News & Opinion

Quail Hollow chief’s master plan takes shape

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Being that Johnny Harris is not accustomed to hearing the word “no” – or at least not paying attention to it when he does hear it – he came really close when Tom Fazio and he brought some rolled-up plans to PGA of America headquarters in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., in February 2016.

Quail Hollow Club was going to be closed for three months, beginning the day after the Wells Fargo Championship in May, for the greens to undergo a change from MiniVerde Bermudagrass to Champion Bermudagrass due to a damaging mutation in the MiniVerde.

“We talked with Tom (Fazio) and he said, ‘Why don’t we finish our master plan?’ ” Harris said. The pair boarded a plane, plans in hand, and wound up in front of PGA chief executive Pete Bevacqua and Kerry Haigh, the PGA’s chief championships officer.

“We asked them to give us a shot, and they said, ‘Yes,’ ” said Harris, the Quail Hollow president who some say is a one-man long-range planning committee.

The plans called for three new holes at Quail Hollow and to modify a fourth. “I looked at Tom and asked, ‘Are you sure we can do this in 90 days?’ ”

Haigh, speaking at Monday’s PGA media day at Quail Hollow, remembers the meeting a bit differently, to which Harris responded with a sheepish grin.

“(Harris called and) said, ‘Tom and I want to come visit,’ ” Haigh said. “ ‘We have a couple of ideas.’ I thought they might want to tweak a bunker here or a fairway there. They laid out these plans on the table. Thankfully, we were sitting down.

“It was 16 months before the 99th PGA Championship, and they wanted to build three new holes and move a green. After we got a glass of water and breathed a little bit, we said, ‘Can you really do this?’

“We had to trust the membership of Quail Hollow, Johnny and Tom to get this done. The day after the Wells Fargo in 2016, construction began, and in August the course was reopened. It was already a great golf course before the changes. It is a course that the players already liked. And they improved it.”

The first hole at Quail Hollow was a shortish par 4, an innocuous opener that most professionals played with a fairway wood and some sort of wedge. Now, it will be a par 4 of 500 yards or so, finishing where the green of the par-3 second hole used to be.

The par-5 fifth vanished and was cut up into a par 3 (the new fourth) and a dogleg-right par 4 (the new fifth). The green at the par-4 11th was moved back to give it more heft, and new bunkers were added, including a new fairway bunker that will be in play for the professionals.

“The membership knows (the golf course) is harder,” Harris said. “It is harder.”

Jimmy Walker, the PGA’s defending champion, was in town for media day and played some shots on the new holes Monday morning. He was impressed with the changes but was more focused on the grass than with the design.

“We will be playing this course with different grass,” Walker said. “We are all used to playing here with ryegrass (overseeded fairways and rough) and bentgrass greens, although they changed over to Bermuda greens a couple of years ago,” Walker said. “With Bermudagrass all over, the course has the potential to play really firm and fast. That’s when golf gets hard, when you start to lose control of the golf ball.

“It’s kind of an unknown to see what happens. Balls can fly out of the rough with Bermuda or it can come out really soft. It all depends on the lie. You can get some horrendous lies. The rough around the greens will be really unpredictable, and I assume the greens are going to be fast.”

When the PGA commences in August, it will be the culmination of a great deal of lobbying, badgering, cajoling and just plain hard work on Harris’ part to get one of golf’s major championships to Charlotte. The Presidents Cup will be coming to Quail Hollow in 2021, and it’s said that Harris’ eyes are on the next prize: a Ryder Cup. If that’s so, a lot of the decision making will depend on the success of the PGA Championship.

“It’s not just my dream,” Harris said of the PGA. “It’s the dream of Charlotte and the people of North and South Carolina. But it is a dream come true.”

However, with the look of a man staring a tight deadline in the face, he said, “But now we have to get it on. We’ve got 60 days.”

You can be certain that he’s counting.

Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C. Email: golfedit@gmail.com; Twitter@mikepurkeygolf