VIRGINIA WATER, England (AP) – Significant improvements must be made to the West Course at Wentworth by its new Chinese owners if it is to continue hosting the European Tour’s flagship event, the head of the tour said Sunday.
Henrik Stenson and Ian Poulter are among the top Europeans not playing the BMW PGA Championship this week because of misgivings about the course, which include the perceived poor state of the greens. Masters champion Danny Willett is the only top-20 player competing.
Keith Pelley, chief executive of the European Tour, said the tour has ”every intention to be at Wentworth for a long period of time” but knows there are players ”who don’t want to play this golf course.”
Architectural designs are being made by Reignwood Group, the Chinese company who bought Wentworth in 2014, to restore elements of the West Course closer to the original 1926 design of Harry Colt. Wentworth was modernized by Ernie Els in 2006 and 2009-10.
”The bulldozers are starting to come in, a week Tuesday,” Pelley said. ”So this is something that is of the highest priority for them.
”We’re confident that what Reignwood has planned will bring this back to the Harry Colt design and the Harry Colt magic that once made this the place where players want to play.”
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Pelley said it is intended the changes will be made in time for next year’s tournament.
”This will be the last year of these greens,” Pelley said. ”They are going to change the greens … The golf course is a challenge here. That’s something that Wentworth is totally aware of, Reignwood is aware of, our players are aware of.”
Pelley, a Canadian, is nearly a year into his role with the European Tour. He arrived with aggressive plans to take on the U.S. PGA Tour, and to quickly make the European Tour a ”viable alternative” for the world’s top players who mostly play in America.
Pelley said Sunday that his strategy to stop the ”migration of some of our top players to the U.S.,” like Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose, is to ”provide the best golf courses for our players to play on, the best golf experiences and to increase the prize funds.”
Key to that strategy, Pelley said, is to give ”far more travel-ease” to players in 2017 and 2018 schedules. And he said prize funds would be increased in certain events inside and outside Europe from next year.