Teeing up for the annual BellSouth Classic

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It#s that time of year again. Players and spectators alike are revving up for the 37th annual BellSouth Classic Golf Tournament. Held at the Tournament Players Club at Sugarloaf in Duluth, the tournament#s dates for this year are March 28 through April 3.

In its ninth year at the Tournament Players Club, the tournament has undergone a few changes, mainly due to space issues.

#We lost parking along hole 10 because of new homes going in. But a few years ago, we bought some property on Sugarloaf Parkway that#s in the process of being developed for parking,# said Dave Kaplan, tournament director. #Hole 10 was also our staging area; that#s now being moved to some property we purchased behind hole 18. Also on the 18th hole is a new leaderboard with two trivision advertising panels in it; and we#re working on a beer garden behind the bleachers there. That entire area behind the hole is being reconfigured.#

Last year, the tournament exceeded $11 million in fundraising since 1989 for Children#s Healthcare of Atlanta, and some time this fall the charitable contributions of all PGA events will hit the billion-dollar mark. This year#s fundraising goal for Children#s is $700,000, along with an additional $150,000 to $200,000 for other charitable organizations.

The BellSouth Classic also has a huge economic impact on the county. It generates revenue for area restaurants, malls and hotels as well increasing tourist recognition of what Gwinnett has to offer. According to an joint economic study conducted in 2001 by BellSouth and the Gwinnett Convention and Visitors Bureau, the 2000 tournament created $15.6 million in new industrial activity, $5.2 million in household income and 228 new jobs for the metro-Atlanta area.

For those of us who won#t get a chance to attend, all four days of the tournament are being televised # Thursday and Friday on USA and Saturday and Sunday on NBC.

The players are really looking forward to some of the changes&like the $5 million purse that#s up a half million from last year. 2004 tournament champion and rookie Zach Johnson took home $810,000, a career best for him and his first win on the PGA Tour after being the leading money winner on the Nationwide Tour in 2003.

#Tour professionals have until 6 p.m. on the Friday preceding the tournament to commit to play in the BellSouth Classic. Expected to join defending Champion Zach Johnson in the 144-man field at this year#s event are defending Masters Champion Phil Mickelson, John Daly, Mike Weir, local star Stewart Cink, Chris DiMarco, David Toms and internationally ranked players Padraig Harrington, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Angel Cabrera, Colin Montgomerie and Jose Maria Olazabal,# said Kaplan.

Gwinnett native Justin Bolli is also eagerly anticipating the tournament and playing on a familiar course. At 28, the Duluth resident is one of the younger players on the PGA tour and last year finished at number nine on the 2004 Nationwide Tour#s official money list.

Bolli started his golfing career at the age of 10, playing in a junior tournament.

#My mom played golf and got me interested in the sport. I played throughout high school, and when I went to UGA I played on the golf team from 1995 to 1999,# said Bolli.

At the end of the summer in 1999, Bolli turned pro and hit the golfing circuit. He played the Hooters Tour for nine years, then the Nationwide Tour and now the PGA Tour. For Bolli, who#s had two career holes-in-one in competitive rounds, playing golf is #definitely something I#ll do as long as I can.#

Coming up through the ranks from a youngster to playing with the greats on the PGA Tour has been a bit surreal at times for Bolli.

#It#s certainly different starting out (on the tour). Sometimes I walk around the locker room and see guys like Ernie Els and think, #This is where I#ve alw

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