AT&T Classic will not return in 2009

ATLANTA (AP) — Atlanta’s TPC Sugarloaf is losing the AT&T Classic but apparently will be home to a new Champions Tour event.

The PGA Tour announced Monday the AT&T Classic will not return to Atlanta in 2009.

The tournament, formerly known as the BellSouth Classic, lost AT&T as its title sponsor in December.

The tournament celebrated its 40th anniversary with Ryuji Imada winning the final AT&T Classic at TPC Sugarloaf in Duluth on May 18.

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said the lack of a title sponsor “necessitated the move in order to solidify the schedule for the future.”

The Atlanta Classic Foundation was unable to find a new title sponsor willing to invest $6 million to $8 million each year.

“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.

The AT&T Classic moved to a later spot on the schedule in 2007. The tournament previously had been played in late March, just before the Masters, and often was plagued by bad weather.

The later date provided a better chance for pleasant weather, but it also led to a significantly weaker field. Phil Mickelson and other top names said they liked to use the March tournament as a warm-up for the Masters.

Mickelson won at Sugarloaf in 2005 and 2006 but did not return in 2007 or 2008.

This year’s field included only six of the top 50 players in the world rankings. Stewart Cink, who lives in the area, was the only top-15 player in the FedEx Cup standings in the field.

Finchem said Sugarloaf will host a new Champions Tour event to continue the tradition of contributing to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

Finchem said the PGA Tour is finalizing an agreement “with a U.S.-based global company” to become a title sponsor of a Champions Tour tournament in 2009 at Sugarloaf.

Kaplan said the Atlanta Classic Foundation’s board will meet on Thursday to consider serving as host of the Champions Tour event at Sugarloaf in May, 2009.

“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.”

Past winners of the Atlanta event include Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Mickelson. The event was held at the Atlanta Country Club from 1967-1996 and moved to Sugarloaf in 1997.

Finchem said the PGA Tour has not yet filled the date in the 2009 schedule that had been reserved for the AT&T Classic.

“We are working through the process of filling the date,” he said, adding “a number of changes in the schedule for 2009” will be announced “in the next couple of weeks.”