By Champions Tour staff
The Greater Gwinnett Championship is a new event on the Champions Tour in 2013. It will be held at TPC Sugarloaf, a Greg Norman-designed golf course just outside Atlanta in Duluth, Gwinnett County, Georgia on April 15-21. It’s been five years since the most recent tournament was hosted by TPC Sugarloaf – the 2008 AT&T Classic, a long-standing PGA TOUR event. Many current Champions Tour players regularly contested that event and three of them finished runner-up in the tournament when it was held at TPC Sugarloaf from 1997-2008. Kenny Perry was defeated by Ryuji Imada in a playoff in 2008, Jay Don Blake was runner-up to Tiger Woods in 1998 and Bob Tway finished second to Ben Crane in 2003.
Champions Tour rookie Duffy Waldorf shares the TPC Sugarloaf course record of 63 with Tiger Woods, Ben Crane and Phil Mickelson.
Several Champions Tour players recently shared their memories of TPC Sugarloaf and their enthusiasm for returning to the area for the Greater Gwinnet Championship.
Jay Don Blake
Blake made seven starts at TPC Sugarloaf during his PGA TOUR career, making the cut five times. The highlight for Blake came in 1998 when he finished runner-up to Tiger Woods. He also posted a T5 finish in 2000 when Phil Mickelson defeated Gary Nicklaus in a playoff after the weather-shortened 54-hole event. Sandwiched between those two years, Blake shot 66 in round two of the 1999 tournament to post his low 18-hole score at TPC Sugarloaf.
“I’m looking forward to going back. I’ve had some pretty good tournaments there. I finished second behind Tiger one year and had had a third another time also. I know the course. I’ve played it quite a bit. I used to go back and stay with a buddy of mine in Georgia and we’d go play Sugarloaf in some off weeks. It’s a fun course to play and a course that’s pretty tough to walk with all the separation between greens and tees. It’s a fun course where you have to hit a lot a draws and plenty of fades with some penalizing holes. There’s a creek that runs through the property and it’s in play a lot. You’ve got to be pretty sharp out there and I think it will be a good test and that’s why the guys are really looking forward to going back there.
"The year I finished second to Tiger I hit it really well and I hit a lot of great putts that burned the edge. I never really got them to go in and Tiger was kind of all over the course, up on the cliffs, in the heather, chipping it down to two inches. He hit some trees 50 yards off the tee, he hit it 20 yards over greens, I mean, that was Tiger. That was when he got up and down from anywhere. The main thing I remember is the 18th hole. I remember a young lady ran across the green and jumped in the water as I was trying to make a 12-foot putt to tie. They had to escort her off and it took 20 minutes to calm the people down and then I had to go back and try to hit the putt. It was funny at the time but also frustrating as I was focused and ready to hit the putt and all of a sudden I hear people laughing and giggling and this girl comes running down the hill and into the water with security chasing here all the way down. I sometimes wonder where she is now. I really enjoyed playing with Tiger. He was very personable, very chatty, very approachable, very easy to get along with. He talked about anything. He even said afterwards that he was lucky to win. He said ‘Jay Don hit it better than me and should have won but I just got lucky’. It was kind of a neat thing for him to say. My wife talks about it all the time. She was pregnant with our daughter, Miranda, during that tournament and I remember her walking backwards up some of those hills they were so steep. I’m looking forward to returning. It’s a fun course with lots of memories for me.”
Perry made six cuts from nine starts at TPC Sugarloaf and was runner-up to Ryuji Imada in 2008, the last time a PGA TOUR event was held there. He also finished T3 in 2000. Perry shot four rounds in the 60s in 2008, including his low of 66 in the first round, having posted only two sub-70 scores in his previous 23 rounds at the course.
“I love Sugarloaf, always have. I’ve had a lot of great events there. I had a chance to win one year. I was in a playoff with Ryuji Imada, who was the last guy to win there. Eighteen was the playoff hole. There was one tree right and long over the green and I hit my five-wood. I was playing safe because water’s in front of the green and I played it out to the right and I hit the trunk of that one tree that’s probably two feet in diameter - and it’s the only one there - and it ricocheted across the green and almost went in the hole, but then went in the lake. I want to get a chainsaw and go cut that thing down before we head back there! It’s a big golf course. It demands precision of the tee. There’s a creek that runs through a lot of the holes early in the round and you have to navigate that. It’s mostly fairways and big old pine trees so it’s pretty tight of the tee. The greens were always excellent. It was long with a lot of space between the greens and the next tee. You had to be in good shape to play well there. The driving range is terrific and the clubhouse facilities are great. It will be a great place to have an event. I love it there.”
Although Waldorf has never won at TPC Sugarloaf, he shares something with three players who have – Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ben Crane – the course record 63. Waldorf’s opening round in 1999 began with four consecutive birdies, nine in total and no bogeys. However, he only managed to make 10 more birdies in the final three rounds that year and finished T44. Waldorf, who played 22 rounds in seven starts at TPC Sugarloaf, broke 70 just one other time, a 66 in round two of 2006. His best result was a T20 finish in 2004.
“I remember we had some weather there in Atlanta when I shot my 63 at the TPC Sugarloaf. The course was playing very soft, kind of like a dartboard, and I had a really good day with my irons. I was consistent and hit my irons close to the hole all day. I had lots of birdie opportunities. If there is such a thing as an easy 63, that one was. I wish I could play that way every day. I also remember how quickly that course can change. It can firm up very fast and the wind can blow. I just caught it on a real quiet day. The greens were receptive and my game was on. It’s definitely a course that has a lot of variety. It can play very difficult or it can play very easy if the conditions are right. It’ll be exciting to see how it plays for us, whether it’s going to be challenging with tough, dry conditions or will it be soft and if so, we can fire at the pins, make some birdies and shoot some low scores.
"I think TPC Sugarloaf is one of our best TPC courses. 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. “
Former Masters champion Mize played nine PGA TOUR events at TPC Sugarloaf, making the cut all but twice. He finished T19 in 1997, the first year an event was held at the venue, but he never improved on that finish. His 68 in the opening round of the 2000 event was his low round although he was super-consistent, shooting par or better in 25 of the 31 rounds he played at TPC Sugarloaf.
“Along with my fellow Champions Tour professionals, I’m very excited to be heading back to Atlanta and TPC Sugarloaf. It’s a good golf course and Atlanta is a great town. We’re really excited about coming back there and putting a good show on for the fans. It’s going to be fun playing Sugarloaf. I’m from Georgia so it’s going to be really special for me to be playing in the home state. Is such a great town and Sugarloaf is such a good venue. It’s going to be a great tournament. We’re excited to be heading back.”
Tway played in all 12 PGA TOUR events hosted by TPC Sugarloaf, making the cut eight times. He finished second to Ben Crane in 2003. He also posted T5 finishes in 1998 and 2002 and was T8 in 2008, the last time a PGA TOUR event was played at TPC Sugarloaf. His low round at the course is 66, which he has recorded twice.
“I think we’re all excited because most of us have played there and know how good it is. I went to Wheeler High School in Marietta so there are always fond memories for me when we get to go back to Atlanta. Sugarloaf is a great golf course and I always enjoyed playing it. Hopefully well get good weather. It’s a good hard long golf course. I remember one time having the lead going into the last day and shooting two or three-under on the front side thinking I was doing pretty good and I looked at the board and Ben Crane had shot 62 and I was about five behind. That was a shock. I didn’t make enough birdies and I finished second. That was a shock because I thought I was doing OK. It’s good that we’re going back to Atlanta because it’s a good golf town and were all excited about being there.”
Faxon made three appearances at TPC Sugarloaf during his PGA TOUR career, making the cut each time but finishing inside the top-40 just once, a T39 in 2002 when he shot back-to-back 69s in the second and third rounds for his low score at TPC Sugarloaf.
“I remember the TPC Sugarloaf being a very, very good golf course. Greg Norman designs golf courses that can be difficult. I thought it was an amazingly good driving course. The greens were always in fantastic shape and some of the fastest that we played on. I don’t think we had a tremendous amount of rough there so I think it’s a great site for us to play and I think the players who haven’t played there are going to go ‘boy, I’m glad were playing here at TPC Sugarloaf.’”
Mediate made two appearances at TPC Sugarloaf during his PGA TOUR career, playing seven rounds in total. He’s shot three 72s, three 73s and a round of 74. The two years in which Mediate contested the event produced stellar winners – Tiger Woods in 1998 and Phil Mickelson in 2005. Mediate finished T63 and T64 respectively in those two starts.
“I always liked TPC Sugarloaf. It was a good set up 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.”
Elikington made nine consecutive appearances at TPC Sugarloaf during his PGA TOUR career, from 2000-2008, making the cut each year except 2003. His best results came the final two years he played there – T16 in 2007 and T11 in 2008 – when seven of his last eight rounds were under par. In 2002, Elkington shot an opening-round 64, which included 10 birdies, to take a one-stroke lead over Phil Mickelson, but closed with an 81 to finish T25.
“This will be the first event on the Champions Tour for me coming back to a course I played on the PGA TOUR so maybe I’ll have a slight advantage. I’ve always enjoyed Sugarloaf. We were sitting around the locker room one year asking ‘what’s the best grandstand on the PGA TOUR?’ and the answer was always the one that sat in the water on 18 at Sugarloaf. It was like the coolest grandstand of all on the TOUR. Greg Norman designed the course to be pretty generous off the tee with greens that were super smooth and fast. It’s a really roly-poly course with lots of hills, it’s easy on the crowds with lots of places for them to view the play and look down on the golf. The clubhouse is always immaculate and the hospitality in Atlanta is always the best.”