Els hoping course changes impress BMW field


2009 European TourWENTWORTH, England – Ernie Els is a little nervous as Europe’s top players arrive at Wentworth for the BMW PGA Championship starting on Thursday.

The three-time major winner has spent the English winter overseeing a radical redesign of the course west of London.

Els deepened some of the bunkers so they force players to play out sideways, and at the par-5 18th hole, the scene of many a dramatic Sunday afternoon finish since Wentworth hosted the PGA regularly from 1984, he installed a small lake in front of the green.

Traditionalists say some of the changes are out of place given the natural heath on which Wentworth is situated, and others fear the newly relaid and heavily sand-protected greens may not hold approach shots.

But while he’s on edge as he awaits the reaction from the other 149 players, Els also believes he has updated a course first designed by Harry Colt in 1927.

18th hole at Wentworth
No. 18 at Wentworth's West Course (Getty Images)
“I am actually nervous,” Els said. “I am in the hot seat. I am the guy the guys can fire at, can throw their arrows at. And you know if the guys don’t like it you can listen to what they don’t like.

“But at the end of the day you see the course and you do it the way you see it and feel you want to test the players and be fair to them. We’ll just have to wait and see how it pans out at the end of the week.

“Obviously I am not going to please everybody and I am going to have questions all over the place. But the course is the way we saw it and hopefully the guys will appreciate that.”

Richard Caring, the owner of Wentworth, employed Els’ design skills after enduring years of outspoken criticism of the course’s greens, particularly from triple major winner Padraig Harrington.

But in the end his working brief was to update Wentworth to keep apace with the advance of golf club and ball technology.

“This tournament is like a fifth major championship over here in
Europe and the course needs to have a bit of stature and a little bit of teeth in it,” Els said. “And I think we have brought that back.

“The players will have a bit of a shock but I am sure they will find a way around here.”

After deliberately staying away from Europe’s PGA Championship for two years, Harrington returned to Wentworth on Monday and was ready to congratulate Els.

“I have been very impressed,” the Irishman said. “They have built a substantial course and we are going to see all sorts of drama from the players at the 18th.

“They are going to want to take on the water and by doing that they are going to bring eagle 3s and double bogey 7s into play which is exactly how it should be.”

Harrington, meanwhile, confirmed that next week he will undergo keyhole surgery to repair his damaged right knee cartilage, but fully expects to be fit to play in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach next month.