“In a eulogy,” once wrote Tom Doak, “there is always the tendency to dismiss the weaknesses of the departed and canonize him for the most basic of human qualities. I suppose the same is true of golf courses, especially since their mortality is not preordained.”
As the closure of Glen Garden Golf & Country Club draws near, those words resonate with sadness and clarity. Any golf course that could produce Ben Hogan AND Byron Nelson should be loved, venerated, preserved. This one is being shuttered. Sometimes life just isn’t fair.
My first and likely last visit to Glen Garden took place in September 2014. The city of Fort Worth, Texas has enjoyed a spectacular gentrification in recent years. Its revitalized downtown is now a magnet for locals and visitors alike. Glen Garden wasn’t part of that tour.
This 102-year-old private club is located in a dilapidated section of town, and the club looked the part. Letters were missing from the signs and chunks of brick had vanished, reducing its walls to something resembling ruins. The course looked no better than an inner-city muni -- which, in essence, is what it had become. Wonderful old photos, trophies and newspaper clippings lined the walls inside the ramshackle clubhouse, but one glance outside made it clear: Hogan and Nelson deserved better.
I knew during my tour that plans had been made to sell the facility to Firestone & Robertson Distilling Company. December 11, 2014 was the scheduled closing time. Yet, management continued to hold out hope that the final sale would never happen. Hearings, city council votes and countless delays had taken up more than a year. Maybe, just maybe, golf would be played in 2015. It was not to be. The sale closes this month.
Foodies in the Dallas metroplex are pumped about the property’s new identity as a bourbon distillery and bottling plant. Firestone & Robertson have a stellar reputation in that field. Knowledgeable golf history geeks are crushed.
True, Glen Garden was never going to be in anybody’s Top 100. It was a short, bizarre layout of 6,036 yards from the tips, par 37-34 for 71. Only Tom Doak could have loved its back nine, with back-to-back par-3s – twice -- including holes 17 and 18. Four of its final five holes were par-3s and 12 and 13 were consecutive par-5s. Bunkers were the flattest of ovals and greens were little more than occasionally mowed circles. One of the layout’s toughest holes, the 365-yard, par-4 10th, reflected pure turn-of-the-19th-century design, as it ascended a massive hill that any modern architect would have tamed into something more interesting and playable.
Yet, this course produced Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson. The neighborhood boys showed up here as caddies in the 1920s and when they were both 15, memorably met in the final of the club’s Christmas caddie tournament on December 23, 1927. Members loaned clubs to the caddies and followed their play.
Hogan held the early lead, but Nelson drained a 30-footer on the final green to tie. They played off for nine holes, nearly dead even, until Nelson coaxed in an 18-footer for par on the final hole to win by one. Fifteen years later, Nelson would edge Hogan 69-70 in an 18-hole playoff to win The Masters.
No good golf course deserves to die, though many do. Glen Garden won’t be remembered for its shot values, its design balance or aesthetic appeal. The truth is, It just wasn’t that good. Yet there is no other course on earth that can boast of producing two of the five greatest golfers who ever lived. That alone made it worth preserving.