Mac Engel

Fort Worth’s PGA Tour event nearly became a Houston-type problem

Thanks to Charles Schwab (yes, he’s a real person), the PGA Tour event in Fort Worth is guaranteed another four years. So we will never know just how close Fort Worth was to becoming Houston.

Because of title sponsorship issues, Houston essentially lost its coveted spring date on the PGA Tour calendar, and is now an October event for at least the next five years.

The Houston Open, which for decades was sponsored by Shell and had been a regular spot before The Masters every spring, is now on the PGA Tour calendar at a time of year when golf is usually considered “over.”

A PGA Tour event in Texas in October versus Football? Imagine a Tyrannosaurus Rex fighting a turtle.

Such a scenario could easily have happened to the PGA Tour stop in Fort Worth when Dean and DeLuca abruptly pulled out of its sponsorship two years ago and forced Colonial, and the city, to bail out the 2018 event.

“It was closer than you think,” said Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, who essentially recruited local businesses, such as American Airlines and BNSF, to help cover the costs of the tournament. “It was close. The whole tournament committee was very nervous if we’d get this together or not.

“Maybe not 11th hour, but 10th. I think the PGA Tour was looking to reduce some of their footprint, and move some of their spring tournaments to the fall. So, this one and Houston (were up). They just put it all out there, and I think they were dead serious about it.”

The 2018 Fort Worth Invitational was a one-time deal. Price believes there could have been a 2019 Fort Worth Invitational, but ... it would have been tight.

Chuck Schwab was in the market to sponsor an event, and he happened to be building a new corporate campus north of Fort Worth in Westlake.

It was only through his ambition and desire to sponsor a PGA Tour event did Colonial and the city not have to cover all of the funds in 2019. Last year, Schwab signed a four-year deal as a title sponsor of the Colonial with an option for a fifth.

You will notice there is no mention of Colonial, or the silhouette of Ben Hogan, anywhere in the “Charles Schwab Challenge” logo or merchandise.

Considering what the tournament went through to secure Schwab as a title sponsor, he could have asked to name the event the “Byron Nelson Classic at Rivercrest Country Club in Hurst” and Colonial may have signed off on it.

“Hopefully everyone is going to be happy; members will be happy with what they got. Schwab will be happy,” Charles Schwab himself said on Wednesday morning. “The world at large will be happy. We need the pros, also. We need to make sure we put on a great event, the best we can.”

Before he played in the Pro Am on Wednesday, Schwab announced a gift of $5 million to the First Tee of Texas, a charity that works with kids through golf.

Given Schwab’s business interests, and deep pockets, Fort Worth and Colonial should feel better about its footing today than at any point in the previous decade.

It does not, however, mean anyone associated with the tournament can assume Schwab will pick up the fifth-year option, and do another long-term contract.

“(The PGA Tour) has been here (at Colonial) since 1946. We’ve essentially been in the same spot in the schedule. That hasn’t changed and I don’t see it changing,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said Wednesday. “It’s a critical part. The history. The tradition. The passionate fan base. The success we’ve had. We will do everything we can to make sure these events are here.”

Shell was with the Houston Open for 26 years when it announced it would end that run. It can happen.

“Temporary is not the right word. It’s an ongoing promotion,” Price said. “You have to be that classic promoter.”

Both Fort Worth and Colonial have Chuck Shwab in the bag for the next four years, and now the task is to convince him for another four.

Then another four.

And then another four.

And then ....

NOTE: Mac Engel is a social member of Colonial Country Club

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