Quail Hollow hosts its first major this week as the PGA Championship heads to the North Carolina course for the final major of the year.
There are already plenty of potential storylines brewing in anticipation of the year’s fourth major at Quail Hollow, which is a course that is well known to the players as it stages the Wells Fargo Championship ever year.
Jordan Spieth has a shot at becoming the youngest player in history to win the career grand-slam, while Rory McIlroy is targetting his first major title since 2014 at a course he’s already won at twice in his career.
Elsewhere, last week’s WGC winner Hideki Matsuyama has a real chance at becoming Japan’s first ever major champion, while World No.1 Dustin Johnson has one more shot at winning a major in 2017.
Matt Kuchar will be hoping to get over his second-place Open heartbreak to finally have his name etched on a major trophy, but other ‘best players never to have won a major’ Rickie Fowler and Lee Westwood will be hoping to do the same.
But what part will the course play in making or derailing those storylines this week? We recently visited the course to get the inside line on which holes will shape the championship, and there have been a lot of changes.
Quail Hollow: Course Changes
In addition to the renovations to the surfaces of the greens, four holes have been given significant makeovers to strengthen the routing of the course and bring it up to major championship standard.
Hole 1 – The first hole has been lengthened from 418 yards to 524 yards. It is now a left-to- right dog-leg par 4 and a combination of the original opening hole and the old 178- yard par-3 2nd.
Hole 4 – Because of the loss of the old 2nd, a new short hole was constructed from part of what used to be the long 5th. At 184 yards, the hole should be a 6 or 7-iron to clear three large, front bunkers and find a diagonal green with a ridge.
Hole 5 – The old par 5 has been shortened to a very birdieable 449-yard that dog- legs gently from left to right. Drives need to avoid fairway bunkers left and right.
Hole 11 – Fazio found an extra 36 yards and turned a simple par 4 into a demanding 462- yard hole where fours will be hard-earned. The new, elevated green is protected by two deep bunkers on the left.
However, there have been no change to the formidable and famous ‘Green Mile’ stretch – already deemed one of the toughest closing three holes on the PGA TOUR.
Keith Wood – greenkeeper at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, home of the PGA Tour’s Wyndham Championship, before moving to Quail Hollow in 2015 – played the course with us and picked out where he thinks it will be won and lost…
PGA Championship: Quail Hollow’s Key Holes
2nd Hole: 452 yards, par 4
The 1st will be a tough opener but even though it is shorter by nearly 70 yards, I actually think the 2nd might be even tougher. There is only one bunker on the hole but it’s a very challenging green and with the fairway sloping away, balls tend to run through into the rough on the right if not hit properly.
This was formerly the 3rd hole and requires a 280-yard drive to reach the corner of the dog-leg while the elevated green slopes back-to-front.
7th hole: 546 yards, par 5
This will play as the shortest par 5 and is reachable for nearly all of the field in two. It starts on a tee next to Webb Simpson’s house and is a tight driving hole with bunkers on the left and water on the right…. but no-one will be laying up, everyone will be going for it.
Another sloping green is protected by water and sand, but it’s going to be so dramatic – especially if the pin is set down front right next to the water, that would be really exciting.
8th Hole: 346 yards, par 4
Here is another chance to get a shot back if you’ve made a poor effort on the now-testing start. After the reachable par-5 7th comes this driveable par 4 that is definitely a birdie opportunity.
Players may try to drive the green and if they don’t they’ll have a sand wedge for their approach. The hole actually changed before I got here, making it more appealing to hit driver off the tee and also a bigger landing area around the green. The 14th is also driveable and will be just as exciting.
17th Hole: 223 yards, par 3
There are a very good set par 3s here, especially with the addition of the new 4th, which looks very different from the others. But none have the drama of the 17th.
The green being almost an island necessitates a carry over water of almost 200 yards off the back tees, but the tee may be moved up and a really tricky hole location used to make it short but really interesting. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some big numbers here.
There have been some tweaks to the surrounding area to bring fans closer to the hole, so there will be a great atmosphere there.
18th Hole: 494 yards, par 4
I can’t imagine playing this hole with all the pressure of a major. On the drive, hitting the middle of the fairway is pretty tough…the view from the back tee box makes that fairway seem pretty narrow.
Having said that, Kerry Haigh (chief championships officer for the PGA) widened it out a little bit from where it was previously and probably almost all of the fairways will be a little wider than they are for the Wells Fargo.
Even so, this is consistently one of the toughest finishing holes on tour, with a drive bunker on the right off the tee and the creek all the way up the left. The uphill approach has to be hit between sand and the creek to the sloping green.
Zach Blair: How to play the 18th hole at Quail Hollow
Zach Blair doesn’t have the most favourable record at Quail Hollow, and was disqualified after hitting himself on the head with a putter last year and continuing to use it, but surprisingly he’s still full of praise for the layout. And if he’s learned anything from his tough time at the North Carolina track, it’s how to play on of the most difficult holes on the golf course.
The 4th hardest hole on the 2016 PGA Tour, Quail Hollow’s magnificent 18th is still the 494-yard beast of a par 4 it has been for years.
The final challenge of the infamous Green Mile which begins at the 506-yard 16th, the closing hole is a gentle right-to-left dog-leg with a creek that runs all the way down the left side.
Hit a slight fade off the tee
I like to aim my tee shot down the left centre of the fairway and cut it towards the middle. Anything in the short grass allows you to be somewhat aggressive for your second, depending on where the pin is.
Avoid the creek left and bunker right
The key at 18 is to get the ball in the fairway. You must stay away from the creek and the bunker. Right is better than left certainly, but getting on in two from that bunker is a really demanding shot.
Club right to reach long, uphill green
Anything in the short grass allows you to be somewhat aggressive for your second, depending on where the pin is. It’s a long green and getting the uphill approach all the way to a back pin is a tough way to finish.