In this 2007 file photo, spectators head to the 18th hole at the AT&T Classic at the TPC at Sugarloaf.
DULUTH -- Calling the day "the highest wave of all," Stan Hall, executive director of the Gwinnett Sports Commission, officially announced the return of professional golf to the county Tuesday afternoon.
In a packed banquet room at TPC Sugarloaf in front of major champions Corey Pavin and Larry Nelson, leaders from the PGA Champions Tour, county officials and businessmen and leaders of presenting sponsor and Gwinnett-based Mitsubishi Electric Cooling and Heating, Hall unveiled the plans for the Greater Gwinnett Championship. The Champions Tour event will play its first of four scheduled events next April 15-21, the week following The Masters.
The tournament is the return of professional golf to Sugarloaf for the first time since 2008 when it last hosted its PGA Tour event, then the AT&T Classic.
"That left a huge void for professional golf in our area," Hall said.
Sugarloaf hosted the annual event from its opening in 1997 until 2008 when sponsorship troubles and a weakening field ended the PGA's yearly relationship with its TPC course in Georgia. Work began then to return a professional tournament to Sugarloaf, it increased in intensity a year ago and Tuesday's announcement was the culmination of the efforts across the county to bring golf back to Gwinnett.
"I can't tell y'all how excited we are about this," said Gwinnett Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash, who noted the economic impact of the event as well as the publicity for the county. "We see thing as the whole package. We look forward to personally rolling out the red carpet next April."
The Greater Gwinnett Championship is a new event to the Champions Tour schedule, not a loss for another course. Champions Tour vice president Miller Brady said the tour hopes to add one more event to the tour's current 24-tournament schedule.
Both Pavin and Nelson said they looked forward to returning to Sugarloaf and said the tournament's proximity to Augusta, where The Masters is the week before, and its Atlanta-area location will make filling the field easy.
"This is not a hard sell," Nelson said. "If anything (the date) will improve the field. I see it, if anything, enhancing the field."
The Champions Tour brings with it professional golfers ages 50-and-older and with the increased age, a more relaxed feel, Pavin said. They typically play at least one pro-am and will engage with fans during the tournament on a level not seen on the PGA Tour.
"It you want to have fun, come out and watch the Champions Tour," Nelson said, then joked: "We're just happy to still be playing."
"The interaction with the fans is truly amazing," Pavin said. "It is unique and we enjoy interacting with the people."
Both golfer insisted competition still exists between the golfers, many *- won consistently on the PGA Tour before time caught up to them. And that's another draw for the Champions Tour.
"Fans can come out and watch people they watched when they were younger," Nelson said.
Current Champions Tour players include Tom Watson, Hale Irwin, Tom Kite and Fred Couples.
The $1.8 million purse tournament will be played on the same 18 holes formerly played during the PGA event, making the course all the more familiar to the Champions Tour players. The three-day event will be televised by the Golf Channel.
"In a little less than seven months, the first tee shot of this brand-new event will resonate across our region," Hall said. "I'm so excited about that."
-- What: PGA Champions Tour Greater Gwinnett Championship
-- When: April 15-21
-- Where: TPC Sugarloaf