- Houston Open
The Houston Open is one of the oldest 72-hole stroke play championships on the men’s professional circuit in America, starting out shortly after World War II ended. A pillar of the PGA Tour, the event was for many years sponsored by the Shell petroleum company, which is hardly a surprise considering the competition’s location in the oil-rich state of Texas.
A tournament had been played sporadically in Houston between 1922 – the year the Texas Open was established – and 1938, with Joe Kirkwood Sr. from Australia winning two of the first three editions. After a gap of five years, another four competitions were played over a nine-year period starting in 1930. Jug McSpaden from Winchester Country Club in Boston won the last of these events at River Oaks in 1938.
Eight years later, and with the ravages of World War II at an end, the Houston Open became a permanent fixture on the professional calendar back at River Oaks Country Club as Byron Nelson picked up the winner’s cheque for $2,000 after posting an aggregate score two shots better than his nearest competitor, Ben Hogan, in May of 1946. This was the season after Byron’s record-breaking eighteen victories in 1945, and he would go on win “only” six competitions in the 1946 season.
Twelve months further on, the Houston Open moved on to Memorial Park, where Bobby Locke from South Africa carded an 11-under-par total of 277 to claim the first of his eleven American titles,. The municipal course in the park was to then host thirteen consecutive championships, but only after Pine Forest and Braeburn each staged one-off editions in 1949 and 1950.
Pine Forest Country Club moved to new premises in 1975 and the original John Bredimus-designed course at Braeburn Country Club has since been remodelled by Carlton Gipson (who also added another nine at the new Pine Forest site in 1985).
During the 1950s and early 1960s at Memorial Park, there was a win for Arnold Palmer in 1957 (only his fourth on the PGA Tour) when his 67-72-71-69 total of 279 was good enough to edge out Doug Ford by a single shot. The last Open at this location took place in 1963, with New Zealand’s Bob Charles winning the first of his five professional events on North American soil here.
The championship was held at Sharpstown Country Club in 1964 and 1965. Unfortunately, this new development closed in the 1970s and the City of Houston took over the property because the owners hadn’t made any of the mortgage payments they’d promised. It still operates on a limited budget as the Sharpstown Golf Course.
The “Houston Champions International” was then played at Champions Golf Club from 1966 to 1971, which was a very busy time for the club as it hosted both the Ryder Cup (1967) and US Open (1969) in the course of those six years. The most memorable winner of the tournament at that time was undoubtedly Roberto De Vicenzo, capturing his sixth and final PGA Tour title seventeen years after his first.
Westwood Golf Club staged the competition – sensibly renamed as the Houston Open – on its John Bredimus-designed course in 1972 and it resulted in success for Australian Bruce Devlin who collected his seventh PGA Tour win in nine years with a 2-shot margin of victory over three other players.
A year later, Quail Valley hosted consecutive editions of the event when it was a private Country Club. Today it’s a 36-hole public facility hosting two 18-hole layouts, La Quinta and El Dorado. Another Antipodean, Bruce Crampton, won the first of these competitions in 1973 and he returned two years further down the line to secure a second victory at a new venue, The Woodlands.
This 63-hole golf complex became home to the event until 2002 and there were many highlights during its 26-year tenure as the tournament headquarters: wins for South Africans Gary Player (1978) and Fulton Allem (1991); an Australian double in 1999 and 2000 for Stuart Appleby and Robert Allenby; plus a hat-trick of titles for Curtis Strange between 1980 and 1988.
The final Houston Open played on the Tournament course at The Woodlands went to Fiji’s Vijay Singh before the event moved once again, this time to another long-term residency at the Golf Club of Houston, where it’s still in operation. Within three years of arriving here, Vijay had garnered another two titles, winning back-to-back in 2004 and 2005.
Since then, there’s been further Australian success for Stuart Appleby (2006), Adam Scott (2007) and Matt Jones (2014), while Paul Casey and Ian Poulter from England enjoyed play-off wins in 2009 and 2018, respectively.
In 2020, Memorial Park once again hosted the tournament fifty-eight years after professional players last contested the Houston Open there. The layout had just completed a multi-million dollar renovation which saw fairways sand capped, new drainage installed and all the holes modified to some extent by Tom Doak’s Renaissance Golf Design firm.
You’ll not find Pine Forest (1949) below as it no longer exists. Sharpstown (1964-5) and Quail Valley (1973-4) are also missing as they currently don’t feature in our Texan rankings.
Houston Open Top 100 Leaderboard