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Colonial transforms Cowtown into swing town

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Posted 1:46pm on Wednesday, May. 23, 2012

I'm still surprised by how many people I meet who say they've never been to the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, Fort Worth's best outdoor party. The uninitiated usually have a litany of excuses: "It's golf," they say. "It's boring," they shrug. "It's ..."

Enough! Anyone who's never set foot inside the gates of the Colonial during tournament week simply doesn't know what they're missing. Colonial virgins, seriously, it's time you to let us deflower you.

As the self-appointed ministers of mischief and ambassadors of an all-around good time, DFW.com offers just a few reasons why it's time to take the Colonial plunge:

You'll enjoy the gorgeous scenery

And we're not just talking about the course. The fairway runway show at Colonial will have your head on a swivel all weekend. The ladies break out their strappy sundresses and cute sandals, or perilously short shorts and tight tanks. Guys pull on tight polos and madras shorts, and maybe a bit of old-school charm with a Hogan-esque golf cap. Flashy sunglasses add an air of Hollywood red-carpet glamour.

The result is a feast for the eyes. Call it Project Fairway.

All of which is to say that watching golf does not have to be your top priority at Colonial. For proof, check out our party pics at dfw.com.

The vacationlike atmosphere is catching

Colonial brings out the Club Med in everyone. Golf fans just seem friendlier, chattier and completely de-stressed. That could have something to do with the frozen margaritas and icy cold Buds that abound on the course. But I also think once you set foot inside Colonial, you're freed up from the daily grind.

No place feels more like a cruise ship at Colonial than the 13th hole, or what I like to call the Land of Silicone, Cellphones and Strategically Placed Sweat Beads. There is a lovely golf hole here -- a challenging par-3 over water -- but by Saturday you'll be hard-pressed to find it in the throngs of beautiful people.

The 13th is also famous for the Caddie Races, which get fans in the stands hooting, hollering and betting on which caddie will set foot on the green first. The best part? The caddies and players are in on it: Some race toward the green, and others tiptoe around it to build suspense. Sounds silly, but after a few hours in the hot sun and a few too many Michelobs, you'll be screaming your head off for your guy, too.

Finally, if you don't want to immerse yourself in the mayhem at 13, there are plenty of other party opportunities at The Champions Club and Margaritaville, at the clubhouse and in the area behind the grandstands at the 16th green, just to name a few.

Golf is a gripping sport. Really!

It may not have the bone-jarring action of a Cowboys game, or the breakneck pace of the Mavs, but there are many things that make watching golf in person very compelling.

1: You can get close to the action, so close you'll be able to count the whiskers on Rickie Fowler's pirate beard. No other sport allows fans to stand so close to its competitors. Just don't sneeze, or, God forbid, let your cellphone go off during someone's backswing.

2: You don't have to stay in your seat, like you do at most other sporting events. I suggest you walk all of Colonial at least once, because it's not too hilly, it's shady, and it is beautiful to behold. It's also the best way to experience it all, from the twisty terror of the Horrible Horseshoe (holes 3-5), where I once spied former British Open Champion Ben Curtis taking a whiz behind the Port-A-Potties, to the epic theater of the par-3 16th hole. One of my favorite spots to hang out is near the green on No. 11, where you can see if the big hitters can reach the 600-plus-yard par 5 in two. Or in the shade to the right of the ninth green, where you'll see more than few balls go kerplunk in the pond.

3: Golf is also a compelling mental endurance test. Just ask J.J. Henry, the TCU grad who was leading last week's HP Byron Nelson Championship in Las Colinas with only two holes left to play. He hit one shot too far on No. 17, and then another, and another. J.J. finished third, but he will be back at it again this week at Colonial, so make sure you yell: Go Frogs!

4: Golf is like a reality show: If you shoot a few over par Thursday and Friday, you're voted off the island. Cut. Hasta la vista, no matter how many endorsement deals you have.

5: Finally, some golfers are really cool. Sure, it would have been great if some of the biggest names were in the field. But Tiger's probably never coming back. And let me just say, shame on Phil Mickelson for snubbing Colonial after the way its organizers and fans have showered him and his family with support in recent years. There's no excuse for skipping a tournament he's won twice, certainly not over minor course changes.

That said, there will be plenty of great guys to follow (see sidebar.) Fowler, the 20-something with the matinee-idol looks and grip-it-and-rip-it swagger; Sergio Garcia, a former Colonial champion, who plays to the crowd and will pull off some amazing shots; and Jason Dufner, the Ice Man who won last week in Las Colinas. He may be the hottest player on tour.

Colonial is a Fort Worth tradition

Volunteers come back year after year. High-school volleyball teams and orchestra parents run the concession stands. Driving around the neighborhood near the course, you'll see banners rooting on returning favorites like Jim Furyk and David Toms. And that's just part of the charm. Over my last six years covering the tournament, I've bumped into all sorts of people on the course from rockers (Bowling for Soup's Chris Burney) to Navy commanders to a married couple that met at Colonial nearly a decade earlier. I've even found a doppelgänger -- touring pro Rod Pampling and I could be twins. (If he wins, I will steal his giant check and trophy. He can keep the plaid jacket.)

I was at the HP Byron Nelson Championships last week in Las Colinas, and it was a terrific tournament. Big crowds, challenging course and the party at the Pavilion was raucous. But I also overheard several fans in the gallery looking ahead to the next week.

They said they loved the old-style course and the traditions of Colonial. From the Ben Hogan statue to the Wall of Champions on the No. 1 tee to the TCU students packed into the stands on No. 13 -- Colonial feels like a Fort Worth tournament through and through. Not just a tournament that happens to be in Fort Worth.

And for that reason alone, all you Colonial virgins out there need to join the party.

Ready to go? Here are the details

The Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, Wednesday through Sunday (pro-am Wed; tournament Thurs.-Sun.)

Tickets : $45 (one-day admission, Wednesday-Sunday). Ages 13-17, $15. Children 12 and younger free. Champions Club badge (Wed.-Sun.), $225; Grounds badge (Wed.-Sun.), $100. Available at www.CrownePlazaInvitational.com or at the ticket outlet on the east side of University Drive, across from University Park Village. No tickets sold at the course entry gates. Tickets also can be purchased at Tom Thumb stores.

Parking: Farrington Field (University Drive and Lancaster Avenue), beginning Wednesday. Limited parking available at TCU's Amon G. Carter Stadium. $10 per day, includes round-trip bus to and from Colonial.

For more info: 817-927-4280; www.crowneplazainvitational.com

This report contains material from the DFW.com archives.

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