It’s been almost a decade since Arnold Palmer visited Charlotte’s Quail Hollow Club for the last time. During his visit, the iconic golfer wrapped his arm around Johnny Harris, the Queen City developer who has led the club for decades. His father, James J. Harris, opened the south Charlotte links on family land in 1961 after encouragement from Palmer, who was then at the peak of his career.
“‘Johnny, your mother and dad would be very pleased with everything that’s happened here, but just remember greatness is a continuous process. Don’t ever stop trying to be great,’” Harris recalls Palmer advising. Harris promised Palmer that “one of the things that we do here at Quail Hollow is try to be a place where greatness has a home.”
From Sept. 19-25, Quail Hollow will add to its elite reputation by hosting the Presidents Cup, a biennial global team competition among 12-person teams representing the top professional golfers from the United States and the rest of the world excluding Europe.
About 40,000 people are expected to attend each day for the better part of a week, while NBC, The Golf Channel, Europe’s Sky Sports and others will reach millions through broadcasts.
Quail Hollow has hosted the Wells Fargo Championship since 2003 along with the 2017 PGA Championship, with the latter tournament slated to return in 2025. But the Presidents Cup is expected to be larger in scale than any previous tournament because of its international prestige and exclusive field of superstar golfers. It’s a big deal even though it’s been a one-sided competition since its inception in 1994 with the U.S. team winning 11 of 13 events. Pundits credit U.S. dominance to the historically large supply of top golfers compared with many regions, a gap that is narrowing with more Asian golfers gaining prominence.
An economic impact of more than $100 million is likely, according to PGA Tour estimates. Global sponsors include Citi, Cognizant and Rolex, while Hyundai luxury brand Genesis is the official automobile sponsor, and Atrium Health is the official health-care provider. There are dozens of other local and regional corporate partners.
The Presidents Cup will be the second major pro golfing event in North Carolina this year, following the U.S. Women’s Open set for June 2-5 at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club in Southern Pines. The tourneys highlight golf’s reported $4 billion annual economic impact in the state.
“Golf is more than an enjoyable pastime: it’s an important engine for North Carolina’s economy,” says North Carolina Commerce Secretary Machelle Baker Sanders. “Many small businesses benefit from golf’s popularity in the state and the national spotlight it brings, especially those in the hospitality and tourism sectors.”
The Presidents Cup is unusual in that there is no prize money. The Ryder Cup, pitting the best U.S. golfers against Europe’s elite, takes a similar approach in alternating years.
In comparison, the U.S. Women’s Open offers a $5.5 million purse, while the Wells Fargo Championship awarded $8 million last year. Presidents Cup competitors show up because of the honor of representing their country, while philanthropic giving and advancing golf are core tournament values. While not paid for their participation, each golfer allocates an equal portion of the funds generated to his favorite charities.
Since inception in 1994, more than $54.4 million has been raised for charity from event proceeds and other contributions.
Charlotte was selected in 2015 to host the tournament in .2021, a decision that Harris credits to former PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem and the club’s heritage. Palmer, who had deep business and social ties to Charlotte, captained the American side during the first Presidents Cup. “It was obvious that I had an affinity for the [event],” Harris says. “So that’s how it all really started.”
The pandemic prompted a one-year delay, but organizers didn’t lose a single sponsor. “If anything, we’re experiencing an uptick in interest,” says Adam Sperling, executive tournament director. It will host more than 100 private hospitality units with capacities ranging from 12 to more than 100. Fees can run into the high six figures. Daily tickets start at $100 with prices changing depending on the day and hospitality access.
“Charlotte’s corporate community understands the value of engaging with their business relationships and utilizing special events like the Presidents Cup to highlight the Queen City as a great community to live, work and play,” Sperling says.
More than 1,400 volunteers have signed up and upward of 400 media credentials are allocated.
The event gives media “the opportunity to participate in storytelling about the vibrancy of our city as a growing, diverse and inclusive business and hospitality hub,” says Michael Smith, CEO of Charlotte Center City Partners, which promotes the Uptown and South End areas.
“It’s an incredible win for the region to host the Presidents Cup and gain the benefit of the prestige and international exposure of an event of this caliber,” adds Tom Murray, CEO of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority. “The ability to leverage a renown international sporting event to draw interest and visibility to the region helps enhance our marketing efforts. It also puts us in a strong position when we want to pursue other large, strategic events — sporting and otherwise.” ■