The Wentworth West course is reborn
Will any player be under as much scrutiny as Wentworth’s West course when the BMW PGA Championship returns there this week?
The redesign has had a revamp – Ernie Els working with European Golf Design and the team at the Surrey course to have another go at renovating the Harry Colt masterpiece.
This multi-million pound alteration has been no less substantial, with all greens and bunkers transformed.
But as the project, which began only days after Chris Wood lifted the trophy at the Reignwood Group-owned complex 12 months ago, nears its very public unveiling, those involved are far more confident the players will like what they see this time.
Not that, says Wentworth’s director of golf courses and grounds Kenny Mackay, the European Tour were the driving force for the changes.
“The membership weren’t playing the course as much as they used to,” he explains. “They found it too difficult.” “Primarily, the whole thing was driven by members wanting to see change,” adds EGD’s managing director Jeremy Slessor.
“While that was taking place, it gave us a chance to rectify concerns from tour players.
All 18 greens have been reseeded and re-turfed – with creeping bent grass – and SubAir systems installed to allow course chiefs to regulate speed and firmness. Four greens, the 8th, 11th, 14th and 16th, were rebuilt while five others – the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 12th and 15th – were partially altered.
A total of 29 bunkers were removed entirely, while every other trap on the course was redesigned and rebuilt.
An advisory team, which included Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn and his 2014 predecessor Paul McGinley, was consulted on behalf of the players.
Slessor adds: “There was a consensus among everyone about what needed to change and it became a very simple process. The relationship with Ernie and Kenny was very good and very positive. Everyone understood what needed to be done and agreed what needed to be done. What this hasn’t been is a restoration to try and get it back to what it was 30 or 40 years ago. One of the reasons Ernie was brought in (originally) was everyone realised the course needed to change.
“It is respectful to the past but with an eye to the future. The changes that have been made have been very much with trying to introduce some of the strategic ideas that Colt had without necessarily replicating features that he would have had.
“With that in mind, one of the things that everyone agreed needed to be changed was the bunkering. The common feeling was that it was unnecessarily penal – not just for the members but for the tour players as well. “When you get 150 tour players together and ask them what’s wrong, you will generally get 150 different answers. With Wentworth, it was pretty consistent all the way round.”
The timescale has been tight. With just a 12-month turnaround, Mackay concedes his new asset may require some bedding in time. Rather than focus, though, on what might not be completely tip-top, Mackay feels we should recognise the huge achievement of his team in getting it ready in such a short period.
He admits: “I am under no illusion that it is going to be perfect by the BMW. There are still areas that need some attention. (But) the team put in the volume of hours. On the West course, I’ve got 18 full-time greenkeepers and it is a huge achievement by them. There is pressure on a job and there’s a little bit extra pressure (with this). But it has been the right decision and we will see that this year.”
What will greet the players when they return to this private paradise is a course manifestly different from what they’ve experienced before. Yes, bunkers have gone and greens have been reshaped. But, as Slessor explains, the design team aimed for something grander.
“The object is not to make the course different but it is to reintroduce some strategies, which had been taken away, and make it a fair test of golf. No one has gone into this to do it on the basis that -10 will be the winning score. The players will now have options. We have widened some of the approaches into the greens. If the green conditions are right, you’ll have the option of running a ball in.”
Now it’s a waiting game. Waiting for the tournament to begin. Waiting to see the reaction the changes receive. For Mackay, his hope is that all those long hours his crews put in over the past year will prove worthwhile.
“If you reopen for the BMW, it’s a huge occasion,” he says. “All you want is to see that the work the guys have put in gets its rewards.”