Golf in these times: North Carolina
Fourth in a series of reports from across the country by PGATOUR.COM writers
March 26, 2020
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
- The Wells Fargo Championship is among the tournaments that have been shuttered in the wake of COVID-19. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
GREENSBORO, N.C. – I often tell people it’s a good thing I wasn’t required to take a playing ability test when I went to work for the PGA TOUR.
A single-digit handicap wasn’t a job requirement, thankfully, although two of the talented writers I currently work with check that box. Loving the game, well, that’s another story.
And I learned to love the game in North Carolina.
That’s why it hurts to see the Wells Fargo Championship among the tournaments that have been shuttered in the wake of COVID-19. And while the Wyndham Championship in my hometown is still on the PGA TOUR schedule -- right after the Olympics, which have now been moved to 2021 -- these are unsettling times for everyone.
GOLF IN THESE TIMES
• California: Ben Everill plays historic Rancho Park just before city courses in Los Angeles are shut down
• Massachusetts: Jim McCabe sees the start of golf season delayed at Presidents Golf Course
• Arizona: Rob Bolton sets the scene from an Outlaw Tour event at Western Skies Golf Club
• Florida: Mike McAllister plays a Mark McCumber-designed course at Marsh Creek Country Club
As of Friday, like so many other places across the country, Charlotte and the cities in the Piedmont Triad – Greensboro, High Point and Winston-Salem – will all be under “stay-at-home” orders through April 16. Schools across the state are closed until May 15.
Golf is not a top priority now. But people like Wyndham Championship tournament director Mark Brazil and his staff are working hard to be ready when that time comes again.
This year, the two events oddly would have been separated by 99 days and 99 miles. The first is played at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, the South’s banking mecca, while the second has found a home again at Sedgefield Country Club, which hosted, along with Starmount Forest, the inaugural event way back in 1938.
As a kid, I remember going to what was then called the Greater Greensboro Open with my father many times. Too shy to ask for an autograph, I nudged my dad to get one from Bud Allin, the Vietnam vet with a Bronze Star who won the tournament in 1971. Allin, who played at Brigham Young where he was a teammate of Johnny Miller, won five times on the PGA TOUR.
After becoming a sportwriter, the first GGO I vividly remember covering was won by the transcendently talented Seve Ballesteros, who, seven days shy of his 21st birthday, came from five strokes back on Sunday to earn the first of his four PGA TOUR victories to go along with five major championships. I was also there for the 62 that Davis Love III shot to win his first GGO in 1992 – and was there again in 2015 when he won his third as age 51.
Tiger Woods also was there in 2015, too, for the first time ever, on one of his several comeback tours. The tournament had to hastily print more tickets after his last-minute commitment, and Tiger did not disappoint, sharing the lead through two rounds and finishing tied for 10th.
For many years, the Wyndham Championship was a spring tradition, generally played the week before the Masters – which often brought with it a strong international field -- and occasionally two weeks after. Now, the tournament has settled into a late summer date with all sorts of important FedExCup and Wyndham Rewards implications the week prior to the start of the Playoffs.
The Wells Fargo Championship occupies a spring date now, three weeks after the gathering at Augusta National and two before the PGA Championship. All the TOUR events through the PGA have been canceled now and the two majors postponed as we try to flatten the curve on the way to the return of normal life.
The bleachers had yet to go up but some of the hospitality structures, including the start of the popular Green Mile Club, were already in place at Quail Hollow when the cancellation was announced last week. If the weather holds, those are expected to all be broken down by the end of this weekend.
Since 2003, the Wells Fargo Championship has contributed more than $24 million to charitable organizations in the Charlotte area. Despite the cancellation, officials are determined to continue making a positive impact. From a tournament statement: “Our focus now will be on how we use this moment in time to inspire our community and make sure we use the strength of the Wells Fargo Championship to do good,”
Next year the Wells Fargo Championship will move to TPC Potomac as the 14th Presidents Cup takes center stage at Quail Hollow. The tournament took a similar hiatus in 2017, moving to Eagle Pointe in Wilmington, North Carolina, so the PGA Championship could be played at Quail Hollow that August.
Quail Hollow has a history that stretches beyond the Wells Fargo Championship, though. The challenging George Cobb layout hosted the Kemper Open from 1969-1979 and the PaineWebber Invitational from 1983-89 on what is now known as PGA TOUR Champions.
It was in the cabana by a pool at Quail Hollow – doubling as the media center -- that a reporter asked Gary Player about his favorite subject, physical fitness, after his 1987 victory there. He answered by stripping down to his skivvies and doing laps. Enough said. And seen.
Arnold Palmer -- who helped bring the Kemper Open to Quail Hollow and once had a home at the course -- was standing by the trunk of his car, which was filled with putters, when I interviewed him one-on-one for the first time. As we talked, I remember him fidgeting, picking up each putter and wrapping his big weathered hands around the grips.
Years later, Palmer commanded the biggest crowd of the day when he played with his grandson Sam Saunders in the pro-am at the 2011 Wells Fargo Championship. North Carolina’s adopted son, who started a long tradition of standout golfers at Wake Forest, was 81 years old at the time.
Another memorable interview happened in 1985 at the historic links at Pinehurst when I spoke to Jack Nicklaus, in town to watch his son Jackie play at the North & South Amateur. I was so nervous. My hands shook as we talked; my notes were practically illegible. A few days later, Jackie won the tournament, and his dad gave him a big bear hug.
Less than a year later, Jackie returned the favor on the 18th green at Augusta National after his dad won a record sixth Masters
Yes, so many memories, this marriage between golf and North Carolina. Playing with my retired parents at Star Hill Golf Club, a 27-hole course dissected by a dirt landing strip. Mom and Dad have passed away now and I miss them deeply, but at least I can fall back on those images, hitting a few good shots and sharing many more laughs.
I learned to love the game here. Uncertainty has taken over; business is not usual. But one day pro golf will again be played in North Carolina. For now, it’s just time to stay safe.