In a city that guards and celebrates its history with such fanfare, the coming 100th anniversary of the Texas Open, the third oldest PGA Tour event and the longest-running one in a single host city, is occasion for San Antonians to look back with pride and ahead with anticipation.
You don’t have to play or watch the sport to appreciate this city’s past role in changing the course of U.S. professional golf history, and today, its contemporary impact on charitable fundraising.
San Antonio became the birthplace of professional golf’s so-called winter tour in 1922 when the pros left their familiar East Coast courses for overnight train rides to the Sun Belt and the inaugural Texas Open staged at Brackenridge Golf Club, which first opened in 1916. A plaque commemorating the birthplace of the Texas Open was unveiled Wednesday at Brackenridge.
Jack O’Brien, then an editor at the San Antonio Evening News, conceived the idea of luring golf’s top players here for a winter tournament in sunny San Antonio. He did so by raising more than $5,000 in prize money with $1,633 going to the eventual winner at a presentation dinner at the Menger Hotel.
Pro golfers had never seen a purse like it, and the lure worked. Scottish-born pro Bob MacDonald, by then a Chicago resident, won the inaugural tourney and declared himself the “luckiest man alive” as he collected his winnings.
In the ensuing 27 years, some of golf’s greatest names — Walter Hagen, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, and Sam Snead — won the Texas Open. The winter tour that started here spread to annual events reaching from Los Angeles to Miami.
Yet the Texas Open could very well have died 20 years ago as it lost sponsors, was shuffled from one golf course to another, and the crowded PGA Tour calendar consigned the event to second-class status.
Then everything changed. The reason, in a single word, is Valero. Under CEO Bill Greehey, the global energy refiner assumed sponsorship of the Texas Open in 2002. Greehey and Valero built the renamed Valero Texas Open into the single largest charitable event on the PGA Tour. Under his successor, Bill Klesse, and now CEO Joe Gorder, chairman of the 100th anniversary event, the Texas Open has thrived. Since 2010 it’s been played at TPC San Antonio.
Virtually all of the $187 million in charitable funds raised over the tournament’s history were raised at the Valero Texas Open over the past 19 years.
Last year, when Dallas native Jordan Spieth won, the event raised $16 million for charities. Spieth will be back March 31-April 3 to defend his title. With the 2022 Masters at Augusta National scheduled for the following week, the 2022 field could be one of the most competitive ever to play the Texas Open.
Larson Segerdahl, executive director of the Valero Texas Open, emceed a luncheon program that included Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff talking about historic Brackenridge and its defining location near the headwaters of the San Antonio River.
World Golf Hall of Fame member and Dallas native Lee Trevino stole the show Wednesday at the Valero plaque commemoration event when he sat down for a conversation with University of Texas at Austin journalism associate professor of practice and sports journalist Kevin Robbins, who quipped at the outset that a Q&A with Trevino often left no space for any actual questions, only time for a string of engaging stories well told.
Trevino opened professional golf to Mexican American players, working class players, and others who plied municipal courses far removed from the country clubs and top collegiate programs that produced the white pros dominating the professional ranks and PGA Tour. He really didn’t get serious about golf until leaving the Marine Corps at age 21 and landing a $100-a-week job helping to run a public driving range in Dallas that gave him ample time to practice at no cost.
At 5-foot-7 and 180 pounds, Trevino went on to become one of golf’s most accomplished shotmakers, winning 29 times on the PGA Tour, including six majors, and 29 more times on the Champions Tour. He led the PGA Championship at Pecan Valley Golf Club after three rounds in 1968, but told audience members he accidentally drank two glasses of Gatorade mixed with tequila out of his hotel room refrigerator overnight, leaving him wobbly and well off his game for the final round.
Trevino electrified the audience when he recounted the 1974 Western Open when he was struck by lightning, elevated off the ground, and thought he was seeing the afterlife before being resuscitated and then rehabilitated over the ensuing five months.
His record included a win at the 1980 Texas Open in a city that Trevino said he loves and visits regularly.
San Antonio resident and former PGA Tour pro David Ogrin, who now runs the David Ogrin Golf Academy in New Braunfels, also was on hand. Ogrin won the Texas Open in 1996 at the La Cantera Resort Course, besting rookie tour player Tiger Woods by two shots in his only appearance at the event over his career.
“I beat Tiger Woods so badly he has never come back,” Ogrin has joked on more than one occasion.
Valero has a series of additional 100th anniversary events planned for the coming months that will include stops at the seven other San Antonio golf courses where the Texas Open was staged over the decades after it left Brackenridge in 1959.
Robbins has authored a book on the history of the Texas Open that will be published in advance of the 2022 tourney. His words on the plaque unveiled Wednesday tell a bit of that story.
“With hickory shafted clubs and rubber mats that functioned as tees, Bob MacDonald, a Scottish-born club professional from Chicago, won the first Texas Open on this site in the winter of 1922 … All of it started right here, under these storied oaks and flowing pecans that stand sentry over the iconic (A.W.) Tillinghast imprint. A round at Old Brack is a stroll through Texas Open history and a peaceful commune with the Golden Age of American golf course design.”
Bill MacDonald, Bob’s son, was on hand to recall his father’s victory after the audience viewed this video of the event’s history.