The Georgia PGA makes its annual late Summer visit to St. Simons Island for the Georgia PGA Championship, which will be played Aug. 26-28 at Sea Island Golf Club’s Retreat course.
Sea Island GC has been the long time host for the event, with its three courses alternating in recent years as the tournament site. Seaside and Retreat have been the primary courses, with Retreat hosting the event for the fifth time in the last 10 years.
The tournament, which is sponsored by E-Z-GO and ExecGolf, has been very friendly in recent years to the Georgia PGA’s talented contingent of players who are now in their early 50s.
Sonny Skinner, Craig Stevens and Stephen Keppler have won the Section Championship the last four times it has been held, with Skinner winning in 2009 at Retreat and last year at the Plantation course. Stevens won in 2010, the last time Retreat was the host course, with Keppler winning the event for the first time in 15 years in 2011.
All three players have histories of contending in the event, with Keppler coming close repeatedly to a fourth Section Championship title after winning three times between 1990 and ’96.
Keppler, the Director of Golf at Marietta CC, has been a consistent contender in the Section Championship since 2005, finishing no lower than 3rd each of the last eight years. He was 2nd four straight times from 2005-08, and 3rd in ’09 and 2010 before capturing his fourth tournament title in 2011. He was 2nd behind Skinner last year.
Skinner made his first appearance in the Section Championship in 2006, taking 3rd at Retreat behind Greg Lee, with Keppler placing 2nd. Since ’08, Skinner has been outside the top five just once, winning a rain-delayed event at Retreat in ’09 and edging Keppler by a shot last year.
Stevens scored his first Section Championship victory in 2001, waiting nine years to become a multiple champion. He also has four runner-up finishes ranging from 1994 to 2009, finishing one shot behind Keppler in ’94 and one behind Skinner in ’09.
Prior to Skinner’s win last year, the tournament had nine different champions the previous nine years since Chan Reeves claimed back-to-back titles in 2002 and ’03.
Clark Spratlin, Matt Peterson, Greg Lee, Tim Weinhart and former Georgia PGA member Jeff Hull all won the Section Championship once during that stretch, with Lee and Hull both taking their titles on Retreat.
Weinhart’s win in 2005 capped a 4-year stretch in which he placed 4th or better in the championship, beginning with a playoff loss in 2002. After four years outside the top five, he has placed 2nd, 3rd and 4th the last three years, including a runner-up finish behind Stevens at Retreat in 2010.
Retreat, originally designed by Joe Lee, was extensively renovated in 2000 by St. Simons resident Davis Love III and his design group. The course was lengthened, and can now be stretched to 7100 yards. Love added width to the fairways and made significant changes to the greens complexes, adding more undulation to the mostly expansive putting surfaces.
The last four times the tournament was played at Retreat, the winning score was between 7 and 9-under, with Stevens finishing at 8-under 208 in 2010 and Skinner posting a 7-under 137 total in 2009, when weather limited the event to 36 holes.
The tournament is sponsored by TaylorMade-adidas Golf-Ashworth and the PGA Tour.