Hosting its first major with this year’s PGA Championship came after years of careful preparation at Quail Hollow Club—and marked the next step towards bigger things to come.
Much of the coverage in the days leading up to last month’s PGA Championship focused on how the host site, Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C., would be under a much brighter and hotter spotlight than ever before. Even those familiar with Quail Hollow’s rich golf legacy—which includes close ties to Arnold Palmer (who once owned a home on the club’s 15th hole), years of successfully staging high-profile professional tournaments, and strong connections from the beginning of its history to Augusta National Golf Club—painted a picture of a relative unknown stepping into the big time. As one local business writer saw it, the story of the PGA Championship’s arrival at Quail Hollow was all about “capping a suburban, old-school course’s ascension from afterthought to regular tour stop—and into the rarefied air of staging a major championship.”
For Daryl Webb, however, it was really just a matter of simply taking what Quail Hollow has always done, and has always been about, to another level and a larger scale—and, in his case, planning to have a lot more condiments on hand.
Webb is one of a trio of Assistant Managers who are part of the experienced management and operation team that has supported Quail Hollow’s steady rise through its relatively young 57-year history to new levels of prominence in the club world. While the club’s original visionary, James Harris, and his son, Johnny Harris, who has served as its President for the past 29 years, have been well-known as the faces of Quail Hollow and as the drivers behind its climb to golf’s upper echelon, the staff has provided the hands, feet and backbone, as each new and larger challenge has presented itself, needed to ensure consistent execution each step of the way.
|AT A GLANCE
Quail Hollow Club
For Webb, among other areas he would oversee as a roving “problem solver” during the Championship, that meant making sure there would always be enough mustard, ketchup and relish on hand for the hungry hordes of over 200,000 people who would descend on the Quail Hollow grounds during the week (shattering all previous attendance records for the Championship, and exceeding the crowds the club has hosted for the Wells Fargo tournament since 2003 by a factor of three).
But as someone who served 73,000 people at Carolina Panthers football games in his role as Director of Concessions at Charlotte’s Bank of America stadium before joining the Quail Hollow staff 10 years ago, Webb didn’t find those projected numbers at all daunting as he discussed his anticipated duties a month in advance of the Championship. “I’ll admit I might be a little obsessed with having enough condiments,” he laughed. “But we’ve all learned how to stay focused and not get overexcited as we keep taking on new and bigger events here.”
That kind of attention to detail and focus on reaching the next level, in fact, is ingrained in the daily routine for all 150 members of the Quail Hollow staff, whether the tasks at hand revolve around enhancing the ongoing experience for the club’s 350 members or preparing for its next appearance on a larger stage.
Through signs on loading-dock doors, daily messages posted on a huge kitchen display screen, and many other places in the back of the house or via a wide range of employee-communication vehicles, the Quail Hollow staff is constantly reminded of the team’s overriding purpose: to take “good to better [and] better to best,” and ultimately, make and preserve the club as the place where “greatness has a home.”
It helps that the team can pursue these objectives while functioning under what General Manager Tom DeLozier, CCM, CCE, describes as an “Augusta model,” not only in terms of club governance, but also as the desired service and operating standard.
There is plenty of legitimacy in Quail Hollow’s long-standing self-association with such lofty company, on both the membership and management sides; in addition to both James and Johnny Harris and many other Quail Hollow members also belonging to Augusta National, DeLozier’s brother Patrick, now COO of The Alotian Club in Little Rock, Ark., served as Augusta National’s Club Manager for six years. Further validation of the connection has been gained when respected authorities like golfing great and CBS television analyst Nick Faldo have called Quail Hollow “the Augusta of North Carolina.”
It is a common misconception, though, that Quail Hollow is a single-owner club. It has always been member-owned, but with a governance structure that has established long-term permanence in its President position (there have only been 11 in that role since the club’s founding, and only two since 1979). And the club’s Board has always focused on strategic staff direction and support, with minimal roles for committees.
“It’s an uncomplicated [management] structure, with no layers of bureaucracy,” says DeLozier, who came from Charlotte Country Club to become GM in 2008. “It’s quick and responsive, and empowers myself and my team to be very involved with decisions that will help us achieve our mission for our members and the club.
“When you get everyone believing that they own their part of what we’re all trying to do here together, it’s a powerful thing that creates a sense of pride you can’t teach,” DeLozier adds. And certainly, the management-team members who have experienced committee-choked club environments elsewhere find it refreshing to be in an environment where a club President like Johnny Harris, as Webb reports, tells staff: “If you need a committee to do something, then you don’t need to be here yourself.” Not surprisingly, with this kind of operating latitude, there has been no transition, with the exception of Golf Course Superintendent Keith Wood, who came from Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, N.C., in 2015, with any other department head since DeLozier arrived.
But even as a “new guy,” Wood quickly demonstrated he could fit in quite well at Quail Hollow. Arriving two weeks before the 2015 Wells Fargo tournament was held, Wood set about pursuing his agenda of “focusing on getting everyone on the [course and grounds] team to work together to buy into sound agronomic principles,” while also ensuring the continued success and growth of an established tournament.
But Wood also knew of Johnny Harris’ desire to have Tom Fazio complete the master plan for Quail Hollow’s golf course that had been started in the mid-’90s. And, while Quail Hollow first got the news that it would host the 2017 PGA in 2010, Harris was planning, with Augusta-like confidence, to propose to the PGA that the renovation wouldn’t begin until after the 2016 Wells Fargo, and that it could be completed in 90 days.
PGA officials joked during the lead-up to this year’s Championship that it was a good thing they were sitting down when Harris told them, in January 2016, of those plans. But they gave their approval, and Quail Hollow then hired three construction firms to start the renovation project as soon as the last putt in the 2016 Wells Fargo had dropped.
This was not just a matter of making some tweaks to the course, either. Four holes were changed dramatically to make them longer and more challenging, the entire rough was reseeded from rye to Bermudagrass, and some greens were resodded from MiniVerde to Champion Bermudagrass. In addition, some already-planned tree-removal and bunker-reshaping projects continued as scheduled.
But not surprisingly, everything was completed—with even a day to spare. “The challenge here is not support, it’s execution,” Wood explains. “At other clubs, you might not always get the tools you need; but here, people are hired for their talent and there’s confidence in their ability. Management’s role is seen as one of, ‘What can we do to help you?’ ”
In the same manner as other Quail Hollow departments that have been through the club’s many stages of growth, Wood has also helped his team learn to work well under the shadow of a time-pressed renovation and an impending major tournament (the 2017 Wells Fargo was moved to Eagle Point GC in Wilmington, N.C.) by emphasizing the importance of perspective.
“Even on a bigger, worldwide scale, with more eyes on you, at the end of the day it’s still the same golf course,” he says. “It’s important to stay grounded and focused, and not get blinded by the spotlight.”
Meeting the Challenge
As is usually the case when so much high-definition attention is given to a golf course over an extended period, some reaction to Quail Hollow’s first hosting of a major included suggestions that the course had been made too difficult. But as Quail Hollow’s Head Golf Professional, Scott Davenport, notes, one person’s hard course is another’s challenging one—and that kind of reaction certainly beats the alternative of saying it was too easy.
“The goal was not to make the course harder, but to make it better,” Davenport says. “There’s value in every shot now.”
And making things better will continue to be the operative principle as the Quail Hollow team wastes no time in setting its sights on what’s next. In addition to having the Wells Fargo tournament return in 2018, The Presidents Cup, a Ryder Cup-like event that pits an international team of non-European and British players against a U.S. squad, will come to Quail Hollow in 2021.
“I can’t think of any club that’s gone through a stretch of tournaments like we will between this year’s PGA Championship and the President’s Cup,” says DeLozier, who also feels that the emergence of new star players from Asia, South America and other parts of the world only stands to make that competition more attractive by the time it comes to Charlotte. At the same time, no one doubts that Quail Hollow will also pursue landing other high-profile events with even more vigor, after showing what it could do with this year’s PGA. And the new schedule announced by the PGA, which will move future PGA Championships to May, only bodes well for locations in more temperate climates like Charlotte.
“The attitude of let’s take it to the next level permeates everything we do now—it’s in our DNA,” DeLozier says. “Outside of a certain club in Georgia, we think you’d be hard-pressed to find any place that can deliver all that we can.”