GOLF & DALLAS A Love Affair

From vocation to vacation, from players to spectators, Dallasites are passionate about golf.

The first known round of golf in Dallas was played in 1896 at the comer of Oak Lawn and Lemmon. Three men, H. L. Edwards, Richard Poller and C. E. Wellesley decided to try their hand at the Scottish game. The vacant lot was cleared of grass, weeds and brush; wire fences were erected to keep the cattle off the “greens.” Tomato cans served as cups, and tree branches were pins for me six hole course. Very few Dallasites had even heard of ’batting the ball.’ as it was commonly called. But golf and Dallas proved to be well suited for one another, and in 1995, ninety nine years after being introduced to one another, they are more in love than ever.

With 1.4 million golfers, Texas ranks fifth in the nation lor numbers of golfers in the state, according to the National Golf Foundation. The Dallas-Fort Worth area leads the slate in golf course development, having built five of the state’s 16 new courses last year. According to the Golf Association of Texas, 31% of the slate’s golfers live in the Metroplex; among them are pro golfers Fred Couples. David Graham, Lanny Wadkins, David Frost. Bruce Lielzke, LPGA greats Sandra Haynie and Kathy Whitworth. and the legends of Dallas-Fort Worth golf. Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson.

“If you have the great fortune to meet or know these greats, you understand why golf is contagious, why we cannot get enough of it,” said Richard W. (Rick) Douglas, president of Greater Dallas Chamber of Commerce. Not only have born and bred Texans returned to Texas to become pros, course designers and authors on the subject, but four professional tournaments are played in the Metroplex. and people from all over the country choose Dallas for relocation or convention sites partly due to the lure of the links. New courses and golfing communities have been developed throughout the Metroplex. For vacation or a week-end getaway, resort courses abound.

“Golfs the sizzle on the steak,” said Douglas. “It is one of the intangibles that we know has been part of the attraction for companies of all sizes to come here.” Of the 100 companies considering Dallas for relocation last year, Douglas said 75 made the move to Dallas. “Our business climate has changed; we’ve become the international gateway that we said we were in the 80’s. Golfs worldwide appeal make the Metroplex extremely attractive to a wide variety of businesses.” But what inspired Texans to master the game of “batting the ball”?

“It starts with Texas’ wish to succeed,” according to Frances Trimble, director of the Texas Golf Hall of Fame. “Early golfers wanted not only to be as good as. but better than their Northeastern colleagues, so they played harder; they created courses out of cattle land. and then they practiced.” Then the process is catalytic. “Where there are good teachers and great courses, there will be good playeis.”

Sandra Haynie, now director of golf at Timarron, the new daily fee course in Southlake, agrees. “I was blessed with a great instructor- Mr. Mitchell.” Haynie, bom in Ft. Worth, was living in Austin and learning to play golf when, at twelve years old, she was able to play a round of golf with the Texas great Babe Didrikson Zaharias. “Mr. Mitchell had set it up,” she said. “That day was when I knew that I wanted to be a professional golfer.”

And Haynie realized her dream. An LPGA Hall of Fame member like “the Babe,” Haynie won 42 tournaments in her 20 years on the tour. including the 1974 US Women’s Open and the LPGA Championship. Now a teacher of golf, she finds herself spending a lot of lime working with families of her high school students to keep golf in perspective. “The pressures on these young people is tremendous, but I want them to enjoy and love the game first.”

Dallas and golf didn’t seem synonymous to Golf Pro Mike Abbott four years ago. When he first came to interview for the job of Director of Golf at the Four Seasons in Las Colinas. he asked himself as he was landing at DFW, “What in the world is a resort doing in the middle of Dallas. Texas next to the airport.” Abbott, who had been a pro in Hawaii, Arizona and in the pine lands of North Carolina, was curious. Now he’s hooked. “It’s magnetic here; it’s a combination of the heritage of golf in this state, the incredibly good courses we have here in Dallas combined with the tournaments and our climate. More and more Dallasites want to learn this game.”

With more than 280,000 “golfing households” reported for the Metroplex last year, Dallasites are taking more lessons and playing more rounds of golf than ever before. Of the newcomers to golf in 1994, forty percent were women, according to the National Golf Foundation. One of the main reasons is that women are learning golf for business. Two years ago the Dallas chapter of Executive Women’s Golf League was founded to encourage play among the growing numbers of women, particularly professionals, who were just learning golf. Becky Powell. President of the Powell Gioup and a co-founder of the league, said, “We’ve found that playing together we are not only networking among ourselves, but we also are getting invaluable time on the course to work on our games.”

Patricia Dixon, who is a member of the League, founded and owns Empowered, a retail store that offers equipment, clothes and lessons for women golfers. With a Ph.D. in English and 12 years in telecommunications marketing, Dixon was an executive and a golfer who saw a niche in the market and decided to fill it. She opened her store in September of 1993 and almost every day a woman comes in and says, “I’ve been told to play golf. Can you help me?” If there is a burning issue for women golfers, Dixon said, it is getting an equal shot at the courses to which they belong. For example, at many of the private clubs, Saturday mornings are often reserved for men players. Despite handicap, ability or the common sense of knowing when to “pick up,” women members are not allowed to play during the “men’s hours.” The public and semi-private courses tend to offer equal access and some of the newer clubs, like Timarron, have even done away with naming tees “ladies” or “men’s.” “The good news is,” Dixon said. ” that our numbers are growing, and we are becoming great golfers.”

Keeping pace with the growing battalions of players and people moving to Dallas, courses are being developed throughout the Metroplex. Golf communities, like Stonebriar, Timarron and Stonebridge Ranch, were designed with one or more golf courses, and oilier developments. Like Cambridge place, are being quill on the edge of existing courses. “There’s a growing demand for golf courses in new developments,” according to Larry Mrdtbo. president of Mobil Land Development for the Texas Region. Mobil, whose Metroplex golf course properties include Timarron and Stonebridge Ranch, sell about half of their new homes to Dallasites. and half to relocating homeowners.

Dallas’ golf course developments offer many amenities, like clubhouses, bike trails. professional landscaping and low maintenance. Stonebriar, developed in 1986, has 510 acres with 338 homeowners and an 18-hole course. With 212 lots available, according to Barbara Hibbs of the marketing department, lot prices range from the mid-60’s to $260,000, depending on location and size. Stonebridge with 6.300 acres, has two 18-hole courses and thirteen lakes and 4.500 new homes, ranging in price fom the $90,000 to over $900,000. Timarron encompasses 1.100 acres and will have about 2,000 homes when il is completed. Houses range in price from $200,000 to a $1,000,000. The course at Timarron, designed by Byron Nelson, opened in September; and is a daily fee cause available to the public.

Curt Welwood Homes is offering a hybrid for those who primarily want the geographic advantage of living next to a golf course in a secure, gated community. Cambridge Place, borders Preston Trail Golf Cluh. a private mens club in North Dallas. A joint venture between Wellwood and the John Murchison family, it is designed for “Empty Nesters,” couples who want a lovely, protected home with Minimal maintenance. According to John Hawkins. president of Wellwood, Cambridge Place will ultimately have 120 homes, ranging in price from $325.000 to $800,000. Nine of the homes will actually bonier the course. The model should be complete by the end of July. Lots are available from interior ones at $79,000 to course lots at $225.000.

In addition to those want to live on or near a golf course, there are Dallasites who want to walk alongside the pros as they compete or study the professional swings on the practice range. Last year the Metroplex hosted approximately half a million spectators at the four professional tournaments played here: The Colonial, the JCPenney LPCA Skins Game, the Dallas Reunion Pro Am and The GTE Byron Nebcin Classic.

Called “The Nelson.” this tournament is the only one on the pro lour named for a professional golfer, and year after year has raised more money for charity than any other event on the PGA lour. Last year was no exception; $3.3 million was raised. Managed and run by the Salesmanship Club of Dallas, the earnings support a youth camp, school and a family therapy center in Dallas.

“This year is a very important year for us,” said Tournament Chair Bob Crotty. “In 1945, Byron won 18 of his. 52 tournament titles, including a record 11 in a row. It’s a record no golfer has broken. We’re celebrating the anniversary in a number of ways, -One is the ’Victory Trail. The eighteen holes on the TPC course at the Four Seasons, where the tournament is played, will each ha\e a marker celebrating one of the 18 wins in 1945.”

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