DALLAS – A year ago, in its debut as the host venue for the AT&T Byron Nelson, Trinity Forest yielded a winning score of 23 under to then-rookie Aaron Wise. No previous champ in the tournament’s 65-year history had ever reached that level, and only Sam Snead in 1957 made it to 20 under. That was at Glen Lakes Country Club, a defunct course once divided by a freeway.
Among all PGA TOUR winners last season, only Michael Kim at the John Deere Classic went lower in relation to par, finishing at 27 under at TPC Deere Run.
First impressions, then, is that Trinity Forest – a links-type layout, built on a landfill by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, that drew attention for being different than most TOUR venues -- is a pushover, the world’s best golfers lighting up a course most had never previously seen.
But Harrison Frazar, the retired PGA TOUR pro who helped bring Trinity Forest to life in 2016, was not surprised. Earlier this week, he was in the midst of explaining why Wise’s score was so low. As if on cue, the wind kicked up into his face.
“What you’re feeling right now – this is the normal wind,” Frazar said. “This is here almost every day – 12 to 15 mph, just like that.
“If you get this, the scores are naturally just going to go up.”
Trinity Forest obviously didn’t get the wind much last year, an unusually quiet week by Texas standards. Add in course conditions that made the 7,380-yard layout play significantly shorter, and it’s no wonder players went low.
“It was firm and fast last year. Tee balls were going a country mile,” said PGA TOUR agronomist Mike Crawford. “50, 60, 70 yards of roll – almost unheard of. I think there was at least one drive of 400 yards.
“But this year, we’ll see the golf course play differently.”
Year 2 of Trinity Forest will indeed have a different vibe. Record rainfall last fall – more than 28 inches of rain combined in September and October – along with a wet winter and spring has continued into this month. Last week, 2-1/2 inches of rain fell at Trinity Forest, and Wednesday’s thunderstorm left several areas of the course with standing water. More rain is expected, especially on Friday and Saturday.
Directly above the landfill is a clay cap of several feet in depth that prevents moisture from infiltrating the landfill. To work as a sealant, the clay cap must stay intact, which means water can only evaporate through the topsoil. Miles of drainage above the clay cap have been installed, but Crawford recognizes that Trinity Forest’s grounds crew must “actively tackle” drainage issues on “an ongoing basis probably forever.”
So what’s this mean for this week’s AT&T Byron Nelson? Trinity Forest should play longer. Players who used wedges and short irons into some holes last year may find themselves using mid-irons this week. “Instead of a 3-wood and a wedge into a par 5,” added Crawford, “hopefully it’ll be driver, iron – and maybe another iron. Would be nice to see some 3-shot par 5s.”
Also, the par-3 eighth and 12th holes will play longer, thanks to new tee areas. The eighth is now 160 yards; last year at 140 yards, it was the easiest par 3 among the 204 played in the entire 2017-18 PGA TOUR season, playing to a stroke average of 2.646.
Players also are expecting some tees to be played back this year. Beau Hossler, a member of Trinity Forest, said after his practice round Tuesday that he hit 6-iron into the 18th green. A year ago, he used 9-iron. “Strategically, they set up the golf a little bit longer,” he noted.
Of course, the wet weather may also make the greens more attackable, said the defending champ.
“I know the scores were still low last year but it was a lot more layups and positioning off the tee,” said Wise, whose win at Trinity Forest fueled his Rookie of the Year campaign. “This year might be a lot more drivers being sent around the golf course.”
But the real difference-maker at Trinity Forest is the wind. You can say that about most courses in Texas, but perhaps none moreso than this one, given that not only is it a flat surface on a landfill, but that few trees exist inside the course boundary to block the wind.
“The cool thing with this piece of land – flat with no trees – is that it’s very susceptible to get wind,” said Hossler, who shot a final-round 64 last year with birdies on his last five holes. “That changes the golf course entirely.
The direction of the wind also could make a big impact. The winds have been coming from the south early this week but are forecast to switch on Thursday to a north wind for the rest of the week. That means players will have to adjust their gameplans.
"This north wind ... it's not the wind that the course is designed for," said Jordan Spieth, Trinity Forest's most notable TOUR member.
"Holes will be quirkier. You have to play like shots that you wouldn't normally have to hit. You might hit 6-iron into No. 15 green, which is a green that's normally designed to hold a wedge. Certain holes are going to be really, really tough but then a couple of the par 5s are easier with this wind.
"It's like the course is designed for it to be firm and be blowing 15 out of the south. Last year we had no wind and this year we have it soft and blowing out of the north.
"It's just what happens. It will even out over time. We'll get the normal conditions most of the time."
Still, the winds aren’t forecast to be overly severe, outside of gusts to 20 mph during the first two days. While 23 under might not be needed to win this week, the scores could again be low if the winds don’t make their presence known.
And maybe that’s OK.
“When we were out here building it, Ben talked about how with the greatest links courses, the defense needs to be the wind and the turf,” Frazar said. “So if you have no wind and the best players in the world? They’re going to tear it up.
“He wanted the golf course to be built that if there was no wind, then give the guys a chance to shoot 61, 62, 63. But if the wind blows? 71, 72 is going to be a good score.”