The BellSouth Classic is all “fore” Gwinnett County

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by Caryn McGarity, CDME

For those who eagerly await the turning of the seasons, the BellSouth Classic has long been a marker of the arrival of early spring. However, in 2007 – put away the wind coats and umbrellas – as BellSouth begins a new era as a late spring event, with new tournament dates of May 14-20.

Next year will be significant for other reasons, too, as it will also mark tournament executive director Dave Kaplan's 25th year of organizing and overseeing this successful and expanding PGA event. We are also proud to announce that Dave has agreed to serve as our newest hospitality representative on the Gwinnett Convention and Visitors Bureau and Gwinnett Center”s Board of Directors.

The BellSouth”s success is not only evident by attendance, sponsorships and TV coverage, but has been marked by the Atlanta Classic Foundation”s sustained and year-round charitable involvement. Many attendees may not realize that the majority of the tournament”s revenues are donated to charity, and Kaplan expects that more than $1.5 million dollars will be distributed this year.

Children”s Healthcare of Atlanta is one of the BellSouth”s primary charities, and this year”s anticipated donation of between $850,000 and $900,000 will assist both Children”s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite and Children”s at Egleston in building much-needed hospital beds for desperately sick children from Gwinnett and all over the Southeast.

The "Birdies for Charity" is a three-pronged program that allows nonprofit organizations to collect pledges based on the anticipated number of birdies made in that year”s tournament.

More than 60 organizations collected pledges this year, and BellSouth Classic expects to disperse more than $517,000 in charitable donations – to your local elementary and high schools, youth athletic associations, garden clubs, community theaters, and pet rescue groups. Since its inception in 2001, the Birdies for Charity program has grown from $60,000 in donations to just over half a million dollars. Birdies for Charity is expected to reach the million dollar threshold in just a few short years. Interested nonprofits can call (770) 951-8777 for more information.

Making a difference in your local theatres, neighborhoods or local ball fields is just the beginning – the BellSouth Classic is also taking an active role in Gwinnett County”s elementary school system. It is sponsoring a two-year program (2005-2007) called the First Tee National School Program, bringing golf into physical education class, while also promoting character development and enhancing life values through the game of golf.

More than 20,000 Gwinnett County schoolchildren will participate. They will also receive free tickets to the youth golf clinic held prior to the BellSouth Classic.

Under Dave”s leadership, the Classic is also a top sponsor of the Atlanta Junior Golf Association and a major contributor to the Georgia State Golf Foundation. It also supports the Project One Junior Golf Academy, assisting promising students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The GCVB”s primary mission is to bring economic impact to our hospitality community by bringing in sporting events, meetings, family reunions, leisure travelers and conventions. Tourism”s economic impact for Gwinnett is strong and getting stronger – visitor expenditures to Gwinnett County top $1 billion dollars annually. The BellSouth is a key cog in our economic impact – generating almost $16 million dollars in annual economic impact and bringing jobs, media, and local and state tax revenues to Gwinnett and metro Atlanta.

Welcome to the GCVB/GC Board of Directors, Dave. We are proud and fortunate to have the BellSouth Classic in our own backyard.

> Caryn McGarity is the executive director of the Gwinnett Convention & VIsitors Bureau.