Thursday, May 19

Colonial Times: A Brief History of Hogan’s Alley

(Plucked and updated from the ARMCHAIR GOLF archives.)

COLONIAL COUNTRY CLUB, SITE of this week’s Crowne Plaza Invitational, ain’t what it used to be. Not by a long shot, or, you might say, a Bubba Watson drive.

The historic layout where Ben Hogan recorded five victories is 7204 yards and plays to a par of 70. That’s short by current PGA Tour standards. Today’s bombers can drive over the doglegs and spin their short irons on the small greens. Some pros hit wedges into greens to which Hogan hit 4-irons.

Yet when Colonial first opened in the early 1940s and later began hosting the Colonial Invitational, it was considered one of the toughest courses anywhere.

Texas native and Hall of Famer Jacke Burke Jr. once said, “If you’re told to just go out and shoot par on a golf course, Colonial is the last one you’d try it on.”

Colonial was the vision of business tycoon Marvin Leonard. Leonard thought Fort Worth should have a golf course with bentgrass greens, uncommon in the Texas heat and during an era when golf course agronomy was far more primitive. Designed by John Bredemus and Perry Maxwell, Colonial opened with about 100 members in 1936. In 1941, it hosted the first U.S. Open played west of the Mississippi River.

Not coincidentally, Colonial was built for a fade, Hogan’s trademark ball flight. Of Colonial’s 14 par-4 holes, nine favored a controlled fade off the tee. “A straight ball will get you in more trouble at Colonial than any course I know,” Hogan once remarked.

One of the better players during Hogan’s heyday, 1951 winner Cary Middlecoff called Colonial the toughest par-70 in the world. This is how Middlecoff once described playing the 466-yard par-4 5th hole:

“First, I pull out two brand-new Wilson balls and throw them into the Trinity River. Then I throw up. Then I go ahead and hit my tee shot into the river.”

Strong, fit and armed with modern golf weapons, Colonial doesn’t frighten today’s tour pros. David Toms and Chez Reavie share the clubhouse lead after posting 8-under 62s. The first round is still in progress.

−The Armchair Golfer

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