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Volume 21 No. 13
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Fazio, Harris a powerful pair in course makeover

Johnny Harris knows he’s a loudmouth, but he pointed to one person in his life who can outtalk him: Tom Fazio.

Harris and Fazio have had plenty to discuss during their long partnership at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte. They’ve known each other for decades and, in the mid-90s, formed an alliance to overhaul the George Cobb-designed course, which opened in 1961. (Cobb’s credits include the par-3 course at Augusta National Golf Club.)

When Harris hired Fazio to create and carry out a master plan of phased renovations, Quail Hollow had already cycled through a 10-year run with the PGA Tour and hosted early iterations of what became the Champions Tour. To make the new generation of players aware of the course and Fazio’s changes, Harris started a prostate cancer fundraiser at Quail Hollow and persuaded a few PGA Tour pros to participate.

In 2002, Harris and then-PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem negotiated an agreement to put a tournament back in Charlotte. A year later, the Wachovia Championship (now the Wells Fargo) was born. Because the tournament became an instant financial success, it allowed Fazio and Harris to ramp up their course corrections. Since the PGA Tour returned to Quail Hollow, the club has spent $14 million on course renovations, Harris said.

Now, both Harris and Fazio agree that there is little left to do beyond minor changes. Harris doesn’t even have immediate ideas on what to tinker with next.

Fazio, who expects to spend the PGA Championship tournament week in Charlotte watching golf in the afternoons and drinking red wine with Harris and friends in the evenings, turns wistful while discussing the largely finished Quail Hollow course. He said working with Harris to improve the course while making sure club members had enough time to use it each year was a demanding but fun process. With no major projects left at Quail Hollow, Fazio regrets that he and Harris will no longer have an excuse to talk and plot and walk the course in search of more ambitious changes.

“It’s a case study of what can be done to a facility, to a property,” Fazio said. “When you look at it, it looks like it’s always been there. It doesn’t even look fairly new. You drive in that front gate and you feel you’re at a very special place. It feels old, it feels traditional, like something that’s comfortable.”

Fazio and the Quail Hollow staff long ago got used to seeing Harris at the start and end of the day during renovation phases. A typical day — including the 89-day blitz last summer that, in essence, created four new holes at the same time all of the greens were being replaced — began with Harris greeting construction crew members and supervisors with a brief, not-so-subtle hint.

“Pod-nah, it won’t be dark til 9:20 tonight,” Harris would say. “I’ll be back out here; I have to go to my office.” Sometime before dark, Harris would be back at the course.

For Fazio, whose courses consistently land on best-of rankings lists, the Charlotte layout remains special.

“If I only did one golf course my whole life and it was Quail, I’d say that’s about as much fun as you could have,” Fazio said.

Erik Spanberg writes for the Charlotte Business Journal, an affiliated publication.