As the 10th anniversary of the Wells Fargo Championship commences next week at Quail Hollow Club with Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson headlining the field, the tournament’s long-term future remains uncertain.
The PGA Tour event is locked in through 2014, after which the contracts are scheduled to expire. Beyond that, the PGA Championship – one of golf’s four major championships – will be played at Quail Hollow in August, 2017.
But what will happen to Charlotte’s annual tour stop?
Will it end after the 2014 event?
Will it move temporarily to another venue, perhaps another city, while Quail Hollow prepares to host the PGA Championship?
Or will a long-term extension be reached that will allow the Wells Fargo Championship to continue at Quail Hollow until at least 2019?
Each scenario is a possibility.
“I can honestly tell you there is no decision at this point,” Kendall Alley, Wells Fargo Charlotte region president, said.
The encouraging news for fans of the Wells Fargo Championship is a growing sense of optimism that an extension could be reached, perhaps by this summer. What once seemed a near certainty – that the Wells Fargo Championship would end in three years – is less likely.
Quail Hollow, Alley said, has shown an interest in discussing an extension. Club president Johnny Harris has talked privately with PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem about the future. Harris is intent on keeping professional golf at Quail Hollow a part of Charlotte’s future, whether it’s with a PGA Tour event or something else, such as an occasional major championship.
“We’re waiting on someone to pick up the dance card,” Harris said.
It’s not a simple process because multiple entities are involved.
Beyond Quail Hollow and Wells Fargo, Champions For Education is the non-profit organization that manages the event, and the PGA Tour sanctions the tournament.
There is also the complicating issue of the 2017 PGA Championship, which will require Quail Hollow to close for a period of time to replant its bentgrass greens with a more heat-tolerant bermuda grass to accommodate the August date.
When the PGA Championship announcement was made last year, Harris said Quail Hollow would not be able to host the Wells Fargo Championship in 2016 or 2017 if an extension were reached because of the transition of the putting surfaces and other major changes planned for the course. It’s possible, however, that should a contract extension be reached, the Wells Fargo Championship might only have to relocate in 2017.
Then the issue would be whether the city could host two big golf events – and sell the necessary sponsorships and hospitality packages – within four months of each other and, if so, where?
Tour officials have visited Charlotte Country Club and were impressed by the possibilities there, though it would be up to the membership to decide if it were interested should the situation develop. It’s possible Wells Fargo and the PGA Tour might look to put the event in Raleigh or Philadelphia or elsewhere for a year or two.
“It’s not as simple as ‘We want to play golf’ because we do. We want to play golf,” Alley said. “It’s great for Charlotte to have this golf tournament, but how do you do it logistically and how do you make it work?
“The tour has taken a look at some golf courses and given us some thoughts. Nothing has been determined. We’ve just talked about how it would work.”
In Wells Fargo’s case, it’s about more than having its name on a golf tournament. It’s about branding the company. Though it took its name off the event in 2009 and 2010 in reaction to the banking crisis, Wells Fargo’s name returned last year. This year, the company has increased its participation, including the creation of a new hospitality pavilion behind the 17th tee.
Jamie Moldafsy, chief marketing officer for Wells Fargo, will be at Quail Hollow next week to see the event first-hand. Should the bank decide to extend its sponsorship, Alley said it won’t sacrifice the quality of what it now has.
“The first reality is, as a company, Wells Fargo is going to need to make a decision on what our future is,” Alley said. “If that were to ... be at Quail, that’s great. It has some challenges in front of it. It’s not simple.
“We’ll make whatever decision is best for Wells Fargo.”
Harris, meanwhile, has overseen Quail Hollow’s substantial renovation since what was originally the Wachovia Championship arrived a decade ago. There have been several course changes, enhancements for members and for patrons and aggressive plans for the future geared toward making the spectator experience better.
Securing a PGA Championship has given Quail Hollow the cache of calling itself a major championship venue, something Harris wanted for the club his father, James J. Harris, created more than 50 years ago. It happened at a time when there were serious questions about future sponsorship possibilities for the club’s PGA Tour event.
“The reason the PGA is coming here is because nobody was talking to me (two years ago),” Harris said. “No matter what anyone says, no one was talking to me. The only thing we had to go on was Wells Fargo said (at the time) it didn’t want to be in golf.”
Harris said he saw how his friend, Jack Vickers, lost a PGA Tour event at Castle Pines Golf Club near Denver, Colo., and wanted to make sure Quail Hollow didn’t get left out.
“It all starts to happen when people sit down and start talking to one another,” Harris said. “Look at everything we’ve done with the facility and the clubhouse and it works really well for professional golf.”