Thoughts on Trinity Forest…

In the March issue, we included a short update on the progress at Trinity Forest Golf Club (the future site of the AT&T Byron Nelson Championship). Myself and our president, Craig Rosengarden, had the pleasure of touring the facilities with one of the local businessmen behind the project, and I wanted to share some of my personal thoughts on what we saw that day. First, here is the update that ran in our Best Of Private Clubs feature story from the March Issue of AvidGolfer Magazine:

“The course generating the most buzz the past few years is Trinity Forest Golf Club, the eventual site of the AT&T Byron Nelson Championship. We took a tour of the grounds last month and came away very impressed.

The Coore & Crenshaw design is on 400 acres, with the main 18 holes on about 160. As of early February, the golf course was, in essence, complete – Zoysia L1F fairways were beginning to take hold and the Champion Bermuda greens were maturing nicely. Club officials expect the course to be fully grown in when the club opens in October.

Construction on the 25,000-square-foot clubhouse is scheduled to begin shortly, with  an expected completion date of fall 2017. The clubhouse will overlook the 9th and 18th green, and will be on the south side of Great Trinity Forest Way, the main road that dissects the property.

The practice range, short course and area for the First Tee of Greater Dallas is located on the north side of the property, and is in the final stages of completion. Director of Instruction Cameron McCormick has already begun teaching, and the SMU golf teams will use the range and course as their primary practice facility.”

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Over the past six months or so, there has been a lot of talk about what is going on down at the site of the Trinity Forest Golf Club project, and the talk has, unfortunately, been about everything but the golf course. I’m not going to even try and recount the back-and-forth between the City of Dallas, contractors and environmental watchdog groups that has played out in print, on television, and it lawsuits over the past year, but you can read a bit about it here, here and here (much props to Eric Nicholson of The Dallas Observer for his blanket coverage of these issues). It boils down to alleged harm done to environmental areas within the Trinity Forest, and the questionable practices (and legality?) used in clearing areas and harvesting dirt and sand for the golf course. I encourage you to read the articles and form your own opinions.

But I digress. Back to our trip.

All along, my main concerns or questions about Trinity Forest had to do with location and space more so than the quality of the golf course itself. The track is a Coore & Crenshaw design, it is going to be a beautiful course. Maybe you prefer a different architect, and that is fine, but there has never been any question as to the craftsmanship that was going into the final product.

But a golf course in the Trinity Forest, way down in South Dallas off Loop 12? Really? What is even down there, and how long does it take to get there? And how cramped is this course going to be? Is it going to be just a bunch of flat holes on top of each other, all packed in to this small, cleared-out portion of the forest? Those thoughts were running through my mind a mile a minute as we drove down Interstate 45 toward the course.

After just 10 seconds on the golf course, however, many of my questions were answered.

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You can kind of get an idea of what the golf course will look like from the aerial shots shots shown here (courtesy of the guys at the Trinity Forest, thanks), so you can see that the golf course will be fairly “wide open” in that there are little or no trees in the interior of the property (although the entire course is surrounding by the Trinity Forest, which comes into play on a few holes). Don’t mistake the lack of trees for an easy driving golf course, however. There is plenty of native grass and “waste” areas around the property, and large humps, mounds and grass bunkers are excellent stand-ins for the missing trees.

The biggest thing I noticed when walking parts of the golf course (that you don’t get a feel for from the photos) is just how undulated the course is going to be. We aren’t talking hill country-type elevation here, but I didn’t see a flat hole on the entire course. The story goes that when Coore and Crenshaw first came out to see the property, the space was entirely covered with tall, car-high grasses and shrubbery that looked very flat, and they asked for the golf course owners to mow the grass down before they decided if they wanted to take on the project. Well, once the grass was mowed down, they found that the actual ground was covered with natural rolling terrain and various dips and rises. That is what you’ll get at Trinity Forest – a 25-foot rise here, a 10-foot slope there, a gentle rolling of the ground throughout. Its probably not enough to leave you huffing and puffing after walking a few holes (you won’t find any cart paths at Trinity Forest, by the way), but the visuals created by the subtle elevation changes make the course very striking (and intimidating).

To me, many of the holes (especially some of the par 3s), had a Vaquero-like feel to them. You see the bunkers with the native grasses growing around them, the Zoysia fairways and the tight feel to each hole without a lot of trees. It is going to be pretty cool.

The greens are going to be devilish, but there aren’t going to be many instances where an approach shot has to be flown in high and soft and stopped on a dime. I bet we will see a lot of run-up shots and lower ball flights (especially if the wind is up), as many of the greens are open in the front. But once you get on them … oh man … there is a semi-drivable par 4 on the front side that has an absolutely wicked green. I remember standing on the back side of it thinking, “well, don’t miss this thing long, left, right or way short, because you will be screwed.” It should make for a fun spectacle.

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Also, I was impressed with the expansiveness of the property. The golf course sits on about 160-170 acres, which isn’t a lot for a golf course, but nothing about Trinity Forest seems cramped. There are a few holes that run parallel to each other, but they are either separated by built-up mounding or the native grass areas. Nothing feels like it is top of itself or was forced into place.

So, the course is (or is going to be) pretty freaking awesome, unless you simply have a dislike for Crenshaw designs. The clubhouse should offer some excellent views of the entire 18 holes (a top-flight patio area is a must here), but ground hasn’t even been broken on the structure, so we will have to wait and see the final product, but I’m sure it will be luxurious. I’m still not 100 percent sold on the location, however. There isn’t much room to create a drive-up appeal worthy of the level of the club, as the course pretty much sits right off Loop 12 (Great Trinity Forest Way), but I was impressed by how well the trees the sit between the road and the actual course buffer traffic noise and block any view of cars or the road.

For members, the distance to and from the course from Dallas shouldn’t be too big of an issue, although it could be tough during rush hour traffic. My main concern is for when the Tour comes to town. It seems that getting in and out of the course could become a traffic nightmare, and there really isn’t anything to do nearby, nor anywhere to stay or eat. That may be a problem now, but it could resolve itself over the next 5-10 years if the area around the golf course grows a bit. As for the first couple years of the tournament, I predict it to be a bit of a quagmire for fans getting in and out, but hopefully they will get it figured out quickly.

The Tour, however, is only a very small part of Trinity Forest. The other 51 weeks out of the year, those lucky enough to be members are going to have a top notch golf course, excellent practice areas for your entire game, and world-class facilities. I’m sure it will quickly become one of the hottest tickets in town for guest passes … I know I cannot wait to play it.