The Byron Nelson tournament started here

The glitzy Byron Nelson golf tournament draws professional and amateur golfers for payouts of more than $7 million, and it raises money for schools serving low-income students in Dallas.

The tournament now known as the AT&T Byron Nelson has been played in Irving since 1983, but it started in our neighborhood.

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 $2,000.

Nelson, born in 1912, began competing in amateur tournaments in Dallas and Fort Worth as a teenager in the late 1920s. By the ’40s, he was a young pro set for stardom.

The Lakewood tournament preceded the peak of Nelson’s career. The following year, in 1945, he won an unprecedented 18 tournaments, and 11 of those wins were consecutive. Those records remain unmatched.

The tournament moved to Preston Hollow Country Club after the first year. In 1945 and 1946, the tournament champs were the Virginian Sam Snead and Stephenville native Ben Hogan, respectively. Those big three — Nelson, Snead and Hogan — were the same age, and they dominated pro golf for years.

Between 1958 and 1967, the tournament was renamed the Dallas Open Invitational, and was played eight times at Oak Cliff Country Club, now known as the Golf Club of Dallas. 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.

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

Over the decades, the Salesmanship Club of Dallas — its members are the guys in the red pants who volunteer at the Byron Nelson — 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.

—Rachel Stone