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Wentworth's dramatic overhaul exceeds all expectation

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Iain Carter | 10:10 UK time, Saturday, 24 October 2009

Britain's most famous inland golf course is going to be barely recognisable when it re-opens next spring, ahead of the European Tour's flagship BMW PGA Championship.

All that remains unchanged about Wentworth's West Course, a spring and autumn fixture on BBC television screens for decades, is its hole routing, location and clubhouse.

At the end of last year's PGA the course checked in for some cosmetic work. All 18 greens would be re-laid with colonial bentgrass to alleviate the unevenness of spring-time poa bent that was forcing big-name stars like Padraig Harrington to stay away from the event.

So, the plan was for a facelift to attract back the stars to the PGA. But once the golf- design doctors started work they soon realised the need and opportunity for major surgery.

This coming week marks the first World Match Play Championship to be staged away from Wentworth, so it seemed appropriate to pay a visit to the venue that until last year had staged this popular event since 1964.

The extent of the development being carried out is truly staggering and it is clear that much of it is dental work because the new Wentworth West will have teeth - strong, sharp, nasty ones at that.Wentworth will see a new 18th hole

Wentworth's 18th will now have water in front of the green

What was going to be a £1.5m project to make the greens acceptable to the likes of Harrington and Ian Poulter is now a £3m exercise in revamping the entire course, with the most dramatic change coming at the famous par-five last hole.

A new brook has been created to provide a truly "in your face" water hazard immediately in front of the green. It is approximately eight yards wide with vertical wooden walls that separate it from an elevated putting surface.

So a perfect drive to the traditional fairway corner location will require a second shot to carry 220 yards to a small target that's also guarded by deep bunkers front and back of the green.

The bunkers that guard the left corner of the fairway have also been remodelled to make it a real temptation to make an attempt to take on the carry to the green from the sand.

It is a recipe for memorable golfing drama to surely excite the watching galleries. What the players will make of it remains to be seen, though, because it is a penal design that provides a punishment perhaps greater than the crime of a slight mishit would deserve.

But the pros have to remember they're in the entertainment industry - not that they will need reminding by the time they reach the 18th, anyway, because the entire ethos of the changes is to make golf on the West Course exciting and unforgettable.

"What will people remember from this hole?" has been the repeated challenge put to the Ernie Els design team by the Wentworth owner Richard Caring, the fashion and restaurant tycoon.

It was when the course closed on 31 May last year after Paul Casey had won the PGA and Wentworth had staged its Club Championship that it was quickly realised there was a massive chance to make dramatic change.

"We realised it would be a travesty not to take this once in a lifetime opportunity of having the course closed for a year to create history," said Wentworth chief executive Julian Small.

Losing a year's worth of golf on the West Course was already going to be a £3m hit on the Wentworth coffers. They were in for another £1.5m to relay the greens and for another £1.5m they decided to go for a comprehensive re-build.

The total cost of the project therefore is £6m and it is progressing on time, and so far has been aided by ideal weather conditions in the summer and autumn.

Nevertheless, it remains a tight race against time to have the course ready for the European Tour's flagship event next spring (incidentally it will be staged a week earlier than usual 20-23 May).

Among the most noticeable changes will be the way the bunkering has been dramatically deepened all around the course. For example, on the 1st the trap guarding the front left of the green is fully 15 feet below the putting surface.Wentworth's West course will look very different at the 2010 PGA Championship

Wentworth's West course will look very different at the 2010 PGA Championship

The hazards retain the rolled faces that were the trademark of the original designer Harry Colt, but in their severity they are approaching the Woodhall Spa scale in places.

Sensibly, the long 17th remains free of bunkers (as has always been the case) but the green is smaller and has been shifted slightly with a dramatic run-off to the right.

The 12th has been reclassified as a par-four rather than being the easy birdie/eagle chance when the scorecard suggested it should be completed in five strokes. It has a new raised green and bunkers will guard the right side of the fairway. It will present a formidable challenge.

On the 15th a re-routed ditch will meander down the right side of the fairway and the bunker that prevented wayward drives careering into real trouble down the right will be removed.

Water that guards the 8th has been extended and a new tee is being built to provide tournament directors with the option of making it a short, driveable par-four.

Indeed, every hole has been changed in some way or other. There is still a vast amount of work to be done and only once it has been played by the top pros will we be able to gauge how successful the project has been and its popularity in the locker room.

But already there appears potential for great drama and the days of 20 under par winning the PGA now seem well and truly gone. I'd go further and say that the European Tour has the makings of its own much needed Stadium Course with the changes that are being made.

The big names are being urged to return to its flagship event next year, and every indicator suggests they will heed the call. How they deal with the new course will be fascinating to watch. "I just can't wait," says Small from his Wentworth office and it is easy to see why.


  • Comment number 1.

    It makes me laugh how the "Pro's" have suddenly deemed themselves agronomic experts when it comes to fine turf surfaces! I would love to ask the likes of Harrington, Garcia and Casey exactly what they object to in regards to Poa annua? Undoubtedly this 'weed' grass is a perennial problem to many of our UK and Northern European Golf Course Managers, however as Chris Kennedy and his team proved year after year it is also possible to present top-class surfaces from this grass species. I myself have in excess of 14 years experience in the management of golf courses around the World and I am currently lecturing at a UK turf college.
    It is increasingly concerning how journalists and players are all jumping on the 'Bent grass' band wagon. It truly is a case of a little knowledge being a dangerous thing! 'Colonial bent' as described in this article would be an unlikely turfgrass selection for a 21st Century golf green, we are now in to an era of A's and G's (These species and associated cultivars are bred for purity and density of sward) However, most worrying is that these grasses are developed for the US and Southern Hemisphere climates and no one really knows beyond 6 years how these grass species will perform in Northern European conditions. I truly hope Wentworth comes back fighting, but I find it hard to stomach advice on what constitutes a quality sward from those without the specialist knowledge of this complex science.

  • Comment number 2.

    we are ,in total agreement,with the comments made by Stellargreeny,who correctly alluded to the issue of climate ,vis a vis the species.having lead research into the long term effects of extremes in temperature on "new"cultivars,we cannot at this present moment in our research,say definitively,what the density will be in the short or longer term.

  • Comment number 3.

    does everyone really think it is these couse changes and not scheduling that will bring the top players back?

  • Comment number 4.

    A Stadium course! Yes that's just what a classic course like Wentworth should have become. Why's this all about the tour pros? What about the members, can they still have a pleasurable round?

    Julian Small claims they are "creating history" but really they're destroying it. And Ernie Els constantly claiming that Harry Colt would approve of the changes as the scope of the projects have stretched and stretched has become comical.

    Why didn't they use this opportunity to restore the heathland nature of the course?

  • Comment number 5.

    Wonderful!! These changes are truly fantastic and surely now, this will give the Wentworth hierarchy reason to further increase the green fee for the West Course to over £300 (last I heard it was £280 a round) and really ensure that it's pretty much inaccessible to Joe Public unless you're rich enough to be me a member, fortunate enough to work for a company who have corporate membership there or, work in a position where your suppliers will take you there. Pretty sad really. Still, I delight in having played this course many times and never paid a penny for the privilege and am looking forward to a round next spring to see how the changes have worked....

  • Comment number 6.

    I think people are missing the point that the problem with the greens is that they are not as smooth to put on in May because of the different types of grass that grow at different speeds at certain times of year. It is not because they like any particular type of surface or the colour. I still think that the powers that be need to look at equipment for the Pros rather than just making courses longer and more difficult. For a start no tour pro should be allowed to use a rescue club. Driver size should be limited to a maximum of what it was 10 years ago, and they should be allowed no more than 2 woods, forcing them to use 1 and 2 irons again. This is the true test of a golfer if you can hit these clubs. Also golf ball design should go back to what it was 15 years ago for tour pros. Most of these changes are then not required to the course. I think any member with any sense would play the east course or the Edinburgh course more often than the west anyway as they are fantastic courses in their own right.

  • Comment number 7.

    still wouldn't be much change at the top,monty, guess who hits a 1 and 2 iron better than anyone else? remember bethpage black the 1st time?? the course changes may help bring a few more european tour pros, but the real problem is still the schedule and the euro tour fighting for euro players. dunno how much will change there as i've never seen a proposal that looked like it made sense for the players. show me one and i'll push it on the air...ideas anyone?

  • Comment number 8.

    Is this £6m spend by the Wentworth authorities a reaction (somewhat belatedly) to the move to Dubai on the part of the PGA headquarters and the European Tour which is committed to tour results geared to The Race to Dubai?

    I regret seeing this drift away from the UK and, indeed, Europe! Of course it is all to do with money. However, from what one hears, the race to develop Dubai has stalled with the world financial crisis resulting in many building projects on hold. Is there still hope for true European golf?

  • Comment number 9.

    part of the problem is the way we view things. this goes across many parts of life and not just golf. of course golf is a global game now. and yes, it has much to do w/ money. it's not a usa thing or a european thing or an asian thing. this is sport. if you want the BEST in sport on the planet the future will be enjoyable for you. if you are only interested in YOUR home country or continent, then sport will frustrate you in the future. the players want not only to earn as much money as they can in their sporting life, but also to compete against the best there is on the planet. why do you think players are so happy winning the BIG events now? b/c they know they have won against the best there are! and when that field includes tiger, well then that makes it all the sweeter. we will continue to see a global shift across sport. american football teams playing in the nfl based in europe. a super-world league w/ the best footballing teams (soccer) wouldn't surprise me either. man u want to be the best in the world, not just the prem. same goes for barca in spain or bayern in germany. we need to stop thinking devisively. for the business side it's image and branding, but for the sportsmen- they want to know they really truly are the best in the world for their victories...

  • Comment number 10.

    Read my comment erroneously posted to 'Matchplay format


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