As soon as the Wanamaker Trophy is handed to the winner of the PGA Championship at Baltusrol, a palpable shift in the air will be felt at another prominent golf club several hundred miles to the south.
That’s where Charlotte’s Quail Hollow Club, already one of the most popular stops in the PGA Tour, is set to take the next step as a pro golf destination. For the first time, Quail Hollow will be the site of one of golf’s four major championships when it hosts 2017 PGA Championship next August.
“It’s no longer a coming event,” said Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris. “It’s here. It’s our year.”
Harris and his team have been working toward this since 2010, when the PGA of America awarded Quail Hollow the ’17 tournament. They spent two days last week at Baltusrol, nestled in the New York City suburb of Springfield, going over logistics with club and PGA officials.
And while there is much left to do to prepare for the event, much has been done, including significant changes to the Quail Hollow course.
Tournament director Jason Mengel and his staff moved into an office at Quail Hollow several months ago. Registration for tickets – which have a Sunday deadline – has already surpassed the mark for any previous PGA championship. New spectator areas, designed to handle the large crowds, have been designed.
It’s all part of an ongoing massive effort that will bring the fourth and final major of the season to Quail Hollow, which has been host to a regular PGA Tour event – the Wells Fargo Championship – since 2003.
“Charlotte is already one of the best golfing towns we go to,” said player Webb Simpson, a Charlotte resident and Quail Hollow member. “The Wells Fargo is almost like a major, but this will be different.”
Indeed, the atmosphere surrounding a major is markedly different than a normal tour event.
“Every single major has its own little separate thing that makes it stand out,” said Danny Willett, who won the Masters in April. “Augusta is obviously a very small field at the beginning of the year. The (British) Open, you often get some fantastic fairy tale stories, same with the U.S. Open. With the PGA you get probably the strongest field in any of the majors because it’s top 100 in the world qualifying through rankings, and usually you get 99 or so of them playing.
“And it’s quite unique in the way that they never go for a certain type of golf course.”
Quail Hollow will be transformed.
We’ll have the world here. We have a chance to make some unbelievable history.
“The best way is to talk about the scale,” Harris said. “Back in the old days, even when Tiger (Woods) came (to play in the Wells Fargo Championship), our media facility ... will be three times as large. We’ll have (more than double) the 400-plus media credentials we usually have.
“It changes everything. Everything is bigger. The food service. The parking lots. The merchandise tent. The whole operation.
“And the guy who won wins it is a bigger deal than the guy who wins the regular tour event.”
Changes to the course
Much of the popularity of the Wells Fargo Championship is ascribed to the Quail Hollow course. A traditional course set on 10 leafy acres in southeast Charlotte, Quail Hollow might best be known for its three challenging closing holes known as the “Green Mile.”
“It’s always had a ‘major’ feel to it,” said player Bill Haas, who was born in Charlotte and played at Wake Forest. “It’s nice to play old-school golf courses like Quail Hollow that have some history behind them. It’s one of the courses that’s been around a while that can definitely hold a major.”
Kerry Haigh, the PGA of America’s managing director of championship, had long kept an eye on Quail Hollow.
“It’s a golf course that we’ve known over the years, and the club continues to want to make it the best golf course that it can be,” Haigh said. “You have a club that’s so active and eager to improve their facilities, their golf course, to be able to host major championships, and a course that the vast majority of the players really enjoy playing that golf course.”
But a different Quail Hollow will be presented to the players when they arrive next August (the Wells Fargo Championship is moving for one year to Eagle Point Golf Club in Wilmington).
Quail Hollow Club, which has been the host to the Wells Fargo Championship since 2003, will be the site of Charlotte’s first major golf championship in 2017.
The alterations, part of a master plan created a few years ago by course designer Tom Fazio, were completed in 90 days this summer. In fact, work began on the course while play was still going on during the final round of the Wells Fargo Championship in May (putting surfaces were also switched from Mini Verde Bermuda to Champion because of past issues with the Mini Verde Bermuda).
The first hole was lengthened from a relatively short par-4 and is now a dog-leg right. That eliminated the par-3 second, which has been replaced by what was the third hole. The par-5 fifth went away and was replaced by two holes – one a par-3, the other a par-4. The par-4 11th was also lengthened by about 30 yards, with a fairway bunker now in play.
Two-time Wells Fargo champion Rory McIlroy, who played the new holes with Harris last week, praised the changes.
“I think the changes are really, really good,” McIlroy said. “They have made it more challenging at the start, but I think the flow of the golf course is still the same.”
Simpson, who lives off the seventh tee at Quail Hollow, hasn’t seen the changes. He offered a word of caution.
“It’s going to be harder, but I hope it’s a ‘good’ harder,” Simpson said. “Too many re-dos are a ‘bad’ hard. So there’s a real thin line of making it too hard versus making it ‘good’ hard.”
Harris said the club has spent more than $27 million over the past 10 years on course improvements, with all of the money derived from income generated by the Wells Fargo tournament.
The changes will continue to be fine tuned. Preparations will continue over the next year for Charlotte’s first major championship.
“We’ll have the world here,” Harris said. “We have a chance to make some unbelievable history. Somebody will do something special in Charlotte and win. It will be part of golf history. That’s what makes it different.”
2017 PGA Championship
Where: Quail Hollow Club, Charlotte
When: Aug. 7-13, 2017
Tickets: Registration closes Sunday on www.pgachampionship.com, with the first tickets going on sale Monday, based on the purchase window assigned to registrants. The registration process puts those who sign up in line to buy tickets on a first-come, first-served basis. Those who register at www.pgachampionship.com don’t have to commit to buying tickets. After the registration period ends, if any tickets remain they will then go on sale to the general public.
What you need to know ...
▪ The PGA Championship is conducted by the PGA of America and distinguishes itself from the other three majors by including the top 20 finishers in the PGA Professional Championship, the organization’s championship for club pros.
▪ The tournament’s Wanamaker Trophy is named after Rodman Wanamaker Jr., a New York department store owner who helped form the PGA of America in 1916. At about 2 feet tall and weighing 27 pounds, it’s the biggest trophy in major tournament golf.
▪ Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer have the most career PGA Championship appearances with 37 each. Charlotte native Davis Love III, who didn’t play this week at Baltusrol while he recovers from hip surgery, leads active players with 27.
▪ Nicklaus and Walter Hagen are tied for most PGA Championship victories with five each. Nicklaus won his over three different decades (1963, ’71, ’73, ’75 and ’80).
▪ This isn’t the first time the PGA Championship has been played in the Carolinas. Rory McIlroy won in 2012 at The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, S.C., by eight strokes, the largest margin of victory in tournament history. The PGA Championship has also been in North Carolina twice – Pinehurst No. 2 in 1936 and Clemmons’ Tanglewood Park in 1974.