0

Loss of PGA event another blow to area golf
Four tourneys have left Atlanta in past decade

The golf tournament had different names in recent years, not that the name mattered too much.

Gwinnett County had embraced the BellSouth Classic/AT&T Classic, the Atlanta Classic Foundation's annual PGA Tour event that had been held at the TPC at Sugarloaf since 1997. The event had even deeper ties to the Atlanta area, dating back to the first Atlanta Classic in 1967.

But those ties were broken on Monday, when the PGA Tour announced the Classic Foundation's annual tour stop in Atlanta wouldn't be a part of its schedule after 2009 because it lacked a title sponsor.

"It's obviously been a great benefit for our main charity, Children's Healthcare, and all of our charities," said Dave Kaplan, the Atlanta Classic event's tournament director. "It had a great amount of economic impact, it had such great volunteers and such great fans that came out every year. It was a bit emotional. It was hard news to take."

Unfortunately, it also was golf news that has become all too common in recent years.

Although Georgia hosts two marquee golf tournaments - the Masters in Augusta and the season-ending Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta - the Atlanta area has now lost four golf tournaments in the past decade.

The Sarazen World Open was held from 1994 to 1998 at Chateau Elan, the Nationwide Tour (now Champions Tour) hosted a tourney at the Golf Club of Georgia until 2000 and the Chick-fil-A Charity Championship was in Stockbridge until 2006. All three are no longer around.

The Classic Foundation's tournament joined them on Monday.

"It's something that has been around a long time and has a great tradition," Kaplan said. "Atlanta has a lot of great amateur golf and a lot of great golf fans. It's one of those things. It's a loss for Atlanta.

"Atlanta still has the Tour Championship and it's a very special event, so it's not like Atlanta is losing the PGA Tour completely. But the Tour Championship is a very different tournament with its 30 players compared to the 156 in ours."

Although the regular PGA Tour players won't be in town, it appears Sugarloaf will be the future home of a Champions Tour event beginning in 2009. PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem hinted that an over-50 event is on the horizon in his Monday release regarding Atlanta's golf tournament.

"Indeed, with the strength of this new tournament title sponsor, we are excited that the history of tournament golf at TPC Sugarloaf will continue with what will be a premier Champions Tour event," Finchem said. "A formal announcement is forthcoming."