The biggest golf tournament in Charlotte history is about to begin and Johnny Harris is more than ready. The 70-year-old power broker, real estate king, born salesman and gregarious host behind the PGA Championship has been prepping for the Charlotte event.
Harris will have an opportunity to enjoy great passions this week – golf at the very highest level and Quail Hollow Club. The event is estimated to have a total economic impact of up to $100 million in the Charlotte region, according to the city’s tourism arm.
Harris was a driving force behind the upscale Ballantyne development, the 1994 men’s Final Four in Charlotte and the annual Wells Fargo Championship golf tournament, to name a few.
Charlotte has hosted big-time professional golf for years especially with the Wells Fargo Championship that began in 2003 and counts Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy among its champions.
It will be the best field in golf in 2017 when the first real ball is struck at 7:20 a.m. Thursday, with virtually all of the top 100 players in the world playing. And for those familiar only with the way the Wells Fargo tournament runs, this one will be far different.
Harris revealed that every aspect of it is enlarged. Adding that “The media outlets that will cover the event, the concession stands, the viewing areas, the hospitality — way, way larger. And the number of people… 50,000 is what we’re hearing (per day), and we’d have 30-35,000 at Wells Fargo. Everything has changed. And the golf course has changed dramatically.”
This implies that there are a thousand small details still to take care of, and Harris can think of a few more every time he takes a golf-cart ride around the club where he has been president since 1988.
The Quail Hollow Club is built on land in south Charlotte that was once part of one of the largest dairy farms in the state. It was owned by Cameron Morrison, a former North Carolina governor and Harris’ grandfather.
Jimmy Harris, Johnny’s father and Morrison’s son-in-law, started Quail Hollow Club in 1959 with 20 other golf-minded locals.
Jimmy Harris was good friends with legendary golfer Arnold Palmer, who would eventually become a huge influence in Johnny Harris’ life and backed the club from the beginning.
Quail Hollow and Harris made a bid for the PGA Championship in the late 2000s, emboldened by the success of the Wells Fargo tournament and aided by Harris’ many golfing connections
Harris said he got the deal signed and then sat on it for months at the request of the PGA, placing a copy of the contract in a lockbox and taking a vow of silence about it. The golf course was closed for 90 days and four holes were given extreme makeovers. All 18 greens were completely redone.
Harris has many other real-estate projects in the works, like the recently announced River District west of Charlotte Douglas International Airport. This week marks the other end of a dream that was envisioned by Harris’ father almost six decades ago.