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Tiger who? Colonial is getting younger with age

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The Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial Tournament had long been something of the true golfing fan’s tournament. That’s both a blessing and a curse.

This year’s tournament seems more focused on youthful innovation. The event was actively promoting through platforms like SnapChat and Instagram and advertised on the alternative rock station 102.1 The Edge.

And Uber, music, new food and drink offerings and bicycles? These aren’t things that anyone would have considered crucial to the Colonial 10 years ago and surely not back in Ben Hogan’s day. But this year, they are key components to the new face of Colonial. Tournament Director Michael Tothe wants one thing to be established: “This isn’t your dad’s Colonial. This isn’t your grandfather’s Colonial.”

Even so, Colonial’s unofficial – but undeniable – association with five-time winner and Fort Worth legend Ben Hogan almost demands the tournament genuflect to tradition. This year marks the 69th edition of the tournament, making it only 12 years younger than the Master’s Tournament. Last May’s winner in Fort Worth was 2013 Master’s winner Adam Scott. Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson, Tom Watson, Steve Stricker and David Toms are all former champions and notable mainstays of the difficult course with a storied history.

And yet, there was an ascent that golf made into mainstream fandom with the era of Tiger Woods. The Colonial was unable to fully take advantage of this hype machine because Woods has only played in the event once, back in 1997. The Rory McIlroy hype also circumvented the Fort Worth event due to his absence from the tournament the past few years. Over the past two decades, tradition has become less of a selling point for golf, which has become a game, and an experience, well suited for young people.

This year the Colonial, and its star competitor, reflect that change. There aren’t many younger in the field than Jordan Spieth. In April, the Dallas native became the second youngest, behind Woods, to win the Master’s at 21 years old. He’s more than just the next big thing; he’s already the second-ranked golfer in the world behind McIlroy. Spieth garners national attention, which he will bring to Colonial on May 18-24 as many expect him to challenge Scott, the returning champion.

Despite his youth, Spieth will be playing in the Crowne Plaza Invitational for the third time. His local ties, along with his promising career, could mean that he will be the yearly superstar that the tournament has missed out on with Woods and McIlroy

It’s more than just the talent that’s headed in a youthful direction this year. The Colonial has become a scene tailored more and more to attract a younger crowd. That’s reflected by the free concert series open to the public Thursday-Saturday at Frost Park featuring acts such as Roger Creager, Hudson Moore and Kyle Park. As soon as the golf ends each day, the music begins. The goal is simple: make the Colonial appealing to more than just golf fans.

“This is a must-attend event, much like a TCU home game or the Stock Show and Rodeo,” said tournament director Michael Tothe.

The Bike to the Birdies campaign is another innovation aimed at a physically active younger demographic. Visitors who ride their bicycles to the event get free valet for their bikes all day. A $10 donation goes to the Fort Worth Bike Share and Streams & Valleys each time someone takes advantage of the valet.

But perhaps the most noteworthy modernization of this year’s event was its partnership with Uber, the trendy ride-sharing app. The service picks customers up at their desired location and drop them off behind the tee to the second hole for an agreed-upon rate. This service provides a safe means of transportation to the many who plan on drinking at the event. It also is an alternative to the expensive and messy parking situation that has long hindered tournament-goers.

Not all the innovations to attract a different crowd have been successful. Absent this year is celebrity chef Tim Love, who catered last year’s tournament with mostly disappointing results. The lines for food were long last year and service was slow.

“As big a name as Tim Love has … it’s different when you cater a golf tournament,” Tothe said. “He worked as hard as he could at it. We had a lot of issues. We heard it from our fans and we heard it from our sponsors. I think we just didn’t want to go down that road again.”

This year returns to previous catering services’ provider – Spectrum Catering and Concessions – as the tournament provides a new offering – Colonial Main Street. Colonial Main Street is a center for food and beverages complete with several bars as well as a golf expo with product sampling.

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