published Sunday, June 2nd, 2013

The North Georgia Invitational tournament healthy with 155 plus waiting list

The North Georgia Invitational received a boost in participation when Chattanooga TPC series director Mike Jenkins added the two-day tournament to the golf series four years ago.

The tournament, which had participation drop down in the 90s, had a recent record of 155 players and a few more on a waiting list Saturday.

Of the 155 participants, 39 were in the senior division -- about as many as last year -- which helped Jenkins consider creating a Chattanooga Senior TPC series and championship tournament in conjunction with the Chattanooga TPC at the end of the year.

"It's just a sign that numbers are on their way back up, and one reason they're successful is the number of seniors they have because they do the seniors right," Jenkins said. "They have separate tees, their own flight and their own golf tournament. If you added 20-25 seniors for every event, your numbers are going to go up."

At least that's the theory Jenkins is sticking to in trying to increase participation in tournaments such as the Brainerd Invitational and the Chattanooga Men's Metro Championship.

"You have to keep the veterans playing, and the way you do that is to let them compete amongst themselves," Jenkins said. "If anything, we're a little late. Now is the time."

The actual TPC events are an end-of-year match-play tournament for golfers who have accrued the most points throughout the year. The Chattanooga Senior TPC, presented by Adman Electric, will be held at Council Fire in conjunction with the Chattanooga TPC.

"I think it's a good thing because the crowd is getting older and we're getting more and more seniors," said 67-year-old Ronnie Law. "A lot of seniors don't play anymore because they're not competitive. I knew Mike really wanted to do that and move the tees up in a few events."

Law has been participating in the NGI for what he estimated to be at least 15 years. Other participants, such as Bill Carroll, have been playing for more than 40 straight years, according to head golf professional Russ Allstun.

The tradition of the NGI, which is in its 66th year, and the timing of the event in early June allows high school and college golfers to participate, and its format of about 20 golfers per flight allows for competitors of various skill levels and therefore larger participation than other Chattanooga-area events. Its location between Atlanta's northern suburbs and Chattanooga allows it to draw from two pools of participants.

Former Lee University golfer Caleb Roberson and Dalton State director of golf Ben Rickett (a former UTC golfer) share the championship-flight lead after shooting 2-under-par 70s Saturday.

But not everyone finished. The second round will pick up at 7:30 this morning, and the senior divisions and regular flights E and F will have a second-round shotgun start at 9 with the championship through D flights starting at 1:30 p.m.

That may have changed by the time of sunrise, or it might change later.

But the success of the NGI's senior division is crucial to the success of the tournament.

"There are more people getting older than young people coming into competition," Jenkins said. "This motivated me to start the Senior TPC in hopes that other tournaments like Signal [Mountain Invitational] and the Red Bud will begin trying to grow their senior division.

"We're wanting to grow the senior part of the game."

Contact David Uchiyama at duchiyama@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6484. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.

about David Uchiyama...

David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...

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