A few months ago, Jimmy Walker issued a warning to the field about Quail Hollow, site of next week’s PGA Championship in Charlotte, N.C.
“It has the potential to play completely different than it used to,” Walker said at a media event. “We’re used to playing it with rye grass everywhere (in the springtime Wells Fargo Championship). It has the potential (with Bermuda grass) to play really firm and fast. That’s when golf gets really hard—when you start losing control of the golf ball.”
What Walker failed to mention was how much tougher the course should play due to design changes, which will likely have an even stronger impact on higher scores than what the grass type will yield.
Master fixer Tom Fazio, who has directed the club’s course renovations since 1997 has stiffened the test considerably over the past 15 months, thanks to new and altered holes that up the difficulty right from the opening tee shot. Of the four brand new Quail Hollow holes that will confront players at the PGA, the 1st is the scariest. Once a benign, straightaway “warm-up” hole, according to club superintendent Keith Wood, the new par-4 first combines the old 1st hole and the old par-3 2nd and features an elevated landing area, as well as a routing that severely twists to the right. Did we mention it stretches to a brutish 524 yards? Sounds like an early boarding onto the bogey train.
Things are only marginally easier at the new 4th hole, a par-3 of 184 yards that rose from remains of the old par-5 5th. Walker lauds the framing and green complex of the 4th, which features a vast, dauntingly contoured green guarded by a trio of bunkers. Those who attack the pin and go long face a dicey up-and-down from well below the putting surface.
Also new is the par-4 5th, which replaces a par-5. At 449 yards, it’s not the length that will bother the players, but rather its placement demands on this dogleg to the right. Flanking bunkers pinch the fairway landing area and an elevated, slender green places a premium on a precise approach.
The final significant change since the Wells Fargo was last contested at Quail Hollow in 2016 is at the par-4 11th. Beefed up by almost 40 yards, the 462-yard test now sports bunkers in the left-side landing zone, replacing a mature oak and a green that sits up on a plateau, with a pair of frighteningly deep traps at the front-left.
“This could be the most difficult hole on the course,” said Scott Davenport, head professional at Quail Hollow, “where before, it was one of the easiest.”
Davenport’s evaluation of the 11th should come as an unwelcome admonition to the pros who already had a “most difficult” hole in their collective minds, the 494-yard, par-4 18th. Fazio didn’t have to touch this one, which was already one of the toughest holes on the PGA Tour. This creek-slashed, beautiful brute played to a 4.481 stroke average at the 2016 Wells Fargo Championship, and famously ravaged David Toms for an 8 in 2003, cutting his six-shot lead at the final hole to two. Toms captured the victory, but not without incurring a few nightmares along the way. For those dreaming of a PGA Championship victory, expect some turbulence at the 18th, as well as from the four new and significantly altered holes.