By Norm Elrod
The event, now called the Charles Schwab Challenge, dates back 73 years to 1946, when Ben Hogan shot 1-under par to win the first by one stroke. Hogan won the event five times in its early years, leading to the course’s nickname ‘Hogan’s Alley.’ Mother Nature intervened in 1949, when the adjacent Trinity River flooded the course, and scheduling interfered in 1975, when the venue hosted the Players Championship.
The course’s rich history actually goes back more than a decade before its association with professional golf. The tenacious (some might say bullheaded) Marvin Leonard, known around Fort Worth as the Texas Merchant, was an avid golfer who developed an obsessive interest in course design. He saw Bentgrass, rather than the native Bermuda grass, as the ideal greens surface. So when local courses resisted his requests for change, he decided to build his own course.
Colonial Country Club opened in 1936, with Bentgrass greens. Leonard carried forward his tenacity to promoting the course and soon caught the attention of the United States Golf Association. The club hosted the U.S. Open in 1941, played for the first time west of the Mississippi River and south of the Mason-Dixon Line. A regular date on Tour followed five years later. The rest is history.
From its early days, Colonial ranked among the country’s best courses. And at over 7000 yards, it was one of the Tour’s longest. That elite status holds true today, even though with 200 additional yards, it’s now considered more modest in length by pro standards. The course still plays much as it did in Hogan’s day.
“We have very few of these venues left that we have played on since the start of the tournament,” as veteran CBS Sports golf announcer Gary McCord once said. “It’s an old-style course that guys don’t get to look at a lot anymore, as we play on TPCs and other newer places. Over time it has taken all the shots and all comers…”
CBS Sports on-course reporter Dottie Pepper put it succinctly, “it’s just old-fashioned golf, a wonderful test of skill.”
That test eases a player into the par-70, 7209-yard track with an inviting start. The opening holes offer birdie opportunities to players who don’t get too greedy. The first hole is a par-5 dogleg right that stretches a manageable 563 yards. The second is another dogleg right, a shorter par-4 that only measures 387 yards. Both greens are flanked by bunkers designed to eat a short approach.
Then things get interesting.
The Horrible Horseshoe — Colonial’s third, fourth and fifth holes — consistently rank among the hardest three-hole stretches on the PGA Tour. And it’s easy to see why. The third hole, a long dogleg left par-4 at 467 yards, requires precision off the tee. The fourth hole is a straight 252-yard par-3 to a raised green. Players who survive three and four are left to face the hardest hole on the course, a 472-yard par-4 along the river.
On a shot-maker’s course, filled with narrow, tree-lined fairways, this series of holes can determine the winner. As Pepper has said, “whoever plays well in the stretch of holes (3-4-5) usually is going to be around at the end, or very close.”
Beyond the Horrible Horseshoe, Colonial offers a nice mix of holes that can challenge players across the spectrum, from bombers to shotmakers. As Pepper sees it, “Colonial stands on its own. And part of the reason is that every hole is distinctive. Every hole stands out there as different.”
She continues, “players have to put the ball in play. And they have to put the ball in play on the proper side of the fairway.” The course record of 61 — 9-under par — is held by seven players, among them Justin Leonard and Kevin Na. The tournament record of 259 — 21-under par — is held by Zach Johnson.
The upcoming Charles Schwab Challenge, previously known as the Fort Worth Invitational, the Dean & DeLuca Invitational and the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, among other names, welcomes a diverse field to Fort Worth this year. Justin Rose won last year’s event, followed by 2019 PGA Championship winner Brook Koepka. Whose name and score will be etched into the first tee’s the Wall of Champions with all of the course’s previous tournament winners this year?