Originally created 08/11/01

State hopes for boost from plethora of major tourneys



ATLANTA -- Georgia is the home of Bobby Jones and Augusta National, yet the state has never been viewed as a prime golfing locale. Most avid players head to neighboring Florida and South Carolina.

Maybe that will change with a staggering run of major tournaments - Walker Cup, PGA Championship and U.S. Amateur Championship - on back-to-back-to-back weeks.

"We've sure got a full boat," said Andy Odenbach, director of the PGA Championship.

This weekend, it's the Walker Cup at Ocean Forest Golf Club on Sea Island, pitting the best amateurs from the United States against a team from Great Britain and Ireland in a Ryder Cup-style format.

The PGA Championship begins Thursday at Atlanta Athletic Club, featuring Tiger Woods' quest to become the first golfer in more than 70 years to win three in a row against the strongest field in golf.

As soon as the pros leave town, the U.S. Amateur Championship gets underway at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.

"This is really a great coup for the state of Georgia," said Robert Morris, spokesman for the Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism. "It brings awareness on a national and international level that Georgia is a great golf location, a great tourist location and, indirectly, a great place to do business."

State tourism officials have been trying to boost Georgia's golf profile, which has fallen behind Florida, South Carolina and even Alabama, the latter making its pitch to out-of-state players with a stunning set of Robert Trent Jones-designed courses.

"We have been working to let the rest of the country know that Georgia is top golf destination," Morris said. "We have some of the top courses in the all of the country right here. But in the past, we just haven't worked to market Georgia as a great golf destination."

Tourism officials can point to a rich golf history, much of it centered around Jones. The Atlanta native grew up playing at East Lake, just a few miles from downtown and then run by the Atlanta Athletic Club.

He also designed Augusta National Golf Club in east Georgia, launching the Masters tournament that would become the first major of the year each spring.

Peachtree Golf Club in Atlanta, site of the 1989 Walker Cup, is another Jones creation. Of course, AAC is still considered his home club, though it moved to the burgeoning north Atlanta suburbs. The Highlands course was host to the U.S. Open in 1976 and the PGA Championship in 1981.

"It's been 20 years since we were in Atlanta, and maybe we should have been back sooner," Odenbach said, noting that more than 30,000 fans are expected to pack the course each day. "But it's great to be back now."

Other than Georgia, which has the built-in Masters advantage, the last state to have two major championships in the same year was Pennsylvania in 1962. Jack Nicklaus won the U.S. Open at Oakmont; Gary Player captured the PGA Championship at Aronomink.

Still, Georgia has never been viewed as a golf destination, which is why the tourism department launched a campaign last year to bring in more out-of-state players. Advertising, trade shows and a new online reservation system are part of the effort.

According to the National Golf Foundation, Georgia ranks 13th nationally with 459 courses, but its 54 golf-related resorts fall far behind Florida (177) and lag behind South Carolina (71).

Florida is the overwhelming leader in luring players from outside the state, getting 30 percent of its business that way, NGF spokeswoman Judy Thompson said. South Carolina, with a rich array of courses dotting its lengthy coastline, is the next-most popular destination in the Southeast with 15 percent, while North Carolina (12 percent) does well, too.

The NGF doesn't have exact figures for Georgia, which falls somewhere in the single digits.

"Maybe it's the geography," Thompson said. "They don't have a long coast and there's only a little mountains."

Over the next week, tourism officials will be meeting with more than 30 of the country's top business leaders, who will be in Atlanta for the PGA Championship.

They will point to Golf Magazine's top 100 list, which includes four courses in Georgia. Also, the state landed six courses on Golfweek's top 100 in the modern category.

With an eye on the golf's booming popularity, which can be attributed largely to Woods and an aging baby boomer population, Georgia wants to get in on the action. A lot of money is at stake.

"It's a competitive market, but it's a growing market," Morris said. "We have not been a major player in the past because we didn't market ourselves aggressively. We think we can grow our market share as the market grows."