When golfers descend upon Charlotte’s Quail Hollow Club for the 99th PGA Championship in August, it will be the third time that North Carolina plays host to the event.
The first came in 1936 at Pinehurst No. 2. And in 1974, Lee Trevino edged Jack Nicklaus by one shot to claim the Wanamaker Trophy at the Tanglewood Park West Course in Clemmons, about 13 miles from Winston-Salem.
The West Course, now known as the Championship Course, went on to host the 1986 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship and the Senior PGA Tour’s Vantage Championship from 1987-2002. And although its conditions have deteriorated, it was still easy to see what makes the course a true championship layout during a recent round.
Legendary architect Robert Trent Jones Sr., designed the Championship Course, which opened in 1958. He was called back in 1973 to upgrade it before the PGA Championship and then again in 1989.
The result of Jones’ vision is a wooded layout built on gentle rolling hills along the banks of the Yadkin River.
Like many of Jones’ designs, the Championship Course has many elevation changes, perhaps none being more drastic than on the ninth hole, a 435-yard par-4 that doglegs right and climbs steadily uphill from tee to green. Still, the course is relatively easy to walk, with no long treks from green to tee.
However, no feature is more distinctive than the course’s 98 bunkers.
Every green is protected by at least two bunkers, placing a strong emphasis on accuracy. Unless you’re a scratch golfer, you’re going to find yourself in at least one during your round.
The hole that exemplifies this challenge the most is the eighth, a 580-yard par-5 that’s rated the Championship Course’s No. 1 handicap offering. Four bunkers squeeze the small, undulating green, which is also guarded by a large bunker about 20 yards in front of it. Although there are a few islands where you can miss, birdies – and even pars – are hard to come by.
The eighth was probably the most entertaining hole of my round. But even it falls victim to the pitfalls that plague the rest of the course.
The rough isn’t particularly rough, making it difficult at times to distinguish it from the fairways. Yet, the condition of the bunkers might be what’s most disappointing.
Some of the sand is hard, some soft. There are a few bunkers filled with white sand, the rest with red clay. A couple of bunkers are smooth, but a majority have rocks and are almost impossible to hit out of.
With the rest of Tanglewood – a beautiful park that offers fishing on two stocked lakes, pedal boats, tennis courts, an Aquatic Center and many others amenities – appearing well-maintained, it’s a bit frustrating for the bunkers to be so integral to the Championship Course and in the condition they’re in.
Despite these negatives, the layout makes the course worth playing. And for $39 Monday-Thursday, $41 on Fridays and $49 on weekends and holidays, it’s a decent value.
The Championship Course might not be in the shape it once was. But as you play, it’s not hard to imagine what it was like when professional events were held there.