The Houston Open first took place in 1946 when it was won by 5-time major winner Byron Nelson, beating Ben Hogan, who would go on to win nine majors, into second place.
The tournament has had a number of name changes and sponsors through the years, most notably supported by Shell between 1992 and 2017. The host course has also changed over time though has always been held around the city of Houston in Texas. Between 2003 and 2019 the Houston Open was played at the Golf Club of Houston in Humble, formerly known as Redstone Gold Club.
For 2020 the event will switch to the Memorial Park Municipal Golf Course in central Houston which last held the tournament in 1963. The move to Memorial Park came after a multi-million dollar refurbishment of the course, partly funded by Houston Astros owner Jim Crane.
Although dominated by winners from the USA, there has been British success here in the form of Paul Casey in 2009 and Ian Poulter in 2018.
|Memorial Park Municipal Golf Course||Houston, Texas||7,432 Yards||$7,500,000|
The PGA Tour season takes in some highly exclusive golf courses but it is very different this week. Memorial Park is a municipal course meaning it is open to the public all year round and the locals make very good use of the par 72 layout which can play to a maximum yardage of 7,432 when the pros turn up.
Even those who play Memorial Park regularly are still learning about the course after its redesign in 2019. Tom Doak’s work in revamping the layout has been warmly received by amateur golfers and the pros are sure to like what they find this week. Doak actually consulted top level professionals including Brooks Koepka about the redesign. That consultation helped him come to the decision to remove a large number of bunkers and instead use run off areas and slopes as the greens’ primary defence.
Missing the greens is a big no-no this week. That puts a priority on a few key skills. The most obvious is ball striking and approach play, best summed up by strokes gained from tee to green (driving is also important as it is tougher to hit the greens from the two inch rough). Scrambling will also be key to help minimise dropped shots when approach shots don’t find the putting surfaces.
The final thing to note about Memorial Park is that it was designed in order to create what Doak Design calls “opportunities for dramatic lead changes”. Thus, there are five par fives and a scorable closing stretch which should present birdies aplenty and even the odd eagle. That could lead to a thrilling finale and might favour players who have the ability to go low when the pressure is on.
Houston Open Recent Winners
|Year||Winner||Course||To Par||Winning Margin|
|2020||Carlos Ortiz||Memorial Park||-13||2 Strokes|
|2019||Lanto Griffin||Golf Club of Houston||-14||1 Stroke|
|2018||Ian Poulter||Golf Club of Houston||-19||Playoff|
|2017||Russell Henley||Golf Club of Houston||-20||3 Strokes|
|2016||Jim Herman||Golf Club of Houston||-15||1 Stroke|
|2015||J. B. Holmes||Golf Club of Houston||-16||Playoff|
|2014||Matt Jones||Golf Club of Houston||-15||Playoff|
|2013||D. A. Points||Golf Club of Houston||-16||1 Stroke|
|2012||Hunter Mahan||Golf Club of Houston||-16||1 Stroke|
|2011||Phil Mickelson||Golf Club of Houston||-20||3 Strokes|
About the Houston Open
The Houston Open was first played way back in 1946 and over the years has been held at a number of different courses and had several different names. Unsurprisingly, it has always been held in Houston or the surrounding suburbs and here we take a closer look at this historic PGA Tour event, including the huge names of golf on the roll of honour and what it takes to get over the line here.
Over the years many things have changed in relation to this tournament. It has been held in spring, before the US Masters, in October and, in 2020 was scheduled to take place in mid-November. In April that year the event was moved to the start of November in order to facilitate the rescheduled US Masters. 2020 was a year of great upheaval in the sporting world but hopefully in years to come it will just be another minor asterisk in terms of the history of this event.
No Houston Open at All
The Houston Open has been shifted around the PGA Tour schedule with the 2020 edition in the balance until the announcement of the calendar. There was no tournament in 1948 and 21 years later, in 1969, it was again missing from the PGA calendar, this time because then-host, the Champions Golf Club, was used for the US Open that year, having hosted the Ryder Cup in 1967.
In 1981 we did get to see some golf, with Tulsa-born Ron Streck winning with what would be a staggeringly low score of 198, were it not for the fact that the Houston Open was reduced to 54 holes that year due to bad weather. The same fate befell the championship in 1990, when Tony Sills won and in 1993 when Jim McGovern took home the winner’s cheque.
A number of golfers have come to Houston and enjoyed multiple success in this event, with Curtis Strange and Vijay Singh the most successful players in its history. Here are all the players to have won it more than once:
|Vijay Singh||3||2002, 2004, 2005|
|Curtis Strange||3||1980, 1986, 1988|
|Stuart Appleby||2||1999, 2006|
|Bruce Crampton||2||1973, 1975|
|Bobby Nichols||2||1962, 1965|
|Arnold Palmer||2||1957, 1966|
|Mike Souchak||2||1955, 1964|
|Jack Burke Jr.||2||1952, 1959|
|Cary Middlecoff||2||1950, 1953|
Cary Middlecoff, Arnold Palmer, Jack Burke Jr., and Stuart Appleby were also runners-up on two or more occasions and so it is safe to say that this is a tournament at which past form is certainly very much worth paying attention too.
If that is the angle you intend to use for your bets you should definitely pay close attention to what course is hosting the event. Many different courses have been used over the years and whilst the weather conditions, in particular the fierce Texan heat, will be the same at them all, the test they offer will differ. Below is a list of courses used, with the Houston Open being particularly nomadic in its early years:
- River Oaks – 1946
- Memorial Park – 1947
- Pine Forest – 1949
- Braeburn – 1950
- Memorial Park – 1951-1963
- Sharpstown – 1964-1965
- Champions Golf Club – 1966-1971
- Westwood – 1972
- Quail Valley – 1974 and 1974
- The Woodlands – 1975-1983
- TPC Woodlands – 1984-2002
- Golf Club of Houston (though the club has changed name over the years) – 2003-2019
- Memorial Park – 2020 onwards
The new course promises to offer the players a real test but it will be interesting to see what sort of player will thrive at the redesigned Memorial Park. We certainly hope it will produce the same thrilling finishes that have become rather commonplace over the past decade or so at the Golf Club of Houston.
Since it took over hosting duties in 2003 we have rarely seen a win by more than a shot and in 2005 Vijay Singh needed a play-off to get the better of John Daly. Since then there have been five more play-offs, including four times in seven years between 2009 and 2015.
As well as the changes of venue listed, this golf tournament has also seen many changes of name. From 1992 to 2017 oil giant Shell were long-term sponsors, whilst other commercial names have included the less-catchy Independent Insurance Agent Open, Houston Coca-Cola Open and Michelob-Houston Open, with the Houston Classic and Houston Champions International just some of the other names used over the years. A rose by any other name still smells as sweet, so let’s look at some of the greatest moments in the history of this event.
Poulter Masters Houston
Ian Poulter is a man who loves drama and performs best when the pressure is really on, the way he kick started the Miracle of Medinah being testament to that. One of his greatest moments came at this tournament in 2018.
A week earlier he had been told he had earned a spot at that year’s US Masters by making the quarter finals of the WGC Match Play. However, that was an error and he actually needed to beat Kevin Kisner and make the semis in order to move inside the world’s top 50 and thus earn his place at Augusta. He couldn’t manage that and left Austin despondent, thinking about skipping Houston and giving up on the Masters.
After no doubt giving himself a stern talking to he decided to plug away, knowing that only a win in this event would be enough. Things looked bad after a 73 on the Thursday but he didn’t give up. On the last hole, on the last day, he faced a 19 foot putt to force a play-off. He rolled it in for birdie and won the play-off at the first extra hole to earn his place at Augusta National.
Boom Boom Delights Locals
Another one to master the Golf Club of Houston and this tournament was Freddie “Boom Boom” Couples. In the first year at the new venue Couples, who won the Masters in 1992, delighted the Houston crowd by taking glory.
Boom Boom was a Seattle native but went to the University of Houston on a golf scholarship. His 2003 victory brought five years without a PGA Tour win to an end so with deafening support from the crowd it is safe to say the win here meant a lot to Couples. Looking back it will be even more memorable as barring a minor miracle in his 60s, the Shell Houston Open will be the last full tour event he wins.