How 'major surgery' brought Quail Hollow up to scratch
It has hosted PGA Tour events since the 1960s, so if any course in America that hadn’t previously hosted a major was ready to do so, you’d think it was Quail Hollow.
But when the North Carolina course was awarded the 2017 PGA Championship seven years ago, the club knew it had to rip up its greens.
Where the Wells Fargo PGA Tour event is held in May, the PGA is held in August – which represents a significant difference in growing season and daytime temperature – and that would dramatically affect the putting surfaces.
And while the club knew they had to close the course down for three months to introduce the pure strain of Bermuda grass that can handle the extreme heat of a south-east American summer, they decided to make significant alterations to the actual design too.
The work centred around the beginning of the round, and means that as well as having one of the most challenging finishes on tour – known as the ‘Green Mile’ – Quail Hollow will now ask stringent questions at the start too.
They were all part of a master plan that Tom Fazio had come up with in the ‘90s, the architect having done some original work at that time after Arnold Palmer’s tweaks in the ‘80s.
In fact, it was a long-time itch that Fazio has now been able to scratch, because he didn’t like the old 5th hole and the recent changes have eliminated it.
The Quail Hollow changes in summary:
- The 1st has been lengthened from a fairly short par 4 to a beast of a dog-leg right that changes it from a 3-wood and wedge strategy into a driver and mid-iron
- That lengthening eliminated the par-3 2nd, so the old 3rd is now the 2nd
- The par-5 5th was turned into a par 3 and a par 4
- 30 yards were added to the par-4 11th
Rory McIlroy, a two-time winner here, told the club’s president Johnny Harris that the start is now “like a firm handshake”.
“I don’t think they’ll have any fear on the par 5s – I think it is the par 4s that will make or break a score, with what we did this last summer in terms of the start of the course.
“It now opens up on the front nine with 1, 2 and 3 being now strong par 4s – that will set the tone early and that will be a real test,” head greenkeeper Keith Wood tells NCG.
“I like the changes. I obviously liked the golf course the way it was before. My record around there’s pretty good,” adds McIlroy.
“I fancy my chances around there. It’s always been a modern player’s golf course. If you can drive it a long way there’s an advantage there. The changes are good. It definitely makes the start of the course more challenging.
“You won’t really see guys getting off to the hot starts that they used to. Especially those first six holes, you’d see guys three or four under par. I don’t think that’s going to happen now. Then the rest of the golf course is pretty much the same.”
Fazio has overseen the Quail Hollow changes, making several visits, while two of his associates – Ron Smith and Blake Pickford – were on site throughout a remarkably quick process.
“We were in a little bit of a drought and so it was very easy for the bulldozers to turn the earth over and we made the deadline easily as a result,” adds Wood.
“Mr Fazio was probably here seven or eight days but Fazio Design had a rep on site for the entire process.
“Ron who works out of their office was here all the time and Blake too, ensured things were done as was desired and were making modifications, because there are a lot of things done on the fly because it is a short turnaround.”
He’s not wrong. After shutting the course the day after the 2016 Wells Fargo ended, the work started by taking out trees (on the back nine and mainly on 18, primarily for spectator experience) and the whole project was completed in a remarkable 89 days. It opened back up in early August last year for members.
If you didn’t know it was new, you wouldn’t be able to tell major surgery had been carried out to prepare one of America’s grand old course for its first major championship.
New-look Quail Hollow in numbers
89 – days of renovation
3 – project managers on site
200,000 – lbs of earth moved
800 – trees removed day one
300 – construction crew members
20 – truckloads of special top soil from South Carolina
3 – new holes at 2, 4 and 5
2 – par 4s will play over 500 yards
3 – bald eagles live on the property, including one called Rory
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