CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Major championships are the holy grail of golf. They can make or break a golf course, establish reputations for those who don’t have one or fortify a course that has major credentials.
As an annual stop since the PGA Tour returned to Charlotte in 2003, Quail Hollow Club has held major-like credentials in most players’ minds.
That was the Quail Hollow that they knew and pretty much expected this week.
They have been sadly disappointed.
For Johnny Harris, the president of Quail Hollow, the desire before the 99th PGA Championship seemed to be to establish the course in the image of Augusta National, where he also is a member: fast, treacherous greens but with the added dimension of rough.
The combination on a mature course would have been difficult enough. Quail Hollow, barely a year after major renovations, has a long way to go to mature. It was a mistake to bring a major championship to Quail Hollow this early.
“I used to like this course,” said one player who requested anonymity. “But they ruined it.”
Added another: “The setup has been too tough for a PGA, to be honest.”
It’s a familiar refrain this week from players, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because they don’t want to offend Harris or the PGA of America.
And while many also thought it was one of the hardest course set-up they have seen, they also thought it had the potential to make players look foolish.
There is no question that major championships should identify the best players in the world, but at the same time the course should not intentionally embarrass those players.
The green on the par-3 fourth hole is something more akin to what might be found at an amusement park rather than on a golf course.
The slopes and the speed of the greens – said to be about 14 on the Stimpmeter, but that number could not be confirmed – are such that with the switch to Bermudagrass from bentgrass, they are faster and more precarious.
Webb Simpson, a North Carolina resident, said the Bermuda greens were the toughest surfaces they will play all year.
Others questioned whether Quail Hollow, which played 7,440 yards for Saturday’s third round, has eliminated the art of shot-making. Only the bombers benefit from a design that is playing even longer because of rain-softened conditions from earlier in the week.
It was clear from watching the PGA’s third round that scoring was limited. Only 10 of 75 players broke 70, with the low round being 67s by J.B. Holmes and Satoshi Kodaira. The biggest excitement came from mistakes made by Jason Day and leader Kevin Kisner, who were playing in the final pairing.
Day made a quadruple bogey on the 18th hole after an ill-advised attempt at a recovery shot that dropped him from 4 under to even and effectively ended his chances at winning. He left the course quickly and did not speak with reporters.
Kisner struggled on “The Green Mile,” holes 16-18, with a double bogey on the par-4 16th before a bogey on the par-4 18th when his approach shot caromed off the stone bridge over the greenside creek and settled into an awkward downhill lie left of the green.
Mistakes are part of major-championship golf and help to identify the best player that week.
That’s true, but here in the home of NASCAR, the first three days have been more about crashes on an unnecessarily slippery track.
With exceptional hospitality sales this week, the PGA of American understandably has guaranteed a return trip to Quail Hollow for a PGA Championship. By then, the course, which was barely ready for prime time this year, will have years of maturation and can benefit from the mistakes made this week.
That presumes that Harris will spend his money wisely and fix the fourth hole and soften other parts of a course that has major potential but lacked it this week.
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @AlexMiceli