Backstory: To a tee with the Byron Nelson tournament

Oak Cliff hosted the Byron Nelson tournament for a decade

The glitzy Byron Nelson golf tournament draws professional and amateur golfers for payouts of more than $7 million, and it raises money for the Salesmanship Club of Dallas and its Momentous Institute schools.

Athletes played the tournament now known as the AT&T Byron Nelson in Oak Cliff for over a decade, and in the early days, a couple of neighborhood guys won it.

The tournament, played in Irving since 1983, started in Dallas. It evolved from a tournament called the Texas Victory Open played at the Lakewood Country Club in 1944. The purpose of that tournament was to raise money, via the sale of war bonds, for the U.S. military’s efforts in World War II. Waxahachie-born Byron Nelson won that 1944 tournament at 8 under par with a score of 276 and received a grand prize of $2,000.

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The tournament, then known as the Dallas Open Invitational, was played eight times at Oak Cliff Country Club, now known as the Golf Club of Dallas, between 1958 and 1967. The club was built on Red Bird Lane for $786,000 in 1954.

Sunset High School alumnus Don January had won the tournament in spectacular fashion in 1957, when it was played at the Preston Hollow Country Club. He hit a 25-foot eagle from the sand trap on the last hole to win the tournament and a whopping $6,000.

Another Sunset graduate, Earl Stewart Jr., won in 1961 at the Oak Cliff Country Club, taking $4,300. Stewart, who graduated from Sunset in ’38, had previously won two PGA tour events, both in 1952: the Greater Greensboro Open and the Ardmore Open.

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Stewart worked as a club professional at the Oak Cliff Country Club, and his win there was historic because he became the first home pro to win a PGA tournament.

Stewart went on to become the head golf coach at Southern Methodist University, from 1975-87, where he coached future two-time U.S. Open and PGA Champion Payne Stewart.

Billy Maxwell, also from Dallas, won in 1962.

About 15,000 fans were on hand at the Dallas Open on April 22, 1967, when Miller Barber hit a 6-iron tee shot 179 yards straight into the seventh hole. The hole-in-one landed him a brand-new Mercury Cougar from TV sponsor Hertz Rental Co.

A newspaper reporter’s description from that day paints a picture.

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“Colorful Doug Sanders, decked out in orchid-colored shirt, shoes and glove, with oyster-white slacks, was the darling of the gallery once again as he walked along the fairway ropes shaking hands with the customers. He also managed to slip in a couple of kisses with one of the prettier fans.”

Argentine Roberto De Vincenzo won the tournament in 1966. He took $15,000 and threw a tequila party for the press.

The Salesmanship Club of Dallas took over the tournament in 1968 and renamed it after Byron Nelson. The nonprofit also moved the tournament to Preston Trail Golf Club, where it was played until 1982.

Over the decades, the Salesmanship Club has raised millions of dollars through the annual tournament. All of the money goes to running the Momentous Institute, which provides top-notch education to low-income students in Dallas.

This year’s tournament is May 19-22.

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