Dallas Fort Worth and the History of the Byron Nelson Championship

Tournament golf in the Dallas Fort Worth area began very early in the 20th century.  It actually started with amateur golf.  The very first Texas State Amateur was held at the Dallas Golf & Country Club in 1906.  Other area clubs hosted this event including Brookhollow Golf Club, Rivercrest Country Club and the Fort Worth Golf Club.  In fact the Texas State Amateur Championship was staged in the area eight times before professional golf was ever played here.

The very first professional golf tournament held in Dallas Fort Worth was in 1926.  It was played in Dallas and called the Dallas Open Tournament.  The winner was MacDonald Smith.  Mac, a native of Scotland, was quite a player having 24 professional wins.  Mac was the one of the very first to be called “best player never to win a major.”  He came close to winning a major championship the prior year when he led the 1925 Open Championship at Prestwick going into the final round.  He shot an 82 and lost.  When he was not playing tour events Mac was the golf professional at Del Monte Country Club in Del Monte, California.

Regular professional golf in DFW went into hibernation from 1926 to 1944 but the area was not devoid of some good professional golf tournaments.  Throughout the century DFW was blessed to have had some wonderful major championships.  In 1927 the PGA Championship was held at Cedar Crest Golf Club (Walter Hagen).  The US Open was held at Colonial Country Club in 1941 (Craig Wood) and the US Open returned to Dallas in 1952 at the Northwood Club (Julius Boros).  The final men’s professional major played in Dallas in the 20th century was the PGA Championship in 1963, which was played at the Dallas Athletic Club (Jack Nicklaus).  The only women’s professional major played in the area was the 1991 US Women’s Open played at Colonial Country Club.

… but let’s get back to PGA Tour events …

An event called the Texas Victory Open was played in 1944 at Lakewood Country Club where Byron Nelson was the winner.  In 1945 the event changed its name to the Dallas Open and moved to Dallas Country Club.  Sam Snead won that year.  Finally in 1946 DFW had two professional events.  The very first Colonial Invitational was played in May and the once again re-named Dallas Invitational was played in September at the Brookhollow Golf Club.  Ben Hogan won both events.  Golf at The Colonial Invitational continued after 1946 but professional golf in Dallas disappeared from 1947 to 1955.

Professional golf returned to Dallas in 1956 as two events – The Dallas Centennial Open, played in May (won by Don January) and the Texas International Open, played in June (won by the Australian Peter Thomson).  These two events were the dream of Jimmy Ling, founder of Ling-Temco-Vought (a.k.a. LTV).  It is true that Jimmy wanted professional golf back in Dallas but also he wanted to promote his club, the Preston Hollow Country Club.  Consequently the club hosted the two events in back to back months.

Starting in 1957 the Dallas Open Invitational began its run as a regular PGA Tour event in Dallas.  It has been played every year since 1957 with the exception of 1963 (PGA Championship) and in 1965 (no event).  The event in 1957 was played at the old Glen Lakes Country Club.  The winner was Sam Snead.  The event moved to Oak Cliff Country Club the next year and would be played there for over a decade.

Oak Cliff Country Club is where I want to introduce you to a young player by the name of Earl Stewart, Jr.  Born in Dallas, Earl graduated from Sunset High School and attended LSU, where he played on the golf team.  LSU won team titles at the NCAA Championship in both 1940 and 1942.  Earl won the individual title at the NCAA Championship in 1941.  He played in the 1946 Dallas Open as an amateur and finished 4th.  The real story here happened in 1961 – Earl Stewart won the Dallas Open Invitational played at Oak Cliff Country Club.  At the time he was the Head Professional at Oak Cliff.  He remains the only professional to  win a PGA Tour event as the host professional at his home club.

In 1968 two significant things happened – Tournament administration was assumed by the Salesmanship Club of Dallas and the Tournament was named after Byron Nelson.  That year the tournament was moved to Preston Trail Golf Club.  It was played at “PT” through 1982.  Today the tournament is played at The Tournament Players Course at the Four Seasons Resort & Club in Las Colinas.  It is still named after Byron Nelson. Due to the Salesmanship Club’s involvement all proceeds of the event are donated to the Club’s charities.  The newly re-named Momentous Institute carries on the work of this 94 year old organization offering help to troubled youths and families.

Interestingly enough the Salesmanship Club’s involvement with the Byron Nelson Classic began a trend that has had a tremendous impact on dozens of communities throughout the United States.  In the early days of the Byron Nelson Classic the PGA Tour’s new Commissioner, Deane Beman, came to Dallas for a visit. His time here included a side trip to the Salesmanship Club Youth Camp which was a residential treatment center for troubled boys and girls.  He was so impressed with what was being done and how tournament proceeds were being used to fund this good work that he promptly went back to Ponte Vedra, Florida and began to encourage all of the PGA Tour stops to contribute some portion of their tournament proceeds to charity.  To date PGA Tour events have collectively contributed over $2 BILLION to their local charities.  That tiny seed planted by the Salesmanship Club of Dallas inside the Commissioner’s mind has multiplied many, many times over.  To this day Deane Beman is still an Associate Member of the Salesmanship Club of Dallas.


Tim Gamso
Salesmanship Club of Dallas