This is a repost of a story on the Colonial Golf Tournament from May 2012.
By Mike Cochran
As the final Colonial golf tournament of the ‘90s unfurled in May 1999, I paused to look back over my four decades of covering the gaudy classic for The Associated Press.
“Well drat,” I grumbled. “Colonial’s just not the same. Oh, sure, the golf is as spectacular as ever, the crowds are still large and lusty and the course is no less lovely and treacherous than in years past.”
But, I fretted, something’s missing.
I noted that Colonial had flourished not only as a premier course, but also as an all-around experience with a colorful past, including world-class halter tops, a porno film, killer margaritas, clubhouse scandals, an erotic TV spectacular, snug hot pants, a bomb scare and a memorable Tiger attack.
Now, on the virtual eve of the 66th Colonial National Invitational – oops, the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial – it’s time for another backward glance at the tournament often referred to as the “Masters of the Southwest.”
What’s more, said legendary golf writer Dan Jenkins, it’s lived up to its reputation.
“The Colonial course in those early days was a narrow, dark, swampy, shaggy, suffocating, unforgiving river-bottom layout that made you think there couldn’t be a tougher test for human-being type golfers anywhere.”
In a later assessment, Jenkins, a May inductee into the World Golf Hall of Fame, wrote: “The manicured, beautified and scrubbed up Colonial of today is still a strong par-70 course for humans – best in Texas.”
Those observations appeared in tournament director Dennis Roberson’s compelling book, Colonial The Tournament … 60 Years Of Greatness 1946-2006.
Punctuated with historic photographs dating back more than six decades, the book recounts how renowned Colonial founder Marvin Leonard and a couple of influential buddies “Texas-charmed and money-whipped the U.S. Open to Cowtown.”
From Day One, the par 4 fifth hole along the Trinity River has been recognized as one of the most challenging holes in the world. No. 5, along with Nos. 3 and 4, are known now as “Death Valley.” You might call it a kissin’ cousin of the “Amen Corner” at the Masters.
UPI sports editor Harry Ferguson wrote during the 1941. Open, “All week, survivors wet and weary have been straggling out of Death Valley bearing horrible tales of the fate that awaits any man who ventures there armed only with driver, putter and irons … The only thing to do is to station Red Cross tents along the fairway, equipped with smelling salts, stretchers and life rafts to rescue players who hurl themselves into the Trinity River in despair.”
This year’s lineup
David Toms is returning as the defending champion at this year’s tournament, slated for May 24-27 and will be joined by a number of former Colonial winners, including Matt Kuchar, the victor of this year’s prestigious Players Championship. Also in the field is one of the hottest young newcomers in the game, Rickie Fowler, 23, a runner-up in the Players. A flashy but stylish dresser, Fowler captured the recent Wells Fargo Championship in a stunning sudden-death playoff with U.S. Open winner Rory McIlroy and D.A. Points.
Fowler birdied the first hole of the playoff at Quail Creek after his clutch wedge shot settled four feet from the cup. Until Fowler’s triumph, McIlroy, also 23, appeared to be the probable next American star. So it could well be the start of a youthful but friendly rivalry, although McIlroy reportedly will miss this year’s Colonial because of a foreign commitment.
Colonial’s prize money often equaled or flirted with that of the famed Masters and other majors, which explains in part why the Colonial’s celebrated Wall of Champions at the No. 1 tee box bears the names of most of golf’s greatest players. Besides Ben Hogan, Cary Middlecoff and Sam Snead, they include Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Billy Casper, Bruce Lietzke, Gene Littler, Lloyd Mangrum, Julius Boros, Ben Crenshaw, Tom Watson, Lee Trevino, Tom Kite, Bruce Crampton, Gardner Dickinson, Nick Price, Johnny Palmer, Tommy Bolt, Peter Jacobsen, Al Geiberger, Doug Sanders, Ian Baker-Finch, Clayton Hefner, Fuzzy Zoeller, Corey Pavin, Tom Weiskopf, Steve Stricker, Zack Johnson, Phil Mickelson, David Toms and Kenny Perry.
Seldom have Colonial tournaments failed to produce explosive, thrilling endings to their annual swatfests. There are too many dramatic endings and offbeat incidents to relate in this article but I’d be remiss if I left out the time Ian Baker-Finch decided to play his ball out of the water on the par 3 13th. He shed shirt, shoes, socks and slacks and blasted the ball out while wearing only boxer shorts.
He didn’t win the plaid jacket that year but club officials later took jocular pride in presenting him a pair of plaid shorts to wear with the jacket he won as the 1989 champion.
Girls, tigers and … unmentionables
Although the Colonial is known world-wide now as Hogan’s Alley and among the best tournaments and courses anywhere, it also has earned recognition as the greatest girl-watching and girl-catching venue on the PGA tour.
“It’s an awesome view,” Merrill Lynch’s Skip Huzarevich told me in 1999 as he watched the action from the choice Skyview Suite overlooking the 18th green and Crampton’s Lake.
Pausing only slightly, he added: “And the golf is pretty good, too.”
The pond, not coincidentally, is so named for a couple of ill-fated watery approach shots that cost Bruce Crampton the championship one year.
But that’s a whole ‘nuther story – not unlike the young Tiger Woods’ appearance at the 1997 Colonial. Woods arrived in Fort Worth after winning the Masters and the Byron Nelson and was flirting with a PGA “triple,” a third victory in three starts. Fort Worth and the nation – if not the world – were caught up in Tigermania.
Everywhere he surfaced that year, huge, noisy crowds engulfed him, creating a security nightmare and tattered nerves.
At my New York editor’s suggestion, I quietly hired a freelance writer to follow Woods from start to finish each day and to report at once if anything extraordinarily bad happened. Except for a harmless but briefly terrifying bomb scare, there was no disturbance.
Someone had planted a mysterious ragged doll in the MasterCard sponsors hospitality tent. Security officers quietly retrieved the doll and dipped it in a nearby lake a couple of times. The phony “bomb” emerged looking like a drowned rat, but it was unlikely to explode.
Sellout crowds broke all attendance records as an estimated 175,000 people watched the 21-year-old Woods fire rounds of 67, 65 and 64 to enter the final 18 a single shot off the Colonial record-tying third-round lead of 195 by front-runner David Ogrin.
Then came the winds.
Undaunted early on, Woods birdied the first and eighth holes on Sunday and was tied for the lead before his approach shot on the ninth disappeared into a watery grave for a double-bogey six. Still, he was 13 under par and contending until his bid for a “triple” died brutally with another ugly double-bogey six at the 17th.
Woods’ 72 and 268 tied him for fourth, three shots behind champion David Frost, who fired a closing 67 for 265. The South African finished two ahead of runners-up Ogrin and Brad Faxon. Frost dedicated the triumph to Ben Hogan, who died just months later at age 84.
“His spirit lives on in many places,” Dennis Roberson wrote in his 2006 book, “but none more so than Colonial.”
For the record, as Frost was dedicating his championship to Hogan, Woods was refusing an invitation for interviews in the press room. “They don’t need me,” he told a reporter. “I didn’t win.”
He’s never returned.
But back to the feisty girls of Colonial. At the invitation of the PGA Tour, Fort Worth hosted the fledgling Tournament Players Championship in August 1975 and a newspaper quoted a player as naming Colonial “the premier girl-watching stop on Tour. And whatever’s second is way, way back.”
A photo of four innovatively clad girls appeared in chairman Roberson’s book with a caption suggesting rather modestly that “Wild fashions captured the headlines as much as golf in the 1970s.”
One of the favorite guy things was a rating system inspired by Bo Derek’s movie 10 and lots of cold beer and $11 margaritas. Using flash cards numbered 1 through 10, groups of guys would rate the women, their costumes, or both as they passed by the 18th green and the clubhouse. Clever as the practice was, it was controversial from the start, less for political incorrectness than popularity. More people were watching the sideshow than the leader board.
In the early days, the Terrace Room on the club’s second floor was the premier party spot, overlooking the 18th green and open to most of the party animals who staggered in and out daily and nightly. Badges were no big thing until the corporate sponsors took over the adult play pen. The Champions Club emerged as a consolation act of sorts, a huge party tent with a bar and numerous TV sets that would become the designated hangout for the ongoing revelry.
The Terrace Room spawned incredible stories during what became known as the good old bad days. During my 1999 adventure into the past I met a delightful Cork Room manager named Linda Kelley-Maxwell. She laughingly recalled a night when a married guy was snuggling with his girlfriend at one end of the bar while the guy’s wife was cuddling up to her boyfriend at the other end.
“There was a lot of tension in the room that night,” Kelley-Maxwell recalled. “That’s when this was more of a social event than a golf event.”
One year I was standing outside the golf shop talking with 1961 Colonial winner Doug Sanders, a dedicated playboy, when a gorgeous young blonde walked up clad in the tightest of skin-tight pants I have ever seen. Sanders likewise seemed mightily impressed and finally asked, “How do you get into those things?”
Flashing him a sexy smile, she purred: “Well, you can start by buying me dinner.”
Can’t report how that turned out.
Back in the good old bad days, former tournament chairman Joe Cauker remembered, the Terrace Room parties extended deep into the night. “The next morning you’d find ‘em on the floor … under a table … in the corner.”
One year, ABC-TV cameras “accidentally” caught a couple frolicking lustily in the woods on the back nine. It never made it on the air, of course, but private showings drew curious crowds.
Until the summer of ’76, a continuing Colonial story was Priscilla Davis, a busty blonde legend who showed up like clockwork each year in various stages of undress.
The male fans loved her, but not too many women did. Her estranged millionaire husband, Cullen Davis, who had moved from their $6 million mansion, was not as popular. But he scored a hit of sorts when he pulled a trailer onto the course one year and invited fans in to watch a video of the porn classic Deep Throat. A lady from University Christian Church got wind of Cullen’s film festival and got it iced.
Priscilla, meanwhile, outdid even herself when she showed up at the ’76 Colonial with her live-in boyfriend, Stan Farr, and wearing a plunging halter and leather hot pants laced up at the sides.
A sparkling diamond necklace at her throat identified her as “Rich Bitch.”
For nearly three months Priscilla’s necklace topped the gossip charts on Fort Worth’s cocktail circuit.
Of course the infamous Cullen Davis murder scandal followed shortly after and that put an end to their Colonial antics.
In 1999, I talked with that year’s champion, Olin Browne, who I believe captured the essence of what makes Colonial so special for many of the players.
“There are spooks running around here – Ben Hogan’s ghost – and so many great players that have played here … and value this championship. This tournament has such a rich history to it that I couldn’t have picked a tournament I’d rather win.”
As I was wrapping up my historical recollection in ’99, longtime friend Jim Eagle, a wily old Colonial fox and once a Terrace Room regular, strolled from the Champions Club tent and announced loudly that it’s an OK place.
“There’s some darlin’ children in there,” he said with a vaguely wicked grin.
To which his companion, Ann Corpening, also a great friend, observed wryly: “It’s the same old deal, just different folks doing it.” After a moment’s pause, she added a cruel footnote.
“Young ones,” she said. “Like we all used to be.”
I think that’s when I realized the “something” I was missing.
(Editor’s Note: Mike Cochran began his reporting career as a sportswriter for newspapers in Denton and Abilene before gaining fame covering major stories for the Associated Press and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He was inducted into the Texas Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2018.)