Cow Pasture Classic celebrates Hogan

The Cow Pasture Golf Classic in Dublin, Texas.

The Cow Pasture Golf Classic in Dublin, Texas.

DUBLIN, Texas -- This is my favorite tournament.

As I head to the first tee, a calf runs lickety-split across my path. Its mother stands guard in silence, but I know the words behind that impatient look:

“Golfers. Don’t any of them work for a living?”

In the early days of the Cow Pasture Golf Classic, the cows were cleared from the pasture on Friday and the golfers descended on Saturday to play a makeshift course. Now tournament officials don’t even bother evacuating the cows.

“We get such great pictures, the cows standing there, watching the golfers,” says Karen Wright, part cheerleader, part taskmaster for this charity event.

“They’re like pets. They used to just follow behind us and pull the flags out of the holes and knock the signs down,” recalls Wright, who is executive director of the Dublin Economic Development Corp.

Today the tournament has grown larger and the cows are mostly content to observe the crazy collection of men and women sidestepping the cow patties while playing from one tiny, mowed oasis to another.

Some golfers wear jeans, some wear chaps, some wear plus fours. There is no dress code for such a diverse group. The Ben Hogan Foundation, a major supporter of this effort, loaded a bus with golfers and made the 70-mile trip from Fort Worth.

It is a pilgrimage. The site of this event was the exact location of Hogan’s last victory as an amateur, in 1929, shortly before he turned pro.

The nine-hole Dublin-De Leon Golf Country Club, with its sand greens and quirky collection of homemade golf holes, has been abandoned for more than 70 years, but the significance of this pasture lives on.

Thanks to the citizens and businesses of Dublin. Thanks to the father-and-son duo of Clay and Scott Estes, who own the land. Thanks to Ben Hogan fans from around the world, some of whom play in the tournament and many of whom visit the nearby Ben Hogan Museum.

Hogan was born a few miles down the road. He lived here until he was 9, when his father, a blacksmith, moved the family to Fort Worth.

That Dublin, with a population of 3,700, would organize a museum to Hogan, the native son, makes sense. This is Museum Town USA, with five separate museums: one for Hogan, one for the Dublin Historical Society, one for the Dublin Rodeo once owned by movie cowboy Gene Autry and two for the Dublin Bottling Works that in 1891 became the first facility to bottle Dr Pepper.

The town slogan: “We have so much history, it takes five museums to hold it all.”

The pride exhibited by so many small towns in America is something special. Ben Hogan’s footprints are all around here, and that is something worth celebrating.

So we unearth the remnants of an old golf course with tiny, square tee boxes and sand greens, and we pretend Hogan himself might come walking into the midst of this merrymaking.

The Hogan story is not one of privilege or special treatment. Advancing through the caddie ranks and turning pro at 17, a dreamer with little money and no high school diploma rose high above his circumstances.

This year is special because it is the 100th anniversary of the great man’s birth (Aug. 13). A few weeks before, Hogan followers gather in the hot summer to play in a tournament where the hazards go by names such as sagebrush, mesquite, yucca and cacti.

Tom Stites, the chief designer of Nike golf clubs, makes a simple but important observation: “Some people should never be forgotten, and Ben Hogan is one of them.”

Stites once worked for Hogan. He knew Hogan. Today, Stites sits on the board of the Ben Hogan Foundation.

So does Mike Wright, director of golf at Shady Oaks Country Club, where Hogan spent much of his time.

When Wright was just 23, he became Hogan’s handpicked recommendation to lead the Shady Oaks professional staff.

“It is my honor to talk about Mr. Hogan and keep his spirit alive,” Wright says.

Hogan was a serious man, and his legacy is a serious matter in this little corner of the world. When the good folks of Dublin elected to organize the Cow Pasture Golf Classic, it wasn’t a casual decision.

“We call it ‘Ben Hogan’s Forgotten Fairways’ and it isn’t some gimmicky, throw-it-together golf tournament in any cow pasture,” says Karen Wright, not related to Mike Wright. “Ben Hogan walked right here. He hit golf balls right here.”

There are times when I want to jump in a time machine and go back. In this case, back 83 years, back to 1929.

The Dublin-De Leon golf course would be there.

Ben Hogan would be there. Golf history would be waiting. Even the cows would be excited.

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