Justin Thomas got his first signature win in a major championship at the 2017 PGA Championship. He finished 8-under par. He did it on a golf course that took rain most of the week. He beat a loaded leaderboard.
Somehow, some way, there were complaints about the course. Quail Hollow’s membership backed the armored car up and dumped millions into the property to make it a major test. Nothing about the outcome should dissuade that membership from second guessing that investment.
Quail Hollow was a victim of three things that were beyond its control:
- The property isn’t located on a big, scenic body of water
- The course had never hosted a major before
- The course was familiar because of its annual spot on the PGA Tour schedule
Yes, the greens were firm and fast. Yes, that differed from the lush, juicy Bermudagrass rough and spongy fairways. If Subair systems – which created that dichotomy – were so tough for courses, where’s the outcry every April in Augusta?
To be fair, most of the players were positive about the golf course, but muted early scoring and some late whining (resident and member Webb Simpson wasn’t kind) took some of the pizzazz out of a course that seemed perfect for a major.
It begs the question: What is the ideal major venue?
Do the dunes of Lake Michigan at Whistling Straits, the barren links of Long Island, the Pacific cliffs of Pebble and Torrey provide an aesthetic that elevates a property in the eyes of the consumer?
Does the history of Oakmont, Pinehurst, Baltusrol, etc. add a level of history and respect in the minds of the most critical golf fans?
Does the familiarity of Quail Hollow (and its past grass struggles) keep the fans of golf from placing it in the upper echelon of American golf venues? Would a move away from that annual stop allow the course to grow some major mystique?
All of those questions are, likely, objective depending on who is asked. Major venues are dissected down to the last blade of grass, with every armchair architect needing validation for its place on the schedule.
The ultimate measurement should be the tournament it produces. Sunday afternoon of the 99th PGA Championship featured a winner, Thomas, who made six birdies, including a chip-in, yet was tested in every facet of his game to post a winning score.
“It’s a tough course that you just have to, pars are fine,” Thomas said after his win, reflecting on the struggles of winning in the final round. “No one’s going to run away from you at a course like this, or not likely.”
There may not be a perfect formula for a major venue, but it certainly felt like Quail Hollow belonged this week. The course isn’t done on the big stage either. With a Presidents Cup coming to Charlotte in 2021, the course is set up to become a big event stop for years to come.
Nothing about this past week should dissuade fans from trusting it again.