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  • Writer's pictureDavid Welch

TPC Sugarloaf – Mitsubishi Electric Classic




Photos by David Welch, Stadium Journey


Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.86

TPC Sugarloaf

2595 Sugarloaf Club Dr

Duluth, GA 30097



Year Opened: 1997

 

Where Legends Play

Located in the northeastern Atlanta suburb of Duluth, the one-time Rollins family cattle and horse farm Sugarloaf Farms was transformed into the Greg Norman-designed TPC Sugarloaf.


The 7309-yard, par 72 Bermuda fairways and bent grass greens of TPC Sugarloaf have played host to both PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions events since its opening in 1997, when the club hosted the Bell South Classic. The PGA Tour stop would last until 2009 when it was renamed the AT&T Classic, but then TPC Sugarloaf would go without professional golf until the PGA Tour Champions added it to their schedule in 2013, with two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer winning the inaugural event.


The PGA Tour Champions is comprised of golf legends aged 50 and above; most tournaments on the tour are 54-hole events with no cut.

 

Food & Beverage   4

Starting with the first hole, concession tents are stationed every three holes and serve a full food and beverage menu – snack tents are also set up around the course and offer a hefty selection of choices.  On course Gourmet to Go tents sell a wide variety of high-quality sandwiches, including the Georgian classic Pimento cheese, and Tuscan grilled chicken salads are also available from the tents. On course concessions also serve a wide selection of candy, chips, and other snacks.


The Fan Expo area behind the 18th green offers a wider selection of foods – in addition to the standard grab-and-go set up, local pizzeria Johnny’s New York Style Pizza provides three different options, while the neighboring Snack Attack! tent serves more typical stadium type concessions such as hot dogs, pretzels, peanuts, popcorn, and nachos with cheese sauce.


Another favorite during the event is Atlanta popsicle producer King of Pops, with their hand crafted, all natural popsicles, which can be found at the trademark rainbow umbrella among the vendor tents at the exposition center.


When it comes to beverages there is a little bit of something for everyone; non-alcoholic beverages include Coke, Diet Coke, and Coke Zero, Sprite, PowerAde and Dasani bottled water, along with hand-squeezed lemonade. For adult beverages, attendees can choose from Michelob Ultra, Corona, and Modelo beers, with mixed drinks and wine available in the premium access areas.

 

Atmosphere   4

Made up of three individual 9-hole tracks, the original “Stables and Meadows” courses are used for tournament play – the courses are a nod to the history of the land upon which the community was built.


The front 9, the Stables course, does have some forgiving landing areas, but the greens are well protected either by bunkers or Singleton Creek, which meanders through the front side. There is little opportunity to land a shot short and run it up close to the pin. On the other hand, precision is the name of the game on the back 9, the Meadows course. Greens here are a bit less protected, but fairways are tighter, putting a premium on keeping the ball on the short stuff. In addition, Rollins Ranch Lake, centrally located on the Sugarloaf property, comes to play on the par 3 11th hole and on the closing 18th. The palatial lake front estates across the water also provide a beautiful backdrop for the 12th hole, though the lake itself doesn’t come into play on this one.



The benefit of golf tournaments is that there really is no best way to take in the action – several holes have foldable lawn chairs set up around the green, for spectators to watch approach shots or to see players putting out. Some patrons enjoy following their favorite around the course for all 18 holes, while other fans take the strategy of finding a comfortable spot on the course and watching each group pass by, before heading to the 18th hole to catch the leaders finishing up their round.


 For those wanting a bit of it all, walking the course backwards will provide a look at each group as they come through the course.  The Saturday pin placement on 18 is typically just beyond the water hazard on the front of the green, and thus makes for some thrilling high risk/reward situations. If looking for the excitement of a possible hole-in-one, the 144-yard par 3 second hole is known to surrender more than its fair share.


Whatever strategy is implored, just make sure to head to the 18th green toward the end of the day for the excitement of players making one last gasp to pick up a stroke on the leader.

 

Neighborhood   3

TPC Sugarloaf is on the backside of the Gas South District in the Sugarloaf neighborhood of Duluth, a northeastern suburb of Atlanta, about 30-minutes from downtown. Sugarloaf is a private neighborhood, so typical access to the club is restricted. The surrounding area is where commercial properties and office parks begin transitioning to residential housing and subdivisions.


The area is full of additional entertainment, restaurants, and lodging. The front gate of TPC Sugarloaf is less than a quarter mile from the back access road to Gas South Arena, which is home to the Atlanta Vibe (Pro Volleyball Federation), Georgia Swarm (National Lacrosse League), and Atlanta Gladiators (ECHL). The arena also hosts numerous concerts year-round, and Duluth is also just a town over from Lawrenceville, which is home to the Gwinnett Stripers, the AAA affiliate of the Atlanta Braves.

 

Fans   4

The Friday round is rather lightly attended, but as the tournament progresses to the weekend rounds, the gallery swells to where each grouping has a solid crowd following. By the time Sunday’s final groups are starting their rounds, the course is abuzz with excitement for the leaders heading out.



With the course situated amongst private residences, a handful of homes around the course host tournament watch parties from their backyards or decks; these gatherings tend to grow in size and exuberance as the leading groups come through on Sunday’s final round.


A few of the patrons do tend to get a bit overly enthusiastic in trying to score an autograph or selfie from the golfers as they exit the 18th green, to make the trip to the clubhouse to sign their scorecard. These autograph seekers end up blocking the area for players to access the green and their carts. Also, a nearly unavoidable issue with a handful of patrons are those who have been overserved on the course, who can then become a bit obnoxious on the shuttle back to the parking lot. This is mostly a case of a very minimal number who can easily ruin the experience, making it an uncomfortable ride back at the end of the day.


On the whole, however, the patron involvement at the Mitsubishi Electric Classic is a supportive and respectful group. There is a bit of playful banter between the golfers and the gallery, with an occasional call of “GET IN THE HOLE!” for a tee shot on a 600-yard par 5, as well as a few screams of “BABA-BOEY!”

 

Access   4

With PGA Tour Champions events running Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, getting to Duluth is not as much of a challenge as it might be for midweek or evening events.


Patrons park at the nearby Gas South District to be shuttled to the course, which once wheels are moving is no more than a 10-minute ride, mostly due to the 20 mph speed limits within the Sugarloaf neighborhood. The shuttle drops off just before the clubhouse, leaving patrons with just a short walk up to the 1st tee box on the Stable Course (or the 10th tee on the Meadows Course) – one of the drawbacks of the course layout is that each of the three 9-hole courses creates a loop around the outside of the property, making it difficult to join a passing gallery.


The course does have a decent amount of elevation change, so patrons with mobility issues might find accessing parts of the course difficult. There are ADA carts available to assist in accessing the course, though.

 

Return on Investment   4

Daily grounds passes start at $20 per day, with passes for all three rounds going for $54 – Ticketmaster service fees are kept reasonable at under $4. For those wanting more comfortable amenities, clubhouse access runs $75 per round, while passes to access some of the on-course club seating options do start to get a bit expensive.


Veterans and active, along with first responders, can attend the tournament free of charge. Also, in a way to grow the game, children under 15 are free with a paying adult.


Parking does add an extra $10 to the cost, but considering the typical prices to park at professional sporting events, this cost does seem reasonable.


Concessions around the course and in the golf expo are what might be expected at sporting events, but rates are kept a bit lower than what fans may have become accustomed to – with a menu full of items costing less than $11 each, there doesn’t seem to be the same stadium sticker shock here that fans have started to become accustomed to.

 

Extras   4

In a bit of a reflection of southern charm, rather than the typical “Quiet Please” signs held up by the course marshals as players address their ball, the signs have been altered to say “Hush Y’all, Please.”


The Mitsubishi Electric Classic implements and sponsors several activities and initiatives that reach out to golf’s next generation, including a 9-hole miniature golf course set up at the tournament expo, giving kids an opportunity to hone their short game as part of their tournament experience. Also, the Georgia State Golf Association sponsors a junior chipping and putting skills competition on Saturday afternoon.



As players exit the 18th green, an Autograph Station has been set up for the tournament’s youngest patrons to try to get a quick photo or autograph from their favorite golfer after the round; the Autograph Zone has even been designated for those under 60” in height or under 15 years of age.

 

Final Thoughts

The Mitsubishi Electric Classis at TPC Sugarloaf serves at a wonderful backdrop for an entertaining weekend of golf for all ages, and the Tour has done a great job promoting the game to everyone, from the first timers who might only understand the game in its miniature form to those who have already found a love for the game.


Golf is unique in that as players age, there is still a viable option for them to continue playing at an elite level, which few other professional sports offer – the PGA Tour Champions is a wonderful opportunity to watch and showcase the talents of the PGA Tour’s stars of the previous generation.

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