Colonial’s lure to golf fans as basic as A, B, C

A is for Annika, who became the first woman in 58 years to compete in a PGA Tour event at the 2003 Colonial. Sorenstam missed the cut but beat 14 male pros.
A is for Annika, who became the first woman in 58 years to compete in a PGA Tour event at the 2003 Colonial. Sorenstam missed the cut but beat 14 male pros. Star-Telegram

Welcome to the alphabet soup world of the PGA Tour, where golfers begin their two-week trek through DFW at an event once known as the NIT. Tournament play begins Thursday in Fort Worth at CCC, just down the street from the z-o-o.

Once again, CBS will televise the weekend rounds and errant tee shots will fly OB at the difficult fifth hole. The resulting splashes in the Trinity River or caroms off tall trees will cause 24-handicappers to text “LOL” to peers as they watch the pros struggle. Elsewhere in the round, stellar shots that lead to birdies or eagles will trigger “SMH” responses from the same group of duffers.

Regardless of whether this short burst of golf shorthand leaves you nodding your head or rubbing your brow, the beauty of tournament week at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial is that fans need not be fluent in the lingo of the game to enjoy the event. A golf novice can have just as much fun as a USGA rules official while soaking in the sights and sounds at “Hogan’s Alley.”

That was true when this event began as the Colonial National Invitation Tournament in 1946 and it remains just as true today. But it’s always good to have a sense of history, and a handy road map, when making the rounds at an event that has been played at the same venue (Colonial Country Club) throughout its 69-year-history.

The place has seen its share of defining performances, players, characters and moments while remaining an annual staple on the PGA Tour schedule. What follows is an in-depth look at Colonial, from A to Z:

A Annika Sorenstam made history and triggered tournament-record crowds while competing in the 2003 event. Sorenstam, an LPGA Hall of Famer, missed the cut while becoming the first woman in 58 years to compete in a PGA Tour event. But she earned the respect of male peers and posted a 36-hole total (145, 5 over par) that bettered the efforts of 14 male pros who also departed after two rounds.

B Ben Hogan, the late golf legend from Fort Worth, remains the iconic figure of this event. He won it five times, more than any other Colonial competitor, and his bronze statue overlooks the 18th green from a course-entry plaza. The course is nicknamed “Hogan’s Alley” because of Hogan’s dominance in his hometown tour stop. A collection of his career mementos are displayed in the Ben Hogan Trophy Room in the clubhouse.

C An anonymous pond beside the 18th green forever became known as “Crampton’s Lake” during the 1962 Colonial. Bruce Crampton hooked approach shots into the hazard on his final hole during both weekend rounds. The resulting penalties (one stroke for each water ball) caused him to finish one stroke out of a playoff won by Arnold Palmer.

D Golf’s rarest bird, the double eagle, has soared just once in tournament history. It occurred in 1980, when George Burns holed a 1-iron shot from 200 yards to post a “2” on the par-5 first hole. The shot helped Burns make the cut, but he finished in a tie for 61st place (10-over par) and earned $390.

E It is all about earnings in professional golf and the Colonial coffers have been generous to elite players through the years. Led by two-time champion Zach Johnson ($3,323,106), 22 golfers have collected more than $1 million in Colonial earnings through the years. This year’s purse ($6.5 million) is the largest in tournament history, with a winner’s share of $1,170,000.

F Fort Worth’s historic flood of 1949 led to cancellation of that event. It remains the only Colonial tournament to be canceled since the event made its debut in 1946. Programs from the 1949 Colonial, printed before the cancellation, rank among Colonial’s most coveted souvenirs.

G Grass covers the Colonial course. But the bent grass on the greens, stipulated by Colonial founder Marvin Leonard, has been a signature feature at the course since it opened in 1936. Bent grass, common in New England and the Pacific Northwest, is not native to Texas because of the heat. But Leonard brought it to Fort Worth to provide a smoother putting surface than other native grasses. It remains in place at Colonial, the first course in the South to feature bent grass on its greens.

H The Horrible Horseshoe, Colonial’s signature stretch of holes (Nos. 3, 4 and 5), takes golfers on a U-shaped journey that typically is bogey-filled. The holes rank as the three most difficult on the course, with professional golfers a combined 16,683 strokes over par in that stretch in tournament history. The breakdown, starting with the most difficult, is No. 5 (7,333-over par), No. 3 (5,061-over par) and No. 4 (4,289-over par).

I The word “Invitational” is in the tournament name for a reason. By design and by decree of the PGA Tour, golfers need to exhibit a higher level of proficiency to earn a tee time in Fort Worth than in “open” tour events with larger fields, such as the Byron Nelson, Houston Open or Texas Open.

J Few individuals have witnessed as much Colonial history as Dan Jenkins, the longtime author and golf writer from Fort Worth whose coverage of the sport led to his 2012 induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame. Colonial officials have created a display of memorabilia to honor Jenkins, 85, near the golf shop inside the clubhouse.

K Kenny Perry, a two-time Colonial champ, stands as the biggest landslide winner of multiple events in tournament history. Perry won the 2005 event by seven strokes, the second-largest margin of victory by a Colonial champ, two years after he set a then-tournament scoring record (19 under par) during a six-stroke triumph in 2003. Perry still holds a share of the Colonial course record (61), set during his third round in 2003.

L The Leonard Trophy has been presented to every Colonial champion. Named after club founder Marvin Leonard, the distinctive piece of hardware will be on display by the first tee during Sunday’s final round and will be hoisted by the winner at the 18th green following the conclusion of play.

M Margarita machines have been a mainstay of the Colonial landscape since the 1970s. Tournament officials are credited with being the first to sell them at a PGA Tour event. The frozen libation remains a popular way for golf fans to beat the Texas heat in May.

N Jack Nicklaus, the most prolific winner of major championships in professional golf history (18), collected his lone Colonial title in 1982 by defeating runner-up Andy North by three strokes. To legions of golf fans and golf historians, no name carries more weight on a tournament’s list of past champions.

O Off-course attractions, from post-round concerts in Frost Park to a week-long spike in business for Fort Worth restaurants, hotels and bars are a big part of Colonial week. Based on figures posted on the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce website, the tournament has a $33.3 million annual impact on the local economy. The 2014 Colonial generated a tournament-record $9 million for local charities.

P Plaid is a fashion statement at Colonial. The winner receives a plaid jacket made from the same custom Royal Tartan plaid worn by tournament officials. Primarily red, the design includes 12 colors and first appeared on the backs of tournament officials in 1952. Former tournament chairman S.M. “Bing” Bingham, who selected the jacket design in 1952, said the multi-color plaid was chosen “so our officials could shine with the same brilliance as our field for the tournament.”

Q Marshals raise their arms and hold “Quiet, Please” signs as players prepare to hit their shots during tournament week. The practice is part of an effort to provide proper course decorum and establish golf etiquette during competition. The marshals are part of an army of more than 1,100 volunteers who perform tasks that help the event run smoothly.

R Record-setting scores have been part of the Colonial landscape from the outset. Fort Worth resident Ben Hogan sealed the inaugural Colonial title in 1946 by firing a final-round 65 that stood for 24 years as the course record. The mark now stands at 61, shared by six golfers (Kenny Perry, Chad Campbell, Justin Leonard, Lee Janzen, Keith Clearwater and Greg Kraft). Zach Johnson, a two-time Colonial champ (2012, 2010), established the tournament scoring record (259, 21 under par) during his three-stroke victory in 2010.

S Every tournament hopes to have at least one signature shot, preferably unleashed by the winner during the back nine of his final round, that triggers a timeless “wow” response with golf fans. Colonial has two shots that meet that exacting standard: Mickelson’s Miracle, unleashed in 2008 by Phil Mickelson, and Purtzer’s Putt, an improbable birdie from a greenside bunker that jump-started a Sunday surge by Tom Purtzer in 1991. The Mickelson shot, a 51-degree wedge that flew under one tree, over another and curved around a giant scoreboard, carried 140 yards to set up a tournament-winning, 9-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole. Purtzer holed a 35-foot birdie putt (not a sand shot) from an awkward stance in a greenside bunker at No. 13 to spark a Sunday comeback that led to his three-stroke victory. Honorable mention, from a conversation-starter perspective, goes to Ian Baker-Finch. The 1989 Colonial champ took off his pants and, clad in boxer shorts, played an approach shot from a greenside water hazard at No. 13 in 1993. Unable to save par, Baker-Finch recorded a bogey in his boxers.

T The Thirteenth hole (aka Colonial’s party hole) has become a magnet for golf fans in recent years. Somewhat secluded and featuring nearby concessions stands, the 190-yard par-3 has been more than the backdrop for Purtzer’s Putt and Baker-Finch’s bogey in boxer shorts. It’s been the site of Colonial’s popular caddie races, although a PGA Tour edict in 2013 has curtailed that practice. Even so, No. 13 remains the venue of choice for Colonial fans who prefer to camp out and let golfers come to them rather than roam the fairways with their favorite players.

U Technically, the U.S. Open found Colonial a suitable golf venue five years before it became a regular PGA Tour stop. Colonial’s introduction to big-time golf came as the host site of the 1941 U.S. Open, won by Craig Wood in the first Open held south of the Mason-Dixon line. The success of that event led to creation of the annual Colonial tournament and, in 1991, caused the USGA to select the course as site of the U.S. Women’s Open.

V In a venue as scenic as a golf course, fans must appreciate the view. Whether we’re talking about manicured fairways, picturesque water features or gallery members sporting the latest in high (or low) fashion, there is no shortage of opportunities to soak in the sights. Colonial is a social event as well as a golf event. Folks are there to see and be seen. Enjoy.

W A defining course feature is the Wall of Champions, on which the name of every tournament winner at Colonial since the 1941 U.S. Open is etched in granite. Located beside the first tee, the list of winners includes a generous cross-section of the World Golf Hall of Fame. Notable inclusions: Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Lee Trevino, Ben Crenshaw, Phil Mickelson and Billy Casper.

X Lots of expletives have been uttered through the years by golfers who have bagged bogeys, double bogeys and larger numbers on individual holes at the Colonial layout. Dennis Paulson holds the highest single-hole score (12 at No. 9 in 2001) at a venue where the pros are a combined 32,830 strokes over par since 1946.

Y Despite an average age of 35 for the typical Colonial champion, based on tournament research, youth has been served on multiple occasions in Fort Worth. There have been 14 champions crowned in their 20s. The youngest was Sergio Garcia, a 21-year-old winner in 2001.

Z Johnson, a two-time champion (2010, 2012), owns most of the Colonial scoring records not held by Kenny Perry. Johnson set the tournament scoring mark (259, 21 under par) in 2010 and owns the record for most consecutive sub-par rounds (15). That stretch proved pivotal in making Johnson the all-time earnings king at Hogan’s Alley ($3,323,234).

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch

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