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Wednesday, August 20, 2014 - 4:23pm

PGA TOUR’s Championship Heads to Atlanta

The TOUR Championship hits Atlanta's East Lake Golf Club in less than one month. Preparations for the tournament have been underway for some time and that ball will keep rolling as the event draws closer.

This past week, the TOUR Championship committee and its sponsor, Coca-Cola, hosted a golf outing for local media that included a conversation with former winner Bill Haas.

Attendees also heard from the championship staff and Coca-Cola about this year's tournament, the state of the game and some of the latest innovations being added to improve the fan experience.

Chris Womack, Southern Company's Executive Vice President of External Affairs, also attended. The Southern company is heavily involved with the distribution of the Payne Stewart award, now celebrating its 15th year. This recognition is given to one deserving professional golfer who exemplifies character, charity and sportsmanship, in remembrance of the 11-time PGA TOUR winner. The award ceremony is conducted annually the week of the TOUR Championship.

Womack, former chairman of the Atlanta Sports Council and currently chairman of the board of directors for Atlanta's Convention and Visitor's Bureau, understands the challenges golf faces in retaining fan interest, but he sees those challenges as an opportunity for improvement.

"It's tough. Golf can be expensive. I think you've got to make it more accessible, you've got to bring more people into the game, you've got to make it fun and exciting. You have to recognize the opportunities and challenges that are there. And so I think you'll see golf be viable and continue to be viable long term," said Womack.

Similar to the conversation surrounding the pace of baseball, those responsible for keeping golf fans interested are constantly conjuring up ways to enliven the game, including changing the pace keeping youth playing.

"I think there are a lot of opportunities and changes that are being made now,’ said Tom Clark, Executive Director of the TOUR Championship. “One is to encourage people to play nine holes; to encourage people to walk and make it quicker. We're not all playing for the green jacket every day we go out, and I think that's one of the biggest things we're trying to do with the youth. Let's play nine. It's a way to kind of speed it up.”

The effort attract new golf fans can be much more successful if it's tackled at the youth level. The First Tee foundation has a large presence in Atlanta, and it’s capitalized on an opportunity to get kids playing golf while promoting healthy lifestyles and leadership nationwide. The Southern Company is the education sponsor of First Tee.

"The values of golf and having that available to kids at a young age is something that's very important to us,” said Womack. When you link that with education in terms of putting those values of the physical activity aspect of golf into schools all across the country like First Tee does, we think that is very important; understanding the values and things that are important in terms of principles of golf, principals of life.”

While organizations like First Tee work to recruit golf fans, the TOUR Championship is expected to continue a successful presence in Atlanta, carrying a projected $35 to $40 million dollars in economic impact. But Womack believes the presence of this tournament here in the city extends further than the financials.

"There's $35 million in economic impact but any opportunity to showcase Atlanta benefits all of Atlanta and it's a wonderful way to promote the city," Womack said.

In the world of golf, Atlanta will be front and center from Sept. 11-Sept. 14, as the TOUR Championship is played at East Lake Golf Club.