Because of its transient nature, many sports fans are intrigued but surprised by the realities of life on the PGA Tour.
When the venue for the competition is a private club, which is the case for the Dean & DeLuca Invitational in Fort Worth, the curiosity level rises for ticket-buying patrons whose only access to Colonial Country Club comes during tournament week each year.
Combine those elements of mystery, based on limited recurring access to the product when compared to multiple Texas Rangers’ home-stands during a 162-game season, and there is an inevitable veil of secrecy that surrounds professional golf in the minds of casual fans. The veil is most acute at the Masters Tournament, where no public ticket sales are available for tournament rounds and potential customers can spend decades on a waiting list for the chance to attend the event at Augusta National Golf Club.
At Colonial, the veil of secrecy is not nearly as pronounced. Thousands of public tickets are circulated each year, with a fresh wave of first-time fans arriving each May. But tournament secrets, as well as unique historical tidbits, exist at every tour stop. Some could surprise the casual fan.
Toward that end, we explore some notable Colonial tournament secrets. In keeping with a recent, popular trend on social media, we’ll also mix in a “secret” that should be taken with a grain of salt because it really didn’t happen. Can you spot it without help?
Let’s find out as we explore the Secrets of Colonial, circa 2017:
▪ Tournament officials will provide free day care for up to 60 children of competing golfers at a venue near the course during tournament week. Other value-added perks for the 120 competitors during the May 22-28 event in Fort Worth include free courtesy cars, supplied by Lexus, and free meals for players and their immediate families during tournament rounds at the club. Colonial has enlisted a rotation of five local chefs to create the meals.
▪ The Colonial tournament, an annual staple on the PGA Tour calendar since 1946, had no winner in 1949. The tournament, slated for June 2-6, was canceled on May 26 because torrential rains created widespread flooding in Fort Worth. It remains the only Colonial tournament washed out by weather.
▪ The iconic red-brick clubhouse that is a backdrop to the 18th hole in today’s PGA Tour telecasts is not an original. Colonial’s original clubhouse, a wooden structure, burned in a three-alarm blaze on April 16, 1953. To minimize the chance for a repeat, the replacement was made of fire-resistant bricks and completed in 1955. It has become part of tournament lore while serving as a recognizable image in Colonial logos used by the event.
▪ Pants are optional for Colonial competitors. At least, that proved to be the case on May 27, 1993 because of unusual circumstances. Ian Baker-Finch, the 1989 Colonial champ, removed his trousers before wading into the water to play a shot from a greenside pond while clad in a golf shirt and blue boxer shorts. Baker-Finch had forgotten to pack a rain suit and made the decision hastily because he wanted to keep his pants dry for the remainder of the round. So he waded into the water, played his recovery shot, dried his legs, slipped back into his pants and two-putted for the most famous bogey in tournament history. PGA Tour rules officials did not penalize him for his unique decision, which became must-see TV in post-round highlights packages. But playing partner Nick Price, after the round, joked that Baker-Finch “just turned golf into a PG-13 sport” with his unique attempt to salvage par from the water hazard at No. 13.
▪ Long a place for people-watching, that part of Colonial’s game became elevated in 1976. Fort Worth socialite Priscilla Davis, clad in leather shorts, halter top and diamond-encrusted necklace spelling out the words “Rich Bitch,” was photographed at the event holding hands with lover Stan Farr. The photograph became one of the most famous images published of the couple after Farr was murdered at Davis’ mansion on Aug. 2, 1976.
▪ The exact date is unclear. But during the 1970s, Colonial made its reputation as a pioneer in joining the margarita machine with the golf course as a concessions option at PGA Tour events. The original margarita machines, once located on a walkway behind the 18th green, have moved to another location to accommodate larger crowds and to minimize potential noise in proximity to players as they complete their rounds.
▪ Dave Stockton, winner of the 1967 Colonial tournament, will send off the first five groups in Thursday’s opening round as the honorary starter at the first tee in celebration of the 50th anniversary of his victory in Fort Worth. After the fifth group of the day begins its round, Stockton will hand off duties to the regular starter for the duration of play.
▪ A young golfer named Arnold Palmer, who eventually would be nicknamed the “King” because of his popularity with PGA Tour galleries, did not wow Fort Worth golf legend Ben Hogan during his Colonial debut in 1955. Palmer opened with an 81, never posted a round better than 72 and finished 32-over-par for the tournament, 36 strokes behind winner Chandler Harper. Palmer, a Hall of Famer who went on to win seven major champions and the 1962 Colonial title, recalled hearing Hogan talk to tournament officials following his first-round 81 in his Colonial debut. “He wanted to know how I got in the tournament,” Palmer said years later, laughing at the memory.
▪ Ben Hogan, the tournament’s only five-time champion, won the inaugural Colonial in 1946 and followed with additional titles in 1947, 1952, 1953 and 1959. Hogan enjoyed his most lopsided triumph in 1953, winning by five strokes. His lead was so comfortable down the stretch that Hogan played the final four holes with a red rose clenched between his teeth in celebration of the impending triumph.
▪ Tom Purtzer, the 1991 Colonial champ, rolled home a 35-foot birdie putt from tricky lie in a greenside bunker at the 13th hole during a final-round 64 that sealed his three-stroke victory. The unorthodox decision and flawless execution earned significant post-round attention and caused Purtzer to say, “I couldn’t have done that again if you’d put down another 1,000 balls.” Yet when he returned 10 months later for the 1992 Colonial kickoff dinner, Purtzer returned to the same bunker with the same putter and replicated his awkward lie against the bunker lip. He began trying to duplicate his feat. On his eighth attempt, the ball found the bottom of the cup. A smiling Purtzer said, “I may have to re-think the odds on this.”
So, have you spotted the bogus “secret”?
It involves Hogan, but not his playing record. He is, in fact, the only five-time Colonial champion in tournament history. But the steely-eyed Hogan never played any golf shot while chomping on the stem of a rose.
Instead, that distinction belongs to Al Besselink. On his way to posting a third-round 77 at the 1965 Colonial, Besselink plucked a rose from a nearby vine at the 15th tee and played the final four holes with the flower between his teeth. After finishing his round, Besselink explained that his gesture was meant as a tribute to the “loveliness of Texas women in general and Fort Worth women in particular.” The next morning, Colonial locker room attendants collected 50 roses sent to Besselink by female fans. Besselink also picked up his game with a closing 74 to finish in a tie for 38th place.