Billy Anderson, PGA Director of Golf at Wilmington’s Eagle Point Golf Club since the day it opened in 2000, says it was the reputation of his club, as well as the desire of its membership to shine a spotlight on Wilmington and eastern North Carolina that were the deciding factors in the PGA Tour tapping Eagle Point as a one-year replacement venue for the 2017 Wells Fargo Championship.
During the same press conference during which Wells Fargo announced it had extended its contract as title sponsor of the popular May PGA Tour event through 2019, Tour officials announced the 2017 tournament would be contested at Eagle Point so that its regular host, Charlotte’s Quail Hollow Club, could be totally focused on hosting that summer’s PGA Championship.
Anderson said the move demonstrated the PGA Tour’s great faith in a pair of Eagle Point members: Bobby Long, the club’s current president — who also serves as chairman of the Piedmont Triad Charitable Foundation Board of Directors and oversees the PGA Tour’s Wyndham Championship in his hometown of Greensboro — and Johnny Harris, longtime president of Quail Hollow, which has hosted the Wells Fargo Championship since 2003.
Harris’s Wells Fargo event at Quail Hollow typically attracts one of the Tour’s strongest fields as a final tune-up for the Players Championship. Past champions include Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.
“I think the PGA Tour has great confidence in both Bobby Long and Johnny Harris,” said Anderson. “Their golf IQs are pretty high. They get it. I think the tour is going to be thrilled that Bobby and Johnny are working on this together. They each have an event in North Carolina anyway and now they are going to be sharing one together. They know what it’s like to put on a golf tournament and they will do a great job.”
The 2017 event at Eagle Point will represent the first time a PGA Tour event has been played in Wilmington since the Azalea Open was held at Cape Fear Country Club in 1971. PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said for him the event at Eagle Point would represent one of life’s cycles.
“When I was 8 years old, I attended my first professional golf tourney in Wilmington, N.C., with my grandfather,” Finchem said. “I got to see Arnold Palmer for the first time live. I’m doubly excited and look forward to being there in 2017.”
Event organizers said they expect at least 30,000 spectators over the four-day tournament, estimating a minimum of $30 million will be brought to the local economy through this event. Officials also project millions of dollars in charitable donations will be given to local and regional charities.
Said Long: “Over 940 million households will be watching Wilmington, North Carolina, that week in 2017 and [more than] 200 countries.”
“This is incredible news for eastern North Carolina,” said Anderson, who has served eight years on the Carolinas PGA Board of Directors. “People in town are excited and have told me they’re willing to do anything they can do to support the event. It’s exciting. The community will definitely benefit economically from the event.”
Renowned modern-day golf course architect Tom Fazio designed Eagle Point just a few years following his impressive re-design work at Quail Hollow. Annually ranked among the top 10 courses in the state, Eagle Point is a private club but previously hosted the 2011 American Junior Golf Association’s Wyndham Cup, a Ryder Cup-style event featuring some of the best teenage players in the country.
Since its inception, Eagle Point has been a popular hangout for a number of PGA Tour professionals including Webb Simpson, Bill Haas and Carl Pettersson — who owns the Eagle Point course record of 62 in a round that included a par on No. 18.
“We want the tour players and Wells Fargo to enjoy Wilmington and enjoy Eagle Point,” said Anderson. “We may add a tee box or two, but we are not going to go crazy and add 6-10 tee boxes and make it 7,800 yards. We want the tour player to have fun here. We are always trying to improve, always trying to make things better, but this is only a one-year deal.”
For Anderson, the PGA Tour bringing the eyes of the world to the club he has seen from the ground up was ultimately a credit to every person he has ever employed at Eagle Point.
“This [announcement was] for anyone who has ever worked on any staff at Eagle Point — our assistant professionals, caddies, food and beverage, maintenance,” said Anderson. “Together, they have supported us and have contributed by creating a great atmosphere as a team. It’s not about just 2017; it’s about our very first staff we had in 2000. It’s about 2012 and 2014. We have been very fortunate to hire very talented people and they have created the atmosphere that makes people want to come here.
“We are very lucky [at Eagle Point],” Anderson said. “We have great people to work for, it is a great membership, they understand golf, they enjoy it and they appreciate what the club is, how it has grown and gotten better every year. The PGA Tour didn’t just go to a club and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to have a tour event here just because it is available.’ They put some careful thought to it. I think that’s pretty neat.”