Colonial tournament chairman Patton has L.A. love with a Texas heart

Posted Sunday, May. 19, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Bobby Patton, a Fort Worth native and longtime member of Colonial Country Club, always has had a passion for baseball, golf and his hometown.

These days, Patton gets to address those interests in a more hands-on manner as the new tournament chairman of the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial and as one of five primary investors in the ownership group of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Patton is part of Guggenheim Baseball Management, a group that paid a record $2.15 billion for the Dodgers franchise in 2012. Although the public face of the ownership group is NBA legend Magic Johnson, a former Los Angeles Lakers star, Patton is one of three investors who reportedly contributed nine-figure sums to finalize the transaction.

Patton, an investor with holdings in oil, gas, real estate and other ventures, regularly attends Major League Baseball owners meetings but does not cast the Dodgers’ vote in those settings. That task falls to Mark Walter, the general partner who helped pull the group together when the franchise went on the market.

“It was definitely his idea,” Patton said. “I offer input. We’ve been friends for a long time, Mark and I. It isn’t like I don’t feel connected because I’m not the managing partner. We talk about it every day.”

Patton, a 1981 graduate of Fort Worth Paschal who played center field for the Panthers during his high school years, also is involved in the daily decisions that shape the future of Fort Worth’s annual PGA Tour stop.

In a perfect world, Patton said he hopes his three-year tenure as Colonial’s tournament chairman (2013-15) is marked by a June date for the event, which he would prefer to be played the week before the U.S. Open. He’d also like his legacy to include more charitable donations for a tournament that contributed $7 million to local charities in 2012 — cracking the PGA Tour’s top five donors for a third consecutive year — and a World Series matchup between the Dodgers and Texas Rangers, Patton’s lifelong rooting interest until he began bleeding Dodger Blue as a team owner.

In terms of a Dodgers-Rangers matchup in the World Series, Patton said, “That would be great. I would hope, quite frankly, that the Rangers didn’t score a run and we won in four. But if the Dodgers can’t win the World Series, I’m always going to root for the Rangers to win it.”

Likewise, Patton — who still holds a law license but no longer is a practicing attorney — wants the best for Fort Worth’s annual PGA Tour stop, where he spent two decades on the tournament committee before taking over as tournament chairman for this year’s event.

Below is a Q and A with Patton, who is well-positioned to shape the futures of both the Colonial tournament and the Dodgers:

Will we see Colonial marshals wearing Dodgers’ caps as part of their uniforms this year?

Although I’d love to see a lot of local support for the Dodgers, I think we’re going to be a Rangers town for the most part. So probably not on the [Dodgers] hats. But if anyone wants a Dodger hat out there, we can sure have plenty of them.

Is there any change you’d like to implement as Colonial tournament chairman to improve the event?

Changing our date would be something that might be possible. ... If they gave me the pen and told me to fill in our date, I think if we could be the week before the U.S. Open, we could really tailor this course to be a setup for almost any U.S. Open event. It would be a great tuneup. Any time they ask my opinion, that would be my response. But that might be very wishful thinking. We don’t make the calendar. The PGA Tour does.

What has been the biggest adjustment in your new role with the tournament?

In my old job, I was chairman of the starters committee. During the week of the tournament, you were on — all day, all week. Now the job is 52 weeks, it feels like, all the day and all the time. It’s a year-round time commitment.

In addition to a possible date change, do you have any other fresh wrinkles you’d like to see, this year or in the future?

If people would remember my three years as tournament chairman and the difference I would make, it would really be trying to increase our footprint on charities and our contribution to the local charities. And, really, raising an awareness of how important this event is to the economy of Fort Worth. It’s not just a Colonial event. It’s an event for the whole city.

How hard is it to entice elite players to Colonial when you’re playing two weeks after The Players Championship and during the same week as the BMW PGA Championship, a premier event on the European Tour?

We have a tremendous challenge because we’re directly opposite the BMW, and so many top players these days are European players. The BMW has got to be their most important event. They get double Ryder Cup points [that week]. It’s hard to compete against that.

Have you had any direct talks with players like Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson about returning to play in Fort Worth?

At the events where they’re playing and we visit those events, I absolutely talk to Phil and talk to Tiger just like we talk to everybody else. But whether it’s the last player in our field or the No. 1 in the world, we treat them all the same. We treat them all very well, and we’re happy that each one of them is here.

What is your golf handicap?

I’m a pretty solid 18. I don’t think I’ve ever been better than 15. And I don’t play very much. I don’t have a lot of golf trophies, but I sure enjoy it when I can go out there and play.

How many Dodgers games have you attended in LA this year?

I made the first nine out of 12, but I haven’t been back. I’ll go back a lot in the summer and, hopefully, in the fall. It’s fun to go to a game in July and August and have it be 75 degrees. It’s definitely different.

What’s the best part of owning the Dodgers?

The biggest thrill for me is going down before the game. To be sitting in the dugout next to [manager] Don Mattingly, I think, is as cool as cool can be. And during the game, we sit next to [former manager] Tommy Lasorda. He still goes to all the games. And if I get there early enough, I go up and have dinner with [longtime broadcaster] Vin Scully. I mean, how great is that? I’ve got Vin’s number in my cellphone.

The Rangers were up for sale in 2010, two years before your group landed the Dodgers. Were you approached about being part of that ownership group?

No. At that time, it just seemed like one of those things that sounded like a great idea. But, really, I felt like I was more interested in taking care of my businesses and my investments than playing in that baseball arena. I don’t know if there was a specific moment when it changed. But there was a thought [after 2010] that if things fell right, we could look at buying a team. It really wasn’t a lifetime goal or even a long-term goal. I’d say it happened kind of quickly.

Initially, your group got involved in trying to land the Houston Astros. Do you regret not owning a team in closer proximity to Fort Worth?

No. We thought we might make a late run at the Astros, and then the Astros ended up selling to Jim Crane. And the next team that was up for sale was the Dodgers. There’s no doubt with the Dodgers we saw there was a significant value. I’m thrilled with how that turned out.

Any memorable exchanges with Scully, who has been the voice of the Dodgers since they moved to LA in 1957?

The other night, we were playing San Francisco, and he was talking about [Giants first baseman] Brandon Belt. He grew up in Nacogdoches and whatever Vin called it, he did some different phrasing. So I called him and said, “Nack-uh-dough-chess” is how you pronounce it, like “dough.” And he said, “Oh, Bobby, thank you so much for that.” He was so funny.

What are your emotions when key pitchers like Chad Billingsley (Tommy John surgery) and Zack Greinke (broken collarbone from on-field fight) are lost for extended stretches?

It’ll make you sick. Nothing made me as physically ill as Greinke going out with that broken collarbone. … But it truly is a long season. It’s my impression that no one’s panicking, and that’s key.

Your whole family, including both children (Robert, 14, and Rachel, 12), grew up rooting for the Rangers. How tough of a transition has it been for the Pattons to become Dodger fans?

If you had asked us that question the day before we bought the team, I would have said it would be incredibly hard. I would have said, “I’ll be a Ranger fan, first and foremost.” But the day after we bought it, I never looked back at the Rangers again. Now, it’s just in passing. It was a remarkably quick transition.

Have you redecorated the house with Dodgers’ gear?

Our first day owning the team, I’m walking through the clubhouse and there’s a big rack of baseball bats under Matt Kemp’s name. I’m holding one and thinking, “This is just great.” And the clubhouse manager says, “If you want a bat, take it home for your kids.” And I’m like, “Aw, I can’t take Matt’s bat.” And he said, “Yeah, you can.” So I took one of Matt’s and I took one of Andre Ethier’s. I felt like I was stealing as I’m walking out of the clubhouse. Both kids still have them and love them.

What is it like to be in business with Magic Johnson?

He’s an unbelievable presence and personality and has been a great partner. He has been a pleasure and joy to get to know. He’s a fantastic person.

What is ownership’s philosophy on balancing the baseball budget against trying to reach the World Series?

It’s been interesting to watch it evolve. At first, we had an idea that we would set a budget and then the baseball people would make baseball decisions within that budget. And then, different opportunities … to get players became available, and the budget seemed to become secondary and the primary focus was to go get the best players we could possibly get.

If this season ends with a Dodgers-Rangers matchup in the World Series, what will be item No. 1 on your to-do list?

I can’t imagine how hard it would be to try and get tickets for everybody that I’d want to get tickets for, particularly our friends from LA that would want to come to the games in Texas.

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