Prepare to embrace the unknown. The AT&T Byron Nelson has a new home for the first time in 35 years and it’s unlike any course the Lone Star State has ever seen. In a bold move that could lay the groundwork for even bigger things to come, the Nelson moves to Trinity Forest Golf Course this week – a 7,380-yard, par-71 venue that harkens back to the dawning of our game. There will be praise. There will be rebellion. And the adrenaline-fueled thrill ride will be links golf at its uncertain best. Here are five things you need to know about the AT&T Byron Nelson as it celebrates its 50th anniversary.
Inside the Field
Some top names on Tour are taking a wait-and-see approach to competing at Trinity Forest this year, but the field still includes five of the top-21 players in the OWGR. Jordan Spieth, Hideki Matsuyama, Sergio Garcia, Marc Leishman, and Matt Kuchar headline a group of 156 players competing for Nelson’s $7.7 million purse. Billy Horschel returns to defend his title against an exciting crop of rookies like Texas alum Beau Hossler, and 18Birdies ambassadors Lanto Griffin, Tom Lovelady, and Stephan Jaeger. Major champions in the field include Graeme McDowell, Adam Scott, and Jimmy Walker.
A Links Style Course in the Heart of Texas
Trinity Forest is a windswept expanse of rolling hills, natural waste areas, and dramatic angles that’s the complete opposite of a parkland course. It’s something more accustomed to seeing off the coast of Ireland – minus an ocean and seagulls. The course was built on 400 acres of landfill, smack in the middle of the Great Trinity River Forest – the largest urban hardwood forest in America. However, there’s not a single tree to be found anywhere on the course.
Because the course is laid out in a series of small loops that run in both directions away from and back towards the clubhouse, the holes are extremely close together. If not for the elevated viewing areas built specifically for the tournament, you could see across virtually the entire course at once. Some places offer 360-degree views of up to five holes at one time. However, only two buildings are visible from anywhere on the course – the clubhouse, and the Bank of America tower over 10 miles away.
If You Build It, They Will Come
There’s a lot of room off the tee at Trinity Forest – with intellectual and strategic challenges of finding sightlines and proper positions for optimal second-shot angles. The closer you flirt with trouble, the greater advantage you gain. What’s the best spot to hit? Where do you want to miss? Should you use slope to bring it into the green or stay away from the pins? These are the puzzles players will face experiencing this Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw design. There’s nothing uncertain about why Trinity Forest was constructed.
The first sentence on the course website makes it crystal clear: This club “was created to explicitly attract prestigious golf championships back to Dallas.” It’s been 55 years since the Dallas Metroplex last hosted a major championship, staging the PGA Championship in 1963 at the Dallas Athletic Club, and prior to that the U.S. Open in 1952 at the Northwood Club. The million-dollar question everyone will be asking this week is just seven words long: “Is Trinity Forest worthy of a major?”
Something Different on Every Hole
Trinity Forest is a course you have to think about from the green backwards because they all have personalities of their very own. A double green shared by the 3rd and 11th holes is roughly the size of a football field, which means you’re going to see some seriously long and imaginative putts. On the 8th green different contours can be a benefit or detriment, and balls that hit within a yard of each other can end up 60-feet or more in different directions. Some greens are soft table tops with only mild undulations and easier to hit, while others are so crowned and angled that mistakes will repel poor shots like the Green Monster at Fenway Park.
How about a drivable hole that favors a short hitter? Or hitting a wood or hybrid into a green that you can’t see? These are two more illustrations of Trinity Forest’s unique feel and master plan to test that five-and-one-half inch space between your ears. The 315-yard, par-4 5th often plays downwind with just 207 yards to carry the front bunker. Yet the safe play is short because the green is severely perched and slopes back to front. The 630-yard, par-5 14th plays uphill into the wind, but trying to reach in two will require complete fearlessness – it’s essentially a blind second shot.
What will it Take to Win?
The simple answer is you have to challenge hazards at Trinity Forest if you want to score, and you have to play smart if you want to survive. The course is wide open enough that you can stay on the short grass all day, but you won’t even get a whiff at birdies if you’re not aggressive. Fairway bunkers are placed where the best approach shots into the green will be, and finding the wrong sides will create bad angles and set putting surface slopes against you. Mistakes will be magnified, but great shots will be as well.
The more complicated answer comes from Crenshaw himself: “Will it be unpredictable? Yes, in places it will be highly unpredictable. Will it give you, though? It will absolutely give. It will take, but it will give, and it’s going to give equal to anything it’s going to take. You have to be understanding of how that process might occur.” I’m not exactly sure what that means to be honest. I do know, however, that Crenshaw won’t force players around Trinity Forest this week. Instead, he’s given them multiple options to choose from which makes this course as intriguing as it is challenging.
Without any course history to go on, you probably want to look at players who’ve performed well at Open Championship venues, as well as those with the ability and creativity to play various types of shots around the green. Jordan Spieth seems to fit the bill. Spieth has displayed a full repertoire of short-game shots in remarkable performances across the pond, and his style thrives on links layouts.
Jordan’s ranked 9th on Tour in Strokes Gained: Approach the Green this year – an important statistic to consider with Trinity Forest being a second-shot course. Spieth is also a regular here, playing early and often – even before the fairway sod started to sprout. That little bit of home-cooking might be the edge that puts Jordan over the top on a course that will be a mystery to most players.