GAINESVILLE -- Think of golf in the state of Georgia; think of illustrious names such as Bobby Jones and Byron Nelson; think of heritage and tradition -- as in the oldest tournament in state history.
You must be thinking of Augusta National and The Masters, right?
The Atlanta Open actually precedes The Masters by 14 years and is a tournament featuring past winners such as Jones and Nelson, as well as several up-and-coming competitors. And if you want to see the Atlanta Open, now in its 94th year, all you have to do is visit Chattahoochee Golf Club in Gainesville June 11-12.
"This is a great tournament, and we're just excited to be able to host it," said Rodger Hogan, Chattahoochee's director of golf. "There will be some very good golf on display if people want to come and watch."
More than 140 different golfers, including professionals and amateurs, will compete in the two-day Georgia PGA event, sponsored by Yamaha. It is a tournament that has been hosted by a number of outstanding courses around the state, including The Atlanta Athletic Club, Pinetree Country Club, The Golf Club of Georgia, Dunwoody County Club, Cherokee Town & Country Club and Ansley's Settinown Creek.
Chattahoochee is pleased to add its name to that impressive list.
"We've got a great course in great condition right now, and we want to show it off," said Hogan, who spent more than three years in luring the Atlanta Open to Gainesville. "Our groundskeeper, Sheldon Foote, has always done a great job with this place."
Chattahoochee promises a tough outing for tournament competitors.
"(Wednesday) started rolling the greens every day, trying to get the speed up on them," Hogan said. "The rough is up; golfers will be able to advance out of the rough, but it won't be an easy shot."
Part of the measure of the toughness of Chattahoochee will be out of Hogan's and Foote's hands next week, however, as the Georgia PGA will select the tee boxes and hole locations. Regardless, Hogan expects the top players will have to earn their way up the leaderboard.
"I don't expect double digits (under par)," Hogan said. "Of course so much of it depends on what the PGA does with hole locations, but I think 6- to 8-under (par) could win."
He also hopes they will walk away impressed by what they've experienced.
"People talk about courses in good shape," Hogan said. "We had a couple of guys out here for a practice round today, and I went to ask them how things were going, and they told me, 'you guys have a hidden jewel up here.' "
Next week's victor will also have to play his way past a deep and talented field, which will include a number of past winners and PGA and Senior PGA event veterans -- along with a number of local standouts.
Amongst the headliners is James Mason. Mason has played for the last 10 years on the PGA Senior Tour, winning the 2002 NFL Classic and earning 2.9 million dollars over his career. He has played in 10 PGA Tour, five Nationwide Tour and 183 Senior Tour events. As a Georgia Club Professional before joining the PGA Senior Tour James was the 1997, 1998 and 2000 Georgia PGA Player of the Year.
Sonny Skinner is also a top-level competitor, having played 118 PGA Tour events, 302 Nationwide Tour events and nine Senior Tour events, while earning $910,000. Skinner finished 44th in the Senior PGA Championship just two weeks ago.
Meanwhile, local resident and PGA and Senior PGA standout Dewitt Weaver Jr. will also take part. Weaver played in 218 PGA Tour events over his career with 21 top 10 finishes and two victories. He also played in 405 Senior PGA Tour events, including 45 top 10 finishes and a victory in the 1991 Bank One Classic. Dewitt's career earnings on both tours totaled just over $3.5 million.
Seven-time Georgia PGA Player of the Year Tim Weinhart was also scheduled to participate in the Atlanta Open but recently qualified to play in the U.S. Open, forcing him to withdraw.
Other participants that have multiple victories in the Georgia PGA and beyond include Craig Stevens, Stephen Keppler, Shawn Koch, Bill Murchison, Clark Spratlin, David Potts and Jeff Hull.
Each will have to contend with a number of golfers incredibly familiar with the course, including local competitors Greg Lee (of Chicopee Woods), Gainesville High School standout and recent state champ Parks Brown, former Johnson High standouts and current Georgia State players Grant and Jared Cagle and fellow former Knight Josh Foster, as well as Jim Foote, Jeff Frasier, Don Williams Jr. and Hogan himself.
"It's going to be a great experience for the local kids," Hogan said. "To get out and play with some of these guys over two days will be another step forward for a lot of these guys."
Who knows -- maybe just another step toward something much bigger indeed, as they follow in the footsteps of their playing partners and Nelson and Jones.
-- NOTES: Golfers will tee off from holes No. 1 and No. 10 on both Monday and Tuesday, beginning at 8 a.m. each day. Tee Times will be available after 3 p.m. Friday (June 8) on Georgia PGA.com. ... Admission is free to all spectators. ... There will also be an Atlanta Open Pro-Am tournament on Sunday at Chattahoochee.