It went unnoticed last year, the precipitous Top 50 dive of the Wentworth Club’s West Course from No. 58 to No. 712. I had meant to comment on it, since Wentworth, just outside London, is the most storied non-links venue in European golf — headquarters of the PGA European Tour, site of the 1953 Ryder Cup, host to the World Match Play from 1964 to 2007, and longtime venue for the British PGA Championship. But one of my aides pointed out that criticism of Wentworth by an American, coming at a delicate stage in Anglo-American peace talks, might not be in the national interest. So I simply tweeted, “els redesign of wntwrth sucks, shld blowit up n strt ovr.”*
*I dictate my tweets in standard English. My granddaughter converts them to Twitterese.
Yesterday, however, an Englishman known for his Union Jack trousers tore into Wentworth West with such abandon that I no longer see the need for reticence. “Bloody hell,” Ian Poulter almost said yesterday, after he double-bogeyed the tarted-up 18th hole for a second-round 74 at the aforementioned BMW PGA Championship. My GOLF Magazine colleague, Paul Mahoney, reports that Poulter “ranted” when asked what he found most challenging about the redesign by golf legend Ernie Els:
“The tees, the fairways, the rough, the greens, and those 20-foot-deep bunkers,” he ranted. “I don’t like this golf course, period. End of story.”
The new green at the par-5 18th hole, fronted by a mail-order brook, received the brunt of Poulter’s opprobrium. “We are trying to land it on a dining room table from 230 yards out,” he sputtered. “I’ve hit what I thought was a perfect third shot, maybe caught out a tiny bit by the wind, and it pitches by the green and finishes in the hazard. Marvelous!”
Asked if he was begging permission to play from the forward tees, the world’s 14th-ranked golfer reddened. He said, “I don’t have a problem with tough courses, but I’ve walked off the golf course and I’m headless, absolutely fuming.”
Poulter is known to get emotional, so I checked the British papers to see what calmer heads had to say. The Telegraph, under the headline, “Ernie Els’ New 18th Hole at Wentworth Is a Ghastly Sell-out,” seems to take Poulter’s side. “Wentworth’s new 18th hole is a nasty piece of Americana,” barks the subhead. “It is a strip of blazing neon** jagging across the natural green and russets of the Surrey countryside.”
** I’m not speaking for the Top 50 here, but I LOVE neon and have long wondered why it hasn’t been put to better use by golf architects. The anti-climactic 18th at Cypress Point, for example, could use a little Times Square wattage to heighten its appeal.
Harry Colt’s double-par-5 finish, of course, was a Wentworth trademark, the encroaching woods creating enough risk to frighten contenders while allowing for go-for-broke approach shots and crowd-pleasing eagles. Running a faux burn through it was so outrageous that Ryder Cupper Paul Casey begged for a plan to protect classic British courses from predation. “Maybe we should introduce a scheme like we have with historic buildings in this country,” he said a year ago. “Ernie has a beautiful house by the 16th with the thatched roof and old plaster work. Now, he owns it, but that doesn’t give him the right to paint it pink and put a tin roof on it.”
The Telegraph’s Mark Reason, while conceding that much of Els’s work at Wentworth was needed and well-executed, struggled to explain the Trumpian excesses.
The simple answer appears to be that the owner [Richard Caring] saw a bit of eau un-naturel on telly and decided that he wanted some too …. The result is something that looks flash, but is golfing nonsense. A perfectly good par five has been turned into a bash, a lay-up and a pitch across water. It might as well be a par three. They spent half a million quid on an aquatic folly – there goes the winner, not waving, but drowning.
Els, understandably defensive, faulted the tournament staff for some “crazy” second-round pin positions. That aside, he dismissed his critics as a bunch of hacks who couldn’t break par while he was shooting 68. “This is a real golf course now,” Els proclaimed. “Forget about going 24-under-par any more. It ain’t happening.”
Sorry to hear that, Ernie, because Wentworth just dropped another twenty rungs to No. 732.