(CBS DFW/CBS Local) — Colonial Country Club, Fort Worth, Texas’s gem of a course, holds a distinct honor. It hosts the longest-running PGA Tour event to take place at the same site, majors aside. This year Colonial will enjoy another distinction, when the Tour returns to action from its three-month, COVID-19-induced hiatus.
The event, which changed its name to the Charles Schwab Challenge last year, dates back 74 years. In 1946, Ben Hogan shot 1-under par to win the first by one stroke. Hogan triumphed five times in the event’s early years, leading to the course’s nickname ‘Hogan’s Alley.’ Mother Nature intervened in 1949, when the adjacent Trinity River flooded the course, and scheduling interfered in 1975, when the venue hosted the Players Championship.
The course’s rich history actually goes back more than a decade before its association with professional golf. The tenacious Marvin Leonard, known around Fort Worth as the Texas Merchant, was an avid golfer who developed an obsessive interest in course design. He saw Bentgrass, rather than the native Bermuda grass, as the ideal greens surface. So when local courses resisted his requests for change, he decided to build his own course.
Colonial Country Club opened in 1936, with Bentgrass greens. Leonard carried forward his tenacity to promoting the course and soon caught the attention of the United States Golf Association. The club hosted the U.S. Open in 1941, played for the first time west of the Mississippi River and south of the Mason-Dixon Line. A regular date on Tour followed five years later. The rest is history.
From its early days, Colonial ranked among the country’s best courses. And at over 7000 yards, it was then one of the Tour’s longest. That elite status holds true today, even though with upgrades, it’s now considered more modest in length by pro standards. The classic course still plays much as it did in Hogan’s day.
CBS Sports on-course reporter Dottie Pepper put it succinctly, “it’s just old-fashioned golf, a wonderful test of skill.”
Length isn’t the only challenge on a golf course, despite what some modern PGA Tour courses might suggest. The Colonial eases a player into the par-70 track with an inviting start. The opening holes offer birdie opportunities to players who don’t get too greedy. The first hole is a par-5 dogleg right that stretches a manageable 565 yards. The second is another dogleg right, a shorter par-4 that only measures 389 yards. Both greens are flanked by bunkers designed to eat a short approach.
Then things get interesting.
The Horrible Horseshoe — Colonial’s third, fourth and fifth holes — consistently rank among the hardest three-hole stretches on the PGA Tour. And it’s easy to see why. The third hole, a long dogleg left par-4 at 483 yards, requires precision off the tee. The fourth hole is a straight 247-yard par-3 to a raised green. Players who survive three and four are left to face the hardest hole on the course, a 481-yard par-4 with a tough approach.
On a shot-maker’s course, filled with tree-lined fairways, this series of holes can determine the winner. As Pepper has said, “whoever plays well in the stretch of holes (3-4-5) usually is going to be around at the end, or very close.”
Beyond the Horrible Horseshoe, Colonial offers a nice mix of holes that can challenge players across the spectrum, from bombers to shotmakers. As Pepper sees it, “Colonial stands on its own. And part of the reason is that every hole is distinctive. Every hole stands out there as different.”
She continues, “players have to put the ball in play. And they have to put the ball in play on the proper side of the fairway.” The course record of 61 — 9-under par — is held by seven players, among them Justin Leonard and Kevin Na. The tournament record of 259 — 21-under par — is held by Zach Johnson.
The Charles Schwab Challenge, previously known as the Fort Worth Invitational, the Dean & DeLuca Invitational and the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, among other names, goes into its second year under the new name. The event welcomes a very strong field to Fort Worth after the Tour’s extended break, which includes the game’s top five players and 16 of its top 20. Tiger Woods is not among them.
Na is the defending champion; Tony Finau finished second in 2019, four strokes back. Whose name and score will be etched into the first tee’s the Wall of Champions with all of the course’s previous tournament winners this year?