PGA Championship: A hole-by-hole look at Quail Hollow

99th PGA Championship Gary Kellner/PGA of America via Getty Images

PGA Championship: A hole-by-hole look at Quail Hollow

PGA Tour

PGA Championship: A hole-by-hole look at Quail Hollow

 PGA Championship Quail Hollow Hole-By-Hole

 

The PGA Championship comes to North Carolina for only the third time since the event was first held in 1919. Unlike Pinehurst No. 2 in 1936 and Tanglewood Park in Clemmons in 1974, however, Quail Hollow is a familiar destination as a regular PGA Tour stop. The course is well known to many of the 156 contestants – excepting, that is, the 20 club pros who also have qualified.

Whether under the rubric of the Wachovia Championship (2003-2008), the Quail Hollow Championship (2009-2010), or the Wells Fargo Championship (since 2011), Quail Hollow has been a favorite Tour spot for its conditioning, hospitality and family friendliness. This season, the event took temporary leave for Eagle Point Golf Club in Wilmington, N.C., while the home field was recovering from a substantial reworking of what amounts to four new holes. It’s the latest – and according to architect Tom Fazio, the last — phase of a 20-year master plan that has completely transformed the original 1961 George Cobb design. At par 71 and 7,600 yards, Quail Hollow is well on its way to becoming a paragon of modern redesign standards.

Viewers at home will recognize the finishing stretch of holes. From the 12th hole in, the changes consist of modest bunker reshaping and resurfaced greens – now ultradwarf Bermudagrass. But the big changes come earlier in the round, with four new holes in play from the first through the 11th. Early round cable viewers and devotees of the full weekend telecast will see a very different course. As for the Tour caddies, they can toss out their old yardage books and learn the place anew.

Here’s what to look for.


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No. 1: par 4, 524 yards

Here’s a wakeup call — the longest opening par 4 in major championship golf, courtesy of weaving together the old first and second holes. From tee to green the fairway tumbles 35 feet in a sweeping dogleg right. No need to protect the inside of the turn with sand — dense woods do that, ensuring that a tee shot blocked right or that doesn’t make the turn point 290 yards from the tee leaves no second shot to the green. The first of three fairway bunkers on the outside of the dogleg comes at 273 yards from the tee, making it an ideal starting point for a light — very light — fade, perhaps with a 3-metal. From the landing area, the green sits 20 feet below. Off to the left, on the old second tee (since abandoned), sits a 2½-acre spectator area created by Fazio’s rerouting. This week it’ll be home to the Wannamaker Pavilion, with ideal viewing of the opening hole.


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No. 2: par 4, 452 yards

The old third hole, now the second, is a moderately-long, dogleg-left par 4 that climbs about halfway back up the hill of the opening hole, 20 feet from tee to green. The teeing ground occupies a narrow, tree-lined chute, with the unbunkered fairway landing area among the narrowest on the course, only 26 yards wide at the 290-310-yard point from the tee. That’s where the hole turns behind the back of some trees that protrude on the inside of the dogleg. The perched green has a single bunker, this one uncharacteristically back right, with most of the protection provided by the raised fill pad that holds the putting surface.


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No. 3: par 4, 483 yards

Another long, tight par 4, this one running northwest. The mild prevailing wind, at this time of year coming crosswise from the right at about 5 mph, could be just enough to make the tee shot feel even tighter due to trees isolating the hole from the practice ground on the right. A steep bunker guards the right side of the fairway; it’s 299 yards to reach and 318 yards to clear. The shot in to the slightly raised green is one of the more demanding forced carries at Quail Hollow thanks to very tight bunkering up front and a green that falls off steeply back left.


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No. 4: par 3, 184 yards

What used to be a steady, dogleg-left, par-5 fifth hole of no particular interest or challenge has been ingeniously converted into a par 3, followed by a dogleg-right par 4. Here’s where Fazio and Co. made creative use of some unused parcels scattered throughout the grounds. By coring out some woodlands and changing the angle of the hole, they’ve fashioned a short- to mid-iron par 3 to a green fronted by three sprawling potato-chip bunkers that obscure much of the putting surface when viewed from the tee. There’s only a vague sense of how much the green falls away at the back, which necessitates a precisely struck shot. Anything hit too low and or with too much right-to-left action will run over.


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No. 5: par 4, 449 yards

This mid-length par 4, the third of the new holes, was fashioned largely out of the old fifth hole, though it pushed the new corridor out to the right. From the tee players confront the most tightly-bunkered landing area of any full tee shot at Quail Hollow. Two bunkers down the right side occupy the ground from 270 to 325 yards out, while the left side presents a bunker cutting in slightly across the outside of the dogleg at 305 to 330 yards. The fairway is crowned slightly at the landing area and feeds either side of a central crest into the bunkering, making it all the more difficult to tread safely. From there it’s a short iron to a green on the far right, with the putting surface set diagonally away from the approach line and protected by a very deep front bunker. The slightly crowned green provides a much easier target on its left; when the hole is placed back right, over the bunker, par is likely to be much more elusive.


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No. 6: par 3, 249 yards

This is the longest par 3 at Quail Hollow, with full visibility from the tee. The green, at 6,000 square feet, is among the smaller ones on a course where the average putting surface is 6,580 square feet. But it’s filled with subtle interior rolls that form little pockets for discrete hole locations. The green is aligned from 4 o’clock to 10 o’clock if viewed as the face of timepiece. There’s a back-right bunker and a front-left bunker pinching the surface and creating starkly different scenarios. The front right and back left are readily accessible to approach shots; the hardest by far is back right, just in front of the bunker behind. Anything in that hazard leaves a tough recovery down the slope.


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No. 7: par 5, 546 yards

Thread the needle here, on a hole where par will feel like a half shot lost to the field. The landing area is tight, thanks to a creek 5 yards off the fairway on the right side and a pair of deep bunkers down the left side from 285 to 340 yards off the tee. With the prevailing wind over the left shoulder on the tee, many players might opt for a 3-metal on the drive just to play it safe without sacrificing much yardage. The green is the most intensely defended on the course, with bunkers short and left, a pond front right and a creek on that side as well. With the putting surface tipped left to right toward the water, a long second has to be struck well to hold the surface without running through. It’s the kind of hole that demands precision more than brawn and that will yield a bucket of eagles through the week.


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No. 8: par 4, 346 yards

Short, but with character, thanks to a 4,850-square-feet green, the smallest at Quail Hollow, with lots of roll and a fold midway back that drains everything out long. There’s no need for a driver off the tee; the main objective is simply to hit the fairway and avoid dense Bermudagrass rough right and two bunkers down the left, 257 to 317 yards away. The hole ambles over rolling, slanted ground and has more classical quirk and character than any other on the grounds. Let’s hope the PGA of America doesn’t fall victim to trendiness and try to make this hole drivable. There’s no risk/reward here; just the opportunity to go low if they move the tee up with no trouble anywhere. This is a better hole as a thinking man’s two-shotter off the tee.


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No. 9: par 4, 505 yards

Back ever so slightly uphill to the clubhouse. With a bunker looming on the right from 288 to 310 yards out, the trick here is to maintain one’s tempo on the tee without getting quick and ending up short left behind towering trees left that protect the inside of the dogleg. From the fairway, it will be a mid- to short-iron in for these players, 175-210 yards away to a deep green where the right side is readily accessible and the left side, over a front bunker, is not.


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No. 10: par 5, 592 yards

The fairway bunkering at Quail Hollow is distinctly modern — meaning that it generally pinches in the landing areas with reward to bold play that carries a bunker. The one exception of a bunker (partially) crossing the line of play and inducing risk-taking comes at this long, slightly downhill par 5. The cauliflower-shaped fairway bunker on the left side, 282 yards to reach, rewards a successful carry of 300 yards on the inside of the diagonal cant, where there’s fairway on the far side and turbo-boost forward roll. The only other issue on the hole is a sprawling bunker 40 yards short left of the green that players will want to avoid on their second shots.


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No. 11: par 4, 462 yards

The last of the four new holes, this one made possible by some tree removal that opened up the left side of the existing corridor for a new green 40 yards beyond the old one. With the inside left of the dogleg covered with bunkers from 255 to 325 yards off the tee, the only sensible drive is out to the right, from which a clear view of the perched green awaits. The newly contoured surface is intriguing, thanks to a beautiful little ridge across the green that’s tied in to the high point between two greenside bunkers on the left. This little landscape device effectively creates two zones of the green, with the back-left corner hard to get to except by a perfectly-flighted ball that carries enough spin to stop before it rolls off.


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No. 12: par 4, 456 yards

Down at the lowest end of the property, 75 feet below the elevation of the clubhouse, a line of hardwoods tight down the entire right side protects this mid-length par 4. The second shot, slightly uphill, is to a two-tiered green whose back shelf, running the width of the putting surface, is very hard to hold.


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No. 13: par 3, 208 yards

The tee shot here plays over a lateral creek crossing and then back up to level, with one of the deeper greens on the course (38 yards in length). A front-left bunker protects a shelf where the hole will certainly be cut one day. The other interesting hole location is far back right on an even smaller shelf, this one flanked on the right by a steep bunker. If there’s any wind out there, it will swirl here in the pocket created by trees that frame this telegenic setting.


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No. 14: par 4, 344 yards

You can feel the excitement building as the culminating moment of a round approaches — with much of the excitement created by use of that big lake on the left side of holes on this finishing stretch. Here’s an alluring par 4, tightly bunkered in the shorter landing area, 240-270 yards out. Ironically, that creates more incentive for long hitters to wail away with a driver and have a go at a green whose front edge, at lakeside and 15 feet below the tee, is within reach of a drive with enough roll. There’s a discernible right-to-left cant on this long, narrow putting surface that’s tilted toward the water. The strategic challenge of the hole is enhanced by extensive clearing out of understory and use of pine straw underfoot so that players and spectators can see under the canopies and scan the horizon line. This brings the lake into view from the tee and sets off alarm bells immediately.


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No. 15, par 5, 577 yards

We’re in high gear out here, with a long, lacey par 5 that bends relentlessly around the lake and dares players to go for it in two — which many will. The key is a right-to-left drive that makes use of the fairway contour and avoids bunkers on the right, 295-325 yards out, while getting past trees on the inside that end at 300 yards. Back in 2010, Rory McIroy launched himself into stardom in the final round of the Quail Hollow Championship when he nuked a drive 357 yards, followed by a 207-yard 5-iron that easily cleared the front bunker and rolled up as if a well-struck putt to within 3½ feet of the hole for what turned out to be an eagle. It was the swashbuckling moment in a stunning 62 that sealed his first PGA Tour victory, by four shots over Phil Mickelson.


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No. 16: par 4, 508 yards

Get ready for one of those hackneyed media clichés to describe a three-hole stretch, in this case Quail Hollow’s concluding “Green Mile.” Like all marketing gimmicks, it comes up short, not least because holes 16-18 add up to only three-quarters of a mile. Still it’s a very demanding run, with the long 16th along the lake posing a lot of trouble thanks to a green perched on a slope overlooking the water left (on the low side) and protected by a bunker right (on the highs side). At 7,840 square feet, it’s the largest green on the course. Good thing, because it needs to be.


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No. 17, par 3, 223 yards

A beautiful setting, with the lake lapping the left side of the green and thousands of spectators overlooking the hole from the right. Back in 1979, I was caddying in the (then) Kemper Open here for Fred Marti and we were paired with Gary McCord for the third round. Marti hits the green, is getting ready for about a 40-foot birdie putt, and a phone rings. It’s coming from McCord’s golf bag, and he walks over, answers what turned out to be a gag phone, and in a voice loud enough for the spectators to hear he says, “Fred, it’s for you.” The gag went over big time with the fans. We’ll see if CBS’ McCord remembers the moment when he’s covering the event. The point is, this par 3 makes for great theater given the threat of water in front of the green as well as long and left. No matter how good these guys are, a lot of tee shots will be played well right and end up on the downslope, leaving a delicate recovery to the green.


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No. 18, par 4, 494 yards

Brutal finish, with a downhill tee shot, 15 feet to a heavily guarded fairway and then a second shot 15 feet back uphill to an even more closely guarded green. A creek runs the length of the hole down the left side, only few yards off the fairway and only a few feet off the green. The drive is further constricted by a deep fairway bunker, 280 yards to reach and 302 yards to clear. Two greenside bunkers on the right narrow down the approach zone to a few yards across.  Back in 2003, during the inaugural Wachovia Championship, David Toms nearly squandered all of his six-shot lead when he made an 8 on the hole without ever incurring a penalty shot: drive bailed out way right, chipped back across the fairway, chunked his third, a poor fourth and then a four-putt from 45 feet. Far more inspiring was the sight of McIlroy capping off his 62 in 2010 with a 48-foot birdie putt that sealed an amazing run of six consecutive 3s to close the round.

(Note: This story appeared in the Aug. 7, 2017 issue of Golfweek.)

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