Quail Hollow prepares for a delayed Presidents Cup

The mantra to improve constantly doesn’t ring hollow at Quail Hollow Club.


Keith Wood
Keith Wood, director of green and grounds at Quail Hollow Club since 2015, is eager to welcome this month’s Presidents Cup to the ever-evolving Charlotte, N.C., course. Photos by Travis Dove

Don’t be fooled by Quail Hollow Club’s deceptively simple mission statement.

In just eight words (its website truncates it further, down to six), the Charlotte, N.C., jewel distills an ethos that is motivating despite its ambiguity.

Take good to better and better to best.

Those who toil at Quail Hollow Club quickly come to find out that’s not a road map. It’s a dangling carrot, for none of those terms is truly achievable, or, if it is, it is quickly supplanted by the one that proceeded it.

The team labored to present the best golf course, the best hospitality, the best experience on a daily basis before the PGA Tour decided to make a yearly stop at Quail Hollow, and then turned things up a notch for the Tour. Didn’t that, then, become the new best?

When Quail Hollow Club landed the 2017 PGA Championship, once again the crew — or, in the club vernacular, the Quail Hollow family — again outdid itself, and that became the new best, relegating the previous superlative to mere better status.

And now the staff is pushing to redefine preeminence once again, when an anticipated one billion — yes, that’s a “B” — global viewers will turn their attention to Quail Hollow when it hosts the Presidents Cup, Sept. 20-25.

So that good-to-better, better-to-best thing? It’s really just a set of continually moving goalposts, a never-ending game of anti-limbo in which the bar just keeps getting raised higher and higher.

“We’re going to continue to push,” says Tom DeLozier, Quail Hollow Club’s general manager since 2008. “We’re going to continue to push, and when we do hit a ceiling … well, I don’t think there is one.”

Keith Wood and Lori Austin
Wood and Lori Austin, agronomy administrative assistant.

‘As special as it can be’

Keith Wood, GCSAA Class A director of green and grounds at Quail Hollow and 26-year association member, is quite familiar with the torrid pace at which the facility is constantly defining and redefining itself.

He arrived there in May 2015 — advance week for that year’s Wells Fargo Championship, the PGA Tour stop that has been played there, albeit under the names Wachovia Championship (2003-2008) and Quail Hollow Championship (2009-2010), nearly every year since 2003. The only exceptions were 2020, when it was among the first half dozen Tour events canceled due to the pandemic; 2017, when Quail Hollow hosted the PGA Championship; and this year, when Quail will host the Presidents Cup. The Presidents Cup was a domino postponement of the pandemic that forced a one-year delay in the Ryder Cup, the other match-style international friendly contested in years that alternate with the Presidents Cup.

“I had done a lot of tournament golf,” Wood says. “I was no stranger to professional golf and the business of setting golf courses up for professionals. Advance week is quite daunting, but tournament golf, that was the easy part.”

Wood oversaw the 2016 Wells Fargo from start to finish, then Quail Hollow made its nature known. The ink was barely dry on James Hahn’s comically oversized Wells Fargo winner’s check when Wood and crew undertook a massive restoration under the guidance of architect Tom Fazio that included construction of three entirely new holes (Nos. 1, 4 and 5) and re-grassing from MiniVerde to Champion 12 ultra­dwarf bermudagass for all 18 greens, as well as resodding of approach areas, tees and collars with TifGrand. Turnaround time? A mere 89 days.

“We’re in tune with tournament golf. That’s part of the culture of the club,” Wood says. “But the other things we do … we do a lot of construction. Our president is a developer. That’s what he does for a business. He likes to tinker with the golf course. We have a golf course architect who like to pay attention to how it’s playing for the professionals and the membership, and he wants to always improve. That good to better, better to best mantra, we’re always living that at Quail Hollow, whether we’re rebuilding bunkers or cart paths or it’s the potable water, the fiber, the electricity, whatever it is, we just try to make this place as special as it can be.

“There really is no place quite like Quail Hollow. People don’t really understand that, except for the people who have been here — the assistants, the interns, people who have come through the program here, people who have experienced what a year at Quail is like. There really is no letup at this place. It’s quite fun.”

Keith Wood, Kevin Robinson, Frankie Cardelle and Robert Blood
Wood (second from left) regularly rotates duties among his three assistant superintendents, from left, Kevin Robinson, Frankie Cardelle and Robert Blood.

Constant improvement

Neither course nor crew got much of a respite during the stretch that included the 2016 renovation, the 2017 PGA Championship and, just ninth months after Charlotte’s first major championship, the 2018 Wells Fargo in its usual May time slot.

“That summer (of 2017) was a real grind,” Wood recalls. “You host a major, then you finish up and do member events. Then you get ready for another event on a world-wide scale.”

Quail Hollow Club in May is markedly different than Quail in August — or, in the case of the Presidents Cup, September. The pros play on perennial ryegrass overseed in May, but by August/September, the bermudagrass has come into its own. With different grasses, mowing patterns and mowing heights, Wood notes, it plays like a completely different course.

In 2018, though, “We sprayed out our rye in late May, early June, but our bermuda had just taken a licking,” Wood recalls of the agronomic aftermath of the PGA Championship. “That summer was pretty daunting getting it grown back in, getting the turf back in good health. It was a good two months of grind there.”

Agronomy was only part of the grind. Based on lessons learned from hosting a major, the course embarked on installing a 20-foot-wide service road to make it easier to transport and access some of the massive infrastructure associated with big-time tournament golf.

“I learned a lot about road-building that summer,” Wood says. “I learned a lot about Mr. Fazio and how he likes to hide things, like cart paths, and we were talking about hiding a 20-foot service road. It’s pretty hard, man.”

In keeping with a theme, the crew in 2019 embarked on the first stage of three years’ worth of projects that might not be casually obvious but could pay huge dividends in the interest of hosting a global sporting spectacle. Those projects included changes to the parking structure at the front of the clubhouse; expanded parking lots; a tournament transportation area where the tens of thousands of expected on-site fans will now be able to disembark at five separate stations for ride shares, public transportation or private vehicles; a patron walkway; and a rebuild of the course’s practice facility.

“We blew it up top to bottom,” Wood says of the practice grounds. “What we used in 2017 and the Wells Fargo in 2018 no longer worked. What we saw was, these guys were hitting it so doggone far, our range wasn’t long enough. We pushed our main hitting tee back about 30 yards and built a learning center for the professionals to teach out of. We leveled up our range fairway and built up our target range and completely redid our short game area, practice bunkers and putting greens.”

Presidents cup arena
A view of the massive 3,000-seat, arena-style seating surrounding the first tee, along with the No. 9 green, at Quail Hollow. The build-out includes more than 500,000 square feet of flooring to accommodate corporate suites, hospitality and food and beverage areas.

Acres of infrastructure

Not long after losing the 2020 Wells Fargo Championship to COVID-19, Quail Hollow learned the pandemic was going to delay its hosting of the Presidents Cup. In August 2020, the decision was made to move the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup back a year.

Since the decision was made relatively early in the run-up, it did little to alter the preparation, but it also did a number on the build-up. At least, that’s Wood’s impression.

Part of the build out for the Presidents Cup means finding room for and overseeing construction of more than half a million square feet of flooring to accommodate all the ancillary structures — corporate suites and grandstands and hospitality and food and beverage, not to mention the players’ on-site “cabin” accommodations.

“They say it’s the largest build ever done for a PGA Tour event,” Wood says. “Half a million square feet-plus of flooring, double deckers, triple deckers,” he says. “It seems like a lot of corporate spend. It seems like a lot of corporations weren’t able to spend a lot of money during COVID, so they’re spending it now.”

To put that in perspective, 500,000 square feet is the same as 11.5 acres. Real estate websites Zillow and Redfin estimate the average U.S. home covers 1,600 square feet, so that’s the equivalent of 312 “average” homes — but just 33 of the 15,000-square-foot Quail Hollow-abutting mansions that Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper calls home.

And that half-a-mill figure might be undershooting a bit. Wood says all corporate accommodations have been sold out since the start of the year, and additions will bring the total closer to 600,000 square feet.

“I understand. They’ve been sold out for months, and there’s demand for more,” he says. “But from a tournament-build perspective, man, we’ve got to stop. I understand, but we’ve got a full house.”

The build-out is such an undertaking, Wood has delegated overseeing it to one of his three assistants. Frankie Cardelle, a two-year GCSAA member, has, since construction crews first showed up on-course to begin build-out back in March, served as liaison between grounds crew and construction and membership.

“It’s pretty mind-blowing,” says Cardelle, who has been at Quail Hollow since January 2020 and was there for the 2021 Wells Fargo. “The footprint is similar, but pretty much everything is at least two stories. Some structures are designed to fit 6,000 people at once. The footprint is similar, but everything is twice as big inside. It really changes the feel of it.”

The other assistants are Robert Blood, a three-year association member who primarily handles scheduling and the running of the staff (See “Familiar footsteps,” page 37), and Kevin Robinson, who oversees the agronomic plan.

Wood typically rotates his assistants’ duties every six to eight months, so they’ll gain experience in all aspects of being a head superintendent. And, as Cardelle notes, there’s always something to do regardless of role.

“Typically here at Quail Hollow, there’s always some project,” he says. “There’s post-tournament sod work, moving a tee box, a drainage project … there’s no limit to what we do here.”

Ah, yes, the good, better, best mission.

“It’s not just corporate-speak,” Cardelle says. “Working here is a lot like being on an elite team. You’re not satisfied with just winning. You want to continue to crush all the goals you have. It’s like Tom Brady, still pushing. He could have retired. What keeps him going? Keith has the same mentality, continuing to push every day.”

Bunker raking
Keeping Quail Hollow tournament-ready is an everyday thing for the staff, even if an event like the Presidents Cup means it takes things up a notch. Here, Sergei Quinn, left, and Preston Floyd tidy up a bunker by the first green.

Queen City’s crowning glory

Though Quail Hollow has long been a fixture on the PGA Tour, there’s no doubt serving as host of the 2017 PGA Championship burnished its sterling reputation. The Presidents Cup — with as many as four former U.S. presidents and maybe even the sitting one rumored to be on the guest list — should take it up another notch.

“The PGA Championship is a big deal,” Wood says. “It’s a major championship. It’s a competition where the guys are really fighting for who’s No. 1. But the Presidents Cup is a much bigger build-up, a much larger audience. They’re saying maybe a billion people will watch worldwide — maybe double what the PGA Championship reaches. That’s a big deal. All these people looking at your golf course all over the world, it’s a huge deal for the club and the brand, which we’ve built over the years of hosting tournament golf.”

Obviously, the Quail Hollow staff — er, family — isn’t treating the Presidents Cup like just any tournament. Heck, they’re not treating it like just any Presidents Cup.

“We’ve busted anything ever done for any Presidents Cup in terms of the sales,” says DeLozier, who was part of the Quail Hollow contingent that visited the last Presidents Cup venue, The Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Victoria, Australia, in 2019 and was amazed at the number of Quail Hollow “Q” logos he spotted. “The extra year, no doubt, had something to do with it. This was supposed to be the 2021 Presidents Cup. Then everything moved. Our friends at the Ryder Cup said the same thing, that there was all this pent-up demand and energy and excitement. All of a sudden, there’s a lot more activity as it relates to our growing city.”

The Queen City is, in fact, the third-fastest-growing city in the United States. Back in 1940, there were just over 100,000 residents. By 2000, there were more than 500,000. By 2021, that number was pushing 900,000, and the Charlotte metro population is projected to jump 47% from 2010-2030, from 1.87 million to 2.74 million.

But it remains small enough, DeLozier says, that the excitement of one week in late September can still send a charge through it. The GM notes that the Presidents Cup is just one major event that week. Elton John will play Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium on Sept. 18; the Cup runs Sept. 20-25; and the Carolina Panthers host their NFC South rivals, the New Orleans Saints, on Sept. 25.

“It’s going to be a huge week,” DeLozier says, “with Elton John on one end and the Panthers on the other.”

He’s confident the Cup will outshine the Rocket Man and the Baker Mayfield-led Panthers. To that end, the Quail crew has tweaked the course’s routing to ensure its signature Green Mile holes will factor into the match-play format. Normally the course’s 16-18 holes, they’ll play as Nos. 13-15 for the Cup. Holes 1-8 will follow the standard routing. The members’ 12-18 will play as 9-15 for the Cup. Members’ 10-11-9 will play as 16-17-18 for the Presidents Cup.

“We wanted to keep 16-17-18 the way the members play it. It’s a really good stretch of holes,” Wood says. “But we wanted to make sure it was relevant in match play, and those three holes are where we have a lot of corporate infrastructure. It really worked out beautifully. Piece of cake.”

As DeLozier stresses, Quail Hollow doesn’t just want to host the Presidents Cup; Quail Hollow wants to host it better than any course before.

“I’m reminded when (PGA Tour Commissioner) Jay Monahan made reference to 1991, what Kiawah Island did for the Ryder Cup,” DeLozier says. “We want Quail Hollow to define the Presidents Cup the same way. We’ve watched Ryder Cups, but we’ve not had a taste of that here. You take what happened at Royal Melbourne, the greatest U.S. team, and a large group of young internationals that barely lost to the Americans. You have the excitement of the community in late September, which, in my opinion, is the best time of the year to be playing here. You’re playing on bermuda, the course hasn’t been overseeded, and the conditions are great.

“Then you think about those big events, those TV moments — 17 at Sawgrass, 17 at the Waste Management Open — and I think about that atmosphere, and I think about what can happen here at Quail Hollow. They’ll be playing a rerouted course. I think about the water feature on the back nine, and I see the drama unfolding around six, seven, eight holes around the amphitheater with 40,000 people and how that will play on NBC’s telecast. I think it could really be something truly memorable, something that could really define the Presidents Cup.”

Regardless of how brightly Quail Hollow shines come Cup time, rest assured the team there won’t rest when it’s over. After all, there’s the 2023 Wells Fargo to prepare for, and the 2025 PGA Championship after that. What major undertaking will the crew tackle in its never-ending quest to move up the good-better-best spectrum?

“That’s a discussion for another day,” Wood says with a laugh. “I do know, after what we learned from 2017, we’re not going to have very good turf quality. But the summer of ’23 is going to be a great summer. We have some projects planned …”

Quail Hollow maintenance crew
A maintenance team member blows the dew off as the sun rises over Quail Hollow Club. An estimated 1 billion fans worldwide are expected to watch the Presidents Cup, while as many as four former U.S. presidents and maybe even the sitting one could be in attendance.

Familiar footsteps

Though a love of golf was in his, well, last name, Robert Blood never really considered making his living in it until he landed a job at a golf course whose maintenance was overseen by a man who had traveled a similar path.

Blood, one of three assistant superintendents at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C., and a three-year GCSAA member, landed at Quail Hollow in 2017, just after it had served as host of the PGA Championship. In Blood’s case, Quail was just a lark.

“Actually, I was just looking for a job to fill that gap after I finished college and was looking for a job in my field of study,” Blood recalls. “I had been around golf all my life, so I applied here. I didn’t have any plans associated with it.”


Then he got to know his boss, Keith Wood, director of green and grounds. Wood and Blood both graduated with degrees in biology before falling into the golf course management trade.

“It was the same path,” Blood says. “I was looking for something to pop up in a lab or something, then I came here and fell in love with turf and felt I had to come work for him at a club like this. Being out there, working outside, made me want to never do anything else again, especially since I get to be around a sport I love.”

While serving as a Quail Hollow greenkeeper, Blood completed his turfgrass certification through Penn State University’s World Campus and was promoted to assistant superintendent this spring. He’s also a scratch golfer who has won the employee tournament three years running despite rules “tweaks” designed to keep things competitive (“He still kicks our butts,” says fellow assistant Frankie Cardelle).

Blood has been on staff for three Wells Fargo Championships, in 2018, 2019 and 2021, and says he’s most looking forward to reconnecting with former co-workers who will serve on the volunteer staff for the Presidents Cup.

Wood oversees a full-time staff of around 45. He’s expecting 75 volunteers — nearly all of them former greenkeepers, assistants or interns — to return for the Cup.

“It’s a lot of past employees,” Blood says. “Some of them have every Wells Fargo under their belt. It’s a who’s who of Quail Hollow and tournament golf, like a high school reunion. Everybody coming here already knows the course. It just speaks to how the club makes us feel when we’re here, the bond we share. When you come here, you never forget. People will be traveling overseas just to come back to work this tournament. It’s something special about the culture here.”

That culture runs throughout the entire grounds — and into the community. General Manager Tom DeLozier said that when the general volunteer website went live, the response was so great, it crashed the server.

“It’s a good problem to have. There’s just so much loyalty,” he says. “But that’s the key to success here, that Quail Hollow family. That’s part of the legacy. We call it Quail Hollow hospitality, and everybody is a part of that success.”

Andrew Hartsock (ahartsock@gcsaa.org) is GCM’s senior managing editor.