Wells Fargo Championship: The place to be

Features Sports

April 28, 2024

The 2023 Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club

How the Wells Fargo Championship has become an indelible part of Charlotte’s legacy.

by Ron Green Jr.

Rather than think about what is going away as the final Wells Fargo Championship approaches at Quail Hollow Club, let’s take a moment to think about what the past 22 years of professional golf have given the Charlotte area.

To be clear, professional golf is not leaving Charlotte. The PGA Championship, one of the game’s four major tournaments, will be played at Quail Hollow next May, and a new title sponsor is expected to be named soon to take the city’s annual PGA Tour event into the future.

For the moment, though, it’s worth celebrating an event that has helped define the Charlotte sports calendar, created star turns for many of golf’s biggest names and provided more than $30 million in charitable donations.

The Wells Fargo name may be leaving, but the moments and the memories remain.

Monday, May 6, the first day of Wells Fargo Championship week this year, will mark the 22-year anniversary of Ken Thompson, the CEO of what was then Wachovia Bank, announcing that the PGA Tour would be returning to the Queen City in 2003, ending an absence dating back to the city’s final Kemper Open in 1979.

It was a big moment at the time — Wachovia had merged with First Union bank, and the creation of the tournament coincided with the national rollout of the new brand — and it feels even bigger now given professional golf’s expanded role at Quail Hollow and in the region.

Bringing the PGA Tour back to Charlotte — a quest driven by Thompson, developer Johnny Harris, bank executive Mac Everett and others — led to the PGA Championship and the Presidents Cup coming to Charlotte.

When Thompson made the tournament announcement in spring 2002, the city was days away from losing the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets to New Orleans. A referendum for a new uptown arena had failed, and the city was losing one of its most recognizable assets.

“I’m a big believer in golf and how golf and business work together, and the tournament gave us a chance to bring in big customers from around the globe,” says Thompson, who is now retired but stays busy maintaining several board seats. “They loved it. It was a good way to get on television, and having Johnny Harris and (Quail Hollow) stand behind this really de-risked it for us.

“We had people calling to make sure that we did it. Our board liked the idea, and I said it was like having a bluebird fly through the window. It was a good thing for our company and for Charlotte and North Carolina.”

The dream was to bring golf’s best back to Charlotte. The reality, it turns out, has exceeded the dream.

This is what Fred Couples, who shared the first round lead in the inaugural Wachovia Championship, said about what had been created at Quail Hollow:

“For a new tournament, they are not trying so hard, they know what they are doing. Trying is when maybe you don’t have the greatest thing and you do a lot of things. This thing has huge crowds today in the first round, a great course. I think this will be one of the top two except for the World Golf Championships, majors and (the Players Championship). It has a lot going for it.”

It was on its way.

The direction of Harris, Everett and Kym Hougham, the first tournament director, was invaluable given their deep ties and understanding of the game.

“Mac and Johnny were just spectacular,” Thompson says. “We did give them a lot of cash to do it, but both of them know golf so well. If you want to have a (tournament) hall of fame, they would be the first two guys in it.”

Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan at the Wednesday pro-am in 2007

Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan at the Wednesday pro-am in 2007. Photograph courtesy Wells Fargo Championship.

For those who ascribe to the notion that the quality of its champions can define the quality of a golf course, Wells Fargo Championship winners at Quail Hollow include Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Jim Furyk, Rory McIlroy (three times), Jason Day and Rickie Fowler, with Phil Mickelson nibbling around the edges in multiple visits to Charlotte.

From the beginning, the tournament has had a flair for the dramatic.

David Toms won the inaugural Wachovia Championship, but it’s how he finished that remains one of the most famous moments in the event’s history.

Leading by six strokes on the final hole, Toms made a quadruple-bogey 8 on the difficult par-4 18th, an inglorious conclusion to an otherwise glorious performance.

“I felt like I was in total control over what was going on, at least for 71 holes,” Toms said.

Four years later, Woods won at Quail Hollow in the same week he and Michael Jordan played together in the Wednesday pro-am, bringing an enormous gallery along with them. An eagle at the par-5 seventh hole on Sunday sent a roar across the property, and when he finished off his 57th career victory, Woods flung his golf ball down the 18th fairway in celebration.

“This one, considering the field and the golf course and the conditions, I’m ecstatic to have won here,” Woods said.

When Rory McIlroy won in 2010, he was two days shy of his 21st birthday, and he became the youngest winner on the PGA Tour since Woods in 1996. 

While McIlroy will be remembered for shooting a final-round course-record 62 that ended with a string of six consecutive threes on his scorecard, the magic began on Friday afternoon. McIlroy was outside the 36-hole cut line with three holes to play, but an eagle at the par-5 seventh (his 16th hole in the second round) pushed him into the weekend, all of it set up by a 206-yard 4-iron second shot into the green guarded by water.

“Most important shot of the year, to be honest,” McIlroy said.

It was the start of an enduring relationship between McIlroy and Quail Hollow. He has won the event three times and lost in a playoff to Rickie Fowler in 2012. Additionally, McIlroy has been given an honorary membership to the club.

There have been name changes along the way. After the banking crisis in 2008, the event was renamed the Quail Hollow Championship for two years until it was renamed the Wells Fargo Championship prior to the 2011 tournament.

The memories and moments have accumulated over the years, seasoning the tournament and creating a scrapbook rich with images and feelings.

After a Saturday rain delay in 2007, Woods and Singh went back out and played the 11th and 12th holes — two challenging par-4s — in a combined 5-under par with three birdies and an eagle by Singh at the 12th. 

There was Derek Ernst, ranked 1,207 in the world, winning in 2013, the biggest upset in tournament history. 

When the tournament moved to Eagle Point in Wilmington in 2017 to accommodate the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow, Brian Harman outdueled Dustin Johnson.

Covid canceled the 2020 event, McIlroy won in 2021 for the third time on Mother’s Day with his wife and young daughter watching, and Wyndham Clark triggered his breakout 2023 season with his win last year.

The golf course has changed through the years, growing in its role as tournament host while maintaining its natural charm and beauty. The combination of springtime in Charlotte and the relaxed elegance of the setting have created an atmosphere that has elevated it beyond just a golf tournament. 

It’s the roar of a gallery late on Sunday afternoon, the hum of conversation around the event lawn behind the clubhouse and the sweeping views across the finishing holes, among the best golf theaters to be found.

It’s not just the place to be in early May, it’s the place people want to be. The Wells Fargo Championship has become a part of Charlotte, helping define and enhance the region since its inception more than two decades ago.

At the end of each tournament, the champion is escorted into a private Champagne toast with members and tournament leaders, where they raise a glass to the winner. This year, they can also toast a 21-year relationship that may be ending but has had an enduring impact on Charlotte and the PGA Tour.  SP

Read more about what to expect at Quail Hollow during the Championship and more about the history of Quail Hollow Club.

Key moments in the Wells Fargo Championship

1 – First champion David Toms photograph by Craig Jones / Getty Images. 2 – Rickie Fowler in 2012. 3 – Rory McIlroy wins for the second time in 2015. Photographs courtesy Wells Fargo Championship.

2003 David Toms wins the inaugural Wachovia Championship by two strokes despite making a quadruple-bogey 8 on the final hole.

2007 Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods play together in the Wednesday pro-am, drawing an enormous gallery.

2007 Tiger Woods wins the Wachovia Championship for his 57th career PGA Tour victory.

2009 The event is renamed the Quail Hollow Championship.

2010 Rory McIlroy wins his first PGA Tour event, shooting a course-record 62 on Sunday to beat Phil Mickelson by four strokes.

2011 The event is renamed the Wells Fargo Championship.

2012 Rickie Fowler beats McIlroy and D.A. Points in a playoff for his first PGA Tour victory.

2015 Rory McIlroy wins for the second time at Quail Hollow, beating Webb Simpson and Patrick Rodgers by seven strokes.

2017 Brian Harman wins at Eagle Point Golf Club in Wilmington, where the tournament was moved to accommodate the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow.

2020 The tournament is canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

2021 Rory McIlroy wins for the third time.


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