The changes made to Quail Hollow’s golf course won’t hit you over the head. And yet, these revisions could be key to who wins and what qualifies as the winning score.
The leadership at Quail Hollow Club – principally president Johnny Harris – was audacious enough to sell the PGA on a renovation plan roughly a year away from this tournament. That changed four holes at the course, making it longer and more challenging.
The changes for this week’s PGA Championship also involved shifting the rough from rye to Bermuda grass and what some pros Tuesday described as more forgiving greens on certain holes.
The net effect? Let Phil Mickelson, who will play his 100th major tournament this week, describe:
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“It’s actually made the golf course a little bit tougher, but it’s done in a very subtle way, rather than overdoing it, over-contouring the greens, over-contouring things,” Mickelson said at a pre-tournament news conference.
“The beauty and the challenge of the golf course has come out. ...You’ve got a major championship that a score very close to par is going to end up winning."
The first round starts Thursday morning with the tournament completed Sunday, weather permitting. The forecast this week originally called for lots of rain, but that appeared to lessen somewhat in newer forecasts Tuesday.
Quail Hollow hired three construction firms, and the renovations were completed in the 90 days Harris promised the PGA.
A summary of the changes:
▪ Hole No. 1 is now a par 4, 540-yard dogleg right.
▪ A new par 3 was built to replace No. 2, which was eliminated to extend Hole No. 1.
▪ Hole No. 5, previously a par 5, is now a par 4 dogleg right.
▪ Bunkers were added to No. 11, and the green was pushed back.
That Harris sold the PGA on this makeover, so close to the club hosting its first major, was by itself striking.
“They lay out all these plans on the table, and thank God we were sitting down,” Kerry Haigh, the PGA chief championships officer, recalled in May of his meeting with Harris, to set in motion changes envisioned by golf architect Tom Fazio.
In addition to all this tinkering with holes, Quail Hollow resodded some greens. It also replaced rough, switching from rye to Bermuda grass.
Jimmy Walker, reigning champion for the PGA Championship, grew up playing Bermuda on courses in Texas and Oklahoma. The way Walker sounded, golfers with a bad lie will feel like they’re swinging through Brillo pads.
Walker played the made-over course in May when he came to Charlotte to meet with local media.
“Everybody kept asking me, ‘What do you think? How is the golf course and what’s it going to be like to play it?’ ” Walker said Tuesday.
“I said, ‘Well, it’s going to be a completely different golf course’ ” from previous Wells Fargo Championship tournaments.
Walker detailed all the renovations, noting in particular that Hole No. 1 is considerably more difficult. Then, he emphasized that the changeover in the rough is a factor easily overlooked, but potentially huge.
“It just plays completely different, especially now with the Bermuda rough,” Walker said. “There’s no worse grass to try to hit out of the rough than this stuff, especially when it’s wet. It’s like. ...
“It is tough, tough, tough stuff.”
Not that the players are complaining. Many praised Quail Hollow Tuesday for how well prepared the layout is. Mickelson went so far as to describe the course as “perfect.”
No. 1-ranked Dustin Johnson hasn’t played a tournament at Quail Hollow in five years. But what he’s seen so far, he approves.
“Obviously they made it harder, which I like,” Johnson said. “It’s longer, but the golf course, it’s in fantastic condition. Perfect greens, perfect fairways. I really do like the changes so far.”
Bonnell: 704-358-5129: @rick_bonnell