The Trinity Forest Golf Club made its PGA Tour debut this week as the AT&T Byron Nelson got underway. I went out to the course early, eager to see what kind of reactions it was getting from players and fans. Like many, I’ve only experienced the tournament at its former venue, the Four Seasons at Las Colinas, where it had been held for the past 35 years. I’ve attended the Byron Nelson since I was a kid, and loved its old home.
Despite this—and numerous conversations I’ve had in the past few months with golfers and fans lamenting the move to southern Dallas—I was determined to keep an open mind. Perhaps because my expectations were low, I was pleasantly surprised. Trinity Forest, designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw and developed on the site of an old landfill, was in great shape. I walked Jordan Spieth’s first nine holes (10-18) before the temperature really heated up. The course reminded me of Chambers Bay in Washington, where Spieth won the 2015 U.S. Open.
It’s a links-style course—rugged and with no trees. It’s different from what most fans are used to, unless they’ve attended some of the majors. Besides the trees, another thing missing from this year’s Byron Nelson are a number of top-ranked golfers, like Dustin Johnson and Jason Day, who lost in a playoff at last year’s tournament and won it in 2010. One of the top players who made it to Dallas is 2017 Masters champ Sergio Garcia. Before teeing off Friday, he took time to visit with Crenshaw and Peggy Nelson, the widow of Byron.
On the 5th hole, Garcia was harassed by an unruly fan taunting him about the octuple-bogey 13 he shot on the 15th hole of the 2018 Masters. Garcia stared him down, but kept walking. A few seconds later, the fan yelled out, “Biggest fail in Masters history!” That was enough for Billy Horschel, who called for security and went over to confront the fan. The PGA Tour player is known for not taking kindly to this sort of interaction. Earlier this year, Horschel said in an interview that if a fan were to ever cross the line with him or his family, “we’re going to have an incident on our hands.” The fan was ultimately escorted away, but not before Garcia confronted him and got in a dig: “What is your problem? Did your mother not love you as a child?”
Texas native and A&M grad Ryan Palmer, playing with Garcia and Horschel, got a lot of love from fans. He told me he enjoyed playing Trinity Forest: “It’s good—a chance to play something a little different than what we’re used to. If the wind picks up, it will give us some challenges.” Palmer also talked about the difference in fan experience, compared to the party atmosphere at the Four Seasons. “Hopefully fans will continue to come out as the week goes on. There’s no shade; that’s the biggest thing.”
Official attendance numbers aren’t in yet, but it feels like a lot fewer people are venturing to southern Dallas than went to Las Colinas. That could partly be attributed to the fact that Trinity Forest is an easier course to walk. At the Four Seasons, a lot of people don’t bother walking back to watch holes 7 through 14. They converge on 1 and 2 and 17 and 18, so it gives the impression of a packed crowd. There’s also the background noise from all of the parties at the homes that line the course in Las Colinas.
One benefit of Trinity Forest: standing in one spot, you’re able to view multiple holes and tee shots going off. With no shade, though, you just won’t want to do it for very long.
Well-known Texas golf writer Art Stricklin says the reaction from the players has been positive: “I’d say more than 80 percent said they liked it, and that they’ll be back. I was surprised; I was expecting something like 50-50.”
Stricklin also brought up a great point about next year: In 2019, the Byron Nelson will be held the week before the PGA Championship. “Obviously, the field will be better, because a lot of guys like Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy like to play the week before a major, because it gets their juices going.”
Like me, Stricklin believes Trinity Forest will catch on with fans, too—eventually. “I’ve lived in Dallas since 1970, and I had never been on C F Hawn Freeway before; this area is all new to me,” he said. “The crowds are a lot smaller, but you have to allow time for the infrastructure to develop and for people to adapt. They’re used to the permanent villas at the Four Seasons.”