A bogey for golf in Gwinnett

Everyone knew that losing the PGA Tour stop at Duluth's TPC at Sugarloaf was a possibility after the tournament lost AT&T as its title sponsor. But Monday's official announcement from PGA Tour headquarters still came as a surprise.

After all, here in Gwinnett we're used to adding, not subtracting.

However, these economic times don't inspire anyone to add much other than their gas receipts. And that includes major companies. So with no company willing to pony up the $7 million to $8 million a year required to sponsor the tourney, the Classic is no more.

It's hard to believe that an event that has been around for more than 40 years - more than a decade of that in Duluth - could be pushed to the side, but that's the reality of today's economy. And it also speaks to bad timing.

Tournament director Dave Kaplan said finding a title sponsor wouldn't be a problem 18 months prior to now or 18 months in the future. But that's not the time frame he and his group faced. So during an economic downturn, they tried their best, contacting more than 150 companies but getting nary a taker.

To the casual golf fan, the news might not mean much. After all, Tiger Woods hasn't played at Sugarloaf since winning in 1998, and moving the date to after the Masters has cost the tournament many big names, including fan favorite Phil Mickelson.

But the Classic was much more than those big names that dominated headlines. On the golf side, it gave us breakout performances by guys such as Zach Johnson, who won here before going on to win the Masters, and Ryuji Imada, the Georgia grad who won this year, the final Classic champ.

But the Classic also was much more than golf. Since 1981, the tournament raised more than $13 million for its primary charity, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. That philanthropy brought out an army of volunteers who helped stage the tournament each year.

"We all felt like we were doing something good for the community," said Duluth resident Ralph Mumme, who volunteered for every Classic since the tourney moved to Sugarloaf in 1997. "When we had the reception each year to thank the volunteers, you'd kind of hold your head up high when they announced how much money they were donating to the hospital."

The PGA Tour announced that AT&T will continue donating to CHOA on a "substantial" level the next two years. And the Tour wants to continue its charitable commitment to CHOA through a new Champions Tour (for players 50 and older) event slated to be played at Sugarloaf next year.

But the Champions Tour is not the regular Tour, and the galleries and the economic impact for the area will not be the same, either. It's a big loss on many levels, and a sign of the rough economic times.

The Tour used to have a marketing campaign centered around the phrase: "These guys are good." Now they're gone, and they'll be missed.

Said Mumme: "It's a big disappointment is all I can say."

Sums it up for a lot of us.

E-mail Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Tuesdays.