For most major golf tournaments, the period immediately after the tournament is spent de-briefing, discussing what worked and what didn’t work, and then laying pretty low for several months before it’s time to start working on next year’s event. Two years ago, right after The Byron, it was a very different scene as bulldozers invaded the TPC Four Seasons Las Colinas and went where golf carts had been only days before as a massive reconstruction commenced.
The course was created in 1982 by Jay Morrish, with assistance from Lord Byron himself as well as Ben Crenshaw and others. The quality of the accommodations and Byron Nelson’s presence were always big draws, but the course’s most outstanding features were it’s logistical qualities rather than the way it played.
In the 90s the course underwent three phases of improvements. The first two were relatively minor, but in 1999 over a hundred trees were added.
The 2007 redesign cost over $10 million, and was led by DA Weibring’s design company with DFW native Steve Wolfard as the lead architect. DA had also participated in some of the earlier improvement work. The project included behind the scenes irrigation and water management work as well as a complete rebuild of most bunkers and greens. It also softened some of the stadium mounds to make the course more aesthetically pleasing.
“We respect this golf course’s history and embrace it’s future.” DA Weibring said in 2007. “Everything we suggest in our project plan is designed to build a course that Byron Nelson would be proud to play his tournament on in 2008 and for the foreseeable future.”
For the championship the course plays at 7,166 yards to a par of 70.
The first three players to win the Dallas PGA event were Byron Nelson, Sam Snead, and Ben Hogan, and the tournament has showcased the very biggest names in the sport over the past 65 years. Jack won two Byron’s in the early 70s, and Tom Watson won four in six years at the end of the decade. The 80s and 90s tournament winners includes Ben Crenshaw, Fred Couples, Payne Stewart, Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson, and Tiger Woods. In this decade some of the champions were Jesper Parnevik, Vijay Singh, and Sergio Garcia. Last year’s tournament was won by Adam Scott.
The third hole is the sternest test against par, and played at 4.396 in 2008. It’s a challenging 528 yard par 4 with water all along the right side and two fairway bunkers strategically placed at between 265 and 350 yards from the tee. A triangular green offers many challenging hole placements.
The eleventh hole is a short par 4 at 323. Historically the water in front of the green has prevented most players from going for the green, but as part of the redesign the green was moved further from the water in order to introduce more risk-reward analysis into the players’ strategy. There are dual black tees on the hole, one on the same side of the water as the green and one on the opposite side.
Most of the crowds and most of the noise will be around the 17:th green (see picture). This 198 yard par 3 is the “Party Hole”, but offers a much more significant challenge than the similarly named hole in Phoenix. Water was added in front of the green due to DA Weibring’s 1993 redesign, and in 2008 it was the third most difficult hole on the course at an average of 3.227.
The Las Colinas property is everything one would expect from a Four Seasons resort, and much much more. The pool area is very elaborate, with semi-private alcoves squirreled away between the landscaping and vegetation. The spa offers sauna, massages, steam bath, hot tub, and a cold plunge, and the sports club is consistently rated as one of the top in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.
If you want to venture out of the hotel for some reason I highly recommend Cool River, which combines a premier steak house with a great looking bar. Legend has it Cool River was one of the stops for the Stanley Cup trophy on it’s journey through Dallas’ nightlife after the Stars’ victory in 1999.
The facility is conveniently located 10 minutes from DFW airport and less than 30 minutes from downtown Dallas, but once you’re on the property it maintains a truly relaxed resort athmosphere. If you enjoy the occasional urban escape you can’t beat it.
The HP Byron Nelson Championship is played May 21 through May 24 at the Four Seasons Las Colinas outside Dallas. The tournament is affectionately called “The Byron”, and it’s put on by the Salesmanship Club of Dallas. This is the first in a series of preview articles leading up to the tournament.
The numbers speak for themselves, but no matter how impressive Byron Nelson’s records are it’s the quality of the man people talk about first. He set records as a golfer that may never be touched, and it’s only appropriate that the tournament that bears his name continues to set records every year, even after his death.
BEFORE THE TOUR
John Byron Nelson, Jr. was born near Waxahachie, TX on February 4, 1912. Throughout his career on the course and his life afterward he’s intrinsically linked to fellow PGA Tour greats Sam Snead and fellow Texan Ben Hogan, as the three of them were born within 6 months of each other.
When Byron was 11 his family moved to Fort Worth, and he proceeded to have a close call with typhoid fever. At age 12 he was baptized, and it also marked the beginning of his life in golf, as he started caddying at the Glen Garden Country Club. The fact that caddies were not officially allowed to play on the club didn’t hold Byron back, as he used to sneak onto the course to play in the dark. A couple of years later the rules were relaxed a bit, and Byron defeated fellow caddy Ben Hogan in a 9-hole playoff to win the club’s caddy tournament.
Greg Norman made headlines a few months ago when he suggested that professional golfers should take a pay cut in light of the financial crisis we’re in. While it may appear inappropriate that a tournament winner will take home a million dollars for a four day tournament while thousands of people are losing jobs and savings due to a near collapse of our financial system, it’s important to remember that for every millionaire on the tour there are thousands of professional golfers who struggle and fight for every single dollar and who are losing money for every tournament they play in. “Golf On The Edge” is the book about these golfers.