This is a plea to the good people of Wells Fargo and Quail Hollow to save this incredible event. Is it in jeopardy? Maybe jeopardy is too strong of a word, but the annual PGA Tour stop in Charlotte, N.C., definitely is in limbo.
There will be a Wells Fargo Championship through 2014; that much is certain. Whether there is one beyond that remains to be seen.
The tournament is a victim of its own success. In its 10-year history, it has shown us that a tremendous golf course coupled with an enthusiastic city and passionate people are the recipe for a fantastic week of golf on the PGA Tour. There is nothing second-rate about the event. Quail Hollow Club is a wonderful example of classic golf meeting modern golf – and the players love it. Charlotte supports the event to the point that the tournament inevitably sells out every year.
Quail Hollow and the Wells Fargo Championship find themselves in the same situation that other PGA Tour events have found themselves in recent times. The 2017 PGA Championship is coming to Quail Hollow. Obviously hosting a major championship is a feather in any club’s cap and something that had been long rumored as a goal for Quail Hollow. The issue then becomes what to do with the tournament while the club prepares. Pebble Beach has figured it out. In the years that the scenic California seaside course hosts the U.S. Open, it simply has played the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro Am at its normal time in February. That really isn’t an option for Quail Hollow.
AT&T National, traditionally played at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., took its show on the road for the past two years while it prepared for the U.S. Open. The tournament, which returns to the D.C. suburbs this summer, didn’t just hit the road; it moved to Philadelphia. While it has been suggested that there are venues in Charlotte that can sustain the Wells Fargo event, an AT&T-type scenario might be best for the Wells Fargo. Moving the event to another city for a year or two not only could work, but it could allow the tournament to grow.
Charleston, S.C., seems like a great candidate but certainly not the only one. Obviously the PGA Championship is at Kiawah this year, but Kiawah Island is 40 minutes on a good day from downtown Charleston. There are a handful of tremendous golf courses in Charleston proper. Secondly they would have 2 ½ years after the PGA this year to prepare. Finding a venue in Charleston for a 2-year stint shouldn’t be hard. It is close enough to Charlotte that some of the existing fans and sponsors could still participate. And finally, with the spot on the schedule the week before The Players and its list of recent winners, a good field is guaranteed.
There was a time when there were two types of tournaments on the PGA Tour: those in which Tiger played and the other events. What we saw at Quail Hollow this weekend was an indication that those tides are turning. Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler, both 23, are carrying the torch for the next generation. The beautiful thing about golf is that when the next generation emerges, the previous two or three generations don’t simply step aside. Woods and Phil Mickelson aren’t going quietly.
In 10 short years, the Wells Fargo has become one of the most important events on the PGA Tour. It has brought us through Woods’ dominance, McIlroy’s prominence and into a new and exciting era with Fowler. It has solidified the careers of Vijay Singh and Jim Furyk. It has shown us every year that when you do it right, not only does the golf world take notice, so does the rest of the sports world.
Very smart people are going to have to make tough decisions about the event going forward. For the next two years, we can expect the same level of excellence that has become a staple at the Wells Fargo Championship. Beyond that, it will take creativity, hard work and passion for this event to sustain what it has created. Two things are certain:
• The tournament can be saved; it is hardly doomed by a failing economy or bad ratings.
• It should be saved because it is the only tournament in the world that can boast Woods, McIlroy and Fowler among its recent champions.
There is no question that the folks at Quail Hollow deserve the major championship that has been bestowed upon them. But it is just one event, and the tradition will move on the next year. Here is hoping that this honor doesn’t compromise one of the greatest annual events in the game.