The greens of Colonial Country Club



FORT WORTH, TX – MAY 27: Jimmy Walker ball drops in the cup during the final round of the Fort Worth Invitational at the Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire) (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

By Annika Clark

Bermuda grass is hardy and doesn’t wither under the blistering Texas heat.

But J. Marvin Leonard, a frequent golfer and late Fort Worth retailer, disliked walking the golf course at River Crest Country Club because its Bermuda grass did not play in his advantage.

Instead of having his putts run smoothly across the greens, his ball would hop and stop about an inch or so from the hole. Bent grass would do the trick, but no matter how much he complained the country club’s governing board would not budge.

So Mr. Marvin, as he was known to friends, decided to take matters into his own hands.

J. Marvin Leonard and his daughter Marty. Photo courtesy of Marty Leonard.

In 1935, Leonard invited friends and business associates to put up a security deposit of $50 and become members of the only course in Texas with “premiere” greens.

About 100 Fort Worth residents called themselves members of the Colonial Golf Club when it opened on Jan. 29, 1936.

With the hope of long-term prosperity of the club in mind, Leonard decided it would be best to sell Colonial to its members, leading him to change the club’s name to Colonial Country Club on Dec. 31, 1942.

Surviving and thriving in the Texas heat

Colonial quickly became known for having greens which had once seemed impossible to survive Texas’ grueling heat.

The turf quality of bentgrass typically declines in hot and humid regions due to environmental stresses, soil properties, management practices and diseases, according to Leon T. Lucas, Ph. D, an agronomist in the Carolinas Golf Association.

Leonard’s daughter, Marty Leonard, said her father was determined to host a prestigious event at his course, so he convinced the United States Golf Association (USGA) to play the U.S. Open at Colonial in 1941, marking the first time the tournament was held south of the Mason-Dixon line.  

The PGA followed in 1946. The tournament, which has gone through several different sponsors in recent years, is its longest-running annual event at Colonial.

The only pause came in May 1949 when Fort Worth experienced a historic flood, in which 10 people were killed and damages exceeded $11 million. Water stood 10 to 12 feet deep in some locations.

May 1949, heavy rains overflowed the Trinity River to flood portions of 7th Street to University Ave. including the Montgomery Ward building (foreground). At least 10 people were killed and 13,000 left homeless. (AP Photo/Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

“Colonial sits visibly lower than most of the city, which means the water drains directly towards the course, which has caused problems for the course,” Marty Leonard said.

She said she vividly remembers walking out to Colonial Country Club with her father and seeing employees hanging from trees to avoid the high water.

Holes were rearranged and levees were added along the Trinity River to prevent a situation like this in the future, but the course was not able to host the PGA Tour event again in 1950.

Colonial Country Club holds the bragging rights of being the only course that has hosted a U.S. Open, a Player’s Chamionship and an annual PGA Tour event.

The hometown advantage

Fort Worth native Ben Hogan is perhaps the course’s most legendary player.

Hogan, who spent most of his childhood in Fort Worth, shot 65 in the final round of the first tour event in 1946.

His win at Colonial was more than simply earning a paycheck. He had won at the course that was created because of the vision of Marvin Leonard, his mentor and friend.

Ben Hogan of Palm Springs, Calif., winner of last year’s Colonial National Invitational golf tournament, gets out of the rough on the 6th fairway during the first round of the tournament at Fort Worth, Texas, May 21, 1953. Hogan came in with a 73, three strokes over par. (AP Photo/Carl E. Linde)

The pair first met at Glen Garden Country Club in south Fort Worth where Hogan was a caddy.

Leonard frequently hired Hogan to caddy when he played, which sparked their relationship. Marty Leonard said the pair were like father and son.

When Hogan chose to make a living playing golf, Marvin Leonard sponsored him.

Hogan was known for his stoic character and intense work ethic. He won the PGA event at Colonial five times. Because of his accomplishments, the country club is referred to as “Hogan’s Alley.”

To this day he is the only person to win back-to-back events at Colonial, which he did twice. His name can be found on the Wall of Champions located on the first tee box.

Clara Hogan, mother of Ben Hogan, runs on to the 18th green and hugs her son in 1959 after he won the National Colonial Invitation title for the fifth time. Hogan shot a 69. (AP Photo)

A bronze statue of Mr. Hogan greets the members and guests as they enter the gates of Colonial. Located inside the clubhouse is the Ben Hogan Trophy Room, which pays tribute to the golfer’s many achievements.

Today, Hogan’s legacy lives on at Colonial for golfers, non-golfers and college students alike. The course is located just under a mile from TCU’s campus, serving as a desirable location for students to work.

John Grady, a senior at TCU, worked at Colonial Country Club for over two years in the outside services departments, assisting members and taking care of the golf course.

“I learned a lot about the game of golf and it’s integrity while employed at Colonial, as well as everything that goes into hosting a major PGA tournament every year,” Grady said.

Changing with the times

Colonial Country Club has also opened its doors to women and men collegiate golfers, allowing the TCU women’s and men’s teams to utilize the course and its facilities at practice every week.

TCU women’s golf coach Angie Ravaioli-Larkin said that practicing at Colonial is a huge recruiting advantage as well as a player development advantage. She said it gives the players opportunities to build lasting relationships with people who have significant influence and resources on and off the golf course.

Golfer Annika Sorenstam hits to the 2nd hole at the Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas on Friday, May 23, 2003, during the second round of the Colonial golf tournament. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

“With Colonial’s rich history with the PGA Tour, Mr. Ben Hogan, the U.S. Women’s Open, and many other significant events in the world of golf, it is an honor and privilege to say that it is one of our home courses,” Ravaioli-Larkin said.

The rich history of Colonial Country Club is still being written as the PGA Tour has continued to host an event there, despite temporary issues with sponsorships.

A statue of golfing great Ben Hogan is silhouetted in the sun after the third round of the Colonial golf tournament in Fort Worth, Texas, Saturday, May 24, 2014. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Dean & Deluca pulled out if its six-year sponsorship agreement after the 2017 tournament, just two years into their deal.

In an attempt to make the 2018 tournament possible, American Airlines, AT&T, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway and XTO Energy Inc. joined to contribute $2 million each to sponsor the newly named Fort Worth Invitational.

With many questioning if Colonial could find a sponsor in time to keep the longest running PGA event at its original site, the country club made an announcement in April 2018 that stopped all rumors.

Charles Schwab will be the new sponsor of the Fort Worth tournament starting in 2019 until 2022. Charles Schwab has a history with the PGA Tour, which is promising for a lengthened life of the tournament being played at Colonial Country Club.

The 73rd Charles Schawb Challenge will begin at the Colonial Country Club on May 20 and will last until May 26. Major golfers like Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth will play in the tournament.