It’s a highly unusual occurrence on the PGA Tour when a golf course hosts an event for one year and the players know the tour has never been and may never return to the venue.
So the players who have elected to play in the 15th Wells Fargo Championship at Eagle Point Golf Club have been cramming in a lot of learning over the past few days for their one shot at glory on the course.
The reviews have been overwhelmingly positive for the private coastal course that features marsh, wetlands and wind-shaped oak trees throughout the layout and is replacing Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, which is hosting the PGA Championship in August.
“I’ve been looking forward to this one,” said 2013 Masters winner Adam Scott. “I’ve had my ups and downs at Quail Hollow, so I was looking forward to a bit of a break. … I was looking forward to coming to a course that not every one had played, and although I’m working hard to figure it out, seeing some firm greens really excites me because we don’t often get that. Some control’s going to be needed and I’m looking forward to the challenge of a new venue, for sure.”
Eagle Point is a 7,396-yard Tom Fazio design that had approximately 500 yards of length added in preparation for the tournament.
Eagle Point president Bobby Long lobbied to get the event. Long is also chairman of the Piedmont Triad Charitable Foundation that operates the PGA Tour's Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, N.C.
“Eagle Point is spectacular,” Phil Mickelson said. “We got really lucky that Mr. Long has taken such great care of us for the one week that we’re not at Quail Hollow. This place is really special and is a great site for our tournament.”
The course has fairly large landing areas so players will have a chance to get off the tee in good shape. Second shots and chips and pitches around greens will be at a premium, however.
“You’ve got to be in the fairway just because, if not, you can’t stop the ball,” Dustin Johnson said. “Hopefully you’re hitting short irons because some of these par-3s that you’re hitting even a 7-iron it’s hard to stop out here. It’s going to play tough.”
The greens are a lot more firm than most courses on the PGA Tour, they’re very undulating and they’re fast. There are run-off areas that will take balls off the green if they’re not hit in the proper area.
“The way the greens are the firmness of them, this is major level concentration out there or you’re going to run up some numbers pretty quickly around these greens,” Scott said. “There’s a lot of slopes going on and it’s really around the greens that’s going to make it tough. If you get on the wrong side of a few of the tiers, there’s not much you’re going to be able to do but chip it to 30 feet.
“The greens are actually bigger than they appear from where you’re hitting the shots, it’s just that none of us are too familiar with the golf course so you don’t know how much room you have to move. You just visually don’t see a lot of green playing in and that’s one of the challenges of this course.”
Weather is expected to impact the way the course plays this week. The forecast calls for wind to exceed 20 mph both Thursday and Friday, when rain is also expected in the afternoon, before calming to about 15 mph Saturday and less than 15 mph Sunday.
No one on tour knows the course better than Webb Simpson and Carl Pettersson, who are residents of Charlotte and Raleigh, respectively, in North Carolina and are Eagle Point members. Simpson has been a member for 10 years. “The defense here is wind and the greens,” Simpson said.
The move to Eagle Point has energized the tournament.
The tournament set the maximum number of spectators at 25,000 per day, according to tournament communications director Lee Patterson, and is nearing a total sellout.
The allotment of daily tickets for the three pre-tournament days and four competitive rounds sold out Sunday, and there are a limited number of $165 week-long booklets for sale.
The crowds for practice rounds have been much larger than a typical PGA Tour event. “It’s hard to know if Wilmington is a golf town or not,” Simpson said. “… but I know all the fans are excited. I was out here Monday and there were tons of people, so I think it’s going to be a great week.”