Interview with Ernie Els: the changes to Wentworth’s West Course

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick October 17, 2011 15:44

Described as the one ‘they all want to play’, the West Course, or Burma Road, is arguably Britain’s most famous golf course. It has, for instance, been the host of the World Match Play Championship since 1964, supplying it with more than two generations of annual worldwide television coverage. It now hosts three professional tournaments every year, although is still probably best known for staging the 1953 Ryder Cup – one of the closest in the competition’s history. But it has just changed.

The 85-year old course, designed by Harry Colt, has been tweaked twice, in 2006 and 2010, by the man who lives by its 16th tee, Wentworth’s touring professional, Ernie Els. The South African added 310 yards to the par-72 lay-out, after an injury to his knee in 2005 gave him the time to devote to the course he calls home.

“The game of golf faces some tough decisions at the moment,” said Els. “Equipment has got better, the ball is going further and the players are fitter and stronger. The fact is the West Course did not play as Harry Colt intended.”

The major changes have been made on what were traditionally the easier holes. Accurate hitters are now more rewarded, due to the rebunkering, and the contours of all 18 greens have changed.

There are stunning new tees on the 4th, 5th, 6th and the 17th holes, (the 6th has also been extended by some 67 yards), while the number of bunkers surrounding the 18th green has trebled to nine.

VIRGINIA WATER, ENGLAND – MAY 24: Ernie Els of South Africa tees off on the 7th hole during day one of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth on May 24, 2018 in Virginia Water, England. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

The 4th hole and 18th holes have maybe seen the most change: 54 more yards for the 4th, making it more than 550 yards for the championship players, while the bunkers have quadrupled to eight. “It’s a tougher par 5,” said Els. “Visually it’s a much more intimidating tee shot, which is what I think Harry Colt had in mind.” Meanwhile, a ditch has transformed the 18th hole.

The 17th has also seen significant change. “New technology has made it play a lot shorter than I think it should,” said Els. “We’ve moved the tee back 44 yards so now you’ll need plenty of distance to put yourself in range of the green. Even at 610 yards [from the back tee] some players are going to be able to get home in two shots, because the drive is from an elevated tee.

“But the difference is now it’ll take two great hits to do it, which is just as it should be.” The hole remains without any bunkers however.

What has been particularly impressive is that the redesign took just five months to complete, largely thanks to the hands on approach of Els.

“We’re just delighted to have Ernie here,” said a Wentworth spokesman. Sentiments shared, no doubt, by the amateurs and professionals who will continue to play this famous course.

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick October 17, 2011 15:44
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