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Monday, October 23, 2006
Should the Tour Championship remain at East Lake?

ESPN.com/GolfDigest.com

East Lake Golf Club is one of the country's most venerable golf courses, the site of Bobby Jones' first-ever sub-80 round. It has lived on as home to the Tour Championship, an event the club will host this week for a record third consecutive year and sixth time in the last nine seasons.

Still, the question remains: Should East Lake be the annual home to the tour's season-ending event? Or should the tournament, much like the U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship, switch venues each year? GolfDigest.com's Ron Sirak and ESPN.com's Bob Harig are on opposite sides of the debate in this week's edition of Alternate Shot.

Should the Tour Championship be competed at East Lake every year?
YES

One of the advantages of keeping a major event at the same course each year is that it builds a familiarity with the fans that intensifies the loyalty to the tournament.

The Masters is the most-watched golf tournament in the world in part because TV viewers know the course so well. They anticipate the back nine and eagerly await the drama it always produces. It is also the only one of the four majors played on the same course every year.

In a way, Augusta National is as much a part of the story line as the players. For the TV viewers, it is like an old friend is coming into their living room.

One of the reasons the Players Championship has become such a popular event among fans is because viewers have developed a similar familiarity with the Stadium Course at TPC-Sawgrass. People eagerly await that closing stretch of holes -- especially the island green 17th -- and know that fireworks are in store.

Keeping the Tour Championship at East Lake will help grow interest in the tournament because fans will become as enamored with the course as they are with Augusta National or Sawgrass. Just call it good branding and good brand protection.

On top of all that there is the Bobby Jones connection. Staying at East Lake every year keeps the Jones legacy alive. That's the kind of history that can be found at few other venues. It just makes sense. Keep it at East Lake.

-- Ron Sirak
GolfDigest.com

NO

The original intent of the Tour Championship was not only to create late-season excitement by offering an opportunity for the top 30 money winners to play one more tournament, but to move the event around the country.

Going to a place such as the Olympic Club in San Francisco, as the Tour Championship did in 1994 and 1995, brought the PGA Tour to a place that does not regularly have golf. And going to venues such as Pebble Beach, Pinehurst No. 2, Champions Golf Club and this week's host, East Lake in Atlanta, also served to pique the interest of the best players. There is nothing wrong with going to historic courses.

But going to the same one year after year is not the way to handle what should be a crowning moment for the tour. And next year, as part of the FedEx Cup's earlier finish, there are far more venues that could host the tournament in mid-September.

Going to Atlanta every year has the feel of just another tour stop. The almighty dollar speaks loudest once again. When the PGA Tour had an opportunity to lock up Coca-Cola as a long-term presenting sponsor, it jumped at the chance, despite giving up the ability to move around the country. Coke is based in Atlanta and wanted the event in its backyard. It is scheduled to be played there every year through at least 2010. This week it will be there for the sixth time.

So Atlanta, which has been a lukewarm sports market and already has a PGA Tour event every year in the BellSouth Classic, gets two a year. Meanwhile, Chicago, the nation's third-largest city, will host the tour only every other year after the Western Open becomes part of the FedEx Cup. Doesn't make sense.

East Lake first hosted the tournament in 1998 and it is a phenomenal course, rich in history, Bobby Jones' home. But every year?

-- Bob Harig
ESPN.com

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