Quail Hollow Club took a public-relations beating during last year’s Wells Fargo Championship.
Now, with parts of the golf course’s “Green Mile” renovated and its greens completely remade, the tournament starts anew Thursday.
And one of the tournament favorites thinks the place looks great.
“I’ve always thought this is one of the best tee-to-green – if not the best – courses that I’ve ever played,” Phil Mickelson said. “I still feel that way and now the greens complement it.”
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Yes, about those greens.
Last year, Quail Hollow’s usually pristine conditions were marred by problems with several greens that had become pocked with brown, blotchy spots. That drew complaints from several players and prompted at least one to withdraw.
“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever been through,” Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris said. “When you set yourself up to do something as public as trying to put on the best tournament on tour – and you fall short – it’s disappointing to (everyone). It was a bad thing that happened and we’re going to move on and build on this.”
One player in Harris’s corner last year, however, was Mickelson, who repeatedly urged his fellow competitors to “cut (the tournament) some slack.”
“He’s one of the best players in the world and the game is important to him,” said Harris of Mickelson. “He was trying to help us get through what he knew was a bad time for us. It’s not something I’ll ever forget.”
Shortly after Derek Ernst putted out on the first playoff hole and won the 2013 Wells Fargo, Quail Hollow began its transformation. In addition to digging up all 18 greens and resurfacing them with MiniVerde Bermuda grass, changes were made to two of the Green Mile finishing holes, as well as tweaks to the eighth and 13th holes.
The renovations – done under the supervision of course architect Tom Fazio – were completed last fall, in time for an announcement in March that Wells Fargo was renewing its title sponsorship for the tournament for five years. They’re also in place in plenty of time for Quail Hollow to host the PGA Championship in 2017.
“By the time the PGA gets here, it will be such a mature course,” said Kym Hougham, the tournament’s executive director.
The club had always planned on changing the greens in preparation for the PGA Championship, but accelerated the process after last year’s problems. Bermuda grass thrives in the heat, and the PGA Championship will be played in August.
“The characteristics of most of the greens are the same, but some of the slopes aren’t as severe as they used to be, and that’s a good thing,” said Rory McIlroy, who won the tournament in 2010. “They’re going to get firmer as the week goes on and it’s going to be tough.
“But for now the new greens are in fantastic shape, especially after what happened to them last year. It’s obviously a great improvement and they’ll be looking forward to the PGA in ’17. They will be perfect.”
Aside from the green improvements, the renovated 16th hole is the most notable change to the course. It now extends to the large lake that is the centerpiece of the back nine, playing as a 505-yard par-4 and sitting to the left of the original fairway.
“Before, 16 was a tough hole, now it’s a really tough hole,” Charlotte resident Webb Simpson said. “The wind is going to affect the hole a good amount. If you get downwind and the fairways are firm, you could have a short iron into the green. But it’s (508) yards, so there are going to be guys hitting woods into it.”
Still, the main changes are on the greens. And, given all the flak the course took last year over them, there was at least one other player who found them to be just fine.
“I think it’s the same as last year, basically,” Ernst said. “I feel good about the greens. Someone had to win last year. Someone had to overcome it.”