Players excited about senior golf's return to Atlanta

Kate Awtrey
Champions Tour Vice President of Business Affairs Miller Brady discusses the Greater Gwinnett Championship.
October 02, 2012
Stan Awtrey, PGATOUR.COM Contributor

DULUTH, Ga. -- Atlanta is back on the Champions Tour circuit.

The PGA TOUR plugged in a missing part to the Champions Tour on Tuesday when the Greater Gwinnett Championship was added to the lineup for the 2013 calendar. It means the largest city in the Southeast will have a senior event for the first time since 2000.

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The initial tournament will be played April 15-21, 2013. The 81 players in the field will compete for a $1.8 million purse. The contract is for four years, with Mitsubishi Electric Cooling and Heating coming on as the presenting sponsor. Mitsubishi is the name sponsor for the season-opening Champions Tour event in Hawaii.

"I feel like Atlanta will be a premium location for the Champions Tour," said Georgia-born Larry Nelson, who lives in suburban Marietta. "It's nice to have it back. And I can tell you this, all the players love Atlanta."

Many of the players will recognize the venue. The TPC Sugarloaf in Duluth, Ga., which will host the event, was the site of a former PGA TOUR event from 1997-2008. Nick Price, Hal Sutton, Jay Haas, Bob Tway and Kenny Perry were all regular participants at Sugarloaf. Perry lost to Ryuji Imada in a playoff in 2008.

"We sent a press release out to our players 30 minutes (before the press conference) and they tell me the phones have been blowing up, players wanting to know more," Champions Tour vice president of tournament business affairs Miller Brady said. "They can't wait to get here."

Nelson and Corey Pavin, who also attended the announcement, said they would begin recruiting their colleagues starting this week at the SAS Championship in Cary, N.C.

The Greater Gwinnett Championship will be placed on the schedule between the Masters and the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf in Savannah. That will give Georgia its own professional golf leg in the spring.

Both the PGA TOUR and TPC Sugarloaf have been aggressively trying to bring the Champions Tour event back into the Atlanta market. Vic Aliprando, the general manager at TPC Sugarloaf, has been especially proactive throughout the process. The Gwinnett Sports Commission, led by executive director Stan Hall, and the Gwinnett Convention and Visitors Bureau, sparked by managing director Preston Williams, helped broker the deal.

"We've been working extremely hard for the last three years to make this happen," Brady said.

"Their presence has been sorely missed," Hall said. "We look forward to a great event in 2013 and a long run with the PGA TOUR in the years to come."

Mike Crawford, the director of golf course maintenance operations, said the course will likely be shortened a bit for the seniors, probably from 7,300 to 7,100 yards. The course will over-seed its fairways with rye, which means players and fans will be greeted by a green course in the spring.

"But otherwise we won't change very much at all," said Crawford, who was ecstatic about getting the chance to prepare for another professional event.

This will be the third attempt at establishing a senior professional event in Atlanta. The Pepsi Senior Challenge was held at Horseshoe Bend in Roswell from 1986-88 and the Nationwide Championship was held at the Country Club of the South in Johns Creek from 1992-94 and at The Golf Club of Georgia in Alpharetta from 1995-2000.

The previous Champion Tour events produced a variety of notable winners, including Lee Trevino in 1993, Dave Stockton in 1994, Jim Colbert in 1996 and Hale Irwin in 2000. Arnold Palmer had the final-round lead in 1987, but couldn't hang on when he closed with a 77.

Stan Awtrey is a freelance columnist for PGATOUR.COM. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR.