When you hear the phrase, “firm, fair test,” to describe a golf course, a short list of choice layouts rush to mind. Innumerable variations define and separate. Historical significance, signature holes and quirks identify most. All share combinations of attributes that both challenge the field while giving it room to score. It’s within that phenomenon where a touring professional can have fun. He’s encouraged to put his talent on display because it’s going to get rewarded.
Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina, host of this week’s Wells Fargo Championship, is one such design. Arguably best known among fans for The Green Mile – the closing trio of holes on which even par over four rounds last year meant a gain of 3.4 strokes on the field – what’s often overlooked is how scorable the first 15 holes set up and how the course rewards all facets of a skill set.
Rory McIlroy broke through for his first PGA TOUR title here in 2010, but the old bentgrass greens were removed for MiniVerde ultra dwarf Bermuda putting surfaces following the 2013 edition. This was done in preparation for the 2017 PGA Championship. (As a result, next year’s Wells Fargo Championship will be contested at Eagle Point Golf Club in Wilmington, North Carolina.) In Quail Hollow’s second go-round with new greens last year, all McIlroy did was convert 27 birdies en route to a tournament-record, 21-under 267, featuring a course-record 61 in the third round. His aggregate was seven shots clear of a pair of runners-up who equaled J.B. Holmes’ winning pace in 2014. To illustrate how Quail Hollow benefited all, look no further than the fact that McIlroy led the field in distance of all drives (311.5) while runner-up Webb Simpson paced the field in fairways hit.
McIlroy also ranked T2 in greens in regulation and first in par-4 scoring. Most importantly, as you’d infer on a scorable, stock par 72, he went wild on the par 5s. For the week, he was bogey-free 13-under. While he made hay prior to The Green Mile, he’d score 1-over for the week on Nos. 16-18, thus authoring the yearly reminder that contenders will need to take advantage of their earlier opportunities. They’ll enjoy themselves as they do.
New greens were among the first wave of modifications to the course. Others are scheduled after the tournament concludes, but this week’s field of 156 will get a peek at a new back tee at the par-5 seventh hole, site of the only noticeable change since last year. Lengthened by 13 yards, Quail Hollow can now play 7,575 yards from the tips, highest ever in the 14-year-old tournament.
The Wells Fargo Championship is also back in its customary slot in the week before THE PLAYERS. A threat of rain can’t be ruled out on Thursday when the daytime high won’t climb out of the 60s. However, dry, warm and less windy conditions will take over for the remainder. Sunday’s high temperature will rise into the 80s.
ROB BOLTON'S WRITING SCHEDULE
PGATOUR.COM's Fantasy Columnist Rob Bolton will be filing his usual staples leading up to this week's event. Look for the following features later this week:
MONDAY: Power Rankings
TUESDAY*: Fantasy Insider, Comfort Zone, Sleepers
THURSDAY: Most-picked players
* = Rob is a member of the panel for PGATOUR.COM's Expert Picks, which also publishes on Tuesdays.