Els aids Europe's major hopes

Ernie Els has been a supporter of the European tour ever since he signed up as a member back in 1992 aged just 22.

Ernie Els has been a supporter of the European tour ever since he signed up as a member back in 1992 aged just 22.

Now the South African star believes he is doing something which might help European golfers become major champions like him.

At least, he hopes they see it that way.

Wentworth hosts the BMW Championship – until last year the PGA Championship - for the 23rd successive time later this month, but it will be a very different West Course to the one on which Colin Montgomerie won the title three years in a row and on which Els has captured a record six World Match Play crowns.

Having made the luxury estate his home Els was the person called upon to add some more teeth to the famous lay-out.

And while he was at it the world number five decided some claws and fangs were necessary too. The length has gone from 6,998 yards to 7,308 and there are no fewer than 30 new bunkers – six of them on the final hole.

“I know I could be getting some stick from the guys for what’s been done, but at the end of the day they will be better equipped for the majors,” says Els.

“Anybody going to the US Open will have a much better feel of what they are going into. Miss a shot in a major and you’re either in rough, a bunker or in danger of three-putting.”

Twice the US Open champion himself, of course, Els adds in a course guide to the new West Course: “Everyone knows how much I love it.

“I just have so many great memories from the tournaments I’ve played here over the years. This is also the place that we choose to call home. It’s a wonderful part of the world to live, with everything we could want on our doorstep.

“These are some of the reasons it was so nice to take my relationship with the club to a new level at the start of 2005 when I signed a deal to represent Wentworth as its worldwide touring pro.

“It’s a great privilege for me then to be given the opportunity to refine and modernise the West Course.

“Don’t get me wrong – this is already a great golf course. The legendary architect Harry Colt did an amazing job way back in the mid 1920s.

“I want to make it clear from the outset that it is not our intention to change the character of the golf course. That would be a crime.

“But times change. The course will be nearly 80 years old in 2006 and my brief, along with Chris Kennedy (head greenkeeper) and the guys here is to ensure it remains a fitting challenge for the professional who plays in the tournaments as well as the amateur golfer.

“I appreciate the fact that there will be some people who maybe don’t totally agree with what we’re doing, but, trust me, doing nothing is not an option.

“The game of golf faces some tough decisions at the moment. Equipment has got better, the ball is going further and the players are fitter and stronger. The fact is the West Course does not play as Harry Colt intended. These changes will address that.

“We’ve studied the stats from past championships and as a result the major changes have been made on what are traditionally the easier holes.”

The opening hole can never be called an “easy” hole, but Els has gone to work straightaway with a bunker either side of a fairway which he considered “maybe a bit too generous. It will just ask the golfer a few more questions, which I think is good”.

There is more sand around the green too and so it goes on, with only one hole left totally alone – the short 14th.

The biggest changes in length come at the long fourth, which has had 54 yards added, and the par-four sixth, where the new tee is actually on the adjoining East Course and adds 67 yards.

There will more than a few players in the BMW Championship, one suspects, who will be relieved that the greens are pretty much as they were.

But Els warns: “There was insufficient time at this stage – but it’s something we’re considering for the future.”

Hard though it is to believe, the 36-year-old has yet to win the title.

Back in 1994, just before he won his first US Open in a play-off with Montgomerie and Loren Roberts, he was runner-up to then Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal.

Els was second again to Ian Woosnam in 1997 and Montgomerie the following year - the first of the Scot’s hat-trick – and in five attempts since has not done better than fourth.

Angel Cabrera won last May and the big-hitting of the Argentinian gave Els and the Wentworth club plenty of food for thought as they decided on what changes to make.

Now they wait to see what others make of them.

More in this section

Sport Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox