HAMMOCK: Missing Gwinnett's pro golf tourney

Photo by Brandon Brigman

Photo by Brandon Brigman

In terms of high-level golf, we live in a pretty nice location.

Drive a few hours out I-20 this week for the prestigious Masters. The season-ending Tour Championship has made Atlanta's East Lake Golf Club its regular home in recent years. Even the occasional major passes through, with the Atlanta Athletic Club hosting the PGA Championship twice in the last decade.

Call me greedy, but I'd like one more professional golf tourney. I'd also like it here in Gwinnett.

Anytime I think about pro golf in the area, I'm disappointed that the long-running Atlanta stop on the PGA Tour is gone. We were fortunate enough to have that tourney --the BellSouth, and later AT&T, Classic -- in our own backyard for years.

Duluth's TPC at Sugarloaf hosted the Classic from 1997-2008, taking over after the event left Atlanta Country Club (which had hosted it since 1967). It was a major score for the Gwinnett sports scene, but it's been missing since 2008, when Georgia product Ryuji Imada won the last AT&T Classic.

Even with horrible weather luck (rain, storms, even snow one year) and a challenging date for years (the week before the Masters), the Classic drew some of the world's top golfers to Gwinnett County. Phil Mickelson never missed tourney, winning in 2000, 2005 and 2006. The pre-Masters date always brought top-notch foreign players who used the week to get accustomed to the Georgia climate.

The tourney was a hit with the fans, too. The aforementioned foul weather was annoying, but fans still packed the Sugarloaf course for most of the week. Local nonprofits and school clubs worked the tourney for extra money, businesses treated clients to a week of golf and others just came to watch.

As successful as the tourney was -- it funneled more than $15 million to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta over the years -- it couldn't survive without a title sponsor in tough economic times. That loss ended the tourney back after 2008, though at the time PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem vowed to bring a Champions Tour event to Sugarloaf as a replacement.

Thus far, that hasn't happened.

A Champions Tour event for Sugarloaf is still being pursued, and I'm told an LPGA Tour stop isn't likely. I'd prefer a regular PGA Tour event, but that won't happen in the near future, either.

For now if we want to watch pro golf, we'll have to drive outside the county lines. At least we don't have to drive far.

Will Hammock can be reached via email at will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Thursdays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willhammock. For Hammock's blog, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willsworld.