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With PGA Championship 2 years away, Quail Hollow Club already evolving

When golf’s biggest stars visit the Quail Hollow Club for the 2017 PGA Championship, two years away this month, the tournament will be on a massive scale compared to the May event on the PGA Tour.
When golf’s biggest stars visit the Quail Hollow Club for the 2017 PGA Championship, two years away this month, the tournament will be on a massive scale compared to the May event on the PGA Tour. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

The PGA Championship begins Thursday at Whistling Straits, Pete Dye’s dynamic pseudo-links creation on the shores of Lake Michigan, with Jordan Spieth chasing his third major championship this year and Rory McIlroy making his return from a serious ankle injury.

This time next year, the PGA Championship will be played at stately Baltusrol Golf Club in New Jersey, where Jack Nicklaus won two U.S. Opens and Phil Mickelson won his only PGA Championship.

Then the PGA Championship comes to Quail Hollow Club.

It’s two years away but preparations are beginning in anticipation of the first major golf championship to be played in Charlotte. While the Wells Fargo Championship will continue through at least 2019 (with a 2017 move to Wilmington to accommodate the PGA Championship in August), hosting a major changes virtually everything.

“This is part of a continual evolution at Quail Hollow,” said club president Johnny Harris, who was instrumental in securing the PGA Championship. “When we started with (hosting PGA tournaments in 2003), we decided if we would reinvest the money into facilities, we would be in position to do something special.”

The Wells Fargo Championship is special in itself, having created its own upscale place on the PGA Tour schedule. Bringing the PGA Championship to Quail Hollow (and the Presidents Cup in 2021) further raises the profile of Quail Hollow and the region. Like the U.S. Opens at Pinehurst, organizers anticipate the PGA Championship drawing corporate support from across the Carolinas as well as national companies.

“It’s a huge deal,” said Ralph Breeden, chairman of the local organizing committee.

Harris, Breeden and four others from Charlotte will spend Wednesday and Thursday in Kohler, Wis., checking out the setup at Whistling Straits, though the PGA will have a significantly different look and feel at Quail Hollow because of the geography.

Once things are wrapped up at Whistling Straits, tournament director Jason Mengel will move to Charlotte for two years to oversee preparations at Quail Hollow. The PGA Championship will be run independently from the Wells Fargo Championship, which has its own staff.

The differences from the May event will be significant beyond the weather variance from spring to late summer. There will be many more hospitality venues, some of them massive in scale. There will be more spectators, more media and more international television coverage.

“It will look different than it looks during the Wells Fargo,” Breeden said.

Organizers have not officially begun selling sponsorship packages but plan to have conversations with multiple companies by mid-September in hopes of locking many into deals.

Changes have continued at Quail Hollow, though none have significantly changed the course. Approximately 30 yards have been added to the back tee at the par-5 seventh hole, gently changing the angle and allowing players to see the entire hole from the tee. The Bermuda grass greens “are the best they’ve been in 10 years and we’re keeping our fingers crossed they stay that way,” Harris said.

Infrastructure improvements have been ongoing and some clearing around the course has opened more vistas.

“It’s the next step in the vision here,” Harris said. “We’re excited about the Wells Fargo Championship going forward and after the PGA Championship, who knows, maybe we’ll be fortunate to be asked to host something else.

“We hope we do a good enough job that the PGA wants to come back. That’s a significant goal of ours.”