Saturday, May 01, 2010

Ed goes to Quail Hollow

On Wednesday I hopped on my bicycle a little before 9am and pedaled down to the Quail Hollow country club to attend my first ever PGA golf event, the annual Pro Am tournament. The Pro Am takes place the day before the Quail Hollow Championship starts. I chose the Pro Am as my first for two reasons, fewer people and cameras are allowed. The three-day practice pass that is good from Monday to Wednesday is a great deal. For $25 you can see most of the top golfers in the world and a few celebrities. To watch Vijay Singh tee off once is by itself worth $25.

Once inside I was confused for a few minutes. Since I had never been to a tournament before I had no idea how to properly spectate. A helpful volunteer at the entrance told me his favorite spot to view the players was around the 10th green. From there it's a a short walk to the 11th and 13th tees and the 12th green. I got sidetracked on my way to this spot but once I got there his advice was correct. This volunteer was not an anomaly. Everyone of them I interacted with was courteous, friendly and knowledgeable. In fact, for the most part, except for the oddly high number of loud drunk "woo girls," everyone there was friendly and willing to talk to a rookie. Beyond the entrance I passed the practice area. I could see players practicing their short game and after that I passed the the driving range. I was struck by how many people surrounded each player. Some had as many as five. Who could they all be? Trainer? Agent? Manager? Loser kid brother?

The first player I saw was Padraig Harrington. I caught him teeing off at 4. Then I got a chance to really look around. What I first noticed was the beauty of the course. It's stunning. I've only played on public courses and I'm used to bare spots and inconsistent greens and fairways. Quail Hollow is immaculate. The fairways and greens are uniform and perfect. Even the rough is lush and beautiful. I don't want to play golf there, I would like to be buried there.

My first stop was the 16th green. From there I could watch approach shots and putting and once the group finished I could turn around and watch them attempt to hit the green of the par three 17th. You really see how good these professional golfers are when you witness them hit a ball 217 yards with an iron and drop it essentially on what is a small island.

Tiger Woods was working his way toward 16 when I got there so I camped out and waited. What's the point of being there and not at least seeing for a short bit of time the most famous athlete since Michael Jordan? And camping in one spot allowed me to see more golfers. I even got to see Dan Marino. When his grouping arrived I was amused to see several people materialize wearing Miami Dolphins clothing. Tiger's arrival was like a tsunami, as he got closer the number of fans gathering around the green slowly grew until his approach shot hit and the mob that was following him showed up. They spent ten minutes watching him pooch a chip out of the rough, make his putt and then practice chipping out of the rough over and over and over while ignoring his amateur teammates as they putted. He's the only professional I saw take extra practice at the 16th green. He didn't ignore his teammates the whole time. I saw him talking with them on the 17th tee.

I then went searching for a spot with fewer people where I could take more photographs of the golfers and the course. The 16th tee was a perfect. There I saw Angel Cabrera, Vijay Singh (who completely crushed his tee shot) and Jim Furyk tee off. It's staggering how hard and far these pros hit their tee shots. When they connect it sounds like a low caliber rifle going off. The balls go up and up and up in a nice smooth trajectory and they are always in the fairway. To give you an idea of how much farther they can hit the ball, at Quail Hollow the 16th tee for the professionals was a good fifty yards farther from the hole than the farthest back tee normal humans use. Watching these guys really rip into a golf ball never got old.

In Furyk's group was Coach John Fox of the Carolina Panthers. The coach was being mobbed by kids and adults alike but he was very gracious and took time out to sign autographs. I was impressed by his patience. He seemed to really be taking pleasure in interacting with his fans, especially the kids. Shouts of "Coach Fox! Coach Fox!!" trailed him as he left the 15th green and strolled toward the 16th tee. I don't know what it is about football coaches but they seem to bring out a unique reaction from sports fans. It's like the whole city treats him like he's not only the coach for his players but he's our coach also. I guess football coaches are like drill instructors, no matter how old you are you can't shake the obedience you once gave them.

It wasn't just the pros that were good. The amateurs I saw out there weren't slouches. From what one of the spectators told me, in order to qualify to get on the course with the top PGA professionals you have to establish a pretty good handicap. From what I saw it probably helps to be really rich also. Regardless, since there were at least twice as many amateurs on the course as pros I had the plenty of chances to watch these guys play and they were all very good. It's hard enough to play well in front of your friends but to keep it together while playing in front of a few hundred fans of Tiger Woods? That's not easy.

After working my way around holes 15 and 14 and taking a few photographs for panoramas I would stitch together later with Autostitch I finally made it to the 10th green. I spent another hour taking in the atmosphere and witnessed Charley Hoffman casually hit a ball 200 hundred yards with his 5 iron at the 203 yard par three thirteenth. Standing there I heard a couple of club members offhandedly comment on changes they'd like to see the head groundskeeper make. You know, stuff like move a tree here and place one there. A conversation only the truly rich can have. Around 2pm I got hungry and went back out the way I came and rode my bike home. On the way back home I passed Glenn The Car Guy. I told him I saw a Lamborghini just a few minutes earlier near the country club. He told me he was heading to Joseph Beth Booksellers to browse their car magazines.

So, thanks Quail Hollow, for letting me mosey around your beautiful golf course for fives hours on a gorgeous Wednesday in late April. For a mere $25 bucks I got to see what world class really means.

Here are a few panoramas I took that day.

The 14th fairway and green with #17 in the background
14th Hole

The 13th hole from behind the green
13th Hole

A view the the signature hole #17 from behind the green.
Backside of #17

17 from the left side of the tee area
Front of #17 Panorama

No comments: