CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Nothing endures but change.
That adage, attributed to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, came to mind as I was walking around the course of the Wells Fargo Championship. In its tenth year, the PGA Tour event has certainly seen its fair share of change.
Just a few years ago, it was called the Wachovia Championship, a top-notch event at the 18-hole course at Quail Hollow Club meant to lure the biggest names in golf and put the ambitious Charlotte banking company on the national stage.
Wachovia lavished on guests. Its blue and green logo was everywhere, and tournament winners such as Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk and Vijay Singh had to don a teal jacket as they posed with the crystal championship trophy.
Those days are long gone, a casualty of Wachovia's implosion and fire sale to Wells Fargo (WFC) in the throes of the financial crisis in late 2008. Wells Fargo's red and gold logo now looms large over the course. Lucas Glover, last year's winner, sported a traditional blue blazer and a new silver chalice that serves as the trophy.
"Has there been change?" was the sarcastic response from a grounds employee at the 18th hole who first worked the event in 2006. "This event has had three different names in the last four years."
Wells Fargo was reluctant to stamp its name on the event when it inherited Wachovia's sponsorship. Activists were up in arms about banks — especially those that received federal aid — paying six- and seven-figure sponsorship deals. Wells, which received $25 billion from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, chose to brand the event as the Quail Hollow Championship in 2009 and 2010.
Spectators and groundskeepers are keen to the transition, largely because they live in the same city that witnessed Wachovia's rise and fall.
Many know the infamous story of how then Wachovia Chief Executive Ken Thompson juggled his duties as the title sponsor with negotiating his company's ill-fated 2006 purchase of Golden West Financial. Thompson played in that year's pro-am with Singh even as the deal was coming together.
As the tournament endured intermittent thunderstorms, Thompson would duck in an out of meetings to hammer out a deal. Top Wachovia executives awaited word from the California thrift while Jim Furyk beat Trevor Immelman in a playoff.
In contrast, the pros seem mostly oblivious to the underlying narrative. The only change specifically discussed during press conferences was the location of the tee on the 17th hole.
"As a player, this event hasn't changed," David Toms, who won the inaugural Wachovia Championship in 2003, said in an interview following Wednesday's pro-am. "It's a venue with a great feel to it. This has always been a class-act event."
Toms gave credit to the event's leadership, led by PGA Tour veteran Kym Hougham, for maintaining a level of stability at the tournament. "We've had the same tournament director throughout," he said.
"This event is every bit as good today as it was on day one," Phil Mickelson, a mainstay on the course since 2004 who was the runner-up to Rory McIlroy two years ago, said when asked about any changes over the past decade. "When this tournament came into existence, it was done right. It didn't need to evolve too much."
It is unclear how long Wells Fargo will stay committed to the tournament. The San Francisco company inherited a four-year extension that Wachovia signed in 2008 despite mounting losses tied to Golden West's mortgage defaults and other issues. Wells Fargo is now on board through 2014, but has been mum on future plans.
"I don't think anyone knows the dynamics of what's going to happen yet," Hougham said in a recent interview with online magazine Charlotte Viewpoint. "We don't know and Wells Fargo doesn't. Wells Fargo needs to decide what they want to do long term [and] Quail Hollow needs to decide what they want to do long-term."
So another transition is possible. Nothing endures but change.