Charlotte Magazine Features Quail Hollow Club’s Makeover

By | October 19th, 2016

In anticipation of hosting next year’s PGA Championship, the Charlotte, N.C., club began a 12-week renovation process, installing Champion Ultradwarf Bermudagrass, adding three new holes, overhauling fairways, reshaping greens, and adding areas for grandstands and spectators.

Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C., will host next year’s PGA Championship, and in preparation for the event, the facility installed Champion Ultradwarf Bermudagrass that came to Charlotte in a refrigerated truck from a Texas turfgrass farm that used decades of genetic research to develop the grass. The Charlotte soil that received and accepted the grass is some of the most nutrient-rich soil in the country—a mixture of sand and blended soil and worm castings from a worm farm in Cheraw, S.C., Charlotte (N.C.) Magazine reported.

“Largest worm farm on the face of the earth,” says Ron Danise, the owner of Southern Organics. (He later corrects himself to say it’s definitely the largest in the country, but he’s not sure about the world.) “We can produce 50 tons of worm castings a day.”

The worms ate compost that had been breaking down for 12 to 14 months. That compost was then mixed with other materials, such as hay scraps and other organic matter from Danise’s 560-acre organic farm. The vermicomposting portion of the farm is a 385,000-sq. ft., indoor facility that used to be a cotton mill. It’s now home to the European night crawlers that ate the compost that made the poop that gave the soil the nutrients it needed to house the grass that made the greens that will receive the ball that will win one of the biggest events in golf, Charlotte Magazine reported.

Few places in Charlotte are reimagined more frequently—and more privately—than the exclusive club. This past May 8, as soon as the last group teed off on the final day of the Wells Fargo Championship, construction crews descended on the course and began a 12-week renovation process that would have taken five or six months on most other courses. But Superintendent Keith Wood didn’t have that kind of time. The club’s president, Johnny Harris, wanted to have the course open to members by the fall, Charlotte Magazine reported.

That led to one of the most remarkable renovations of a golf course in the country, involving three new holes, overhauled fairways, reshaped greens, and the addition of areas for grandstands and spectators—all in three months. “I don’t think I’ll ever come up with any project like this again in my career,” said Wood, a 20-year veteran in the industry.

A little more than three years ago, Quail Hollow’s greens were made of bentgrass, which thrives in cool weather, making it a great playing surface in the fall and spring. For 20 years, bentgrass greens held strong as the preferred brand for North Carolina golf courses, until back-to-back scorching summers in 2009 and 2010 burned greens throughout the state. By then, turfgrass farms were producing stronger strains of Bermuda grass that could live through winter—with the help of tarps to cover them on the rare nights that dipped below 27 or 28 degrees, Charlotte Magazine reported.

The combination of hotter summers and better Bermuda grass led to a complete shift in greens in the Southeast. The “Bermuda grass line,” as some agronomists call it, moved north and west. Soon it moved north and into Virginia, and now, places as far north as West Virginia have switched to Bermuda grass greens, Charlotte Magazine reported.

Quail Hollow experienced a difficult year in 2013, when strained bentgrass greens were spotty and patchy for the Wells Fargo Championship, and several players withdrew. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever been through,” Harris later told The Charlotte Observer.

Later that year, the club installed miniverde Bermuda grass. In 2015, Quail Hollow hired Wood away from Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro to take the old course into the future. He started at Quail Hollow one week before the 2015 Wells Fargo. He and his team decided to keep the miniverde greens through 2016. (“We got by,” Wood says of this past year’s tournament.) But given the importance of the PGA Championship, he and Quail Hollow officials decided this summer they would install the new Champion Bermuda grass. And while they were at it, they’d rebuild much of the course, Charlotte Magazine reported.

Quail Hollow hired six companies for construction, from earth-movers to contractors that build golf holes. On the first full day of renovations, May 9, crews removed 800 trees on the course. Over the course of the summer, that number swelled into the thousands. Most of them were small, and they all came out in an effort to make the environment healthier in other ways, Charlotte Magazine reported.

The new Bermuda grass greens require lots of sunlight. So the trees around them needed to go. In their place, Quail Hollow’s horticulture team will plant rhododendrons, hydrangeas, and crape myrtles. The team also is planting other trees that will grow large again, just in better locations. The idea is to have a diverse mix that will ensure that something’s in bloom throughout the year, Charlotte Magazine reported.

“Mr. Harris wants color every day of the year,” Wood said of the club president. “He wants this to be like a park.”

Throughout the renovation process, crews took into consideration the environment around the course. At least three bald eagles live on the property, including one that was rehabilitated at the Carolina Raptor Center earlier this year. When the raptor center released the eagle at Quail Hollow in March, it announced that the eagle’s name would be Rory, after Rory McIlroy, a two-time winner of the Wells Fargo Championship, Charlotte Magazine reported.

The attention to the environment makes someone like Danise, who has been involved in organic farming since the early 1980s (“before it was chic”), say he’s proud to partner with the club. Southern Organics sent about 20 truckloads of its soil mixture to Quail Hollow during the renovation this summer. Each truckload contained about 20 tons of material, all waiting for that Bermuda grass from Texas, Charlotte Magazine reported.

“They’re making judicious and good decisions for the environment, and they’re getting results,” Danise said of Quail Hollow.

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