First up, congratulations to Rickie Fowler on a superb win last week at PGA National Resort and also to Darren Fichardt who won the Joburg Open.
Although my participation in the first event on the Florida Swing ended on Friday when I missed the cut, again by just one shot which is doubly-frustrating, I played some good golf out there and made a lot of birdies. I want to thank everyone at the Honda Classic and PGA National. Ken Kennerly and his team do a superb job with this tournament and, from a personal perspective, they are also extremely supportive of our efforts to use this stage as a platform to help raise awareness for Els for Autism.
As I was saying in my previous report, it’s become almost a tradition to choose this week to launch the annual Els for Autism Golf Challenge, now in its seventh year. You can click here for the full story and for details on how you can enter this year’s Golf Challenge. As always, we have some great courses on the schedule and the Grand Finale is at the iconic Breakers Hotel here in Palm Beach. That’s going to be amazing!
We were also fortunate that we got to start Honda Classic week by hosting another of our #GameON autism clinics (pictured below) a program we launched a few years ago and which is now operating right across the US, South Africa and the UK. I really enjoy attending as many of these clinics as I can and it’s always a lot of fun. We have to be very creative in the way we keep the kids’ attention span, so we have games, drills and various hitting stations, all happening with a golfing theme. Everyone gets a lot out of it. Again, I want to thank the Honda Classic, PGA National, and also Tyrrell Hatton who gave up his time and came along to help out on Tuesday, along with all the other helpers. Their combined support is much appreciated, not just by all of us at Els for Autism, but more importantly by the kids taking part.
I have a week off at home and I’ll be using that time to work on my game and get ready to rejoin the Florida Swing when it makes its next stop at the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor. The club’s Copperhead Course is another favourite among many players on the PGA TOUR, me included, and I’m certainly looking forward to teeing it up there again.
In the meantime, I want to bring to your attention the latest news from Wentworth in the UK where the final phase of renovations on the Club’s famous West Course, a major ongoing project by Ernie Els Design, is nearing completion. It’ll be all set for the BMW PGA Championship in May, the European Tour’s flagship event which also this year launches the new Rolex Series, an exciting alliance of leading tournaments.
You may recall that work on the West Course had picked-up again just a week after Chris Wood won last year’s BMW PGA Championship. The guys have been working flat-out there for the past nine months! In fact, for us at Ernie Els Design this final phase has been a real team effort, with European Golf Design and an advisory panel that included Thomas Bjørn, Paul McGinley and David Jones, representing the views of the Tour players, and Wentworth’s Director of Golf Courses & Grounds, Kenny Mackay.
The results of this collaborative endeavour are impressive to see. The key objective was significantly improving the putting surfaces. All 18 greens were stripped of the old turf and re-seeded with a new creeping bent, which improves the appearance and playability of the putting surfaces. Many were either rebuilt or partially rebuilt and, crucially, a new sub-air system has been installed on all 18 greens to help make them play firmer and faster. New irrigation and drainage was also introduced.
In addition, we undertook another review of all the bunkers on the golf course. As a result, all bunkers have been redesigned and reconstructed, with 29 bunkers removed from play. We believe this helps more closely realign the course with Harry Colt’s original vision, whilst also being mindful of the demands of the modern game – always a delicate balancing act. All in all, the completion of this project is great news for Wentworth, for BMW and the European Tour, and obviously for the players and the fans, too. This year’s Championship is going to be a special week and I’m looking forward to it already.
Okay, before we sign off there’s just enough time for me to mention this year’s Drive to SA Open series, which tees off next week at Pretoria CC. In all, there are 17 events played at some of South Africa’s finest courses including two Ernie Els Design layouts – Oubaai and The Els Club Copperleaf – with a grand final on 15-16 November at another of our design projects, Highland Gate. Everyone who takes part gets to raise funds for Els for Autism and compete for a place in next year’s SA Open Pro Am. Our 2016 series was a great success, but 2017 is even bigger and better and obviously we’d love to have you on board. Click here for more details.
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