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Champions Tour event marks pro golf's return to Gwinnett

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Champions Tour player Michael Allen hands his signed tournament worn visor to Sean Lenaham, 6, beside his father Christian of Duluth after the second round of the Greater Gwinnett Championship at TPC - Sugarloaf in Duluth Saturday.

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Champions Tour player Michael Allen hands his signed tournament worn visor to Sean Lenaham, 6, beside his father Christian of Duluth after the second round of the Greater Gwinnett Championship at TPC - Sugarloaf in Duluth Saturday.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Fans make their way to the 18th hole during the second round of the Greater Gwinnett Championship at TPC - Sugarloaf in Duluth Saturday.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Amiee Dean and her daughter Abbigael, 7, of Duluth make their way to the 17th hole with many other fans during the second round of the Greater Gwinnett Championship at TPC Sugarloaf in Duluth Saturday.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Champions Tour player David Frost competes on the 18th hole as fans gather around during the second round of the Greater Gwinnett Championship at TPC - Sugarloaf in Duluth Saturday.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Fans laugh prior to Mark Calcavecchia teeing off at hole 1 during the second round of the Greater Gwinnett Championship at TPC - Sugarloaf in Duluth Saturday.

DULUTH -- Though there's still a full day of golf to go (and despite another one being almost entirely wiped out by rain), officials say they're pleased with the inaugural incarnation of the Greater Gwinnett Championship.

"I think we certainly met our goals," said Stan Hall, executive director of the Gwinnett Chamber's sports commission, as play was winding down Saturday.

The Champions Tour golf tournament -- the first pro event in Gwinnett since the PGA's AT&T Classic left in 2008 -- drew roughly 10,000 fans Saturday and has an outside shot to hit the total attendance goal of 40,000.

That's pretty impressive, considering only a few rounds got played on a rain-soaked (and "depressing," Hall said) Friday.

"I've talked to the fans and the vendors ... all of them seem to be happy," Hall said. "That's not to say we can't improve, because there are so many areas that we can and will improve on, but for the first time out of the gates, I'm more than pleased."

Brian Whalen, father Jack and 7-year-old son Eli strolled the grounds together Saturday.

"It's been great," Brian Whalen said. "It's very walkable, the weather's great, we saw some good shots ... It was good. We'll be back."

"I agree," Jack Whalen said. "I don't have any problems at all."

From 1997 to 2008, Sugarloaf hosted the AT&T/BellSouth Classic, a (typically) pre-Masters stop on the PGA Tour. While it was generally successful at drawing big crowds and big names (except for Tiger Woods), the economic downturn killed it when AT&T pulled out as the chief sponsor and another one couldn't be found.

Brian Whalen, who attended several of the previous tournaments, said there was a different feel around Sugarloaf this week.

"At a PGA event, you can't really see the shots real well because your seven, eight, 10 (spectators) deep and I'm not going to stay in the same spot forever," he said. "I would just say accessibility to be able to see more shots, being able to see different shots and different holes. It's definitely lower stress."

The Champions Tour and Gwinnett have inked a four-year deal for the Greater Gwinnett Championship, which is currently presented by Mitsubishi Electric. Hall said the Chamber has "every intention" of extending that deal afterward.

The tour may, too.

"They've given us nothing but positive reviews about our first year," Hall said.

Comments

kevin 12 months ago

Hope it continues every year and is a success. We must thank Mitsubishi Electric for this year. We have at least 4 more in the bag.

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