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The "New" Wentworth

I was glad to hear one or two critical opinions about the changes made to the West Course at Wentworth. I have played it once, courtesy of the Wentworth directors. For their generosity, I remain grateful. But I found some of the changes distressing: not because they made some of the holes much more difficult but because the essential nature and look of the course had been hacked about in such an ugly way.
Most of the controversy has surrounded the eighteenth, but, oddly enough, I have no grouse with it at all. There were two eagles made by brave souls late in the fourth round: on the other hand Westwood and Donald took the safety first route. All well and good. There seemed to be plenty of drama for the punters in the hospitality areas. It seemed fine to me.
Ian Poulter disliked the new greens and bunkering at the 9th and 12th and Paul Casey too. To those I would add the 16th. It was such an innocent looking short par four with just the one fairway bunker on the left but it was a classic risk and reward hole. Feeling good you might reach for the driver – just a touch nervous and maybe a three iron. It certainly took it's toll and there were not all that many birdies as I remember. By putting in more fairway bunkers, the driver is no longer an option with everyone hitting rescue clubs or five woods for position. Then you turn the corner and are faced with a raised green, only half the flag stick showing and nasty looking bunkers glaring at you. The approach shot cannot be played by eye so the visitor has to check all sorts of yardage information to have a hope of a decent result. The pros have all that info to hand but it is not golf the way it was meant to be.
I wonder too at the problems of upkeep with all the new bunkering and the reshaping of the putting surfaces. I remember last year, the owner Richard Caring saying that he wanted to ensure that the course retained it's reputation as the finest inland course in the British Isles. Mr Sepp Blatter said “Crisis – what Crisis?” I say “Reputation – what Reputation?”. No course can bear such a claim if it is not kept to the very highest standards, at least most of the time. When I played soon after last years PGA, the greens were pretty ropey and at the short tenth, my ball was plugged on the downslope of the right hand bunker. That is not the stuff of any “best” course. And I do not recollect the Wentworth Course ever heading any of the various top hundred lists which appear from time to time in magazines.
I understand that a visitor will pay a green fee well in excess of three hundred pounds – quite a hit for the chap who tells his mates that he will pop in the shop and pay for all four. It must take hours and hours for even a reasonable handicap golfer to get round. Is it all worth it just to ensure that a winning score in a Championship is three or four shots more per round?
The only course I have played where increased difficulty has been achieved whilst retaining the charm of the original (SottoGrande New) lay out is Valderrama. This is done by the relatively simple expedient of having small, slopey greens – so that when you get out of position, it is the devil of a job to keep the damage down to a single shot. For the sake of the original architecture of Wentworth, I hope that somehow it matures and starts to look again a little more like it's former self.


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