The TPC Craig Ranch was built in 2004 specifically with the hope of one day hosting the AT&T Byron Nelson tournament. In 2021, they will achieve that goal and for the first time, the tournament will be played outside of Dallas County at the ranch’s 2,200-acre course in McKinney. It will be hosted there for the next five years.
The news broke Tuesday. David Pillsbury, CEO of ClubCorp, who owns the course, David Craig, chairman of TPC Craig Ranch’s board of directors, and The Salesmanship Club, a service organization seeking to change children’s lives, officially announced it Thursday, calling it a dream come true. TPC Craig Ranch also happens to be roughly ten miles from the future site of the PGA of America headquarters in Frisco.
The Salesmanship Club hosts the Byron Nelson tournament in order to support the Momentous Institute, which works with families to build social emotional health. The Salesmanship Club and Nelson tournament director Jon Drago has had strong ties to TPC Craig Ranch and its leadership since it opened in 2004. We caught up with him on the phone to discuss the reasoning behind the new partnership.
Where has the tournament been held in the past?
It’s fascinating. The tournament was played for 35 years at TPC Four Seasons in Irving. We made a decision in maybe 2013 or 2014 to move it when AT&T took over title sponsorship. We made the decision to move it to Dallas’ Trinity Forest Golf Club before that golf course was built. At the time, it was an old, abandoned illegal landfill. [The Salesmanship Club], PGA Tour, AT&T, SMU, and City of Dallas, we had this vision for revitalizing the landfill, capping it, creating a beautiful golf course to showcase a part of Dallas that needed it.
Why isn’t the tournament staying there?
As with any big project like that, you make decisions based on the information you have at the time. After a couple of years, it became obvious that there were deficiencies at the site, so the event wouldn’t be successful. Two of the most extreme weather events forced us to look for a new course. We had the hottest Byron Nelson on record in 2018, and you can’t plant trees on a landfill. It will disrupt the cap over it. Trinity Forest Golf Club is a very open course, and in hot temperatures, there’s no shelter or shade. The next year, we had the most rain and the most cold we’ve ever had. Attendance was low, and proceeds to Momentous Institute dropped.
Why not return to the Four Seasons for another 35 years?
Most people assumed we’d go back to the TPC Four Seasons. Of course, we’re still great friends with them. We were talking to them [about going back] and during the due diligence period, we got a call from Brian Loughmiller, a former mayor of McKinney. He reached out to see if we would consider TPC Craig Ranch.
What set it apart?
We’d hosted two other tournaments there, in 2008 and 2012. We knew it, we knew the people there. From that first meeting we were overwhelmed with the homework they had done, and the presentation they had put together to land the tournament. We hadn’t hosted anything there since 2012, and it was amazing how different it was. McKinney has grown so much in a few years, and it became clear to us that the right choice was to make our new home in McKinney.
A five year commitment is a big deal.
Yes, it’s bold. That’s one of those things that excites us. The Salesmanship Club is a nonprofit that started in 1920. We operate the tournament to raise money for Momentous Institute. We’re relationship-driven, and we were looking for a partner we felt like we could align with philosophically and we could grow with. It’s aggressive, but we’re both entering hoping it’ll become another 35-year relationship.
Why did Brian reach out to you to propose TPC Craig Ranch in the first place?
When [TPC Craig Ranch] was built in 2004, they wanted to land the Byron Nelson tournament. Now, 16 years later, the course has matured, and the city has grown. All the same players are still there, and they’re seeing that dream realized in 2021.
What is most exciting about this partnership for the City of McKinney?
The tournament puts an international spotlight on TPC Craig Ranch and McKinney, first through network television for four days in May. Plus, there’s all the international players that travel in, about 150 players, 1,200 volunteers, sponsors, local vendors, and 150,000-200,000 spectators. We last did an economic development study on the effect in Irving in 2013, and the impact was around $40 million.
The 2020 Nelson was canceled due to COVID-19. Usually, ticket proceeds are donated to the Momentous Institute. Are there any ways that the Salesmanship Club is helping make up the deficit?
The money we raise from the tournament is vital to Momentous Institute’s work. I’ve been overwhelmed by the support we’ve received for the Institute since the tournament was canceled. We reached out to all our ticket purchasers and sponsors and offered them refunds, but we also gave the option of turning that money into a donation, or divert payment to the 2021 tournament. A large number of customers who had given sponsorship transferred it to a donation or diverted their payment. The number of people that chose to donate the money has been overwhelming and we’ve been extremely encouraged. AT&T, our title sponsor, has also been helpful in making sure the charity isn’t impacted. They aren’t getting as much as they would have if we had hosted the tournament, but we think it’s enough that they won’t have to cut programs.
This year was meant to be a celebration of a few milestones. What were they?
This year was going to be about celebrating the tournament’s namesake, Byron Nelson. He played the greatest season of golf ever played 75 years ago, winning 18 tournaments. 2020 is also the 100th anniversary of the Salesmanship Club. I catch myself feeling guilty about it. I’m disappointed, but canceling it was clearly the right decision. I have a daughter who should be in college, seniors in high school … I think these types of public celebrations are going to be important.
Why announce it now?
We debated about announcing it during the quarantine. Anytime you have these kinds of discussions, the odds of the news getting out become very great. We wanted to make sure we’re telling the story the way we wanted to. These things take 18 months to plan and now, believe it or not, we’re just over 12 months away. This gives people something to look forward to.
How will 2021 be a celebration in its own right?
Instead of celebrating our past 100 years, I think that next year, it’ll be about our future. The next hundred years start now.