Tour event in Atlanta discontinued due to lack of sponsor

ATLANTA -- Atlanta is losing its regular PGA Tour event year after four decades because it could not find a title sponsor, paving the way for the Valero Texas Open to move its tournament to the spring.

The TPC Sugarloaf, which has hosted the tournament since 1997, could have the option of holding a Champions Tour event, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said Monday.

AT&T decided last year it would not renew its title sponsorship for the tournament, and the Atlanta Classic Foundation was unable to find a sponsor willing to invest $6 million to $8 million a year.

Finchem said losing the event was necessary to "solidify the schedule for the future."

The Valero Texas Open, one of the oldest PGA Tour events that dates to 1922, is now part of the "Fall Series" of tournaments that fall after the Tour Championship. It is moving to a new golf course in 2010 and has ranked among the top events in charitable donations.

Tony Piazzi, head of Golf San Antonio who runs the Texas Open, said Monday evening that Valero officials met with the tour over the last week and was asked if he were willing to become part of the regular season if the opportunity arose.

"The tour didn't come to us and make an offer," Piazzi said. "What they told the tour in discussions at the end of last week was if the tour came to them with a proposed date in the schedule, would they go ahead? Are we firmly committed? And the answer was yes, we are.

"Whether one domino leads to other dominoes falling, I don't know."

Atlanta has been part of the tour's landscape since 1967, and its list of champions include Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Ryuji Imada won the AT&T Classic last month in a playoff over Kenny Perry.

The Tour Championship was first held in Atlanta in 1998 at East Lake, and has been held there every year since 2004.

"It's been a difficult process given the economic climate we're in, and I truly believe we would have attracted a new sponsor if business conditions were a little more favorable," tournament director Dave Kaplan said Monday.

For years, the tournament was held a week before the Masters, but often was plagued by bad weather. It asked for a change to later in the schedule, but it led to a significantly weaker field when it was held a week after The Players Championship.

Mickelson won in consecutive years, but stopped coming after the move to May. This year's field included only six of the top 50 players in the world rankings.

Finchem said Sugarloaf will host a new Champions Tour event to continue the tradition of contributing to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. He said the tour is finalizing an agreement with a U.S.-based global company to become a title sponsor of a Champions Tour tournament in 2009.

Kaplan said the Atlanta Classic Foundation's board will meet on Thursday to consider the offer.

"Atlanta is a major golf market," Kaplan said. "Our foundation will explore the options with the Champions Tour. ... It appears they have a sponsor and a date and obviously a golf course since the Tour owns TPC at Sugarloaf."

Finchem said the PGA Tour has not yet filled the hole left by Atlanta.

"We are working through the process of filling the date," he said, adding that a number of changes for the '09 schedule will be announced in the next few weeks.

The PGA Tour's policy board meets Monday.