Rory McIlroy knew he had some time to kill last weekend. So what better way to spend a quiet Saturday morning than to play a few holes of golf at Charlotte’s Quail Hollow Club?
McIlroy, the world’s fourth-ranked player, was in Charlotte for a wedding. It was convenient for McIlroy, who would continue up the East Coast to New Jersey the next day to begin preparations for this week’s PGA Championship at Baltusrol (N.J.) Golf Club.
But with a potential idle Saturday morning looming, McIlroy figured he’d try to get in a few holes at Quail Hollow, where he has won twice at the PGA Tour’s Wells Fargo Championship and which also happens to be the site of the 2017 PGA Championship.
“I didn’t really have much going on Saturday morning until the ceremony started at 3 (o’clock),” said McIlroy. “So I thought I’d go. I rang (club president) Johnny Harris up the day before and said I was in town. I met up with him and he showed me around.”
What McIlroy found was something different than the Quail Hollow he’s accustomed to playing. To toughen the course for the PGA Championship, significant alterations have been made to Quail Hollow since May’s Wells Fargo Championship. The pros won’t return to Quail Hollow until the PGA Championship; next year’s Wells Fargo Championship will be played at Wilmington’s Eagle Point Golf Club.
So I thought I’d go. I rang (club president) Johnny Harris up the day before and said I was in town.
“When I heard they were changing Quail Hollow, at the start, I didn’t like it,” said McIlroy, who owns the course-record 61, shot when he won the tournament for a second time in 2015. “I was like, ‘What are you doing? I love this place. Please don’t change it!’ ”
As McIlroy and Harris rode around the course (which will open again to members on Aug. 12), McIlroy began to appreciate the changes, most of them on the front nine.
The first hole was lengthened from a relatively short par-4 and is now a dog-leg right. That eliminated the par-3 second, which has been replaced by what was No. 3. The par-5 fifth went away and was replaced by two holes – one a par-3, the other a par-4.
2 Wells Fargo Championship victories by McIlroy (2010, ’15)
The par-4 11th was also lengthened by about 30 yards, with a fairway bunker now in play.
“I think the changes are really, really good,” said McIlroy, who said he hit some shots into the new greens and off the new tees. “It’s made the first six holes a lot more challenging. Where in the past, you could get through the first six in sort of 2-under par, then you had loads of chances coming up, like 7, 8, 10, and all the way through on the back nine. Where now, you get through the first six holes at even par, you feel like you’ve played well.”
What McIlroy said he really appreciates is the overall feel of Quail Hollow has been preserved. As importantly, the course’s final three holes – the treacherous “Green Mile” – were untouched.
“They have definitely improved the golf course,” McIlroy said. “They have made it more challenging at the start, but I think the flow of the golf course is still the same. And they haven’t tinkered with the finish, which is obviously one of the best finishes we play on Tour.
“I think the changes have been (great) and I’m excited to get there next year and play it in a tournament.”