making your next putt. Strategy and touch are absolutely key.
Never is this more easily explained than on the 17th.
I was pin high in 3 but off the left. I faced a chip over a bunker to a green that ran away from me. On the other side was a massive run off.
Was there ever any doubt as to where my ball would end up?
That’s not a moan, by the way. Faced with a downhill putt on the 12th that looked like it would fall off the world with the merest of touches, I couldn’t help but beam widely. I loved the challenge.
Those hardships merely made the highs more worthwhile. I was genuinely chuffed to par the 7th – a hole that’s quintessential Colt to its very roots – and I’ll take my up and down at 16 to the grave as one of my best ever par saves.
A lot has been said and written about the 18th but, with the grandstands as a background, it really is a standout finish.
I’m not sure whether I would have had a go at the green from the new bunker on the left if I was playing in a medal, but taking on the stream is a daredevil shot – and surely why we play.
Expect to see more action here this year, and more players looking to get on in two.
Just don’t go in the right greenside bunker. With the stream winding its way alongside the green just a few yards in front of you, I think that’s about as difficult a shot as there might be in the game.
The water claimed another victim.
The West course has been criticised and it has been controversial. Now, it’s just destined to be a classic. Well done, Wentworth. Well done.
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