For the first-timer, the initial glimpse of what had been carved out of the former landfill now known as Trinity Forest Golf Club made one wonder whether success in Thursday’s first round of the new era of the AT&T Byron Nelson Classic wouldn’t be avoiding a coiled copperhead.
If you’re from Texas, you know copperhead country when you see it.
However, you can bet workers and officials no doubt brought out the hoes for the requisite headhunting long before Sam Saunders, of the royal golf family of Palmer, hit the first drive off the No. 1 tee of the 50th annual event bearing the name of one of Fort Worth’s golf legends.
No, snakes were the least of anybody’s worry on Day 1 after Nelson and PGA Tour officials stepped out on a limb by not only moving the tournament but also putting it on something more akin to Scotland.
Trinity Forest, with its broad, undulating fairways and big sloping greens and short grass and fescue, looks and plays like a classic links layout. Co-designer Ben Crenshaw on Thursday called it a “distant cousin” of the links course.
Dallas reclaimed its golf tournament after a four-decade absence and introduced PGA Tour spectators and players to a track generally seen only across the pond.
Surprisingly, it played to reviews that would have made a Broadway actress blush.
Everybody, from player to spectator, seemed to love it, though no one asked David Duval, who shot an 80, a felony offense to players of this caliber.
It’s surprising only because of how difficult golfers are to please. They’re very picky about the parks they play in, and they have no problem telling you, or Lucas Glover’s wife, what they didn’t like.
Jordan Spieth initially expressed his doubts, though those were erased long before Thursday’s 2-under-par 69. As did defending champion Billy Horschel, who embraced it even before a 3-under first round.
Indeed, it doesn’t hurt when the course doesn’t defend well on opening day. In fact, 119 of the 156-player field shot even par or better in the first round.
Leader Marc Leishman of Australia really liked it. A round of 10 under will do that, and he said initially he was a little disappointed the tournament left the TPC Las Colinas, even though his familiarity is the links course.
“I really enjoyed that tournament, but when I got here and saw it, I was instantly happy,” said Leishman, who had practice rounds of only 18 and nine before teeing off on Thursday. “It’s a cool spot. It’s something we don’t play all the time. It’s a good change. A lot of golf courses are designed the same these days, they’re fairly soft, and this is completely different, which I think is a good thing."
When it’s firm, as it was Thursday, he added, it plays like a links course.
Everybody expects it to get more difficult, especially if the Texas wind becomes energized. Ironically, this forest has not a tree in sight of the course to defend against Mother Nature if she throws a better curveball during the next three rounds.
“It may get a little quicker. The weather will reflect that,” said Crenshaw. “We’re proud of it. There were some interesting shots played. It’s really fun on and around the green. This is an approach shot golf course. The lofted club [around the green] can be dangerous. You have to learn the contours on and around the greens. Sometimes a shot 15 feet from the hole is a well-played shot.
“Everybody is learning for the first time. It’ll be interesting to hear philosophies on playing it this week, because it’s something entirely different.”
You have to play the ground here, too, a point Leishman made. Let’s face it, Crenshaw said, many North American courses are 300 yards through the air and then the ball stops. Trinity Forest is “anything but that,” Crenshaw said.
Spectators also gave it a hearty Texas handclap.
“It’s a lot different from anything else on tour. I love that,” said Blake Hannah of Dallas. “There is no shade, but they’ve done a good job of putting up new structures to give people a little bit of a respite. It’s different. It will take some adjustment, but I’m all in favor.”
Said Mitchell Harbour, a TCU graduate: “I like the natural terrain. It feels like the grass needs to develop a little more. But there are lots of spectator viewpoints.”
Saunders, grandson of Arnold Palmer, was the first to walk off No. 18. He was one of seven to shoot a first-round 65.
Not surprisingly, he was enamored.
“I love this course,” Saunders said. “I think it’s a very fair test of golf. There was a lot of thought put into all the slopes out there and despite looking a lot different than what we see on a week-in, week-out basis, everything is there for a reason and you can use the ground here a lot to help hit good shots, and you got to think your way through it a little bit more than some of the courses we play.”