How McKinney landed the AT&T Byron Nelson and why it sets the region up for a bright future

The AT&T Byron Nelson has a new home in McKinney. From now through at least 2026, the golf tournament will call McKinney’s TPC Craig Ranch home. Along the way, the weeklong event – that culminates in four days of golf competition -- will change the way McKinney is viewed in the Metroplex with an economic impact that can’t be understated. 

Bringing the tournament to McKinney thanks to the “Dream Team”

To the uninitiated, the announcement that the tournament moved to McKinney may have come as a surprise. But in reality, many in McKinney have been wooing tournament officials for years. Chief among them is developer and former President of Craig International, David Craig.

“This is a dream come true for me. I believe it’s a dream come true for the City of McKinney and Collin County, and the region,” said Craig.

He’s not joking when he says it’s a dream come true for him. He was playing the long game with the tournament – a strategy that started when he began developing the Craig Ranch area of McKinney.

“It’s the reason I built TPC Craig Ranch in the early 2000s,” said Craig.

And that dream became reality during a rainy morning in late February of 2020, according to Craig.

“It was raining so hard – I mean, everyone was soaked by the time they walked into the Weiskopf Room at TPC Craig Ranch,” Craig chuckled as he told the story in his well-decorated suite of offices just off 121 and a stone’s throw from hole two at the southern end of TPC Craig Ranch.

By the time that rainy morning came to be, however, Craig says much of the hard work – at least – to get the team in charge of the AT&T Byron Nelson to look at McKinney’s TPC Craig Ranch as a possible place to hold the tournament was already done.

“If I’ve ever seen unity in a community hit on all cylinders – it was the initiative of what we call the ‘Dream Team’ on the McKinney side of things to get the Byron Nelson to McKinney,” said Craig. “The Dream Team included the likes of [former McKinney mayor and current board member of the McKinney Economic Development Corporation] Brian Loughmiller, Mayor [George] Fuller, [City Manager] Paul Grimes, [Chairman, President, and CEO of Independent Financial] David Brooks, [City Councilman] Rick Franklin, [Craig International COO] Miles Prestemon, and of course myself.”

In short order, that Dream Team – convinced the Salesmanship Club of Dallas, the hosts of the AT&T Byron Nelson, to move the tournament from Dallas to McKinney.

“That was the only time we had a face-to-face meeting,” recalled Craig. “And we had two or three more meetings on Zoom after that.”

“The overall economic impact can be very high,” says Loughmiller. “When you can go out to the major corporations and say ‘Look, we were able to land a major PGA event in McKinney’ – that says something in terms of what is happening in our community, and it could potentially translate into companies looking at McKinney as a place that they would want to do business.”

That potential isn’t lost on Craig either.

“This economic impact brings awareness – globally – to North Texas and Collin County. And if you drill down to it, specifically, the City of McKinney,” said Craig.  

A study done in 2013 estimates the Byron Nelson had an economic impact of just over $40 million per year between 2008 and 2013. If those numbers are still accurate today, that’s a potential economic impact of roughly $200 million during the next five years.

“We are confident the economic impact exceeds that, and we will be conducting another study in the next couple of years,” said AT&T Byron Nelson Tournament Director, Jon Drago.

“North Texas is about to become the epicenter of golf in the country,” says Mike McKinley, the Chair of the Salesmanship Club, referring to the fact that the PGA is building its new headquarters in Frisco. “The complex will have two golf courses… and it’s going to be seven or eight miles away from Craig Ranch. So yes, it’ll create more energy, more excitement, and it’ll be very special.”

Attracting a Crowd

What’s the key to having a massive effect on the local economy?

Visitors. And a lot of them.

It’s estimated upwards of 200,000 people attend tournament week during a normal year. Of course, with COVID-19, the numbers may be different in 2021. However, the tournament is outdoors, and by the time the players tee off, millions all over the country will have been vaccinated.

Whatever the number of attendees is in 2021, they will undoubtedly end up spending money at area hotels, restaurants, and shops – boosting the local economy along the way.

But is COVID-19 the only thing that’ll effect the crowd size?

Some have argued COVID-19 isn’t the only thing that’ll impact the size of the crowd. Many – who tried to keep the tournament in Dallas County – argued the crowd will be smaller on average – because the new location is much further north than it traditionally has been. Drago disagrees.

“We have an incredible fan base who has supported our tournament and programs for years,” said Drago. “As we make McKinney home, we are excited for our fans to experience TPC Craig Ranch, McKinney, and the surrounding areas, as well as welcome new fans from Collin County area who may not have joined us in the past.”

More Than Golf

It’s important to remember that the tournament is more than four days of golf. Every year, the Salesmanship Club of Dallas, the hosts of the AT&T Byron Nelson, also put on several events prior to the main event - that ultimately culminates in the four-day long golf tournament.

“We’ll be hosting a 5K prior to the tournament and are hosting a major music event the Saturday evening of tournament week, both at Craig Ranch,” said Drago.

Other kinds of experiences event organizers will put on leading up to the Byron Nelson every year are Pro-Ams, youth clinics, and more.

“The Nelson, historically, has been a rite of spring in North Texas,” says Mike McKinley, the Chair of the Salesmanship Club. “A lot of people always looked at the Nelson as being the first big party of the year. So we’re bringing the party to McKinney.”

Millions to Charity

Something that typically goes under the radar is the fact that the AT&T Byron Nelson is one of the biggest charity fundraisers on the PGA tour.

“Since 1968, the AT&T Byron Nelson has raised $167 million for Momentous Institute and its programs,” said Drago.

The Momentous Institute, founded and operated by the Salesmanship Club of Dallas, collaborates with children, families, and communities to build and repair social emotional health through education, therapeutic services, and research and training Drago says.

It’s a part of the tournament that can’t go understated says Craig.

“At the end of the day it’s breaking the cycle,” says Craig. “The Momentous Institute allows these children to be the first in their families to graduate from high school and then go to college and graduate from college. It really makes a significant difference, not only in the child, but in the entire family.”

Bottom Line

The AT&T Byron Nelson will be played in McKinney until at least 2026 – and probably a lot longer if the powers-that-be have anything to say about it.

“It’s a five-year deal with a five-year option,” explains Craig. “And I have no doubt that they’ll exercise the option sooner rather than later.”

“In McKinney, we have a simple vision,” said McKinney Mayor George Fuller. “It’s to provide a tremendously safe environment to live, a prosperous opportunity to work and a creative place to play. And there’s no better play than what’s exemplified at the Byron Nelson.”

Landing this prestigious golf tournament may be a testament to the hard work it took to get it here, but there’s no question it’s also a testament to where McKinney is going.

“TPC Craig Ranch will provide the perfect footprint for delivering the optimal spectator experience and allow us to maximize the Salesmanship Club’s mission with the Momentous institute,” said Drago. “We think the location will be a huge hit. This move will provide a remarkable opportunity to showcase our North Texas region and the dynamic growth that defines it.”

“We’re blessed and fortunate – both Craig Ranch and McKinney – to be where we are in the middle of a pandemic,” said Craig.