The Shell Houston Open

Popular PGA Tour event drew thousands

The Shell Houston Open, the 10th oldest regular event on the PGA Tour schedule, spent more than 20 years in The Woodlands, proving to be one of the most successful endeavors the community has ever undertaken. The golf tournament was so successful, in fact, the crowds of 200,000-plus outgrew the community that hosted it and moved to Redstone Golf Club in 2003.

But for the time it was here from 1974 to 2002 the Shell Houston Open, or SHO as it came to be known, established The Woodlands as a high profile golfing community while attracting the world's best golfers as well as several celebrities throughout the years.

"The tournament had been somewhat nomadic, but The Woodlands gave the tournament an identify," said Burt Darden, communications director for the Houston Golf Association, the organization that puts on the SHO each year.

Before moving to The Woodlands, Houston's PGA Tour event went through a variety of name changes and locations, most notably a 12-year stint at Memorial Golf Course.

But as George Mitchell was developing The Woodlands in the mid-1970s, he saw an opportunity to bring the event to his new community.

Although the PGA was ready to make The Woodlands home for its Houston event, The Woodlands was not quite ready for the PGA.

"One of the things that was unusual, the golf course was not completed yet," Darden said. "They worked all day and all night to get it competed, and lo and behold, they did."

Among the early draws for the tournament was its celebrity pro-am, where amateur golfers and local residents could take the course with PGA Tour professionals and entertainment personalities. Darden said Doug Sanders, who was director of golf in The Woodlands at the time, had friends in the entertainment business and encouraged them to make the trip out to the fledgling community to promote the tournament. Among those who took part in various SHO pro-ams included Bob Hope, Andy Williams, Phyllis Diller and Jackie Gleason. Darden said former University of Texas football coach Darrell Royal and Willie Nelson hosted a tournament at the Tournament Players Course.

However, some of the dynamics that led to the event's success in The Woodlands, such as the course's location in a developed neighborhood and an increase in interest in the event, eventually led to its relocation.

Darden said that although the TPC was a relatively short golf course that led to lower scores, which subsequently provided for exciting golf for spectators, the course's constraints did not allow for expansion.

"The golf course was always in really good shape and leant itself to good scoring," Darden said. "But the equipment improved, players were hitting the ball farther, but there was no way to make [the course] longer."

In addition, with more than 200,000 spectators and their parked vehicles causing traffic problems in and around Woodlands neighborhoods, residents began to complain, Darden said. Eventually, the HGA moved the SHO to Redstone, a substantially longer golf course and one with more parking.

Winners of the Shell Houston Open in The Woodlands

Throughout its 27-year history in The Woodlands, the Shell Houston Open featured winners both notable and unsung.

Past winners

  • 1975 — Bruce Crampton
  • 1976 — Lee Elder
  • 1977 — Gene Littler
  • 1978 — Gary Player
  • 1979 — Wayne Levi
  • 1980 — Curtis Strange
  • 1981 — Ron Streck
  • 1982 — Ed Sneed
  • 1983 — David Graham
  • 1984 — Corey Pavin
  • 1985 — Raymond Floyd
  • 1986 — Curtis Strange
  • 1987 — Jay Haas
  • 1988 — Curtis Strange
  • 1989 — Mike Sullivan
  • 1990 — Tony Sills
  • 1991 — Fulton Allem
  • 1992 — Fred Funk
  • 1993 — Jim McGovern
  • 1994 — Mike Heinen
  • 1995 — Payne Stewart
  • 1996 — Mark Brooks
  • 1997 — Phil Blackmar
  • 1998 — David Duval
  • 1999 — Stuart Appleby
  • 2000 — Robert Allenby
  • 2001 — Hal Sutton
  • 2002 — Vijay Singh