Ernie Els Design and European Golf Design have completed the renovation of the West course at Wentworth Club, in time for the European Tour’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship, which will take place from 25-28 May 2017.
“Our brief was to make the course more playable for the members and address concerns raised over recent years by tour players – in that order,” said Jeremy Slessor, managing director of European Golf Design (EGD), a joint venture between the European Tour and sports marketing firm IMG.
“Our intention was to make sure the course was a fair test focused on shot values, where well-executed shots would be rewarded,” added Greg Letsche, senior design associate for Ernie Els Design.
This has been achieved by softening the contours of greens, removing some bunkers and reducing the depth of others. Greens are now more accessible from the ground, with entrances having been reopened, most notably at the par-four sixteenth hole, where a front central bunker has been removed, and the par-five seventeenth, where slopes have been recontoured to give approach shots more chance of rolling on to the green.
Greens at the eighth, eleventh, fourteenth and sixteenth have been completely rebuilt, and those at the third, fourth, fifth, twelfth and fifteenth have been significantly altered. All construction work was handled by MJ Abbott.
The most notable change comes on the eighth hole, where the green surface had previously been raised and sharp drop-offs on all sides made it difficult for average golfers to hit and hold the putting surface with approach shots that play over a lake. The green has now been lowered by almost three feet, and the bunker on the right of the green has been removed.
The club has introduced SubAir systems on all eighteen greens for aeration and moisture removal, and reseeded the greens with 007 DSB creeping bent. This has resulted in immaculate putting surfaces that are already receiving extremely positive feedback among players.
Chris Wood, winner of last year’s BMW PGA Championship, said: “It’s night and day. The greens are absolutely perfect – every putt is so true.” Speaking to GCA about the changes to the course, Wood added: “I think you’ll see players being more aggressive.”
The club has an ongoing landscaping plan which will see more heather being introduced. Slessor explained: “We’re being careful not to do this as a pastiche, with frilly edges on every bunker. We’re focusing more on the areas of the course that are naturally heath, from the seventh hole to the thirteenth. The other holes are more parkland in feel.”
The project has been a collaboration between Els’ firm, EGD and Wentworth’s director of courses and grounds Kenny Mackay, with an advisory team of Thomas Bjorn, Paul McGinley and David Jones representing the views of tour players. “It’s not been ‘design by committee’ though,” emphasised Slessor, “it’s been designed with consultation.”
Els’ firm handled the controversial 2009 renovation of the West course, which saw the introduction of many of the severe features that have now been softened. In 2014 the club was purchased by Reignwood Investments, owned by Chinese businessman Dr Chanchai Ruayrungruang, and this change appears to have given the design team more freedom over course design decisions.
“This is what our intent was from day one,” said Letsche. “And now it has come to fruition.”
More details on the West course renovation will appear in the July 2017 edition of Golf Course Architecture. Subscribe to the printed edition or a free online edition.