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Wells Fargo Championship making changes under new management

Phil Mickelson reacts to a missed putt on the third green during the Wells Fargo Championship in 2016 at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte.
Phil Mickelson reacts to a missed putt on the third green during the Wells Fargo Championship in 2016 at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Operating under new management, the Wells Fargo Championship golf tournament wants to make a bigger splash in the community and in charitable giving when it returns to Charlotte this spring, officials said Tuesday.

In recent weeks, Champions for Education, the charitable organization behind the event, has hired a Florida sports marketing to run the PGA Tour stop, replacing long-time director Kym Hougham, who said in June he was stepping down after 15 years. The group also named a new tournament director, Gary Sobba.

“We simply want to make this the best tournament on the PGA Tour,” Sobba, previously executive director for business development at Learfield Sports in Dallas, said at a news conference at Quail Hollow Club. “That’s our goal.”

The PGA Tour stop will be back at Quail Hollow after a one-year visit to Wilmington; it moved to make way for the 2017 PGA Championship, held at Quail in August.

Officials said they plan to use what they learned from the PGA Championship, and the Wilmington stop, to improve the event. They said they want to increase sales, enhance the event’s visibility in the city and bump up charitable giving.

This month, the Wells Fargo Championship announced that it gave nearly $800,000 to Wilmington charities after the tournament there, pushing its total since 2003 to more than $20 million in contributions.

In an interview, Kendall Alley, Charlotte regional president for tournament sponsor Wells Fargo, said he expects charitable giving to go up but that details are still being worked out. The primary beneficiary of the event in Charlotte in the past has been Teach for America.

“We want to engage more with the community,” Alley said. “That’s not only in dollars but in volunteer time.”

kendallalley
Kendall Alley, Charlotte regional president for tournament sponsor Wells Fargo, speaks at a news conference highlighting coming changes at the Wells Fargo Championship. Tournament executive director Hollis Cavner is on his left; Champions for Education co-chairman Johno Harris is on his right. Rick Rothacker rrothacker@charlotteobserver.com

The Wells Fargo Championship will be held at Quail Hollow April 30-May 6 in 2018 and April 29-May 5 in 2019. But the event’s future after that is unclear.

Alley said officials are having conversations with the PGA Tour but need to determine where the tournament would land on future schedules before moving ahead.

As for the course itself, Quail Hollow president and Charlotte developer Johnny Harris said changes will be made to make play a little easier for pros who faced grueling conditions during the PGA Championship.

“They are going to see a softer, gentler golf course,” Harris said, noting the first hole will play as a par 5 instead of a par 4.

The tournament also announced Tuesday that Harris’s son, developer Johno Harris, will become co-chairman of the Champions for Education board with Mac Everett, the retired banker who has long served as chairman.

Rick Rothacker: 704-358-5170, @rickrothacker

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