By Tony Jimenez
VIRGINIA WATER, England (Reuters) - Defending PGA champion Paul Casey has called for golf courses to be offered the same status as listed buildings to prevent too much change after the remodeling of Wentworth's iconic West Course.
Triple major winner and local resident Ernie Els has masterminded extensive alterations meaning few of the 18 holes remain untouched on the leafy layout on the outskirts of London.
"I suggested to (R&A chief executive) Peter Dawson yesterday maybe we should introduce some kind of scheme along the lines of that which we have with historic buildings in this country," Casey told reporters on the eve of the PGA Championship.
"(For instance) Ernie's beautiful house by the 16th hole with the thatched roof and the (superb) plaster work. He owns it but that doesn't give him the right to paint it pink and put a tin roof on it.
"When you're an owner of a Grade II listed building it's much like you're the caretaker for the next generation... (similarly) if you're the owner of a golf course does it give you the right to make the changes you want?
"Is that in the best interests of that particular course or for golf in general?," added the world number eight.
The Briton went on to suggest the rule-making R&A could play a role in protecting venues.
"I think we need to keep courses in as good a condition as we can... but maybe (owners) need to go through a procedure to make sure these changes are in line," said the 32-year-old.
"Maybe that's something that would have to go through the R&A... along the lines of listing golf courses."
Casey said the West Course, which now has a reduced par of 71 rather than 72, would represent a completely different test in the European Tour's flagship event this week.
"It's a course where I'm not sure my local knowledge means much any more," said the Englishman, who has a house at nearby Esher.
"I think it's going to be a very difficult challenge. I think the scores are going to be higher.
"I'm not getting emotional about what I think about the changes. For me this is just like a new venue and I'm trying to figure out a way to get around in the fewest possible shots."
Casey said the last thing he wanted was to criticize Els's changes.
"This was Ernie's vision of what he thought a modern West Course should look like and I'm not going to blast him or even praise him," said the Englishman.
"I'm just going to sit on the fence right now and worry about trying to get round in this tournament. I do have an opinion but this isn't the time or place to go into that."
(Editing by Ken Ferris)