Presidents Cup: A Win for Team USA and the Game of Golf
The Presidents Cup was not just a win for Captain Davis Love III and Team USA 17.5 to 12.5 over a Trevor Immelman-inspired International squad. It was not just a coming-of-age party for golf’s brightest young superstars, Tom Kim and Max Homa. After an interesting year off the course, this was a celebration of everything that is right about the game on the course. The unique team format, thousands in attendance, the stunning September Charlotte weather, and one of the most esteemed golf courses in the nation were on show in all of its glory.
To be on the grounds at the storied Quail Hollow Club for one of the PGA Tours’ premier events was an experience that will be hard to match for the ultimate sports fan. These premier global sporting events are not just about the four days of play, nor are they about the grueling weeks of fine-tuning. They are the culmination of years of meticulous planning and vision from dedicated individuals who have a passion to put on a world-class event. For an event of this magnitude to be as successful as the 2022 Presidents Cup, it was not about one person, one team, or one golfer. It was accomplished with the help of incredible partners such as Rolex, who have supported the PGA Tour from the early days and continued to help it tick in the right direction.
SportsGrid was lucky enough to sit down with the key personnel responsible for an incredible 2022 Presidents Cup at a round table discussion which included Rolex partners Johnny Harris, President of Quail Hollow Club, Johno Harris, General Chairman of the Presidents Cup, and Adam Sperling, executive director of the Presidents Cup.
“We have great partners, and those partners could be individuals like Arnold Palmer and some of the players who are out here at the Presidents Cup but also long-term partners like the PGA Tour and Rolex,” said Harris.
Johno Harris, General Chairman of the 2022 Presidents Cup
Johnny Harris, President of the Quail Hollow Club
Adam Sperling, Executive Director of the 2022 Presidents Cup
Excerpts below from the roundtable.
Thank you to Rolex Partners, Mr. Johnny Harris, Mr. Johno Harris, and Mr. Sperling, for joining us here today at the Quail Hollow Club, which plays host to the Presidents Cup 2022. Johnny Harris, please describe how you are feeling now that the 2022 Presidents Cup is underway.
Johnny Harris: I think the number one reaction is that there are a lot of wonderful people that made up the team that made all of this happen, and it started almost four and half years ago, and we had an extra year because of Covid-19 that we were able to put to good use because of a sales team that Geoff Gray of our club ran and then Johno’s (Johno Harris) leadership. We found ourselves in a situation where we have a lot of land here, 250 acres which is significant for most golf courses, and all of a sudden, we just kept selling, and people decided that we had a great opportunity here, and everybody wanted to be part of it which has been special.
Q: How does it feel to be here today, looking out through the windows here at Rolex’s hospitality suite and seeing everything that is around you?
Johno Harris: Well, first, sitting here and looking over the Green Mile and seeing as many people as there is here is pretty spectacular. We stopped on the way coming here today because we wanted to take a picture of how many people there were here. But, at the end of the day, this is a combination of a lot of things coming together, like partners like Rolex to the great community coming together, and that means things like the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) and Fire and Life Safety and Adam Sperling and his team and everyone involved working together to have this exciting event. Having 40,000 people out here during a match play on a golf course that is in fantastic shape is truly an exciting event for all of us and an exciting event for the community.
Q: The PGA Tour has been planning the Presidents Cup at Quail Hollow since 2015. Can you describe what that journey has been like now that the tournament is here in Charlotte?
Adam Sperling: It’s pretty special. It’s everything I think the Presidents Cup aims to be. You think of the history and how Quail Hollow was founded, and professional golf came to Quail Hollow and how the Presidents Cup started in 1994 to grow the game globally, and the support of Rolex since 2005 to get us to this point. The different countries represented, and you see the people coming in from all over the world to be part of it on a great property that hosts an annual event for the PGA Tour. To me, it’s the culmination of decades of work both in Charlotte and the Quail Hollow Club and also by the PGA Tour.
Q: Johnny, can you tell us about the strategies and lengths that you went to attract superstars to the Quail Hollow Club when you first had this event without any history or prestige?
Johnny Harris: When we first decided to go back to the PGA Tour in 2004 with the Wachovia Championship, we knew we had a unique support mechanism in Wachovia because they had just merged, Wachovia and First Union, and they wanted an opportunity to put their brand in front of a certain type of person and that along with the fact that we sat down with [Rolex Testimonee] Arnold Palmer, which was never lost on me that Arnold in his own way had a better understanding of what the people wanted out of the game that he loved so much. We talked to him about how do we do something really special here in Charlotte. There was all kinds of advice and suggestions that we received, including taking care of the caddies, valet parking for the caddies, we had valet parking for the wives, and we did all kinds of different things, including events for the wives. During the first three or four years, we had two years where we had 29 of the top 30 in the world here for the golf tournament, and we did a lot of unusual things to attract them. I personally worked on bringing the final four here in 1994 and was involved in bringing the NFL to Charlotte, and one of the things we learned was that you have to go ask for the business. We had a golf course which had been designed by George Cobb, who had designed the Par 3 at Augusta, and we had Tom Fazio come in and change it, and then all of a sudden, the people who had heard bad things about our golf course, because it wasn’t a great championship golf course, all of a sudden there was some real enthusiasm amongst the players.
Q: What do players in today’s game in 2022 want compared to what players wanted when you first started this event?
Johnny Harris: I think Johno can answer it one way, and I am going to answer it another way. The kids of today are different from the kids when we started the tournament. The leadership of the tour as you uniquely look at all of the competition and the great players that exist in the world.
Johno Harris: I’m thinking about the difference when we first started the Wachovia Championship and what the players really wanted when they came here compared to today. You go from them having their bag, their caddie, and their clubs to now they have their bag, caddie, clubs, coach, their mind coach to everything and the ultimate change and not to say that Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player [Rolex Testimonees, known as ‘The Big Three’] and all of them weren’t athletes because they were, but these guys take it to another extreme level and the amenities that they need day in day out. We have tried to stay ahead of that to give them an opportunity to go do what they do best.
Q: What does professional golf mean to this club?
Johnny Harris: There were twenty-five men that gathered at my father’s and mother’s home, and they talked about starting a golf club and only because they were having problems getting tee times at the club where they were a member at. They had to call up at 8 a.m. on Thursday mornings to get a tee time on the Saturday or Sunday, and that drove them crazy, and there was a level of frustration linked with that. They decided a build a golf course, and dad got Arnold palmer to come here, and all of a sudden, Arnold said, ‘You guys build a golf course, and I’ll get the tour to come here, and one of his best quotes linked to one of the guys asking, ‘Can we build a golf course good enough that the pros will want to come and play.’ Arnold said, ‘Well if you put enough money in, they will play down Independence Boulevard.’ Those men built a place for fellowship and friendship, the game and enjoying the game and then to bring the best players in the world here, and they continued to do that. Everything we have done since that time, including any monies we have made, has been put back into the club and our facilities. Not all of it has gone back into the golf club but other facilities as well.
Johno Harris: To add to that, we have always thought about having the PGA Tour here, and having events here allows us to have a small membership and allow us to have the best players in the world play. What is really interesting is if you go back, I think there are five or six individuals who are on the teams represented here today that are members here. We were lucky enough to have a member show up last night for dinner just to be here. They feel as much a part of this club and as part of this community and family as anybody. It goes back for me, I grew up with a man putting my hands on a golf club and saying don’t change it, get the club higher, and that was Arnold Palmer. He talked about integrity, honor, and the people within the game, and at the end of the day, we have been very lucky to have a lot of these great players wanting to come back and wanting to be part of this family and community which it makes an event like this even more special to have those individuals here.
Q: Can you speak about the culture that you created here? To hear both Davis Love III and Trevor Immelman speak at the Opening Ceremony about been honorary members here and how proud they were
Johno Harris: Well, it started with Grandad and my father and for my generation, and I always go back. When I was 10 or 11 years old, we went to Florida to watch Arnold Palmer play in the Senior PGA Championship, and at the end of the round, he said, ‘Johno, you come with me, Johnny, Debra, you go with Winnie, and all have lunch’ – I sat there and watched him hit golf balls, and he talked to me about honor, integrity, and obligations to the game. At the end of the day, it started with them, and for the young people, we feel an obligation to the members of this club to continue that on and respect out of the foundation that was grown by grandad, dad, and others on the list. It all started with Arnold, I believe, and we all fell in love, and that’s the best way to put it and to be able to host the best players in the world and to have them as part of this family.
Johnny Harris: I think there is also one other thing to add to what makes the Quail Hollow Hospitality the Quail Hollow way. The last time Arnold was at Quail Hollow Club, and I can tell you I have been all over the world with him, and I have seen him pull that little bag out of his bag after play, I bet five thousand times. The first thing that he would put on his wrist was a Rolex as he loves Rolex as a brand and his own Rolex. Last time he was here, I got him to come up and play as an amateur in the group with his grandson and myself, and it was funny as when we finished, and he was getting ready to go the airport and fly back, he grabbed me outside the car, and he put his hands on me, and he said ‘I know you know your mother and father would be proud but what I want you to understand is that greatness is always under construction and don’t you ever stop making this place better,’ and then he got in the car and drove away. It’s not just golf course construction, it’s the whole mentality. It’s the fact that if you go into the superintendent’s area in the maintenance building there’s a big sign that says, ‘Greatness has a home,’ and the same thing if you go into the kitchen. Everybody drinks the Kool-Aid around here, and we have one place South of here that we respect probably more than anywhere else, but we are sure trying to catch everybody else. We will keep working at that while I am alive, and I am sure that Johno and the young people that will be part of the leadership team here in the future are going to be doing the same thing. I think that’s the mentality that helps us keep going and the young people that become part of this club and drink the Kool-Aid, the love of the game and the chance to be part of something as positive of this place.
Johno Harris: The reason it works for this event is because Adam Sperling came here in 2018 without a preconceived notion on how this was going to work and immersed himself in the Quail Hollow and Charlotte community, and as a result, you can see the product out there. The result of the best of Adam and his team coming together with the best of our team and putting this event on is pretty good.
Q: From your perspective as leaders not just in the community but also within the world of golf, what opportunities do you see for golf to utilize technology to continue to grow the game? Also, from the opposite end, what challenges do you see with technology and specifically within the Professional game to not lose some of the aspects that have made golf so great?
Johno Harris: What I love about this event and what I love about the PGA Tour is that when I talk about obligations to grow the game and what we have done here, the Charlotte Sifford Tournament bringing the HBCU groups here to the first tee that brings the youth together. I have said this before, that if a kid is watching this or a billion households are watching this, and one kid picks up a golf club then we have done our job. If you look at younger people today, technology is part of their life, whether it’s their phone, computer, or whatever it is and you see it today, every player has a trackman, and they are looking at that data and how that affects their play and that’s running all the way through college. Now you see that juniors are doing the exact same thing. It is going to be inevitable at the end of the day that technology is going to drive a lot of things. I think technology is going to be part of the game going forward, and I think it has an opportunity to grow the game as well.
Adam Sperling: From an events standpoint, while the game of golf has grown over the generations, and the caretakers have maintained that growth and protected what is sacred. The world has also changed outside the golf course and the experience, the focus, the attention span of individuals. You see technology in forward-facing ways during events as a way to engage with customers and keep them here and maintain a high level of experience. We have thirty video boards across the property, the largest video board the PGA Tour have ever built behind the first tee. We are using our FID technology to enhance the experiences so that when spectators come in through the gates three hours in advance, and they get to the first tee, they don’t have to sit there. They are able to check in, go and enjoy the property and come back. We are tracking the average spend, transactions time, and we are learning from our concessions, but it is all about creating an experience to keep everybody here and enjoying the game, the experience and making sure that golf and golf tournaments can move forwards as all the other opportunities and competition move forwards as well.
Q: How do you measure the success of this year’s Presidents Cup, and do you get to enjoy the event now that the tournament has started?
Adam Sperling: I think that we measure success if you’re doing it right and you care about all the things you care about then you probably measure success across two or three hundred different categories because the responsibility when you are given the opportunity to be a caretaker of a product, a product that we get to be caretakers of for one week every year, but it’s here, and then it’s gone so you have to deliver for everyone. You have to deliver for the team, for the spectators, for the players, for the broadcast audience, for the members and corporate partners, the list doesn’t stop, and that’s the charge. When you have a focus, and you talk about this club and this property and the continued focus to improve, grow, and always get better, then you can hit on 99% of what you are striving to achieve, but it’s the 1% that leaves you chasing better next time. The report card is in the response of all those different constituents, and you receive the feedback, you incorporate it, and you figure out how to do it better next time. Whether that is next week on The PGA Tour, whether it’s next Spring at Quail Hollow, or whether that’s in Montreal for the 2024 Presidents Cup. The 1% is what keeps you going and what makes it fun.
Johno Harris: The enjoyment of the Presidents Cup is watching the people in here and walking in here and asking the question, ‘Is everything ok? Is there anything that we can do?’ and the answer is, ‘This is great, and this is one of the better facilities that we have had. We are in a great location.’ That is satisfaction, and when you hear people come in and say it is unbelievable and we are having an unbelievable time. I think for me, part of the success has already happened as I said previously, you have the Charlotte Sifford Award, the Junior Presidents Cup, which was unbelievable, and things like that within the game and our obligation to grow the game. I think we are doing a pretty good job.
Q: What drives you to the next objective? Many club owners and developers would be thrilled to host a PGA Tour event every year. You had a major, returned to the PGA Tour, and moved to Wells Fargo this year to accommodate the Presidents Cup, but what drives you to never stop testing yourself?
Johnny Harris: It’s all in the interpretation of one or two things. My father used to tell me that when you have a vision or a goal. He said, ‘If you’re trying to get to the end of the street and the dogs are barking, and you try to stop and quiet every barking dog on the street, then you will never get to the end of the street.’ I never worry about the negatives or the things that are hard to do, I am focused on the next step and what’s the next thing to do. I have people ask me all the time if I am going to take a vacation next week and relax, and I’m going to tell you that I am going to try and call a meeting with the people working on the Wells Fargo and tell them we have a problem. We have broken the mold on how to run an event, and now we need to figure out to do a regular event and make it feel at least as attractive as we can to compete with what this has done and we will figure something and do a good job and have a great Wells Fargo, but I never look back as that’s not what we do, not what I do. I have had a lot of fun and special times with a lot of special people, but we don’t look back, we look forward. We will sit down and write down things that I think I would never talk about them now, but there are things I think we could do better. It’s the things that we build on-site and try to do that are the things that I get excited about and think about what we can do next time that’s a little bit better and a step up. We told the club from the very beginning that we would continue to invest money, keep reinvesting money.
Johno Harris: The only thing I would add is that we have been very fortunate, and we have great partners, and those partners could be individuals like Arnold Palmer and some of the players who are out here at the Presidents Cup but also long-term partners like the PGA Tour and Rolex.
Johnny Harris: One of the goals I had, when we were trying to host the PGA Championship, was that at the moment I was able to talk about us hosting the championship, that I was able to reach out to Rolex and let them know we were hosting a Major now and we needed a Rolex clock at the club. At one point, I went to all four Majors for five years in a row, and it was amazing because everywhere I went, I would see a Rolex clock.
I don’t know what golf is going to look like in the next ten years, and I hope I am still around to watch John and the team and others do those things, and I’ll be a cheerleader and play when they want me to play and try to help. I don’t know what the game is going to do. I know that we want to keep doing things other than an every-year event, and I know that we will do an every-year event for a while, but what we would want to do is love to get into a niche where we were doing something of a different magnitude, and I think that we are getting to that point. However, you judge whether we have done a good job or not. If you judge it based on other tournaments then there are numbers that you can look at that say nobody has done it better except maybe the place down the street in Georgia. All we can do is be the best that we can be, and if somebody gives us a chance, we will put our best foot forward, and I promise you they will benefit from what we do. That could be, do we want to have a Ryder Cup? Yes, but do we want to have the Presidents Cup back, absolutely, we want the Presidents Cup to come back. My primary goal at the minute is to make sure that we are in the consideration for another Presidents Cup.
Johno Harris: We are in a position now where we have done some pretty good things, and I hope that people understand that those things have happened because of partners, and we feel like that if we have the right partnerships, then we can accomplish something pretty special and at the end of the day if we can be a small part of the game under the right conditions to grow the game of golf then that’s what we should do.
Adam Sperling: I would tell you something as an outsider that there is a quote, ‘Everything’s impossible until it’s done’ and there is nothing that these two men (Johnny and Johno Harris) and the members of Quail Hollow and this community sees as impossible.
Q: How have you personalized the fan experience at the 2022 Presidents Cup?
Adam Sperling: The team took an approach that was consistent with – knowledge speaking but wisdom listening, and we listened about how events in this community have been staged and how this community is growing, and where this community wants to be. We developed a phrase of, ‘Welcoming the world to Charlotte and showcasing Charlotte to the World,’ and that meant showcasing all of Charlotte and supporting small businesses coming out of the pandemic and collaborating with local businesses, making sure they had a platform to promote themselves. A space in the largest merchandise tent that we have ever had, and we also have a dozen food partners here from all over Charlotte, which we wanted to make sure that when everyone came out to Quail Hollow or when they watched on their television, they saw what Charlotte was and what it looked like and what Charlotte is aspiring to be. We talked about report cards, and that something that all three of us and everybody on our teams and organizations really prioritized and took great pride in, and we are all really proud of what we have done.