Green: Will the Wells Fargo Championship stay in Charlotte?

CorrespondentApril 27, 2013 

Now in its 11th year, the Wells Fargo Championship has grown from a golf tournament into a springtime event in Charlotte.

The question is will it continue beyond next year when the current contracts expire?

Probably so.

Though no official agreement has been reached, negotiations between Wells Fargo and the PGA Tour – the first critical step in extending the tournament – are continuing with the goal of signing a five-year deal that will keep the tournament in Charlotte through 2019.

It’s a significant change from just a few years ago when it appeared the Wells Fargo Championship would end after the 2014 event.

At that point, Wells Fargo had taken over the sponsorship originally held by Wachovia and, in the midst of the banking crisis, there were serious doubts as to whether Wells Fargo would maintain its sponsorship beyond what it was contractually bound to do.

On the eve of another sold-out event, the Wells Fargo Championship appears to have a long future at Quail Hollow.

“Wells Fargo likes the Wells Fargo Championship and what the tournament has done,” said Kendall Alley, Charlotte regional president of Wells Fargo. “Everything feels good about where this tournament is headed.”

Quail Hollow, which will host the 2017 PGA Championship, is on board for the future.

“We’ve always said we want to bring the top players in the world to Charlotte,” Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris said. “All of us at Quail Hollow are honored to have Wells Fargo as our sponsor and we look forward to them deciding what they want to do in the future.”

There are three key elements in finalizing any extension:

• Wells Fargo and the PGA Tour must reach an agreement. Alley said the bank has had conversations with the tour since 2009 but the discussions have intensified in recent months.

“Like any conversation, these things always take longer than you think,” Alley said.

• Once Wells Fargo and the tour reach an agreement, a deal must be finalized between the sponsor, the host committee (Champions For Education) and the club.

• Finally, an alternative site for 2017 must be found because the PGA Championship will be played at Quail Hollow in August. Originally, Quail Hollow agreed not to host an event in 2016 or 2017 to prepare the course for the PGA but the club asked to get 2016 back and the PGA of America accommodated the request.

“It’s a three-legged stool,” Alley said. “You have to have all three legs.

“There’s a heightened sense of awareness that we have to get this resolved. The biggest part is our conversation with the tour. That’s the first big piece.”

Recently, insurance giant Zurich signed a five-year extension to sponsor the PGA Tour event in New Orleans. Boeing and RBC just completed the second year in a five-deal with the event on Hilton Head Island, Deustche Bank extended its tournament sponsorship by four years, and AT&T will take over sponsorship of the PGA Tour event in Dallas beginning in 2015.

Wells Fargo, Alley said, will host approximately 2,000 customers during tournament week. There are hospitality chalets, pro-am events and private dinners that allow customers to spend time around a top player.

The event was named best in class on the PGA Tour in 2009 and 2010, an honor voted by its peers. It has also contributed more than $14.8 million to charity with Teach For America as its primary beneficiary.

In conjunction with the national First Tee program, Wells Fargo had a contest in which young people were asked to submit videos as part of a “Succeeding Together” initiative. In the video, the contestants were asked to explain why golf is important to them, what book they are reading and how the values taught by the First Tee have helped them.

The winner, Reyhan Griffin from the San Francisco First Tee program, will play in the pro-am along with defending champion Rickie Fowler on Wednesday.

“We’re always looking to enhance the experience,” Alley said.

When Harris and Quail Hollow landed the 2017 PGA Championship, there were two driving factors in the decision: Hosting one of golf’s four major championships elevates a club’s reputation and, at the time, it appeared doubtful that the PGA Tour event would continue beyond 2014.

Now that it seems likely the Wells Fargo Championship will go on, finding an alternate site for one year is a high priority.

Several sites are under consideration including Charlotte Country Club and East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta but the most likely destination is Eagle Pointe Golf Club, a Tom Fazio design in Wilmington.

Keeping the event in Charlotte in 2017 could create challenges for hospitality clients with two major events four months apart. There is no chance the Wells Fargo would be played at Quail Hollow in 2017.

“We’ve looked at a lot of places,” Alleysaid. “Some didn’t fit because of the travel involved for the players and some because of the time of year the tournament is played. Our desire is to keep it somewhat local.

“We’re still in the middle of it. We want to keep people involved in the Charlotte area and we don’t want to do anything to damage the tournament here.”

Harris said, “We support wherever they want to go. I can’t imagine going to a better place than Eagle Pointe with the contacts Wells Fargo has and the ties to the military there, it all seems to work.”

Before that can happen, the other parts of the puzzle must come together.

A golf tournament that once appeared lost, may now have a long life in Charlotte.

Ron Green Jr. is senior writer for Global Golf Post (www.globalgolfpost.com) and he writes golf columns for the Charlotte Observer. He can be reached at rongreenjr@gmail.com.

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