Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris knows Thursday’s announcement by Tiger Woods that he will play the Wells Fargo Championship brings hysteria and some chaos. ...
Bring it on!
“We’re all going to be challenged because he causes a lot of unusual things to happen. And we’ll be ready for it,” Harris told the Observer Friday of Woods’ first appearance at the Charlotte tournament since 2012.
Harris said the tournament was close to selling out before Woods’ announcement late Thursday afternoon. In reaction to the heightened interest, additional tickets will be placed on sale. Harris said it’s beneficial that Quail Hollow hosted the PGA Championship in August, testing just how many patrons the course can comfortably accommodate.
As many as 55,000 fans attended any one session of the PGA Championship. Even so, there’s something about the buzz Woods brings — even before official rounds start Thursday — that is palpably different.
“We’ll have more water on the golf course, we’ll have more beer on the golf course, we’ll have more people on the golf course,” Harris said of the Tiger Effect. “When he tees off, if I had to guess, for the first pro-am (practice round), we’ll have more people on this golf course than we’d have all day for the pro-am.”
Harris discussed the upcoming tournament, what was learned from hosting a major championship in 2017 and what might be next for Quail Hollow in an interview Friday from the first-hole tee box:
Q. You already had quite a field coming (15 of the top 25 in the world golf rankings) prior to Woods’ announcement. How does Woods’ return to Charlotte impact the tournament?
A. It touches everybody who cares about golf to have, if not the greatest player in the world, one of the two or three greatest players in world, ever coming to Charlotte to play. This is what it’s all about: Bringing the best in the world together in Charlotte to play golf in front of the people of the Carolinas.
He just moves the needle.
Q. How does it change how you’ll accommodate fans?
A. As a courtesy to the people who have supported us in the past, we’ll do everything we can to make room for them. This is a big golf course. We probably had as many as 55,000 on the golf course during the PGA (last August). We don’t have any problem handling the crowd.
Q. What did you learn from hosting a major last summer?
A. I come away with a legal pad of probably four pages (full of) thoughts and ideas I had.
In terms of the PGA of America (managing the event), we learned a lot. We watched the load-in (all the equipment needed to host the event). But when you keep doing (tournaments) at the same place every year, you get really good at it. We’ve been doing this now for 16 years.
Q. Did you have any concerns about a regular tour event seeming stale here, after hosting a major?
A. I think there was a concern by all of us who worked so hard on the PGA that maybe there would be an overhang: A ‘Well, here we go within nine months with another (Charlotte) golf tournament.’ Well, guess what, it was just the opposite, the reception we received from people. We’ve sold $2.5 million more in hospitality than in the past.
Q. You made a video for the players, recruiting them to come back to Quail Hollow. What was your thinking on that?
A. I think there was some concern that they had not played this golf course with the changes (to four holes prior to the PGA) and they had not played in August.
When we don’t overseed and we don’t go to a Bermuda (grass) golf course with big Bermuda rough, and fast greens, it challenges them We’re back now to an overseeded golf course. The fairway will play fast, but the golf course is now more receptive to some of the balls that they hit. I think they’ll have more fun, and we’ll see some lower scores.
We really wanted the players to know this golf course can play two or three different ways: In the fall, it plays one way and in the spring, it plays one way and in the summer, it plays one way.
Q. For the layman, how would you describe the difference between this course with ryegrass in May, versus Bermuda grass in August.
A. It makes it softer. Although we have a great standard of rough, the rough is generally a little easier to work with in the spring than in the summer.
Q. You changed the tee box for the rebuilt fourth hole, based on player feedback that it was hard to target the green effectively?
A. We moved it up. We had some of the players during the PGA say they thought certain things could be better used for other things than a tee box. I think what you’ll find where we play a little shorter, where they can get (their tee shot) a little higher up.
Q. Any other changes in the works?
A. It looks like in 2021, when the (match-play) President’s Cup is here, the (order of the) final three holes will change. In order to get the Green Mile onto the broadcast more, because the matches don’t normally go the full 18 holes, we’re going to play No. 10, No. 11 and No. 9 as 16-17-18. For the golf fans, they’ll realize that puts the Green Mile on TV way more with lots of these matches ending after 15 or 16 holes.
(Harris then hinted another significant event – sounds like another PGA Championship – could be headed to Quail Hollow in 2025. Said Harris, “We’ll wrap all that up in the not-too-distant future.”)
Q. Your current contract to host the Wells Fargo Championship ends after the 2019 tournament. Where does that stand?
A. Wells Fargo has got to make their decisions (on whether to continue as a sponsor). We don’t have a sponsor right now (beyond 2019), so we’d have to go get another sponsor or continue to work with Wells Fargo. I’m not worried about it. In fact, the Quail Hollow brand has become so strong that we are contacted a lot by people who potentially want to have golf tournaments here. We work with that all the time.
Q. So the members continue to be enthusiastic about hosting pro golf at Quail Hollow?
A. I think so. So long as we can continue making the load-in one week. We’ve spent a lot money on our facilities over the years – almost $30 million – without an assessment.
Q. Your level of excitement?
A. It sure doesn’t hurt that Tiger decided to come back and is healthy and playing well. We may have four or five of the best players in the world going after each other that last day on the back side. That’s what it’s all about.
It looks like right now we’ll get a break on the weather (sunny with highs in the 70s and 80s), and that means there’s every chance we’ll break every record we’ve ever had for a regular tour event here in Charlotte.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129: @rick_bonnell