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PROGRESS: Champions Tour a sign of economic stability

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 last year. (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 last year. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)

Signing Mitsubishi Electric Heating and Cooling as presenting sponsor is only part of the story.

When Gwinnett County and the TPC — Sugarloaf lost its professional golf tournament, the economy played villain. AT&T, formerly BellSouth, had little interest in continuing its investment in the PGA Tour event, especially with AT&T sponsorships at other Tour events. The loss of a title sponsor, and the inability to find a commitment from another company, doomed professional golf in Gwinnett.

That was then.

By the end of 2012, though the atmosphere had changed. The Gwinnett Sport Commission, led by executive director Stan Hall, had found a presenting sponsor and lured back plenty of other Atlanta and Gwinnett-based businesses and companies to invest in golf in Gwinnett. The money injection, amid other tireless work, created last year’s first Champions Tour event, the Greater Gwinnett Championship. Finding major and smaller sponsors combined both the efforts of the sports commission and the belief of investors in their own economic standing.

An analysis done for the Gwinnett Sports Commission estimated an economic impact from last year’s tournament and surrounding events of between $8 and $10 million, according to Hall, who said he’s comfortable saying this year’s impact will be larger.

“We thought that was phenomenal,” said Hall, who’s group put on the event in just four months after signing the contracts. “We were more than pleased with that.

“As we look forward to the 2015 event, we certainly expect it to be a bigger event.”

Since Bernhard Langer took the first trophy at the tournament last spring, more sponsors joined the charge, including a large investment from State Bank and Trust as well as continued interest from Coca Cola and Gwinnett Medical Center among others.

“It’s amazing that we did what we did last year,” Hall said, talking about the downtick that hit the economy as the tournament organizer were planning for in late 2012. “There is no doubt that the interest is there.”

In the past year, commitments only increased from businesses, many who turned away opportunities a year ago and continued efforts only encourage organizer’s faith in sustained growth.

“Some of those have come back on board this year and I expect in 2015 some more of those will come on board next year,” Hall said.

That’s the good, but the economy isn’t at a boom. Mitsubishi Electric Heating and Cooling plays the role of presenting sponsor and allows enough money for the event to succeed, but the tournament still lacks a title sponsor. Title sponsorship generally indicates a $2.5 million annual investment in the tournament.

But even that interest level has increased. A year ago, no company showed interest in a title sponsorship.

“We are in conversations with three major companies right now,” Hall said. “We are in, not just casual conversations, but serious conversations with three different companies who have expressed an interest in the title sponsorship. That is not to say that any of it will come to pass.”

Heartening, though, are those conversations. The interest indicates not just the acceptance and trust in the quality of the Greater Gwinnett Championship, but also the belief that there is money to spend and money to be made.

“I think that speaks well of what people think of where our economy is,” Hall said. “I think it speaks well for us having one year under our belt with the tournament.”

A tournament blessed with quality, interest and growing financial support.