At pro golf’s first Fort Worth Invitational, crowds were thin (and so was money) | Fort Worth Star-Telegram

The Fort Worth Invitational pro golf tournament returns this week, and almost nobody remembers the first.

Six miles and 72 years away from this week’s $7 million event at Colonial Country Club, the first Fort Worth Invitation in 1946 was a colossal flop at an old country club now known for whiskey.

By the time the first Fort Worth Invitation ended — the name varied from “Invitation” to “Invitational” even in its own records — Glen Garden Country Club in southeast Fort Worth was out $5,000 in losses and hometown favorite Byron Nelson said he was getting out of pro golf.

“They knew already it’d be the last one. … Glen Garden just wasn’t as chic as Colonial,” said best-selling novelist and golf writer Dan Jenkins, 89, of Fort Worth.

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The touring pros were returning to Fort Worth on a football weekend in October, only five months after the inaugural Colonial tournament at that flashier country club across town.

“You could drive up to the clubhouse, park and walk right in,” said Jenkins, then a 17-year-old Paschal High School golfer.

With Fort Worth focused on a TCU-Arkansas football weekend, the tournament only made big Star-Telegram headlines the first day, when pro Sam Snead and several other pros withdrew because the club wouldn’t give them $250 in expense money. (Snead said he’d rather get some dental work.)

“We felt that in putting up $10,000 for the boys to play for, we have done all we should,” committee Chairman Willard White was quoted.

Fort Worth favorite Ben Hogan, winner of the first Colonial that year on his way to a breakout season, had also asked for the $250. He withdrew saying he had a 103-degree fever.

Golfer Jimmy Demaret dressed for cold weather in the 1945 pro golf tournament at Glen Garden.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Collection UT Arlington Special Collections

Glen Garden didn’t have the money to spare. In December 1945, before the first Colonial, the club had launched its tournament under the name Fort Worth Open.

Nelson won, the last of his all-time record 18 victories that year. But 40-degree temperatures kept fans away.

Local Coca-Cola franchisee T.J. “Tom” Brown wound up covering the $5,000 purse.

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He put up another $3,000 guarantee to get the 1946 tournament, according to author Jeff Miller’s 2012 book “Grown at Glen Garden: Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, and the Little Texas Golf Course That Propelled Them to Stardom” (Skyhorse Publishing, 272 pages, $24.95).

“Sure I was there,” said Wendell Waddle, 87, of Alvarado, a 15-year-old pro shop worker than and the club historian until it was closed and sold as the new Firestone & Robertson Distillery Whiskey Ranch.

“Mr. Brown would go to the billing office and say, ‘What’s it look like?’ They’d say, ‘Well, we’re $800 down. And he’d pull out some money.

“He put up all the money for the tournament. Whatever the club lost, he took care of it.”

Waddle also was there for a memorable moment at the 1945 tournament, when Kansas golfer Harold “Jug” McSpaden, a pilot, arrived by landing on the fairway at No. 1.

“We pulled his plane up and tied it to a cedar tree,” Waddle said.

At the first and only Fort Worth Invitation in 1946, Ohio amateur golfer, powerlifter and marathoner Frank Stranahan won at 66-66-70-68—270. A wealthy son of the founder of Champion Auto Parts, Stranahan had studied under Nelson.

(Nelson finished at 277. This was 21 years after Nelson, as a 15-year-old living on Timberline Drive behind the No. 3 green, defeated south-side teenager Hogan to win a Glen Garden caddies’ tournament forever written into golf history.)

Glen Garden remains a golf course, but as part of an event center named Whiskey Ranch, operated by Fort Worth-based Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co. as the home of TX Whiskey.

The ranch and course will open at noon Tuesday through Friday this week for guests (not for golf).

“I loved that funky old golf course,” Jenkins said.

“It had a utility pole in the middle of the 12th fairway. It was hilarious. But we didn’t know any better. We just thought it was normal.”

It was Jenkins who pointed out to Colonial publicists that this week’s tournament is not the first Fort Worth Invitation(-al).

Bud Kennedy, 817-390-7538, @BudKennedy

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