We sat down with Wentworth's Director of Golf Courses and Grounds Kenny Mackay


Wentworth Head Greenkeeper Q&A

Wentworth’s famous West Course has undergone extensive changes in recent years, with the latest redesign taking place ahead of last year’s tournament.

We sat down with the club’s Director of Golf Courses and Grounds Kenny Mackay for a fascinating chat on how the course is looking a year on and what it takes to get it ready for the BMW PGA Championship.

How is the golf course looking a year on from the changes?

Really good. The course has matured up really well, I feel we’re probably in better shape than last year. Work is never ending on the golf course, we’re always moving on to something else but we’re really happy.

Was the West Course too difficult before the changes last year?

It was difficult, it was known it was difficult. Players found the bunkers a little bit difficult and the greens were changing from colonial bent grass to poa annua so it was a mixed match of grass. A lot of the players in this particular event and our members were not particularly happy with where it was going.

You’ve received lots of positive feedback, how does that make you feel?

Very happy, our members are extremely happy as well. The membership has been nothing but happy since we re-opened last year. It has all been very positive.

The West Course has sub-air systems in every green. What exactly is a sub air system?

A sub air system lets you control the moisture in the root zone. It allows you to pull the moisture through the root zone so in particular we use it as much in the winter as we do any other time of year in this country. That’s one mode of action, the other is that you can push air in from under the greens through the drainage pipe. Right now we’re pushing air in at the minute to cool the roots down. It’s used a lot in the States where they get serious temperatures and they’re trying to grow bent grass – it’s a struggle, they use it more than us. It has got a couple of uses but the main use for us is moisture control.

How will the course be playing this week?

As firm and fast as we can get it. We’ve kept the water on it a little bit over the weekend and into the last couple of days but from Sunday night we switched the fairway watering off to let them dry out a bit to play firmer and we switched the greens off to let them dry out for the Pro-Am and beyond. The green speeds now are at 12, we’re pushing it and we’ve got more options. We’re collecting all the data from STRI so we’re measuring the trueness and smoothness, firmness, moisture every morning, then we’re sitting down in the day and making a decision alongside the Tour to get the right decision from the players going forward.

Do the European Tour have much of an input into the course this week?

We work closely with tournament director David Garland to get it right and we’ve had a bit of protection the last few days with the heat. The weather has been lovely and the greens will dry down very quickly and will get very firm, so it will be like hitting into a table top if you’re not too careful. We just need to get the balance right.

What would an average golfer shoot here in tournament conditions?

No idea what a club golfer would shoot in tournament conditions. Our medal in April here, I think two players broke 80 off the yellow tees. It’s still a tough golf course. When you see Alex Noren’s 62 you really realise how good it is because it’s still tough. When the wind gets up it’s perfect, we’ve got nice weather and wind – that’s the ideal combination for Wentworth to play its optimum.

With all the talk of the 18th hole in recent years, did it make you proud to see an eagle win the tournament last year?

Noren’s eagle was a fantastic shot. It was a little bit special for me because I know Lee on the bag, Lee is a caddie and a friend of mine and he also worked on the West Course a couple of years ago. He knew the course really well. The greens were so firm, it was a great shot and then to hole the putt to win.

How long does it take to get a golf course tournament-ready?

We gather the feedback from last year’s tournament and then we start working on all the stuff from last year, what we felt was a little bit weaker, what do we need to improve in certain areas. For example the collars were very young and new and they were stressing out through the amount of cutting and rolling. But now this year we’ve changed them and during the winter we closed during December, January and February so we didn’t play golf during the worst months, even though March we got some snow. Basically we replaced the collars and they’re standing up much better this year.

Any ideas of what the winning score will be?

12-14 under if the weather is fair, maybe a bit less if it changes. If somebody goes out and shoots low then they’ve played well.

How can golfers help greenkeepers?

Etiquette. Repairing pitch marks, replacing divots, raking the bunker properly. That’s a key I think. Expectations are really high for a lot of clubs that maybe don’t have the resources we have. Golfers play somewhere else and they come back expecting it to be so good. For me, be patient, it’s a short season in the UK and it takes a few months to get the greens at their best.

How can golf clubs improve the quality of their greens?

That’s for each individual golf course to deal with. Everybody has different methods and each individual club should assess their own situation and their own budget. Budget is key.

Are you happy Rory McIlroy is playing this week?

Yeah. He was unfortunate last year being injured. For me, it’s nice that he has come back this year and hopefully he’ll enjoy the place and maybe win.

How are plans going on the Edinburgh Course renovation?

We have but we’ve got a lot of plans in place but we’re not ready to extend them yet. We’re waiting on permissions and we’ve got a lot of things to do before we get to that. We have got a lot of drawing and concepts done but we’re not ready to go there yet