After competition is over, the real work begins

May 4, 2013 

Don’t think this is the last time players at the Wells Fargo Championship will be talking about the condition of the greens at Quail Hollow.

It’s going to happen again next year.

But, ideally, for a different reason.

If you’re within earshot of Quail Hollow on Monday, you may be able to hear the saws at work, taking down dozens of trees, the first step in what club leaders and members hope is the final stage of what has felt like a perpetual course renovation.

A week from Monday, the bulldozers will go to work, digging out each of the blotchy greens that have drawn so much attention this week. They’ll dig deep, at least four inches deeper than they might someplace else, to make sure they get all of the bad mojo out of the subsurface.

If everything goes according to plan, this time next year Quail Hollow will have 18 perfect turfgrass putting surfaces, a new 16th hole, a redesigned 17th hole, a contract extension to host the Wells Fargo Championship and time to finally exhale.

“We talked about changing the club logo to a bulldozer or a backhoe,” Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris said. “From the standpoint of the club, we all want a rest from the construction. The members have been great but they’ve been through enough. We’re excited to rest.”

This year has been an aberration. There have been uncommon challenges big and small in bringing this Wells Fargo Championship to life. The greens have drawn most of the attention and had an inordinate amount of money, time and expertise directed at them, only to have them fail to respond.

While some players bailed out on the Wells Fargo this year – it’s funny how many injuries cropped up when the greens went bad – others came to the tournament’s defense. Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy spoke up to support the club and the tournament, understanding no one wanted this. Television commentator Nick Faldo did likewise.

“This tournament does everything to a T as well as you can do it,” Mickelson said. “Just because one year the greens are a little rough, I hate to see it. They should be cut a little slack because they’ve done so much for us.”

If you’re familiar with Quail Hollow’s history, you know the course they’re playing this week is far different from the one George Cobb created more than 50 years ago. It has been tweaked and reshaped – sometimes for the good, sometimes not.

The hope is when this final project is complete, Quail Hollow will be set for years to come.

“You look at Augusta. They’ve been changing the course for however long, forever. That’s turned out all right,” said Geoff Ogilvy, who may understand and appreciate course design better than any current tour player.

The greens will be sprigged by mid-June and the bermuda grow-in is typically so quick the greens will be ready to go by late summer.

The new greens will have more than different grass on them. Because of the quicker putting surface, the plan is to reduce the slope on several of the most contoured greens.

“We’re going to more subtle greens,” Harris said.

Somewhere Mickelson is hearing a symphony.

At the same time, the eighth, 13th, 16th and 17th holes will be significantly adjusted. Other holes – 15 and 18 in particular – will add some length only.

The short, par-4 eighth hole has been a particular challenge. It was redone this year and it was not an improvement.

“I haven’t liked any version of No. 8 yet,” Ogilvy said.

Along with designers Tom Fazio and Blake Bickford, they’ll try again.

“If you’re having that much trouble, there are hundreds of great short par-4s in the world. Find your favorite 10, work out which one would work on that land and just build that and don’t tell anyone you’ve copied it. Or tell them,” Ogilvy said.

“(C.B.) MacDonald, one of the best designers we’ve ever had – National Golf Club, Shinnecock, Chicago Golf Club – copied his favorite holes at every course he ever built. No one bags him for doing that.

“You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”

Letting his imagination work, Ogilvy said if it wouldn’t “freak the members out,” he would add 50 yards to the par-3 sixth hole and make it a drivable par-4. He would turn No. 8 into a long par-3, with the green placed where 3-iron tee shots now land.

That’s what those holes were when Quail Hollow opened.

The big change will be at No. 16, where the par-4 will be reshaped into a long, downhill par-4 that bends from right to left. There’s a stand of pine trees deep in the left rough now and they’ll come down next week to create the new fairway.

Approximately half an acre of land will be added to create the new 16th green on the water, creating a more dramatic setting. It will also allow the 17th tee to be moved to where the 16th green now sits.

It will also allow a large hospitality area to be created between the 16th and 18th fairways for the 2017 PGA Championship at Quail Hollow.

“I don’t like using a lake just to use a lake because it’s there. Don’t do it just to be dramatic,” Ogilvy said of the new 16th plan.

“Do it because the hole isn’t good enough anymore and needs to be better. If that’s the motivation that’s fine and if the best way to make it better is to put it down there, do that.”

As Harris explains all that will happen after the tournament, he expresses his own weariness with the constant digging. Quail Hollow and its members, Harris said, needs a rest.

“This is a beautiful piece of property. It doesn’t matter what you put on it, people are going to like playing here,” Ogilvy said.

“It’s a nice a place to walk around, that’s its biggest thing. You just want things changed for the right reason, not just to make them harder or more spectacular. At the end of the day, there’s what, 350 people who play it every week? You’re doing it for their enjoyment, not for bragging rights.

“This is a beautiful place and the course is a big part of why it’s one of everyone’s favorite places. You’d hate to lose that part of the feel.”

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

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