DULUTH — The first Gresselmania golf tournament, held at TPC Sugarloaf and benefitting Soccer in the Streets, went over maximum capacity Tuesday.
They had 19 flights (on 18 holes) and more than two dozen sponsors, including Mercedes, which offered up a C63S sedan as a hole-in-one prize.
Atlanta United midfielder Julian Gressel had a dream before the tournament that it rained all day, but the sun shone brightly on his inaugural charity event in Duluth.
“I'm really happy about it,” Gressel said. “We're full, which is a pretty cool accomplishment to have it as a first time tournament and definitely something to build on for the future years. I'm super excited for the amount of money we'll be able to raise as well.”
His efforts brought not just sponsors and golfers, but 12 teammates and a number of other Atlanta sports celebrities.
United captain and defender Michael Parkhurst was among the guests, though he admitted he was going to have to take advantage of the best-ball format.
“Unfortunately my shoulder has been my one big injury throughout my career so I don't play right now, to rest it,” Parkhurst said. “Today I'm going to limit it to chipping and putting.”
“The only tee shot I'll take is to try to win a Mercedes on the hole-in-one challenge,” he added with a laugh.
Gressel wanted to keep things fun, anyway. (There was a bogey max rule instituted.)
“I don't want this to be too competitive,” he said. “We have a lot of encores, entertainment, contests — whether that's closest to the pin or hole-in-one or longest drive — or just a fun station with some beers involved, there's something for everybody.”
Which perhaps was good after his opening tee shot.
“Not the greatest start,” Gressel said.
He was smiling, though. And maybe overly critical. His foursome used Gressel's drive, which offered a solid approach on the 343-yard hole.
Ultimately, it was about raising money for Soccer in the Streets and its one-of-a-kind project, Station Soccer. An auction was held at the end of play and includes items such as a Bird scooter, a round of golf with Gressel at TPC Sugarloaf (where he is a member), a Matt Ryan autographed football and an Atlanta United ultimate fan experience for one of the three home games left on the regular-season schedule.
“Being out here to support a teammate who has done a lot of work within the community and a lot of work to set up this event to support the community, we all have an obligation to give back in the position that we're in, to be a role model,” Parkhurst said. “What Julian is doing through his foundation and through the experience today is awesome. That's why a bunch of us from the team are out here to support him, play golf, have some food, relax and enjoy it, but also to raise money.”
Station Soccer is a program to create a place for kids to play at public transit locations around the city. Two stations are open now and another is set to open in early October.
“That has not been done anywhere else in the world so it's something Atlanta is pioneering the way in and (Gresselmania) was a good natural fit,” said Phil Hill, executive director of Soccer in the Streets. “Kudos to Atlanta United, the city of Atlanta and MARTA. They were founding partners on this and everyone saw the vision. Julian saw the vision when he's been down to see the kids and parents. It gives them a safe place to be.
“Ideally, if we can connect these 10 communities around the city, all via public transportation, bring 2,000 kids together, that's part of the goal. This golf event is helping make this possible.”
Gressel has been involved with Soccer in the Streets since arriving in Atlanta and was determined to come up with an event that would further benefit the organization.
“We've known Julian for a good while now,” Hill said. “He comes down and helps out with some of the kids.
“The whole idea behind (Station Soccer) was to try and get over this barrier to participation through lack of transportation. Atlanta United Foundation was one of the founding partners and that's where Julian first started getting involved. Then the idea for the golf tournament came up and we got talking. He said he'd' love to try to fund one of these new stations that's due to open this year.”