Event set for June 9-10 at Atlanta National
Over the last 17 years, the Yamaha Atlanta Open has had 17 different winners, with the tournament visiting 15 metro courses during that span.
The 2014 tournament, which will be played June 9-10, will have a 16th site, as Atlanta National hosts the long-running event for the first time, and should provide the toughest test the tournament participants have faced in almost a decade.
Atlanta National, which was designed by Pete Dye and his son P.B., is among the Atlanta area’s most demanding layouts, sporting a Course Rating/Slope of 74.6/147 from the back tees. With an exception or two, the challenge Atlanta National poses is not a product of length, as the course measures a modest 6,966 yards, with just a handful of holes with serious yardage numbers.
For the most part, Atlanta National is a very generous course off the tee, but the combination of water hazards on about half the holes and some truly treacherous greens complexes make it one of the state’s most interesting, but also most perplexing designs.
Several of the greens, which are typically divided into multiple partitions, are bordered by some of the most daunting bunkers in golf, a few of which are significantly below the putting surfaces. Almost all the greens feature a pin position or two with precious little room to miss.
At the same time, Atlanta National offers its share of scoring opportunities, beginning with its quartet of par 5s, all of which measure between 513 and 531 yards. The course also features a drivable par 4 and a par 3 under 140 yards. But the potentially vulnerable holes are all capable of inflicting damage to over-aggressive or slightly errant shots.
Among the distinctive design features of Atlanta National are wooden ties and bulkheads, a number of expansive waste areas, an island green par 3 and a split fairway par 5. The club has hosted top events for both the Georgia PGA and GSGA, but several of its tournaments have been match play, allowing players to shake off the real possibility of a disaster or two along the way, a considerably greater concern in stroke play.
The tournament’s defending champion is Cory Griffin of McDonough, a member of the Armstrong Atlantic golf team. Griffin was the first college golfer to win the tournament since Matt Russell in 1996, with Russell also winning the next year as a professional, beginning the 17 winners in 17 years stretch in 1997.
Three amateurs have won the tournament the last seven years, with Bob Royak winning at the Standard Club in 2007 and Dave Womack scoring a home course victory at Georgia National in 2010.
Most of the Georgia PGA’s top players over the past 15 years have won the event, beginning with James Mason, who won in a playoff at White Columns in 2000, two years before winning a Champions Tour event as a Monday qualifier. Mason lost the Atlanta Open in a playoff to Seth McCain in 2012 at Chattahoochee Golf Club.
Other Georgia PGA members to win the Atlanta Open since Mason include Phil Taylor (Golf Club of Georgia, 2002); Greg Lee (Marietta Country Club, 2003); Chan Reeves (Golf Club of Georgia, 2005); Shawn Koch (Dunwoody Country Club, 2006); Matt Peterson (Newnan Country Club, 2008); Tim Weinhart (Heron Bay, 2009); and Craig Stevens The Frog, 2011).
There are several prominent Georgia PGA members still looking to win the event for the first time, most notably Stephen Keppler, who lost to Griffin last year in a playoff.
The 2013 Yamaha Atlanta Open was reduced to 18 holes after the opening round at Polo G&CC was rained out. Griffin and Keppler both shot 4-under 68, with Griffin winning on the first extra hole when Keppler bogeyed Polo’s ninth hole after finishing his round hours earlier.
Keppler is the only current Georgia PGA member to win the Georgia Open twice, and has also won the Section Championship three times and the Georgia PGA Match Play Championship twice. But the Atlanta Open has eluded him for the past two decades, with Keppler having several close calls in the mid-1990s, as well as three straight top-5 finishes the last three years.
Two other veteran Section members also without an Atlanta Open title are Sonny Skinner and Clark Spratlin. Skinner had three straight finishes of 4th or better from 2006-08, coming closest in ’08 when he finished one shot behind fellow ex-Tour pro Peterson at Newnan Country Club.
Spratlin placed 3rd behind Stevens at The Frog in 2011, and won one of his three Match Play titles at Atlanta National when he was the head professional there in 2002.
Stevens and Weinhart both have long track records of success in the tournament, with Weinhart losing twice in playoffs prior to his 2009 victory, which was part of a three-year stretch in which he finished among the top three each year.
With Stevens, Skinner and Keppler in their 50s and Weinhart and Spratlin in their mid-to-late 40s, the door has been opened for some of the Section’s younger members to make a greater impact.
McCain, who had won tournaments at Griffin Country Club and Chicopee Woods in 2009, defeated Mason in a playoff in the 2012 Atlanta Open. Chris Nicol is the Georgia PGA’s most recent winner, taking a playoff over former tour player Travis Nance at Rivernont Country Club. Nicol and Bill Murchison won the Georgia PGA tournament at Berkeley Hills in 2010 and ’11, and recently teamed to win the Section’s Pro-Pro Scramble event.
The state’s deep and talented crop of college golfers has not had a significant impact on the tournament in recent years, largely because the Atlanta Open annually conflicts with the Southeastern Amateur in Columbus, which is again the case this year.
Last year, however, four college golfers other than Griffin placed sixth or better, with Georgis State’s Damon Stephenson and incoming freshman Nathan Mallonee shooting 69 to tie for 3rd, and Jack Walsh of Western Carolina and Will McFarlin of North Georgia 6th at 70. Missouri’s Tripp H’Doubler shot 71 to tie for 10th with a number of top Georgia PGA members, including Spratlin, Koch, Kyle Owen, Matthew Evans and Brian Dixon.