My pro am experience at the Crowne Plaza Invitational began Tuesday night at the Pairings Party. From the Ft. Worth Hilton, Mrs. GolfBlogger and I hopped one of the continuously running shuttles that Crowne Plaza was running for the fifteen minute trip to the course. Inside the large black bus/limousines, two television screens were running video of past tournaments and promotionals on various charities. One focused on the “Pink Out” that started at Crowne Plaza a couple of years ago in the wake of the Mickelson’s breast cancer fight.
Colonial Country Club is on Country Club Circle (merely a driveway) which itself is off The Colonial Parkway. It’s a pleasant drive—more wooded than I imagined Texas would be— and the houses adjourning the parkway were what you might expect near an established country club, large (although not too much so) and quite pretty. In a driveway across the street from the Club a couple of enterprising youngsters had set up the most elaborate lemonade stand I have yet seen.
The initial reception was at the pool, which is located to the front right of the Clubhouse proper. A bevy of Texas beauty queens, replete with tiaras and sashes greeted at the pool entrance where we registered. The pool’s deck was scattered with umbrellaed tables and at the center, a large tented bar. Waiters and waitresses with plates of hors d’oeuvres circulated. There was no doubt at that point that I was going to gain weight on the trip.
Our hosts, Caroline Counihan of IHG and Brian Gabriel of Weber Shandwick, introduced us to several people, and Mrs. GolfBlogger—who is much more social than I—- settled in to chat. Brian Gabriel and I went to lean over the brick wall at the far end of the pool area and watch several pros practice putting on a small green just below. It was at the pool that I first met Del Ross, IHG VP for US Sales and Marketing, who would be one of my partners for the next day’s pro-am and Jim Anhut, IHG Chief Development Officer. Both are capital fellows and made this humble school teacher and golf blogger feel right at home.
After socializing for an hour or so, the party began to move from poolside, through the main gates to the club, by the Hogan Statue, down past the eighteenth’s grandstands and the tenth tee to a large tent located off the ninth fairway. The inside of that immense, air conditioned expanse was set up with a stage at the front (near the entrance), dozens of circular table seating eight in the middle and at the back, buffet tables. Banners of past champions resplendent on their plaid blazers hung from the ceiling. Music poured from speakers on stands. The environment was quite loud and we had to speak loudly to be heard. It in a way reminded me of the banquet hall at a renaissance faire.
Our table was near the front, and it was there that we first met Robert Leonard, a veteran who had lost a leg to a roadside bomb in Iraq. Del and Robert were accompanied by their brothers, who were to caddy for them the next day. Robert is an amazing guy who, like myself, was a little bewildered to find himself at the Crowne Plaza’s pro-am.
Dinner was Surf and Turf, with Tex-Mex thrown in for good measure: slabs of Texas beef, shrimp, crab legs, salmon, tamales and tacos. The less carnivorous had a selection of fruits and vegetables to choose from. An amazing meal.
As dining wound down, we listed to talks by TCU Head Coach Gary Patterson and Colonial Chairman Chuck Scherer, both of whom extolled the charitable foundations of the Crowne Plaza Invitational. Six Medal of Honor winners were introduced to a standing ovation. It actually was quite inspiring to hear of all the good things that can come from a golf tournament.
Then came the main event: the pairings game. Our group’s tee time and pro partner already had been ordained, but the remainder of the teams came forward two at a time to participate in puzzle solving matches. For each, the image of a famous person—masked by squares—was projected on the large screen at the front. The object of the game was to be the first to guess the identity of the person as the squares were randomly removed.
The winner of each match got the first choice of either a player, or a tee time. Players would be chosen without knowing the tee time; tee times without knowing the players. Once a team had chosen its time or partner, the results were posted on a second huge projection screen.
Once all of the teams had been chosen, the party moved to an adjourning tent, where Nike, the Texas Rangers and other sponsors had set up shop. Moving from table to table, we picked up our gift package: Pro-Am shirts, personalized hats, Rangers Tickets and Nike golf clubs. We had a choice of a set of irons, or a driver, hybrid and wedge. From there, we had the opportunity to do some pre-tournament shopping at the pro shop in the tent.
As the party wound down, Mrs. GolfBlogger and I returned to the limo/shuttle, where we were whisked back to the Ft. Worth Hilton.
I was exhausted and knew that I had to get a good night’s sleep: I had to be back at the course at 7 a.m. to make my tee time.