The PGA Championship is a mere two and a half weeks away, thanks to the Tour’s decision to compress the 2019 schedule and move what used to be considered an afterthought of a major championship from August to May.
Part of the PGA Tour’s intent of this rescheduling was to wrap up the FedEx Cup proceedings prior to football being in full swing in hopes of those “playoff” events garnering more interest and perhaps higher television ratings. While I think that any gain in viewership may be marginal at best (August is a vacation month for many folks, anyway), I do like the “major championship each month” scenario, starting with the Masters in April and concluding with the Open Championship in July. And if one wants to press the point, having The Players Championship (who many have tried to push as a fifth major) pushed back to March extends that stretch nicely.
Compressing the schedule does have its disadvantages, however. One that is something of a head scratcher is the splitting of the Byron Nelson and Colonial tournaments, both longtime mainstays on the PGA Tour held in the DFW Metroplex. In the past, the tournaments were held on consecutive weekends, which oftentimes allowed players to bring their families along with them to make the short trek between the two venues.
Unfortunately, this won’t be the case this season. This weekend, the tour stops at Quail Hollow in North Carolina, then crosses over to Dallas to play the Byron at the logistically nightmarish more on that later) Trinity Forest links. Then it’s up to Long Island for the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black – then back to Ft Worth to play at Colonial.
I suppose driving all of this has been to 1) keep Quail Hollow in a favorable spot – most professionals consider it to be a good tune up going in a major – and 2) give some breathing space to Jack Nicklaus’s Memorial Tournament, which will be held the week after Colonial.
None of which does much good for the two DFW tournaments, at least not this year. I can’t think of a lot of players who will play both events; hell, it wouldn’t surprise me to see a significant number of players skipping both.
There was a time when both of the events were must plays. Fort Worth’s Colonial was one of three courses which has been dubbed “(Ben) Hogan’s Alley” (Riviera and Carnoustie being the other two), and has long been revered as a shot-maker’s track. In addition to its annual tour stop, Colonial has also hosted the 1941 US Open (won by Hogan), the 1975 Players Championship, and the 1991 Women’s US Open.
The Byron Nelson Classic was an outgrowth of the old Dallas Open, designed to honor the great contemporary of Hogan and Sam Snead. While the tournament had several venues over the years, the course with the longest tenure was TPC at the Four Seasons in Las Colinas, a section of Irving, TX. Much like Jack’s Memorial and Arnie’s Bay Hill Invitational, most golfers were sure to include “The Byron” on their itineraries, particularly when Nelson was still alive. A large statue of “Lord Byron” still stands near the first tee of TPC, an extensive display of his memorabilia is featured inside the clubhouse, and Nelson’s widow, Peggy, is still a presence at the club.
As a member there for about 5 years, I played both TPC and its members-only course, Cottonwood Valley, a lot and always had tickets for the Byron. I don’t think that the TPC itself was a particular favorite for the players, what with its awkward tee shots and approach angles, but it was a great for watching action both on and off the course, and being on a Four Seasons property with all of its amenities and having close proximity to DFW airport made it a popular place for tour players to bring the family (or, to use the parlance, “scout the local talent” if they came alone).
As one who was not exactly a gym rat but who tried to keep in reasonable golf shape, I always made it a point to work out in the club’s state of the art workout facility during Byron Week, as I would usually see (and sometimes chat up) some of the players going through their fitness regimen there. Workouts nearly came to a stop when Dustin Johnson’s partner, Paulina Gretzky, strolled in one day to discuss something with DJ.
[For a slightly biased comparison of the Byron at the TPC vs the Colonial, click here]
This changed when AT&T took over sponsorship of the Byron, as that corporation has a serious hand in a gentrification effort in southwest Dallas, as well as in a new golf course called Trinity Forest, whose name is something of a misnomer in that there is not a tree to be found on the Ben Crenshaw/Bill Coore links. The course itself is interesting, but getting there is a chore – it’s about an hour from the airport on a good day (and when one has to negotiate the Dallas Mixmaster, the odds of a good day are as likely as a Kardashian hiding from a camera), and shuttles are required to get golfers in and out of the grounds. And with no trees, it makes for a difficult spectator experience on a hot Texas day.
It would not be surprising to see the venue change again for the Byron, as the PGA of America is moving its headquarters to Frisco TX, a northern suburb of Dallas that is currently home base for Toyota and the Dallas Cowboys. Part of the development includes the construction of two 18 hole courses, one of which will undoubtedly be hosting a Ryder Cup (which is a PGA of America – as opposed to PGA Tour – property). Perhaps the Byron finds a new home there in the future.
In the meantime, the Dallas/Fort Worth area will be subject to the whims of the tour schedule makers. And an area that has traditionally been a robust PGA Tour bell weather gets the shaft.