Eighteen months ago, Quail Hollow club president Johnny Harris phoned PGA CEO Pete Bevacqua and Kerry Haigh, chief championships officer, and invited them to visit to discuss a few changes he had in mind for the course in advance of hosting the 99th PGA Championship this week.
“I think Pete and I, in honesty, assumed it was maybe tweak a bunker or add a tee. But Mr. Harris and (architect) Tom Fazio came down and laid out these plans on the table and said, ‘Well, we want to replace the grass on the greens. And oh, by the way, while we want to do that, we want to build three new holes and a fourth new green on 11.’
“So after Pete and I fell down and got back into our chairs, we really challenged them extremely hard. Well, how are you going to do this? What’s the time line? You know, we wanted the golf course, all 18 holes, to play the same, consistent.”
Keep in mind that Quail Hollow already ranked among the top 100 golf courses in the United States and has consistently been identified as one of the players’ favorite annual stops on the PGA Tour since it began hosting the Wells Fargo Championship in 2003.
Eighty-nine days later, the course re-opened and was in pristine condition for the PGA. But it’s also a sign of the times. Renovating and remodeling major championship venues has, as the kids say, “jumped the shark.”
It became official when word broke that Augusta National Golf Club is considering messing with one of the holes that makes up famed Amen Corner.
Just this week, The Augusta Chronicle reported that the home of the Masters purchased land from neighboring Augusta Country Club for the purpose of lengthening the risk-reward par-5 13th hole from its current 510 yards, which makes it one of the shortest par-5s in major championship.
As a matter of fact, the first and 16th holes at Quail Hollow are par 4s and both play longer than that.
Major championship venues have had more cosmetic surgery than Michael Jackson ever endured. When Haigh was asked to name the last time he hadn’t suggested some changes for a PGA Championship or Ryder Cup course, he thought for a moment and couldn’t remember one. We’ve seen re-dos of classic venues from Pinehurst No. 2 to Royal Portrush and even work done on the Old Course at St. Andrews. Blasphemy! When told of the latest changes to TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course for this year’s Players Championship, Tom Kite cracked: “It would have been news if they hadn’t changed anything.”
All of these facelifts are designed to combat advancements in equipment technology, especially with the golf ball. This week, the Quail Hollow driving range wasn’t long enough for the 365-yard moon shots of Rory McIlroy.
At the U.S. Open, McIlroy, in turn, marveled at the bombs launched by amateur Cameron Champ, who said, “Rory had to hit a good one just to keep up with one of my bad ones.”
More than ever, the deck is stacked in favor of the golfer who happens to come out of the womb bigger and stronger.
Explaining how he navigated the 7,588-yard Quail Hollow in 4-under 67 on Thursday, PGA leader Kevin Kisner, who is more plodder than bomber, said that nearly every course is a bomber’s paradise these days and added, “There’s about four or five holes that I have to birdie to compete and I birdied them all today.” He was a combined 7 under on Nos. 7, 8, 14, and 15 through the first 36 holes.
At the Open Championship, another of the Tour’s short-knockers, Branden Grace, broke golf’s four-minute mile barrier, burning up Royal Birkdale in a record round of 62. Birkdale played under 7,200 yards that day, and turned the famed layout into a pitch-and-putt.
But longer isn’t necessarily a successful line of defense against the pros. U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka laid waste to the longest course in U.S. history, posting a record 16-under on an Erin Hills layout that measured around 7,800 yards. He only hit a club longer than a 7-iron on one approach shot all week, a 5-iron at the fourth hole on Sunday.
“This is the new age of golf,” Steve Stricker said. “They bomb it. If they hit it crooked, they bomb it again. They’ve got no fear.”
After overnight rains Wednesday spoiled hopes for a fast and firm Quail Hollow, William McGirt noted that “it might measure 7,588 but it played 8,588.” Some pundits say skip the 8,000-yard course and go straight to 9,000. Courses continue to be stretched like rubber bands for fear of being rendered obsolete.
Thicker rough, deeper bunkers and slicker greens are required to protect par, all to the detriment of the average golfer who certainly doesn’t need more challenges. It’s driven millions of golfers from the game.
There seems no stopping this latest trend. One of the
finest layouts in the world, Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in South Hampton, NY, was the last US Open site to be played at less than 7,000 yards in 2004.
It will be 443 yards longer when it hosts the championship next year. That includes adding some 70 yards to the par 5, 16th hole so that the fairway bunkers off the tee and cross bunkers for the layup shot factor into the decision-making process.
“Shinnecock never did get updated for the modern game,” Davis said.
In today’s climate of change for the sake of change, renovating a major championship venue has become not just accepted, but expected.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved