By Carly Felton


 

This month, 30 of the world’s top golfers will tee off at Atlanta’s East Atlanta Golf Club – considered one of the most difficult courses in the country and home course for legendary golfer Bobby Jones – for THE TOUR Championship presented by Coca-Cola.


Playing Sept. 23 to 27, the players will compete in the PGA TOUR Playoff Finale to determine the 2009 winner of the FedExCup. Sure East Lake will attract world-renowned players like Tiger Woods, Vinjay Singh and last year’s winner, Camilo Villegas, and bring fame to the area, but it also serves a bigger purpose as a charitable endeavor; last year’s TOUR raised $1.4 million, primarily benefiting the East Lake Foundation and The First Tee.


The East Lake Foundation helps residents build a better future through education, affordable housing, job readiness and connections with the community. The First Tee is a World Golf Foundation initiative that influences the lives of young people by providing learning facilities and educational programs that promote character development and life-enhancing values through the game of golf, according to its mission statement. THE TOUR has donated more than $9 million to these and other charities since 1998.


“The renovations they’ve made to the [East Lake] facility and surrounding areas have just been phenomenal,” Woods has said. “For us to get the chance to play there year after year in our TOUR Championship, it just makes it very special for us as players.”


Plus, a lot rides on this tournament. The four-day, 72-hole stroke-play competition comes with a $7.5 million purse; $1.35 million of it going to the winner. The top 30 players in FedExCup points after the BMW Championship qualify for THE TOUR, but, new this year, the points will be reset at the beginning of THE TOUR. If one of the top five seeds wins, he will automatically receive the FedExCup title; if someone from seeds 6-10 wins, they’ll have a good shot at the title.


This East Lake course was designed by Tom Bendelow in 1908 and then redesigned by famed golf course architect Donald Ross just five years later. In 1994, Rees Jones restored the course to Ross’ layout. First held in 1987, THE TOUR provides a national platform for the East Lake Foundation to share the “miracle” that has happened in the East Lake community, according to THE TOUR Executive Director Todd Rhinehart. Broadcasts of the tournament will reach 235 countries.


THE TOUR uses 1,300 volunteers to keep it running smoothly, and 85 percent of them return each year. “By having volunteers support our efforts, we are able to donate a significant amount of more money to charity,” said Laura Zidar, senior manager of tournament services.


“I feel great about having the opportunity to volunteer for such a good cause,” said Mark Wellden, a volunteer member of the Transportation Committee for THE TOUR. “It’s amazing to see what has happened to the East Lake community. Over 30 years ago I started working for Georgia Power reading meters in the East Lake area. I remember what it was like then, and I am truly amazed at what it looks like today.”


“It’s humbling and satisfying to know that as volunteers, our contributions assist the East Lake Foundation and The First Tee with helping young people move their lives in a positive direction,” added Cathy Wike-Cook, the volunteer chairman of TV marshals. “The tournament is hard work, a lot of fun, great friendships and the most positive thing I’ve ever done! We each play a small part, but together, we do great things.”


The public can contribute as well through THE TOUR Championship Tickets Fore Charity program, which runs through Sept. 18. Through this program, participating charities receive contributions based on the number of tickets sold in their name. Fifty percent of the proceeds benefit the charity, while the other 50 percent goes to the East Lake Foundation. Prices range from $20 for a single community day (Wednesday, Sept. 23) ticket to $150 for a weekly ticket book, which provides access to all public spectator areas at the tournament Sept. 23 through Sunday, Sept. 27. Public parking is available at Turner Field, with shuttle buses ferrying spectators to East Lake, and tickets can be purchased by calling 888-TOUR-TIX or visiting www.pgatour.com/tickets.

For more information, visit www.tourchampionship.pgatour.com.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.