NEITHER Luke Donald nor Justin Rose is prone to moaning, so to hear both complaining about the greens on the West Course at Wentworth made ears prick up on day two of the BMW PGA Championship.
In fairness to the English duo, their post-round chats did not descend into rants and it should also be pointed out that, for a change, criticism was being delivered by two players still in the tournament.
However, their comments left no one in any doubt that the putting surfaces at the famous Surrey venue are neither anywhere as good as they used to be nor befitting the European Tour’s flagship event.
Immediately after being dug up in 2009 as part of a major renovation by Ernie Els to the Harry Colt-designed course, they seemed to be fine but not now and, by the sounds of things, the new Chinese owners are going to have to get the diggers back in.
“They were really good for a couple of years,” observed Donald, who should know, given that he is not only renowned as a good putter but also won here in both 2011 and 2012. “Unfortunately, the poa annua [meadow grass] has come back and they have got worse each year. They don’t look very good on TV. They putt okay, but there are a few putts out there that don’t stay on the line you hit them.”
Nowhere else, except Augusta National, has hosted a prestigious tournament for so many years as Wentworth, which has staged this event on a continuous basis since 1984. “If there was one championship on the European Tour that the greens should be pristine, then this is it,” added Donald after carding a second successive 70 to sit at four-under – six behind halfway leader Francesco Molinari.
“I don’t want to criticise the green staff, as the rest of the courses is pristine, but this is our biggest event – our flagship event – and I just think it’s a shame the greens aren’t quite as good as they should be for a tournament of this size. They don’t putt as good as they should and I think the only way to fix them is to redo them again.”
According to Martin Kaymer, it’s too early in the season for the European Tour caravan to be rolling into Wentworth. A lack of real warmth in the build-up to the event hasn’t helped on this occasion. A deluge last week didn’t do the green staff any favours, either. Then there’s the traffic that goes through the iconic West Course, where up to 300 rounds per day are played in the height of a season.
“I not sure what the problem has been because there are other courses in this area with good greens,” concluded Donald. “It’s maybe because it has so much traffic and so much poa annua is brought in on spikes.”
Like his compatriot, Rose also seems knowledgeable about agronomy and he added weight to Donald’s views on the matter after carding a 72 for a one-under 36-hole total. “I had a four-foot putt at the last and it looked easy on the TV, but that was different from the running commentary in my head,” confessed the 2013 US Open champion.
“You don’t trust your read on these greens and it becomes mental. It is disappointing in the sense that the whole reason they changed the greens on this golf course was that if anyone had a six-foot putt on the last green on Sunday to win they would feel confident about holing it. You now can’t say for sure that will happen as they are not super true.
“It may be down to the amount of golf that is played here but I am sure they are doing their best. The greens down at Queenwood are immaculate, but that isn’t a good comparison as it is a different animal in terms of the rounds played there.”
According to Rose, the solution could be the step taken by Gleneagles bosses when they splashed out £500,000 for a sub-air system on the PGA Centenary Course at the Perthshire resort. Similar criticism had been aimed at them during stagings of the Johnnie Walker Championship but there wasn’t a single peep of protest at last year’s Ryder Cup. “Every championship course needs sub-air because it helps control the environment better,” added Rose.
Marc Warren reckoned he had experienced a “perfect example” of what happens on the greens. “You hit a lot of putts on them that have no chance of going in and I had one today from six feet on the 17th,” said the Scot after dropping back from joint third overnight following a 74 that included back-to-back double-bogeys at the 12th and 13th.
“I hit it exactly where I wanted to but you see it jumping and going right.”
From his position in the group behind, Warren could also see that Rose and his playing partners, Graeme McDowell and Danny Willett, were having similar problems. “There was a lot of putt, walk up and tap-in going on ahead,” he added.
Even Scott Jamieson, who rolled in three decent efforts for birdies in the 68 that catapulted him up the leaderboard, admitted the surfaces aren’t ideal. “They putt better than they look, but don’t inspire confidence before you hit a putt,” said the Glaswegian. “We were also first out today so couldn’t have had them any better.”