For former Fort Worth resident J. Britt Henry, Colonial is home away from home

J. Britt Henry (Photo by Don Morgan)

J. Britt Henry has been a marshal at Colonial Country Club since Ben Hogan actually played Hogan’s Alley.

The former Fort Worth resident, age 77, made his annual fly-in from San Jose, Costa Rica, last month to work his 54th year at the Charles Schwab Challenge. A golf enthusiast himself, it’s a way to be around the game he loves so much – so much that even a move to another country couldn’t keep him away. Henry moved to Costa Rica after he retired, having fallen in love with the country when he went there on a business trip in 1986.

“I just love the game … after I retired from Justin Boots sales after 35 years and moved, I kept coming back to the tournament,” he said. “I have friends here I look forward to seeing every year. It’s a reunion time for me.”

In 2018 he was honored with his own plaid jacket, a keepsake normally reserved for members and the annual tournament champion.

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“I am so proud of that,” he said. “That was a very special moment for me.”

Former Fort Worth City Council member Dennis Shingleton, who works with the marshals annually at the tournament, said of Henry: “That is the ultimate in dedication. He just loves this tournament and every year we look forward to him being here. We missed him when he couldn’t get here the year COVID hit, but he was right back the next.”

“The year of COVID the airport in San Jose was shut down, so I couldn’t get out, or this would be my 55th year,” he said. “I didn’t like not being able to participate that year.”

While he enjoys the tournament, it’s not all fun and games. His days are long, usually starting around 5:30 a.m. and ending around 8. He is in charge of around 60 other marshals, and they spend their days helping folks in a variety of ways, from providing directions and other  information to just offering a friendly smile.

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And sometimes they have to handle those who get unruly or wander into areas they shouldn’t. Henry remembers a time years ago when he made an embarrassing mistake that he now looks back on with amusement.

“They said someone was standing inside the ropes and a young man was sitting down with shorts on and a cap on backwards,” he recalled. “I said, ‘Young man, you can’t be sitting there.’ He reached in his pocket and gave me his PGA card. It was Sergio Garcia. It was Saturday and he didn’t make the cut and he was just watching golf. They said I’m the only one who ever tried to throw out a PGA player.”

The incident apparently didn’t sour Garcia on Colonial. The Spanish golfer won the tournament in 2001 – his very first win on the PGA tour.

Henry has had the opportunity to play the Colonial course several times, though not in any tournament format.

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“If you marshal four days you can play the course. Plus, they have an annual gathering for volunteers,” he said. “It’s a fantastic course.”

And yes, Henry met the great Ben Hogan, a few years before the legend passed away in 1997.

“I saw him play, but I didn’t actually meet him until much later. I was with John Justin and we were in the Shady Oaks clubhouse when Mr. Justin saw him sitting there,” Henry reminisced. “He sat in that corner and nobody went over unless he motioned you over. He saw John and motioned him over, and John said, ‘Come on Britt, let’s go meet him.’ I’m glad I did, it was a nice moment.”

As much as he’s enjoyed his time working the historical course and tournament, Henry said next year will be his last.

“Fifty five years is long enough; next year I’ll get out of their hair,” he said with a laugh. “But I will continue to come to the tournament. Just because I’m not working doesn’t mean I don’t want to be here. It’s in my blood.”