0

Greater Gwinnett Championship opens to public Wednesday

While the tournament doesn't officially tee off until Friday, today marks the official return of professional golf to Gwinnett County because it's the first day spectators are allowed on the grounds for the inaugural Greater Gwinnett Championship.

The Champions Tour event at the TPC Sugarloaf kicks off to the public with today's Championship Pro-Am at 7:15 a.m. Tee times run throughout the morning, followed by afternoon groupings that tee off beginning at 12:15.

Sugarloaf hasn't hosted a pro tour event since 2008, the 12th and final year it held an annual PGA Tour event. This year's tourney may be for players 50 and older, but it still features some star power.

In today's pro-am, Gwinnett native James Mason, a Duluth grad, tees off No. 1 at 7:45 a.m. Other prominent golfers with morning tee times are 1987 U.S. Open winner Scott Simpson (8:05 a.m.), Rocco Mediate (8:15 a.m.), Savannah native and Georgia Southern product Gene Sauers (7:15 a.m. off No. 10), Hal Sutton (8:45 a.m. off No. 10) and longtime LaGrange resident/four-time Champions Tour major winner Allen Doyle (8:55 a.m. off No. 10).

The afternoon tee times feature three-time U.S. Open champion Hale Irwin (12:15 p.m.), Brad Faxon (12:35 p.m.), 1995 PGA Championship winner Steve Elkington (12:45 p.m.), 1986 PGA Championship winner and Wheeler grad Bob Tway (1:15 p.m.), two-time U.S. Open champion and longtime ESPN golf analyst Andy North (12:15 p.m. off No. 10), Peter Jacobsen (12:25 p.m. off No. 10) and Sugarloaf record-holder Duffy Waldorf (1:15 p.m. off No. 10).

Waldorf shot his course-record 63 --a Sugarloaf mark he shares with Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ben Crane --during the first round of the 1999 BellSouth Classic. He finished tied for 44th in that PGA Tour event, and now returns as a Champions Tour member.

"I think TPC Sugarloaf is one of our best TPC courses," Waldorf said. "It was a very good venue for a PGA Tour event and I think it will be great for the Champions Tour. It's got rolling hills, nice changes of elevation, beautiful greens and lots of great scenery. I really like it because of the terrain changes. I think the TPC Sugarloaf flows with the land really well.

"There's lots of variety. The course doesn't favor any particular style of play. You can't burn up the par-5s with length and you can't dominate them. I think only the 18th will be reachable for everyone in two. Sugarloaf requires lots of good mid-iron play."

The public also can watch some top Champions Tour players in the event's second pro-am, scheduled for Thursday.

The Friday morning tee times include 1989 U.S. Open champion Mark Calcavecchia (7:15 a.m.), Georgia Tech product and 1987 Masters champion Larry Mize (7:45 a.m.), 1995 U.S. Open champion Corey Pavin (7:55 a.m.), 1982 Masters champion Craig Stadler (8:15 a.m.), three-time major winner and longtime Georgia resident Larry Nelson (8:35 a.m.), 1992 U.S. Open winner Tom Kite (8:45 a.m.), 1985 British Open and 1988 Masters winner Sandy Lyle (8:15 a.m. off No. 10) and 1998 Masters and U.S. Open winner Mark O'Meara (8:45 a.m. off No. 10).

The notables in Friday afternoon's pro-am groupings include Irwin (12:15 p.m.), eight-time major champion and current U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson (12:25 p.m.), 1984 and 1995 Masters champion Ben Crenshaw (12:35 p.m.), Kenny Perry (12:45 p.m.), 1985 and 1993 Masters winner Bernhard Langer (12:15 p.m. off No. 10), 1988 and 1989 U.S. Open winner and longtime golf analyst Curtis Strange (12:25 p.m. off No. 10) and 1996 British Open champion Tom Lehman (12:35 p.m. off No. 10).

Langer is the current money leader on the Champions Tour with $677,779 through his five events. He is followed in the top five money list by David Frost, John Cook, Mediate and Tom Pernice Jr.

"I always liked TPC Sugarloaf (as a PGA Tour stop)," Mediate said. "It was a good setup and it actually fit my eye pretty good. Everybody liked it and I'm glad we're returning. My sisters live in Atlanta so I'll see them.

"I think everybody is looking forward to it. I know I am. I like the up-and-down-ness of the course. It's a difficult walk but that's part of the game, so if you don't like the walk then don't play."

IF YOU GO

What: Champions Tour's Greater Gwinnett Championship

When: Today-Sunday

Where: TPC at Sugarloaf, Duluth

More information: www.greatergwinnettchampionship.com and www.tpcsugarloaf.com

EVENT SCHEDULE

Today

--Championship Pro-Am, morning tee times begin at 7:15 a.m.; afternoon tee times begin at 12:15 p.m.

Thursday

--Championship Pro-Am, morning tee times begin at 7:15 a.m.; afternoon tee times begin at 12:15 p.m.

Friday

--First round, tee times begin at 11:05 a.m.

--Golf Channel coverage, 12:30-2:30 p.m.

Saturday

--Second round, tee times begin at 11:05 a.m.

--Golf Channel coverage, 3-6 p.m.

--Kids Day activities, 1-4 p.m.Sunday

--Final round, tee times begin at 11:05 a.m.

--Golf Channel coverage, 3-6 p.m.