GOP to join golf fans for big weekend

ATLANTA - Political junkies will get a chance to watch some golf, while golf enthusiasts may indulge in a little politics.

That juxtaposition of pursuits will be possible in Gwinnett County one weekend this spring when the AT&T Classic, an annual fixture around these parts, coincides with the state Republican Convention, being held this year at the Gwinnett Center in Duluth.

"It's going to be kind of a crazy weekend,'' said Lisa Anders, spokeswoman for the Gwinnett Convention and Visitors Bureau.

About 2,000 to 2,500 delegates are expected to attend the GOP event May 18-19, said state party spokesman Marty Klein.

"It depends on how heated the chairman's race is and who the speakers are,'' he said.

The golf tournament begins earlier that week and runs through May 20.

Georgia Republicans hold a state convention three out of every four years. Delegates elect the party chairman during odd-numbered years and choose delegates to the Republican National Convention during presidential election years.

Also, Republican presidential hopefuls typically show up for conventions that take place during the year before presidential elections to address the delegates and woo supporters one on one.

"That's a possibility (this year),'' Klein said. "We're still working on schedules and invitations.''

Anders said demand for hotel rooms will be high for that weekend.

Besides the 2,500 to 3,000 "room nights'' the golf tournament is expected to eat up - a figure likely to go higher because the event is being moved from its traditional April dates - she said the convention should generate about 600 to 700 room nights.

Anders said the convention would produce even more hotel stays, but many of the delegates live in metro Atlanta and won't need hotel rooms.

Still, she said hotel reservations are going fast in Lawrenceville, Suwanee and in the area around the Mall of Georgia.

"It should be a very good weekend for the entire county,'' she said.

Anders said an economic impact survey conducted two years ago found that the golf tournament usually generates almost $16 million, a number county tourism officials hope to improve upon from now on by holding the event in May. The April tournaments have been plagued by rainy weather, she said.

Klein said Republican Party officials have been working with the Convention and Visitors Bureau and AT&T executives on handling the load of traffic expected to converge on the area.

Anders said signs will be put up well ahead of time directing motorists to alternate routes.

"Traffic is going to be an issue,'' Klein said. "But there's also going to be an opportunity for our delegates to take part in the golf tournament. It cuts both ways.''