Imagine the hush of the crowd, the bead of sweat on your brow and the intense pressure as you stand before the iconic 18th hole at Shell Houston Open – all eyes on you. It might be a replica, but this new feature, built in celebration of what will be the 25th anniversary of Shell Oil Company's title sponsorship of Houston's PGA TOUR event, should bring out the inner golfer in just about anybody. In what's dubbed the Shell Hole-in-One Challenge, any spectator who makes the shot between March 31 and April 3 wins a prize from presenting sponsor Academy Sports + Outdoors.
“They'll be able to putt there and win some prizes and get their photos taken,” says Steve Timms, the Houston Golf Association's president. “It will be real fun. And then we have a new element on the 16th hole called the Hendricks Party Deck, open to the public.” He says it's in a covered tent area, and that spectators can enjoy food and beverages there. “[It's a] great vantage point for viewing what we think is one of the most exciting par three holes on the PGA tour.”
Don't expect any bitter rivalries – Timms says that's more of a Ryder Cup sort of thing ("It's the world against the United States at that point”) – but the weeklong event still promises much excitement, with defending champion J.B. Holmes going up against crowd favorite and World Golf Hall of Famer Phil Mickelson (ranked No. 18) and Spain's Sergio Garcia (No. 13).
“We have an international field because we play the week prior to the Masters Tournament,” says Timms, who notes that Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee (No. 38 in the World Golf Rankings) and England's Lee Westwood also have committed. Also on hand are South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen (No. 16), Sweden's Henrik Stenson (No. 7) and Spain's Rafa Cabrera Bello (No. 6 in the European Tour's Race to Dubai). Players are able to add and drop without penalty through March 25, so there could still be a few surprises. [On March 22 we heard from the organizers that Jordan Spieth (No. 1 in world) and Rickie Fowler (No. 5 in world) also are participating in the event.]
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Early in the week (March 28-30), fans are invited to come out and spectate and park on site, although parking on March 30 does require a ticket. Those attending March 31 through April 3 will need specific parking credentials to park on site, but there's a convenient $5 round-trip shuttle bus to and from Bush Intercontinental Airport.
Cameras are not permitted after Wednesday, but the organizers have set up an autograph zone (“where the players finalize their scoring for the day”), part of the H-E-B-sponsored family fun zone, which has fun activities for kids.
Since Shell became the title sponsor in 1992, the event has raised more than $60 million for local charitable programs; beneficiaries include nonprofits like The First Tee of Greater Houston.
March 28 through April 3, Golf Club of Houston, 5860 Wilson Road, Humble. For a full schedule, call 281-454-7000 or visit shellhoustonopen.com. $25 to $695, with group options like The Greenskeeper Package (6 tickets per day + 2 parking per day) for $5,000.