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LPGA takes step closer to returning to Eagle's Landing Country Club

By Doug Gorman

dgorman@news-daily.com

A touch of frost still covered the greens and temperatures were a bit on the cold side Monday morning, but golf was on the minds of those who turned out for the annual Grass Roots Classic at Eagle's Landing Country Club.

The four-person team format was designed to raise money for Metro South Golf Charities and also help in finding a sponsor so an LPGA golf tournament can return to Eagle's Landing Country Club in the near future.

The Chick-fil-A Charity Championship was a regular visitor to the Eagle's Landing Country Club in McDonough for 15 years, but the LPGA event ceased to exist after the 2006 season when a full-time sponsor couldn't be found.

Now, the LPGA is working hard to get back in the Atlanta market where it once enjoyed the status of being one of the tour's most popular events.

According to Jon Podany, the LPGA's chief marketing officer, if a sponsor is found in the next 60 days, there's still time to bring the tournament back for the 2011 season. If not, fans can expect golf to return in 2012.

"The sooner we can get it back, the better. We are still in the position if we were to find a sponsor by the end of the year, we could get it going in 2011," he said. "If not, if we need to work on 2012, we can certainly do that. We have put together events with about 100 days notice, so there is still time.

"We think Atlanta is a terrific market," he added. "We had successful tournaments here for 15 years, and we think we can replicate that by bringing it back, and frankly the LPGA today hasn't had a presence in the Southeast in general. It would be really big for us to be able to come back to Atlanta to center us in the Southeast."

Henry County Commission Chairman Elizabeth "BJ" Mathis said having a professional golf tournament back in the area will be a huge boost for the county.

"We are certainly looking to bring economic development to Henry County. What I like about this event is it's going to help our struggling vendors after losing a very significant sporting event, which was losing one of the races at Atlanta Motor Speedway."

The race track in Hampton played host to two NASCAR events for 50 years, but it was announced earlier this year the spring race would no longer take place.

An LPGA tournament could directly generate $2-million and indirectly as much as $12 to $17 million per year, according to Mathis.

"The whole flavor of the tournament, everything about it, the way it gives back to the community is very reflective of Henry County, and we certainly want to do everything we can do to bring it back here," Mathis said.

When the tournament was here before, it had a rich history and also gave more than $7-million to area charities.

Hall of Fame golfer and Georgia resident Nancy Lopez won her last LPGA event at Eagle's Landing County Club in 1997. Along the way, only Annika Sorenstam was a two-time winner.

The former No.-1-ranked player in the world, captured the tournament title in 2001 and 2005, but it seemed all the top-ranked players wanted to play the event.

Rosie Jones, who now serves as the captain of the U.S. Solheim Cup team, was in McDonough Monday to help promote the LPGA's return to the Southern Crescent and serve as sponsor for the Grass Roots Classic.

" I played in just about every single Chick-fil-A event that was here," Jones said, "It was one of the most revered tournaments on the schedule back in the day. Players on the LPGA tour are really excited about coming back to the Atlanta area to play, just as you are excited about getting the LPGA tournament back. You have a great host in Nancy Lopez, who I am sure is very excited about hosting the event again."

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan, speaking in a video presentation, said the Grass Roots Classic is an important step in bringing golf back to Atlanta.

"I am so excited about the Grass Roots Classic event that we are all participating in," Whan said. "I know we will build this thing together. We will find sponsors together. We will work on the tournament together, but we will put the LPGA in a place where we all win in Atlanta. I am sure it's no surprise that players on the LPGA tour always want to know when we are going to get back to Atlanta. Eagle's Landing is going to be a great place for us, not just in the near term, but in the long term. The hospitality is great, the golf course is second to done and frankly, it's just a place where golfers like to come."

Jones has fond memories of the LPGA's first visit to Eagle's Landing Country Club and can't wait to see it come back.

"There were times when I came up the 18th hole on Sunday with a chance to win and I think the excitement of the crowd and just the overall buzz of the crowd was one of the thingst that made it great. We had a lot of people watching the LPGA here at Eagle's Landing."