In preparation for the 2017 Wells Fargo Championship, the Quail Hollow Club has undergone a decent-sized facelift — with the bent greens replaced with bermuda grass. Then, there’s the last three holes, dubbed the “Green Mile,” which has been revamped somewhat extensively to intensify the chances for an even more thrilling finish.
The par-4 16th, now measuring 508 yards, is unrecognizable compared to years past. Thousands of tons of dirt were moved to redo the hole and dozens of cedar trees were uprooted.
“16 was a great hole before, so it was sad to see it go, but the new 16 is just as good,” said Johnson Wagner, a member of Quail Hollow Club
and company spokesperson, as he finished hitting range balls on Tuesday. “Now we have a lot more room for hospitality for the PGA Championship.”
The tee was moved forward a bit and to the right about 30 yards, then the fairway is now approximately 80 yards left of where it originally was. There’s a deep fairway bunker that threatens the drive on the right side. A pair of greenside bunkers also come into play on the right, as well.
“They moved the fairway way left and they moved the green way left where it’s by the water — it comes into play, but there’s rough up by the green right now, so the ball won’t all the way down,” said Kevin Na on the practice green Tuesday. “But, it kind of reminds me of 18 at Congressional. I think it’s great hole.”
The new 16th green sits on top of the lake, where construction moved the dirt back to put it where there was once water. From that spot, you can see the 14th green on the other side of the lake, along with the 17th green.
“14, 16, and 17 greens are now all along the water — it’s a great atmosphere for championship golf, which was the mission statement of the Quail Hollow Club when it was founded back in the ‘60s,” said Wagner.
How do the changes to the 16th impact strategy?
“Even though it’s over 500 yards long, it’s downhill and the ball runs out,” said Na. “I probably hit 5-iron in in the practice round. I think the bombers will get it out so they hit 7- or 8-iron into (the green).
“I think it’s a better hole (than it was before).”
Charles Howell III echoed much of the same.
“It’s good,” said Howell of the changes to 16. “I couldn’t believe how much room (on the left) was over there (on 16). It’s a gorgeous hole, especially on the second shot, looking down on the lake and the water down there.
“I think they did a fabulous job.”
Added Webb Simpson, also a member of Quail Hollow: “I think 16 was a tough hole before, now it’s a really tough hole. I think the wind is going to affect that hole a good amount. If you get it downwind, the fairways are firm, you could have a short iron, but it’s 510 yards — there are going to be some guys hitting woods in (to the green) this week.”
Howell also thinks it will bring about a more exhilarating ending to this event and the PGA Championship.
“This morning it was cool and breezy, you’re probably going to hit a 6 or 7-iron into it, more often than not (on your approach into the 16th),” he said. “For the position of the course it’s in, later in the day, coming down the stretch, etc., it’s a great hole and makes for an exciting finish.”
Then, there’s the 221-yard par-3 17th, which is guarded by water around the left and the back — it’s always been quite a challenging hole.
“I like the change, I think it’s a good angle for that hole, it’s a nice location, for sure,” said Wagner. “It’s better than the previous way right tee and more challenging than the left tee.”
The tee box has been moved to the left 30-35 yards and 20 yards further back to add more length to the already-intimidating tee shot.
“17 is extremely long, as well,” said Simpson. “I’ve been hitting 4-iron or hybrid it seems like every day. So, a lot of it is going to be dependent on the wind. But they’re extremely difficult.”
Most the players seem to hope the Tour setup guys switch around the tee boxes in each round, so they’re not hitting from the back one every day.
“17 is a challenge,” said Howell. “It’s a tough hole, especially if they play that back tee. Green is a little firm being new, so I hope they don’t play that back tee every day.”
Na reiterated much of the same.
“On 17, I just hope they don’t play it all the way back every day,” said Na. “You’re hitting a long iron and into the wind, a hybrid. The green goes away…even though the raised the back, you can really hit a good shot and catch that downslope and (your ball) is gone (in the water), especially if it’s downwind. I’m not a big fan of that back tee, but if they move it up one (tee box), it’s a great hole.”
Why? Well, because almost every player will bail out to the right.
“I saw Tom Fazio at a dinner,” recalled Simpson. “I joked with him with that new tee, if we play it back, the tournament’s going to need to hire someone permanently to stand on the tee and every time somebody hits, just yell ‘fore’ because people will go right of the green.
“I also told him that when we moved to the left tee in 2012, so we were there 2012 and 2013, there were more balls in the water in 2012 than any other year from the right tee.
“I saw the Tour officials yesterday, and they’re going to do a great job. I just think that tee is so long for such a hard hole that you just have to have the right conditions, I think, to put the tees all the way back there. It definitely favors the guys who hit it longer and higher.”
Not much has been done to the 483-yard par-4 18th. It’s been lengthened about 15 yards and the tee has been raised, but it was already a tough hole to begin with.
“I can’t think of three holes in golf, including majors that are tougher finishing holes than these,” said Simpson.