AT&T opts out of 2009 golf tourney

DULUTH - The Atlanta area's long-running PGA Tour event will have a new name and a new sponsor after 2008.

AT&T announced Thursday that it has exercised its option to cease being the title sponsor for what is now called the AT&T Classic. The decision won't affect the 2008 golf tournament, scheduled for May 12-18 at the TPC at Sugarloaf in Duluth.

But PGA Tour and tournament officials now are seeking a title sponsor for future events, beginning in 2009.

"There's no (panic) at all," said Dave Kaplan, the tournament's executive director. "It could be the best thing that's ever happened to us. Who knows? We're not the first golf tournament to lose a sponsor. It happens several times every year. It just hasn't happened to us.

"We feel like we've got a very good event. We've got something to sell. We'll be very active and proactive in finding a new title sponsor."

Corporate change has been rare for the tournament, which has had just two title sponsors since it began in 1967, a very good track record that few PGA Tour stops can match. Georgia Pacific was the original sponsor until BellSouth (and then AT&T after the two merged) became the title sponsor in 1989.

When Georgia Pacific ended its run with the tournament, BellSouth already had notified officials that it wanted the title sponsorship if it came open. But this time there is no immediate sponsor to step in.

Kaplan said the title sponsor could be named sooner or later, depending on how the search goes in the coming months. He said there's a chance possible sponsors will be guests at this year's event, which is the 40th anniversary of the tourney.

"We're excited about this year's tournament," Kaplan said. "I don't want people to think we're down in the dumps. We're going to work hard to make sure this year's event is successful and the best it can be."

AT&T's heavy load of golf sponsorship likely factored into its decision. It inherited the Atlanta tournament with its BellSouth merger, adding another event to a crowded budget.

The company's current sponsorship includes the Masters, the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, the AT&T National hosted by Tiger Woods, two Champions Tour events and the Tiger Jam presented by AT&T.

"AT&T is a major sponsor of professional golf and various charities around the country, and while we are consolidating our sponsorships as it relates to golf, we are proud of our affiliation with the Atlanta Classic Foundation and very pleased to be a part of the greater Atlanta community," AT&T vice president-sponsorships Jamie Butcher said in a released statement. "Our commitment to Atlanta's charities, associated with this sponsorship, will continue with significant donations in both 2009 and 2010."

Kaplan was pleased that AT&T committed to support the tournament's charities for the next three years. Its primary charity is Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, which has received more than $13 million from the event since 1981.

A new sponsor also means a new name for the tourney, which was called the AT&T Classic for the first time last year. It also debuted in a new date in 2007, shifting to mid-May from its former spot in late-March, early-April.