Few golf events exhibit greater playing-field contrasts from one edition to the next than the Presidents Cup.
After being contested the first two times at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club outside Washington, D.C., the team match play display has done a great deal of globe-trotting, sampling an eclectic mix of championship venues in Australia, Africa, Asia and North America. In 2003, it helped put Fancourt in South Africa on the map, thanks to the epic duel into darkness between Tiger Woods and Ernie Els that resulted in the Cup's only tie. In 2015, a Nick Price-captained International side nearly took down the Americans in South Korea. On three occasions, fans willing to stay up late have gotten the rare treat of seeing golf played at Royal Melbourne, one of the world's greatest courses.
This year, we're back on American soil at Quail Hollow Club, which is particularly familiar since it hosts a PGA Tour event each year (the Wells Fargo Championship), and also hosted the 2017 PGA Championship.
Two of that major's top finishers - winner Justin Thomas and Hideki Matsuyama (tied for 5th) - will be leading their respective teams around the course this week.
For the most part, Quail Hollow is very much in the mold of typical modern championship layouts: large in scale, broad-shouldered and long, with narrow fairways, plenty of water, greens that accommodate a good variety of hole locations and pearly white bunkers. The course has a core routing, with periodic reminders of its location in one of Charlotte's wealthiest neighborhoods in the form of mansion-sized homes along the perimeter.
George Cobb laid out Quail Hollow's original course in 1961. By the end of the decade, it was hosting the PGA Tour's Kemper Open, which would return to Charlotte until 1979. The 1980s saw changes to four holes by Arnold Palmer. Starting in 1997, though, Tom Fazio has been Quail Hollow's architect of record, undertaking first a major course rebuild in 1997, followed by further tweaks in 2003 and 2016. All along, though, the course has been reliably well-liked by the world's best golfers: there aren't a lot of tricks or quirks, and the best drivers of the ball tend to flourish (witness Rory McIlroy's three Wells Fargo titles).
The course that will greet the 2022 Presidents Cup's two dozen contestants will look a little different in late September than it typically does in May. In order to make the course pop for springtime (and television), superintendent Keith Wood and his staff overseed it with perennial ryegrass, which gives it a lush emerald hue reminiscent of northern parkland golf. The early-autumn date of the Presidents Cup means that any cool-season grass has long since died off, leaving Quail Hollow to its natural carpet of Bermuda turf. Bermuda's color this time of year is slightly paler, and it will allow for tighter mowing heights in the fairways, encouraging more run-out than usual. With cooperative weather, Quail Hollow has a chance to play shorter, with more volatile scoring.
As for the rough, expect it to be a little shorter and less thick than in May, too. That opens up the possibility of more spectacular recovery shots from out of position on certain holes, as well as unexpected flyer lies with disastrous results.
Grass differences may sound fairly inconsequential to most golfers, so here's something a little more concrete. In order to optimize the course for match play viewing, the routing has been changed. Quail Hollow's named stretch of back-nine holes, "The Green Mile" normally comprises the 15th through 18th holes. But since less than half of all matches make it to the 18th hole, these holes have been moved forward in the routing and will be played 12th through 15th, with typical holes 10, 11 and 9 playing as 16, 17 and 18, respectively. This ensures that virtually all matches will require navigating the course's most dramatic shots, like the watery par-3 14th (usually 17) and the menacingly tight, uphill 15th (usually 18) with its tiny but terrifying stream dancing along the entire left side of the hole from green back to tee.
LIV Golf defections from both teams aside, the 2022 Presidents Cup promises to be an entertaining watch. Trevor Immelman's International team are decided underdogs, but with accomplished youngsters like Tom Kim and Cam Davis alongside veterans like Matsuyama and Adam Scott, there should be plenty to play for and plenty of drama to enjoy.
Hole No. 1 - Par 4, 495 yards
Swinging downhill and to the right, this hole will favor those who can use the stadium-like first-tee atmosphere to pump themselves up and smash a power-fade down the hill. The last of three fairway bunkers, at 330 yards off the back tee, will be very much in play under most circumstances. Avoiding the sand sets up a downhill approach to a long, well-bunkered green. A fitting start to an exacting golf course.
Hole No. 2 - Par 4, 452 yards
Reversing direction on the first and heading back uphill, this par 4 will be a welcome sight to drawers of the golf ball. Players will do well to cheat slightly left on their approach shots, as everything slopes down to the right off this green to a low fairway area and the hole's lone bunker.
Hole No. 3 - Par 4, 483 yards
Playing to the northwest corner of the property and running straightaway along the left side of Quail Hollow's short game practice area, this hole has one of the course's narrowest fairways, with a bunker pinching it to just 25 yards across around the 310-yard mark from the tee. Three more bunkers guard the green, which has a false front and a distinct tier through the middle.
Hole No. 4 - Par 3, 167 yards
There's more room than appears to be available on this green beyond the three fronting bunkers, though a falloff at the back-right edge can carry a ball into the rough. A front-right hole location in a slight funnel between the first to bunkers - and above a false front - could create some early drama.
Hole No. 5 - Par 4, 449 yards
Bunkers line the landing area here, with two swallowing up right misses of between 270 and 325 yards, while one more on the left starts at 310, potentially serving as a target for those who may want to hit 3 wood. False edges at both the front of the green and the middle-right make hole locations close over the greenside bunker doubly tricky.
Hole No. 6 - Par 3, 249 yards
Despite its gaudy scorecard yardage, the fact that this hole plays about 25 feet downhill means players will likely be hitting some kind of iron. The green narrows toward the back, but a gathering slope at the back-right could be used to funnel a tee shot close. Going too far in that direction could mean a tough up-and-down out of one of the hole's two greenside bunkers.
Hole No. 7 - Par 5, 546 yards
After a meat-and-potatoes opening half-dozen holes, the fun begins in earnest. The first of Quail Hollow's three par fives is also its shortest, and should provide a jolt of excitement to any matches that are struggling to get going. Water - a dammed creek that creates a wider waterway along the fairway and green - lines the entire right side of the hole, and while no one would mistake this hole for the 13th at Augusta National (though both the course's architects, George Cobb and Tom Fazio, have worked on the Masters host course), the green has a dramatic slope down to the front-right portion that will make hole locations perched over the water exciting to attack. There will be eagles and there will be pick-ups - some attempts at glory will fail spectacularly with splashdowns.
Hole No. 8 - Par 4, 346 yards
Because of the way Quail Hollow has been rerouted for the Presidents Cup, the eighth gets to be the first of two potentially drivable par 4s in the space of four holes. With a green broken into distinct sections, those who do whale away at the green from the tee (likely to be moved forward for at least a session or two) will need to miss in the correct spot in order to avoid an impossible up-and-down.
Hole No. 9 - Par 4, 456 yards
Bypassing the typical ninth through 11th holes, players will proceed directly to what is usually the 12th hole, a medium-length par 4 that will connect them with the most exciting portion of the course, including the "Green Mile." The slender, unbunkered fairway drifts downhill about 20 feet to a two-tiered green.
Hole No. 10 - Par 3, 208 yards
Playing over an attractive brook, this one-shotter will invite players' eyes left to look ahead a few holes, but there's still a solid mid-iron to hit to a green that wants to shrug marginal shots down and to the right.
Hole No. 11 - Par 4, 344 yards
Potentially the most exciting hole on the course comes at a perfect time for a player who is a couple of holes down to decide to take a risk. The 50-yard-long green, perched over a lake, can create very awkward short second shots for players who get out of position after a wayward drive; disaster will likely strike players who either get greedy off the tee or try to hit a heroic recovery. Don't be surprised to see a player who lays up off the tee triumph over one who tries to bite off more than he can chew.
Hole No. 12 - Par 5, 577 yards
For the fourth time in six holes, eagle is potentially on the table. The slightly downhill, right-to-left sweep of the landing area will have bombers salivating, and a good drive will leave as little as a mid-iron up the hill (possibly off a hanging lie) to a green with relatively modest internal movement. The best ball-strikers will separate themselves here.
Hole No. 13 - Par 4, 506 yards
It's 320 yards to clear the lone fairway bunker on the right. The day's best driver swing by the longest players on either team could pay big dividends as the landing area leans downhill from that point, making this imposing hole much more gettable. But most will have to play left, leaving one of the longest approach shots of the day to a green wedged between a bunker and the lake.
Hole No. 14 - Par 3, 190 yards
In reality, the green on this par 3 is plenty large. But the shot plays downhill, a bunker pinches the front-right and water wraps around the front, left and back portions of the putting surface, making it look as small as it possibly could. A fearless iron shot to a tucked pin here would be a tide-turning point in any match.
Hole No. 15 - Par 4, 494 yards
This brutal test is normally Quail Hollow's finisher, but since less than 40% of all Presidents Cup matches have gone the distance in the event's history, it would have been a bummer to miss out on seeing more carnage here caused by the hole's uphill climb, the right-hand fairway bunker and the stream that harangues the entire left side of the hole. As the 15th, this par 4 is going to influence the outcome of far more matches than it would have in its normal spot in the routing. Fans on the grounds and those watching at home will be grateful for it.
Hole No. 16 - Par 5, 592 yards
The opportunity to slide three functional but more pedestrian holes to the end of the round manifests itself here, with a good, honest par 5. The fairway drifts slightly toward the left-side fairway bunker that sits 310 yards off the back tee. Avoiding it means a potential eagle putt after another strong long shot to the green, bunkered on each side and sloughing off shots short and right.
Hole No. 17 - Par 4, 462 yards
Two fairway bunkers cover the left side of the landing area between 250 and 325 yards off the tee, waiting to catch an over-hooked drive. The entire field will need to confront them one way or another. The next order of business is to clear the false front and avoid two more bunkers menacing the left side of the green.
Hole No. 18 - Par 4, 505 yards
Teams or individuals who make it to 18 clinging to a 1-up lead in their matches will need to bang two long, straight shots up the hill in order to seal the deal. There is a noticeable rise on the left-middle portion of the green that can contain and redirect shots toward rear and rear-right hole locations. Normally the 9th hole, this one marks the culmination of three solid tests of players' mettle.