May 19, 2014

Glen Garden: Where Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan squared off

Businessmen Leonard Firestone and Troy Robertson want to buy the storied golf course for the new home of their distilling company.

If a pending sale goes through, an integral slice of Fort Worth’s golf history would be no more.

Local businessmen Leonard Firestone and Troy Robertson say they want to buy the Glen Garden Country Club for the new home of their Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co., currently at 901 W. Vickery St.

Glen Garden was launched between 1911 and 1913 when Horace Cobb, a brick manufacturer, realized the city could support a second golf course.

Golf contagion was at a feverish pitch, so much so that Cobb purchased 111 acres of the OK Cattle Ranch three miles southeast of downtown near the Interurban line. He installed a course with greens made of sand, and he named it Glen Garden. A nearby well watered the course.

In 1913, along with 40 other golfers, he officially chartered the country club, beckoning new members with ads in the Star-Telegram that described the venture as an “inexpensive playground for the people.” Indeed, Glen Garden’s initiation fee was $50, compared with River Crest Country Club’s $200.

The southside course sparked a cross-town rivalry with westside’s River Crest. Emotions peaked during the semi-annual Berney Cup tournament. The best 16 golfers from each club organized into eight foursomes, playing 18 holes on each club’s course, two consecutive weekends in the autumn and spring.

To retire the trophy, a club had to win three legs of the tournament. Glen Garden ultimately retired the Berney Cup in 1919.

In 1920, when a new cross-town competition for the William Bryce Cup was born, a Star-Telegram headline declared, “Rival Golf Clubs Meet . . . in Ancient Struggle.”

Glen Garden is most famous for the 1927 match when two 15-year-olds, Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan, went head-to-head in the club’s annual Caddie Championship. Nelson edged Hogan by a stroke.

Byron and Ben also competed often for the city golf title, which neither won.

Both were bested at Glen Garden in 1928 by Joe Ballard, later a committee man for the Colonial National Invitational. A 1953 Fort Worth Press article by Dan Jenkins said, “Ballard knocked out Byron Nelson in the semi-finals and measured a 16-year-old kid named Ben Hogan in the finals.”

The Women’s Texas Golf Association, which flourishes today, was formed in 1916 by golfers at Glen Garden and River Crest. Pro golfer Sandra Palmer practically grew up at Glen Garden.

The 1933 winner of the club’s Fort Worth Women’s Invitational was Aniela Gorczyca Goldthwaite, daughter of working-class parents on the city’s north side.

Although Goldthwaite became well known as a member at River Crest and Colonial, this three-time state champion, two-time Southern Amateur champion and Curtis Team player got her start with a junior membership at Glen Garden.

Another noteworthy pro was Jack Burke Sr., who worked at Glen Garden between 1915 and 1920. He tied for runner-up in the 1920 U.S. Open and became the pro at Houston’s River Oaks.

His son, Jack Burke Jr., born in Fort Worth, won the 1954 Masters and became co-founder of Houston’s Champions Golf Club.

The list goes on, demonstrating that Glen Garden’s century-old course helped put Fort Worth on the map.

Based on documents and on news articles published in the daily press between 1911 and 1913, founder Horace Cobb was a visionary who expanded participation in the game of golf.

Hollace Ava Weiner of Fort Worth is the author of “River Crest Country Club: The First Hundred Years.” hollaceava@gail.com

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