Regular Tour Stop Quail Hollow Hosts First PGA Championship
News that the U.S. PGA Championship will be moved to the month of May starting in 2019 made headlines this week, but the players are focused and preparing for the fourth and final major of the year at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina. The exclusive golf club hosts its first PGA Championship and has undergone some changes since its last Tour event in 2015. The course has been a regular stop on the PGA Tour since 2003 as the Wachovia Championship and in more recent years as the Wells Fargo Championship. The quality of the field the event has attracted has always made it a top PGA Tour stop; one which Phil Mickelson during the 2014 event called "one of the best tee-to-green golf courses in the world, and what Tom Fazio has done is just perfect."
So many players are familiar with the golf course, but they will also see a remarkable renovation that was completed last fall in less than three months. Tom Fazio was brought in again from his North Carolina office to suggest and oversee the changes along with three firms and contractors. Four new holes will greet the pros along with overhauled fairways, reshaped greens, new Bermuda grass and redesigned bunkers.
The Champion Ultradwarf Bermudagrass was shipped to Charlotte from a Texas turfgrass farm that used decades of genetic research to develop the grass. The Charlotte soil is some of the most nutrient-rich soil in the country. It's a mixture of sand and blended soil and worm castings taken from a farm less than 100 miles away in South Carolina.
The new Bermudagrass will make putting more pure, but the grass also needs more sunlight, so trees around the greens needed to go. Thousands of trees were removed throughout the golf course and replaced with a diverse mix of new plantings. The Bermudagrass will also be more troublesome for players hitting from the rough, replacing the Rye grasses. Errant shots that find the rough are prone to more difficult and horrendous lies in Bermuda, and the ball tends to fly with more uncertainty in the lie. Off target shots will also find the bunkers, redesigned by installing a vertical edge of stacked sod around each. That provides a feel like the Royal Melbourne in Australia, and the sand is Spruce Pine feldspar, also used at Augusta National, host of the Masters.
Golfers will see a completely different front nine than they have seen in the past at this golf course. Holes 1 and 2 were combined into a new hole – the longest opening par 4 in major championship golf at 540 yards. A sweeping dogleg right requires 290 yards off the tee to the turn point or players will have no second shot to the green. A new par 4 was built as the 2nd hole. And hold No. 5 was changed from a par 5 to a Par 4, also a dogleg right. The green on No. 11 was reworked and more bunkering was added to the hole. But the closing stretch, called the 'Green Mile' starting at hole No. 16 with its spectacular view along the lake and largest green on the course, is where the tournament and next major champion will be decided. A beautiful setting along the lake for the longer par 3 No. 17 will offer few birdies, and No. 18 is a brutal par 4 finish of nearly 500 yards with a creek running along the entire left side of the fairway up to and around the elevated green.
The 99th PGA Championship will have a different look and feel for a familiar course, but the enhancements will only make it a more endearing golf course that encourages shot-making, and one that Mickelson has said, "has become, in my mind, one of the best golf courses I've ever played."
Notes, Stats and Keys to Success
- Quail Hollow Club – Par 71, 7,600 Yards
- 156 Contestants, of which 20 PGA Club Pro's qualified
- Defending Champion – Jimmy Walker (and he's not fully healthy battling through Lyme Disease symptoms)
- Weather – mid-80s with high humidity and light winds, but at least a 50% chance of rain and scatted thunderstorms Friday-Sunday with a greater chance of rain Friday.
- Of the 14 PGA events contested at Quail Hollow, major champions account for seven of the victories (Rory McIllroy 2, David Toms, Vijay Singh, Jim Furyk, Tiger Woods, Lucas Glover). Rickie Fowler, a PLAYERS champion, won his first PGA Tour event in 2012 at Quail Hollow in a 3-way playoff over then No.1-ranked Rory. McIllroy has six top-10 finishes in seven starts at Quail Hollow, and he's the co-favorite at this year's PGA Championship with Jordan Spieth at odds near 8-1.
Ball Striking – Total Driving combined with Greens in Regulation. This is often the most important stat at the professional level. Ball striking refers to the full swing in golf, and a golfer's ability to put the clubface on the ball at impact in the desired manner, time after time, and with great command.
Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee – Measures player performance off the tee on all par-4s and par-5s. It will be advantageous to hit it longer off the tee due to lengthening of the course, but you also want to be finding the fairway and stay out of the unforgiving Bermuda rough. So accuracy will be important to set up good approaches and more realistic birdie opportunities.
Strokes Gained: Approach-The-Green – Measures player performance on approach shots including par 3's. This is another key stat as you want to be hitting plenty of greens, but you also need to be getting close to the hole. This stat couples Greens in Regulation with Proximity to the Hole amongst others areas.
Familiarity of Bermuda grass and greens and figuring out how firm the greens are is important in determining how the ball is going to react. Getting accustomed to how the ball chips out of the rough around the greens will help those already strong in scrambling stats.
FairwayJay is a leading national sports handicapper and is recognized as one of the sports industry's most insightful analysts. Read more great insights from Jay here and follow him on Twitter: @FairwayJay