Byron Nelson tournament move triggers memories, impacts economy

Nostalgia marked this year’s AT&T Byron Nelson, which will be the last hosted in Irving, as players and tournament officials fondly remembered the historic golfer’s contributions to the tournament during its time at the TPC Four Seasons Las Colinas.

“What hurts me most on a personal level is the connection to Byron and working for him for ten years,” Diana Pfaff of the Irving Conventions and Visitors Bureau said. “He would sit on 18 and greet every player during every round as they come off the hole. He would sit there, even in his last year which was 2005. He was an amazing person. His tie was completely to this course.”

In the summer of 2013, it was officially announced that the Byron Nelson tournament would be moving to South Dallas, but talks of the tournament moving outside of Irving had been going on for years as outside clubs began pushing to win the event. Sponsors cited player concerns about the course as one reason for leaving Las Colinas.

“We’ve been hearing it for years,” Pfaff said. “We thought it would be Craig Ranch [Golf Club], because they’ve been trying to woo the tournament, but this took us completely by surprise.”

In 2013, Dallas City Council authorized a 40-year lease with the new golf course in a deal that involves the City of Dallas, AT&T, the First Tee of Great Dallas, and Southern Methodist University, whose school golf program will also use the course. That lease was contingent on the course entering into a 10-year agreement with the Byron Nelson.

The TPC Four Seasons Las Colinas had a contract to host the Byron Nelson Championship through 2018, but late last year both sides came to an agreement to end the contract a year early. The move prompted Irving officials to act quickly to make this year’s event special.

“We just found out this October that this was going to be the last one here,” Pfaff said. “We thought it would be next year, so we’ve had to really scramble to find funding, to reallocate funds, to be able to do what we wanted to do for a sendoff.”

Some of this year’s funds went to higher-end gifts for staff, media, and players. The most money was spent on Irving Live, a social-media activation area.

In 1997, the Irving Conventions and Visitors Bureau, in an attempt to keep the Byron Nelson in Irving, created a host city committee branded as “Irving Welcomes the PGA TOUR.” The initiative was aimed at enhancing the visitor experience around the event and involved staff and player housing, credential pick up, placing dinner reservations, and providing tickets to Stars and Mavericks games to the players.

“We were worried about the field dropping once Byron died, so we started a volunteer group called Irving Welcomes the PGA TOUR,” Pfaff said.

In 2005, ICVB had to disband the committee because of the economic downturn, but a lot of the services to the staff and players remained part of their responsibilities.

Trinity Forest Golf Club, the new home course of the Byron Nelson, is a 400-acre course built on land owned by the city of Dallas just five miles south of downtown. Formerly the site of an old landfill, the course was designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw as a links style layout with no trees and little water. It is also only about ten miles away from AT&T’s downtown Dallas headquarters. Ironically, Crenshaw was the first winner of the Byron Nelson tournament when it moved to Las Colinas in 1983.

The city estimates that the tournament leaving will have a $40 million economic impact for the area. The absence of the tournament will also be felt among the players and staff, as this year’s sendoff included a party for volunteers and staff that had worked for 20 or more years with the event and a large number of party attendees had worked all 35 years at the Irving club.

The Las Colinas course also holds special meaning for the players. Jason Day, who finished second at this year’s event, earned his first PGA Tour victory at the 2010 Byron Nelson at the age of 22. Sergio Garcia shot a 62 at only 19 years old in his first round as a pro at the 1999 Byron Nelson. And Dallas-native Jordan Spieth regularly attended the tournament with his dad before teeing off as a 16-year-old junior in high school when he was just an amateur in 2010. 

“Mr. Nelson saw the greatness in these guys and gave them exemptions,” Pfaff said. “I know that they’re going to miss it. We’re going out on top as classy as we can possibly go out.”