Els toughens Wentworth exam

South African helps create a tougher test for the BMW PGA Championship this week with added length and more sand.

Bob Warters's picture
Mon, 22 May 2006
Els toughens Wentworth exam

Look out for new bunkers at the 18th

Question: What’s the golf statistic that Nick Job, Wayne Riley and Angel Cabrera all have in common?

Answer: All have held the course record of 63 on Wentworth’s West Course as it has been gradually lengthened since Job, ginger-mopped former pro at Richmond, set the mark in 1973.

The outspoken and volatile Aussie Riley re-set the mark in 1991 and Cabrera did it in 2001 on his way to the first of two second places in the BMW (then Volvo-sponsored) PGA Championship.

This week the Tour’s blue riband event (May 25-28) will add a new name to the distinguished course record holders now that Ernie Els has played a key role in lengthening the ‘Burma Road’ track by a further 310 yards.

The South African triple major championship winner lives beside the 16th fairway and emerged from his home on many gloomy winter mornings to help Wentworth’s course superintendent Chris Kennedy subtly re-shape a course which was threatening to be overpowered by improvements in players’ fitness and the equipment they use.

By lengthening the course from 6,998 to 7,308 yards he says he hopes he has brought some of the original bunkers placed by Harry Colt in the 1920s back into play and by adding others – 30 in total - has increased the need for accuracy off the tee with the big stick.

Els – re-designs at Wentworth course

Visitors to the tournament this week, as well as millions watching the BBC’s television coverage, will first notice bunkers positioned either side of the fairway on the first hole – a par-5 for members but only a drive and mid-iron par-4 for the cream of the European Tour.

On the par-5 fourth hole – a stone wall birdie for many and eagle opportunity for the longer hitters – the tee has been set back 54 yards rather than turn it into a par-4, while the sixth has had 67 yards added from the tee.

Els claimed the extra length here has turned a weak hole into a strong, picturesque one.

"Previously the green was almost driveable and even those hitting 3-iron or 4-iron had little more than a flick on to the green," he says."Now the pros are compelled to take driver or 3-wood bringing fairway bunkers in to play. It’s perhaps the most controversial of all the changes we have made but I love it."

Wentworth’s closing par-5 holes will no longer become a soft touch for those longer hitters looking for birdies or even eagles.

The 17th tee, traditionally terraced behind the 16th green, has been moved back 44 yards to turn it into a 610-yard monster. Only the most perfectly–shaped drive holding the sloping left-to-right fairway will bring the green in range around this right-to-left dogleg.

Bunkers have been placed to catch drives on the first hole

Els even considered placing a strategic bunker on the only hole without sand but decided there was enough trouble already.

However, he found the opportunity irresistible on 18 where cross bunkers in front of the green and others flanking it have been added as well as an extra 17 yards to the tee.

Says Els: "The game faces some tough decisions. Equipment has got better, the ball is going further and the players are fitter and stronger. the West Course was not playing as Harry Colt intended it but I hope the changes address that.

"Part of my focus was to reward the accurate hitter, especially off the tee, with extensive bunkering. Hopefully, Harry Colt is up there somewhere and looking down on us with a nod of approval," says Els, who will be one of the favourites for the title this week.

Others expected to make a strong claim are Colin Montgomerie, Luke Donald, David Howell, Darren Clarke, Henrik Stenson, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood all chasing vital Ryder Cup points.

If any of them can set a new course record , in Els eyes, they will have earned it!