By Patti Putnicki
You’d be hard-pressed to find one person in the city of Dallas who hasn’t been to—or at least heard of—the AT&T Byron Nelson. To some, this legendary golf tournament is a place to see an A-list of PGA tour talent, many here to pay homage to the gone-but-never-forgotten tournament namesake. The golf is consistently great, and the crowd enthusiastic, energized by an army of red-panted and red-skirted volunteers dotting the course, rain or shine.
Those who do not come for the golf come for the beautiful people—a counterculture of muscular men in skintight shirts and gorgeous, big-haired blondes who rarely leave the famed Pavilion to set foot (or stiletto) onto the course. To them, the golf tournament is simply a backdrop for one of the biggest social events of the year.
But, the reality is, the AT&T Byron Nelson serves a far higher calling. This PGA tournament, hosted by the Salesmanship Club of Dallas, is the primary fundraiser for the Momentous Institute, an organization that provides counseling, education and professional training to more than 6,000 at-risk children and their families each year. Since it began in 1968, the tournament has raised more than $137 million in support of this cause, making it the most financially successful event on the PGA tour. Fueled by these funds, the Momentous Institute has quietly worked behind the scenes, changing people’s lives; helping kids go on to happy, productive adulthood, although initially, the odds were stacked against them.
However, there is another big reason to love the Salesmanship Club and the AT&T Byron Nelson, beyond the golf and the fun and the good that it does for kids in need. In a town where most professional sporting events carry such a high price tag that they don’t fit easily into a middle-class family’s budget, the AT&T Byron Nelson is doing something radically different. Any kid under the age of 13, accompanied by a ticket-holding adult, gets into the tournament for free. Each day, every day—from practice round to the moment the new winner takes possession of the coveted trophy.
“We think it’s important to grow our future fan base by connecting them with the tournament early,” said Jon Drago, tournament director for the AT&T Byron Nelson. “More importantly, we want to give families a way to see world-class golf affordably. A family of four can come and enjoy our tournament for under $100.”
If a family has five kids under the age of 13, one adult with a ticket gets them in for the day – and gets them the best seats in the house.
“What’s cool about golf is that our arena covers 75 acres. So, that same family of four, spending under $100, can get courtside seats, simply by walking to an open spot behind the ropes,” Drago said. “That’s unique to our sport. You have the opportunity to view it from many different angles.”
Joey Anders, a PGA teaching professional at Dallas’ Brookhaven Country Club and Jordan Spieth’s first golf instructor, encourages his young students—and their parents—to take advantage of this opportunity every year. To him, the lessons learned at the Nelson extend beyond the game of golf itself.
“For every Jordan, there are dozens of others who didn’t make the PGA Tour until they were almost 30 years old. There are pros who are striving to maintain their status on the tour, or those who are fighting to get it back. When you watch a tour event, you see people who have failed many times, but still get up and try again. They’ve had good rounds and disappointments, clutch shots and missed putts—but, they all have this deep-down belief in themselves and in the fact that their next good stretch is just around the corner,” Anders said. “That’s what kids can learn from watching these tour pros. Work hard. Don’t give up. And, even when things seem at their worst, great things can be right around the bend, if you just keep going.”
Could exposure to golf at an early age really make that big of a difference? Anders is quick to respond.
“I grew up in a single-parent household, and although I went to school one mile from where they play the Byron Nelson, there was absolutely no chance for me to see a PGA tour event. It was just too expensive,” Anders said. “I didn’t pick up my first golf club until I went to college, and ended up as a PGA teaching pro. Just maybe, if I had been exposed to professional golf when I was 10, I’d be playing in that tournament this week, instead of talking about it. “
Kudos to the AT&T Byron Nelson for giving junior golfers in the Dallas/Fort Worth area that opportunity.