It was a balmy Texas morning, months before the start of the NFL season, but Tony Romo was already getting limber, primed to lead his team on its opening drive. As usual, he attracted interest. Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, stood near the entrance of the venue he had created, taking in the action with his trademark stone-faced gaze. DeMarcus Ware watched, too, as did Terence Newman, both stalwart defenders, both looking disappointed that tackling wasn't allowed.
On a nearby grassy patch, Cowboys cheerleaders rah-rahed, midriffs bare and pom-poms shaking. Fans requested autographs. Others swarmed a promenade stocked with team regalia: jerseys, helmets, caps and balls.
Romo squared into his stance, and the crowd fell silent. After all, this wasn't football. The sidelines were the treelines, the hash marks were the hazards and the yardages were measured in distance to the flag. "Pretty cool day to be out on the course," Romo said, after splitting the fairway with his first tee shot. "Especially if you're a Cowboys fan."
Plenty of organizations stage golf outings, but few do so as colorfully as the Cowboys, who have taken to the game with the same devotion that football loyalists reserve for their favorite teams. Once a year, the entire squad turns out from the starting center to the second-string long-snapper for a scramble tournament on a leafy layout in Grapevine, Tex. It's their way of saying thank you to the team's biggest sponsors, on a course that doubles as a Cowboys shrine.
Like Cowboys Stadium, the team's new high-tech arena, Cowboys Golf Club was Jerry Jones's baby. And like most everything the Texas oilman dreams up, it serves as an extension of the Cowboys brand. Its clubhouse, 20 minutes from the team's home field, is a showcase of Cowboys memorabilia, with glass-enclosed exhibits to Cowboys icons. The layout is a tribute to the franchise, too. Tee markers are star-shaped, the putting green is ringed by the same five-pointed logo, and a large blue star is painted across the fourth fairway, a par-4 that's decorated like midfield.
When he built the course in 2000, Jones himself was not a golfer. But he understood jock culture and the symbiotic ties between golf and other sports. As the country's only NFL-themed course, Cowboys GC works two ways: it taps into a wellspring of Cowboys worship, and it celebrates the team's free-flowing passion for the ancient game. Every Cowboys player, past and present, is allowed to play golf for free here. And it is not unheard of to see such titans as Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Daryl Johnston strolling through the clubhouse, past photographic altars to themselves. "I've often wondered why other teams haven't imitated this model and built their own golf courses," says Cowboys G.C. director of instruction and Top 100 Teacher Shawn Humphries. "One reason might be that we have the perfect storm of conditions here: A year-round golf season, a sports-mad city, and one of the most recognizable franchises in the world."