Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Elissa Dooman is the director of golf operations for the Greater Gwinnett Championship, the new Champions Tour stop coming to TPC Sugarloaf on April 15-21.
Elissa Dooman is the director of golf operations for the Greater Gwinnett Championships, the new stop of the Champions Tour being played at TPC Sugarloaf on April 15-21. Dooman was lured away after working for the Champions Tour stop in Tampa, Fla., for the last 10 years.
In this installment of "Getting to Know ...," Dooman talks with staff writer Christine Troyke about a variety of topics, including her change of scene from Florida, working with some legendary golfers and her efforts to make pro golf's return to Gwinnett a successful one.
CT: It's wonderful to have a pro tour stop back in Gwinnett. How did you end up as its director of operations?
ED: I came from a Champions Tour event that was in Tampa., Fla. I was down there for the last 10 years and when this opportunity came along, the PGA Tour had let me know about it. At the same time, they talked to Stan Hall at the (Gwinnett) Sports Commission and introduced us. And it just worked out.
CT: Are you from Florida?
ED: I'm not. I grew up in Maryland, a small town in Maryland. But I went to the University of South Florida, which is in Tampa. I went there and then just stayed. I was probably in Tampa for about 13 or 14 years.
CT: Was it tough leaving home for Florida?
ED: I think I was just excited to go, try something new and live out on my own. And the weather, it's hard to beat. It was exciting. I do miss Maryland, though. It's a great area.
CT: Did you go to college looking to get a job in the sports industry?
ED: No, I don't think that was my initial direction. I, like most college students, was pretty undecided until about my junior year. Then I started taking some more marketing and business classes. I got my degree in marketing with a minor in economics and while I was there, we had a guest speaker from the athletic department. I just got very interested in it. I always loved watching sports -- was never very good at playing them. So I went up to him after class and asked about any internship opportunities. So I did an internship with the athletic department and it grew out of that.
CT: Did you go straight from college to the job with the tour stop in Tampa?
ED: I didn't. I took about a year and I just worked at a restaurant, at the Outback Steakhouse, and just traveled and had fun. Which is kind of how I ended up in the world of Champions Tour golf, through Outback. The event in Tampa was titled by Outback Steakhouse for probably nine years. So just getting to know the founders, because that's where the first Outback was, they helped introduce me into the world of it.
CT: Were you ready to try something new in a new area?
ED: I was actually. I'd been with the Tampa event for about 10 years and I was ready for a new event, a new challenge. I love the Tampa area, but I was ready to try somewhere new.
CT: How tough is it to get a tournament, even in an area that has had a tour stop before?
ED: Typically a tournament will have a full year to plan. From the point where we signed the contract and I came up here, we were six months away. So that was our first challenge. We had half a year to do what a normal tournament has a year for.
We brought on Andrew Webber as a consultant. He had worked for the BellSouth and AT&T Classic for a long time. So having his knowledge of the infrastructure and the way the course laid out has been invaluable.
Honestly, we've been behind the eight-ball, but we're coming around and things seem to be picking up and getting on schedule. We have a great turnout of volunteers, but we're still looking for more. We're still looking for sponsors and people to buy the spots in our pro-am.
The hardest part is just getting on people's budgets when a lot of corporate budgets had already been allocated.
CT: Are things shaping up?
ED: Things really are. We have a fantastic field. We're at 27 of the top 30 from the prior year money list. We really do have a lot of the who's who of the Champions Tour and they committed early to come to the event.
CT: Does that speak to the fact that Sugarloaf is a great course?
ED: I think it does. I think it speaks to how much the Champions Tour was looking to get back up in this area. They loved Sugarloaf when they played it during their PGA Tour careers and they missed being in the metro Atlanta area.
CT: In the end, the reason tour stops leave an area is because of sponsorship?
ED: Typically it comes down to the corporate sponsorships and having the community's support. So that's what we're really looking for. Not just the large corporate dollars, but we're looking for Gwinnett to really get behind this tournament. Because that's what is going to make it successful. Whether it's buying a ticket or volunteering or the local businesses sponsoring it.
CT: Are you anticipating more golfers adding this to their schedule as they solidify their plans for this season?
ED: We had a couple that we're missing and I've spoken to a few of those and they're going to come to play in the Greater Gwinnett Championship. There are still some we don't know about, but we're hoping. Still, we know we're going to add a few more marquee names to our list of commitments. They have until the Friday before at 5 p.m. to commit.
CT: Not to make anyone old, but a little bit of the appeal of the Champions Tour events is nostalgia. I used to watch golf with my dad and he had his favorites. Many of those players come through on the Champions Tour now.
ED: It's nostalgia, but it's also the name recognition. These are the guys you grew up watching and many people have grown up watching. You look down our list of Champions Tour professionals and you know a lot of these names -- Kenny Perry, Corey Pavin, Mark O'Meara. Sometimes on a PGA Tour event, you might know the big names, but then as you get deeper, you don't know as many.
CT: You see Tom Kite and Hale Irwin, but then you keep looking and see 10 or 15 more names that jump out at you like Bernhard Langer, Larry Nelson and Sandy Lyle. It surely has to make for a good three days?
ED: Well, and these guys, they do get it. They are just so happy and honored to still be playing the game they love. There's nothing like the fan interaction on the Champions Tour. It's probably the most fan-friendly of any sport, whether it be playing with them on Wednesday and Thursday in the Championship Pro-Am or just the number of autographs they sign prior and post-round.
CT: Do you golf at all?
ED: I am a student of the game. We can leave it at that. I have been a student of the game for the last 10 years.
CT: Are you getting a sense that the excitement is building in Gwinnett for the event?
ED: There definitely is. There's definitely an energy. We go out into the community and go to these events, as soon as you say who you're with or what you're doing. Or if we have a booth set up somewhere, they say they can't wait for this, that they've wanted this to come back ever since the old tournament went away. We get lots of people that come up and tell us they've already registered to volunteer or they've already bought their tickets. They remember watching one of these players at the BellSouth and they can't wait to see them again.
CT: Will the course set up similarly to how it was for the PGA stop?
ED: Some of the holes won't be quite as long, but it'll be very similar. We are using the Stables and the Meadows courses.
CT: What else about the tournament should people know?
ED: We do all of this to give back to our benefiting charities -- Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Georgia Gwinnett College Foundation, Gwinnett Children's Shelter, Gwinnett Technical College and Gwinnett County Public Schools Foundation. So we really have a nice base of Gwinnett charities for this event. It's really why we're here and it's really why we do it. All Champions Tour events give back to local charities. We're all not-for-profit. We're here to raise as much funds for those charities as we can.
And we still have opportunities available to play in the pro-am with guys like Rocco Mediate or Tom Kite. They just have to visit the website at greatergwinnettchampionship.com.