Day one of the 2018 AT&T Byron Nelson brought out the crowds, the curiosity seekers and the heat, as PGA TOUR players battled it out at the tournament’s new home, Trinity Forest Golf Club in Dallas, Texas.
The course brought out the best in a lot of players—including a mind-blowing, 10-under 61 from Marc Leishman. With a first-round leaderboard that ran the gamut from the usual suspects to the lesser-known names, this new Nelson venue has already proven to be exactly what tournament organizers promised: a level playing field that doesn’t favor one type of game, but sheer creativity and imagination. Which makes watching the tournament a whole lot more fun for the rest of us.
Every course on the PGA TOUR has at least one signature hole. Or the nemesis that has the potential to turn the leaderboard upside down. So, which holes at the new Trinity Forest Golf Club will have players saying “amen” or “oh, man”? We spoke with the one-and-only Jon Drago, long-time tournament director at the Salesmanship Club of Dallas, to find out.
“I think it’s going to be really interesting to watch how that develops. Right now, it’s kind of a guess, just like a lot of things we’re doing out here,” he said. “We have a plan, but we’ll see how it all plays out.”
Hole to Watch 1: The Par 3 #17
Drago’s first potential signature hole nominee was number 17, a par three that he said “a lot of people have talked about” because of a controversial green that slopes from back to front. The green is divided by a front trough and back trough with a roll in the middle running perpendicular to the line of the hole. The front is elevated, just to add a little more intrigue to a green with enough breaks to bring the hottest putter on TOUR to his knees.
Hole to Watch 2: The Par 3 #8
Drago’s second pick is also a par 3.
“The 8th hole is one I think will be really exciting because it’s one of the shortest holes on the PGA TOUR. It’s only about 135 yards maximum,” Drago said. “It’s got two distinct sides that sort of bowl into each other. We really expect somebody, or a couple of people, to make hole-in-ones there, so that could turn into a signature hole.”
Hole to Watch 3: The Par 4 #5
Drago’s last entry is the “drivable” par 4, fifth hole, that plays at 300 yards (so, most players don’t actually require a driver to get there.)
“It’s drivable, but has a really, really small green that is very, very difficult,” Drago said. “So, length is not really what’s important there. It’s a very strategic hole.”
No question, Trinity Forest is the thinking golfer’s golf course—from tee to green. That’s what makes it so different; and that’s what makes it have the potential to be so much fun.
Mastering the Winds of Change
Not only is the course designed to incorporate the natural terrain, but it literally changes with the wind.
“One of the cool things about this course is that it’s going to play different each day, depending on what the weather and the wind is doing. It’s really designed for that,” Drago said. “When you get a strong typical, southern wind that we get this time of year out here, then the 9th hole, which plays almost 500 yards, is straight downwind. The 14th hole, which is a 590-yard, par 5, is straight into the wind. So, it’s very, very difficult.”
According to Drago, the fairways at Trinity Forest are actually designed to have wind blowing.
They’re very generous, sometimes 80 yards wide, at times.
“But, really, the key to this golf course is the greens,” Drago said. “So, you really want to position your drives where you’re coming in from the proper angle to hit the green in the right location. So, without any trees and the way the wind sweeps across the golf course, most of the holes run east-west, with the typical south wind, so it really makes the players think on every shot.”
Again, it’s a thinker’s course, a point reiterated by player after player on the leaderboard Thursday.
Rules, Rules, Rules
Although the rules are the same on this links-style course as they would be on more traditional PGA fare, viewers and spectators can expect to see more rulings (typically, free drops) around balls that roll up around hospitality venues and corporate suites.
“The big thing that could happen from a rules perspective, is there are a lot of places where golf holes converge next to each other, “ Drago said. “I watched Maverick McNealy get up and down on number 11 from the 12th tee. So, there are a lot of places where there will be a lot of players and balls converging in spots. That will probably be the most interesting to watch. ”
Hot, Hot, Hot
Okay, Texas in May is warm or rainy. But, even native Texans can attest, it’s not usually this hot, this early. Full disclosure: even to a hot weather lover, this week, topping 95 wind-free degrees, has been brutal.
The 2018 Nelson has misting stations for the spectators, but what about the players and their caddies?
“Actually, this evening, we decided that we’re going to work with the PGA TOUR; we’re going to put a couple of tents near about four to five tees; on a couple different spots on the course, where they can get some shade,” Drago said.
The Skeptics Transformed to Believers
It’s a basic fact of life: most people are resistant to change. But, this tournament has delivered its share of converts, starting on day one. Even staunch tournament-move opponent Marc Leishman, now day-one clubhouse leader, is a believer.
“A lot of golf courses are designed the same these days; lots of trees, fairly soft and this is completely different, which I think is a good thing,” he said. “They’ve done a great job with it.”
At the very least, it’s not just the “same old, same old.”
“So far all of the players have reacted very positively, “ Drago said. “In general, what they’ve liked the most and what we had hoped is that it is unique from anything else they do on TOUR. One of the things that I think was so popular about the Zurich format with the teams is that it was different than what they do every single week. And, this golf course is not the type that they play every single week. So, I think it’s a little break in the action, and it makes them think and I think they’re enjoying it.”
Stay tuned to see how it all plays out.