“I used them as an inspiration to what the Tour is what you see today,” Beman said.
The Byron Nelson Championship, which begins Thursday at TPC Four Seasons, has generated nearly $117 million for charity since Lord Byron’s name became attached to the tournament in 1968. Nelson himself remained active with the tournament and its charity efforts until his death in 2006.
Beman, the PGA Tour commissioner from 1974-94, remembers first visiting the Nelson around 1977. Subsequent visits included tournament officials taking him to a camp funded by their proceeds.
“As I started out, early years being commissioner, it was clear (the Salesmanship Club) did it better than anyone else. They were focused on what they did, they raised more money than any other charity,” he said. “I saw with my own eyes what they did and the benefit to the communities and what they did for these young folks. … They were the model. They were and are the most progressive of the organizations” running tournaments.
On the course this week, Masters runner-up Jason Day defends his only PGA Tour victory. The Australian who lives in the Dallas area won the Nelson last year at 10 under par, two strokes ahead of a trio of players.
K.J. Choi returned to Korea last week to announce plans for his own invitational tournament there after winning The Players Championship two weeks ago. Now he’s playing at the Nelson for the first time since moving to the Dallas area.
“I’m just thankful to be able to play in a tournament like this. Mr. Nelson was a true gentleman that represented the game of golf very well. He gets a lot of respect, and I respect him very much,” Choi said. “I’m physically, honestly, very tired right now, but if I have a shot to win this tournament, it would be very special. … And since I announced my own tournament in Korea, to win a tournament with Mr. Nelson’s name in it would be very special. “
Heavy storms Tuesday night dumped nearly 1 1/2 inches of rain and hail described as “half the size of baseballs” by PGA Tour official Slugger White. There was some damage to the greens that had to be repaired.
“They had guys on there (Wednesday) morning, 10 or 12 guys going from front to back trying to fix what looked like ball marks,” said White, the tour’s vice president of rules and competition.
The tournament’s pro-am was played Wednesday, delayed only an hour while course repairs were made. White said more work might be needed after the pro-am, but nothing that should delay the opening round.
The Nelson has been the most financially successful charity event on the PGA Tour, with the Salesmanship Club Youth and Family Centers as the beneficiary. The centers offer innovative programs for children and their families, including a community school, with education services for at-risk kids and therapy for troubled kids.
During the tournament’s opening ceremony this week, Beman was present to receive the 2011 Byron Nelson Prize. That award goes to a person in golf who embodies the philanthropic spirit for which Nelson was known.
After Beman’s visits to the Nelson and the camp, the PGA Tour in 1979 passed a resolution that all future events had to be run with all net proceeds going to charity.
“The end of last year, the Tour raised some $1.6 billion for organizations like the Salesmanship Club and the community benefits from that, and that continues to rise every year even in this bad economy,” Beman said. “Certainly, the players are benefiting from the success of the Tour, but the success of the Tour is touching literally thousands of people every year.”
Beman was a player in the 1968 Nelson, and wasn’t thinking about charity at that time.
“Then I wasn’t thinking about any bigger things than trying to make a living. We couldn’t care less what the Salesmanship Club did. … You had nice prize money and we were here as players trying to get it. That’s all we knew,’ he said. “But when I became commissioner, I got a little wiser.”
Choi, who has eight PGA Tour victories, has had four consecutive top-10 finishes.
Like Choi, Day has five top 10s in 11 tournaments played this season. Day had three top 10s in a row with a sixth-place finish at The Players Championship before being 31st last week at Colonial, where he is a member.
Day is among seven past Nelson winners playing this week.
“Twelve months ago, it was an amazing run from then until now. Obviously my game has changed a lot since then,” Day said. “This was a platform to the next level for me. I’ve contended in a couple of majors now and I’ve grown on the course and off the course, which has been nice. It’s been a really exciting last 12 months.”