AT&T to take over as title sponsor of Byron Nelson, portending big changes

HP Byron Nelson Championship
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The HP Byron Nelson Championship could find a new home at the soon-to-be-built Trinity River Golf Complex south of downtown Dallas as the result of a couple of sponsorship deals that AT&T has entered into.
By news services

Series: PGA Tour

Published: Friday, November 30, 2012 | 5:32 p.m.

DALLAS -- The Byron Nelson Championship is getting a new title sponsor, but the sponsorship deal is only one part of what is potentially a history-making day for golf in the Dallas area.

The PGA Tour said Friday that AT&T would take over as title sponsor of the Nelson in 2015, the year after the title contract of HP expires. AT&T recently moved its headquarters to Dallas.

Also Friday, Dallas city officials announced a partnership with AT&T and Southern Methodist University to build a semi-private golf complex in the Trinity River Forest south of downtown. That facility will become the home of the SMU golf program and the First Tee of Greater Dallas, and will be designed to host PGA Tour events as well.

''The possibility exists that the Byron Nelson Championship may be played at the Trinity River facility,'' PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said by phone, according to WFAA-TV.

The Trinity Forest Golf Complex, as it will be known, will contain a regulation 18-hole course; a nine-hole short course; what officials termed a “world class” practice facility; a facility for the SMU men’s and women’s golf teams; an administrative structure for the First Tee; the Texas Horse Park for the SMU equestrian teams; and recreational trails, according to Mayor Mike Rawlings.

''This will be a game-changing investment in southern Dallas,'' said Rawlings. Construction on the facility is set to begin in 2013, pending approval by the Dallas City Council, with the spring of 2016 set as a tentative completion date.

The city will spend $12 million to clean up a 400-acre landfill site next to the Trinity River Forest, which is the largest urban forest in the United States. Construction of the facilities ''will not touch one of the trees,'' said Rawlings. ''In fact, we will plant more trees.''

Dallas native Lee Trevino gave the project his blessing on Friday, in large part because of the opportunity to get into golf it will offer minorities.

''This is big, folks,'' he said. ''This is much bigger than most people can even think about. It’s been a long time since someone built something and called it ‘world.’ This is going to be a big deal for Dallas.''

AT&T is one of the most prominent sponsors in golf. Along with being a main corporate sponsor at the Masters, the company is the title sponsor on the PGA Tour at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and the AT&T National at Congressional, which is run by the Tiger Woods Foundation. Its contract with Woods' foundation expires in 2014, the year before it takes over in Dallas.

Greg McLaughlin, president of the Tiger Woods Foundation, was optimistic AT&T would stay as a sponsor after 2014.

''They've been a great partner of ours,'' McLaughlin said from the World Challenge in Thousand Oaks, Calif. ''Their sponsorship began in '07, so this is an eight-year contract, which is phenomenal in this day and age. We're hopeful they're going to want to continue with the event. I know they like D.C., and they like the event.''

Ron Spears, senior executive vice president of AT&T, said in a release that the company was excited to be the sponsor of the Nelson for 2015 and 2016, which suggested only a two-year deal.

''We hope the tournament will be the AT&T Byron Nelson Championship for many years into the future,'' said Spears, who is also on the board of directors for the Tiger Woods Foundation.

AT&T became sponsor of Woods' new tournament at Congressional in 2007, and it had a personal endorsement deal with Woods starting in 2009, with its logo on the bag. AT&T ended that endorsement soon after Woods was caught having multiple affairs at the end of 2009, though the company has remained supportive of the tournament.

The tournament has raised $14 million since it began in 2007, which has helped support two Tiger Woods Learning Center campuses in the Washington area.

McLaughlin said he would meet with AT&T and ''figure out strategically what they want to do.''

''We think it's a great event,'' he said. ''I hope they decide to stay with it.''

This is only the third change in title sponsor for the Byron Nelson Championship, but the fifth corporate name in the title. GTE was the first sponsor in 1988, changing in 2001 when it was acquired by Verizon. EDS became a new sponsor in 2003, and then that company was acquired by HP before the 2009 tournament.

The Nelson will be played May 16-19 next year, one week after The Players Championship.

It has been played at the TPC Four Seasons Resort Las Colinas in Irving since 1983.