The Quail Hollow Club began following a meeting at Morrocroft Farm in 1959 and in 1961 their course, designed by George W Cobb, opened for play.
Arnold Palmer redesigned the layout in 1986 before Tom Fazio then became the club’s architect of choice, making further alterations in 1997 and 2003. Fazio returned in 2013 to supervise the conversion of all the greens to Miniverde Bermuda before coming back three years later to replace the putting surfaces with Champion Bermuda. Four holes were also significantly altered to strengthen the course’s championship credentials.
The opening hole now combines the old 1st and par three 2nd, doglegging right and playing 130 yards longer. The 4th is a new 184-yard short hole, built on what was formerly part of the old par five 5th hole. The slightly right doglegged par four 5th is a shortened version of the old 5th hole and the upgraded version of the par four 11th has been extended by 36 yards to play to a new raised green which is defended by two bunkers on the left.
Located in Charlotte, North Carolina, the Quail Hollow Club burst into the limelight in 2003 as the host venue of the Wachovia Championship (later renamed The Quail Hollow Championship and now called the Wells Fargo Championship), which has become an important event on the PGA Tour. The Championship serves as a key fundraiser, supporting youth education and has raised many millions of dollars for charity since 2003.
Measuring a healthy 7,442 yards from the tips, Quail Hollow is a true championship layout and many Quail Hollow Championship spectators have enjoyed the one-shot 17th which has become the course’s signature hole, requiring a forced water carry of some 200 yards to a back-to-front and right-to-left sloping island-like green.
The Quail Hollow Championship has seen some big name winners, including Vijay Singh in 2005, Jim Furyk in 2006 and Tiger Woods in 2007. In the 2010 event, Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy shot a course record 62 in the final round to win the Quail Hollow Championship. This was McIlroy’s first PGA title and he also became the youngest winner on the Tour (two days prior to his 21st birthday) since Tiger Woods in 1996. What a lovely coming of age present for the young Northern Irishman!
The club hosted the PGA Championship in August 2017, when Justin Thomas won the Wannamaker trophy claiming his first major title.
Regarded as one of the most elite clubs in North Carolina by nearly all rating bodies, Quail Hollow is known for the stern test it provides tour professionals. I was thrilled to recently play the course and experience life inside the ropes.
The pristine conditions that the superintendent and maintenance team at Quail Hollow display are essential to highlighting key elements of the design:
• The Bermuda rough off fairways is thick, and beyond that, players may find themselves among roots, dirt, acorns, and other unpredictable lies. Hitting it straight down the center is essential on all par fours and fives.
• The course’s bunkers are frequently surrounded by shortgrass, and not rough. Visually, many of these traps have an Australian Sandbelt appearance, and they act as magnets for mishits.
• The subair systems of Quail Hollow’s greens enable seriously firm putting surfaces. I imagine that professionals and their caddies must either love, or despise the challenge this presents. Iron shots must be struck with the utmost precision; miss your mark by mere inches, and you might find yourself 10 yards over the green.
The finishing five holes are the most compelling on the course. At this stage in the round, swirling wind off the main lake will make any player question their club selection. Angles come at a premium at the short par four 14th, as the hazard must be challenged aggressively. From there, accuracy is essential to avoid diverse sets of penalty areas and stick the landing on titled putting surfaces.
My assessment of Quail Hollow’s architectural merits align closely with those of M. James Ward. While the course will likely test every club in your bag on length, other aspects of the design felt somewhat straightforward and repetitive. For example, almost all fairways were relatively flat and flanked by a bunker or two in the landing zone.
Even so, Quail Hollow stands out from its many Charlotte neighbors thanks to its lack of houses and large acreage. Having only visited previously for tournaments with large crowds, the serene, peaceful, and quiet nature of the property surprised me. The course is impressive in its scale alone and will continue to serve as a strong championship test.
Over the last 30 years I have witnessed the various design changes made to Quail Hollow. The course was always a fine test but nothing really stood out architecturally. Changes were made -- courtesy of plenty of money -- and the club is enhanced by both its ideal location in Charlotte and from having a PGA TOUR event hosted each year via the Wells Fargo. No doubt having the PGA Championship last year was a big boost for status. The 2021 President's Cup will also be hosted at Quail Hollow.
The recent work by Tom Fazio was meant to iron out the shortcomings -- primarily on the outward nine. The opening hole -- previously a par-5 -- is a far stronger par-4 and mandates a quality tee shot right off the bat.
Fazio did extensive work to really add a bit more character to the course but while the course has been upgraded in being able to host the world's finest players the architectural elements are lacking in real nuance and subtlety.
The key aspect that makes Quail Hollow so demanding is the dense Bermuda rough that lines the fairways. If you can't hit a straight ball -- consistently and with appropriate length -- you'll be in for a very long, long day. The strong players who have played well there -- Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, young Tiger Woods -- all drove the ball superbly. If the tee shots are both long and straight -- then Quail Hollow is susceptible to low scores.
The green contours are good but nothing that stands apart to be in the same league with Pinehurst #2 or even neighboring Charlotte CC.
The famous "Green Mile" is often bandied about and the trio of holes is very good. The 16th plays better when into the wind because the corner fairway bunker on the right side can then not be driven over. The par-3 17th is a first rate hole and when the tee and pin positions are moved it adds to the versatility. The 18th hole is ballyhooed and quite rightly. The tee shot is threatened with water running up the left side. Bailing right is not an option. The green is defended by the same water off the tee and the green is sufficiently contoured but not uniquely so.
All in all, Quail Hollow is a strong test because of the demands placed off the tee. Keeping out of the pesky Bermuda rough is an absolute must. However, Quail Hollow just doesn't have the consistent hole quality that really sets it apart. The details matter in architecture. Quail Hollow fixates on a few dimensions but the sum total is more of a paint-by-the-numbers design with only snippets of high quality design included.
by M. James Ward