ATLANTA — With initiatives like the Drive, Chip and Putt Championships and the PGA of America's Junior League program, golf's youth movement is being showcased as never before. But collegiate golf — that key link in competitive golf between many elite juniors and the professional tours — remains somewhat in the shadows.
East Lake Golf Club and the Golf Channel are hoping to change that, beginning this week with the inaugural East Lake Cup, a match-play competition featuring the semifinal teams from last spring's men's and women's NCAA Division I national championship.
Holding the event at East Lake — Bobby Jones' home course and the site of the PGA Tour's season-ending Tour Championship — is not just a coincidence, according to PGA Professional Chad Parker, the general manager, chief operating officer and director of golf at East Lake.
It's a calculated effort to grow a portion of the game that hasn't had much media exposure. Parker believes this event is just the first step.
"The passion for college sports seems to be rising off the charts," he said. "This is a void out there the Golf Channel wants to fill, and we want to be a part of that. We wanted the opportunity to be on the front end of a trend we believe will continue to grow.
"To have the first made-for-television event highlighting the top four finishers from the NCAA Tournament last year, both men’s and ladies, in a match-play tournament — it fills a couple of different needs and it’s a great way for us to showcase that."
With 168 hours to fill every week, Golf Channel needs content — especially live events. After televising the NCAA Championships live for the first time last spring, that desire to continue to promote the collegiate game only increased. That's where East Lake stepped in.
"It’s a great way for us to showcase the facility and host the game’s best collegiate players, in addition to the professionals now," Parker said. "We love the opportunity to host amateur golf. Bobby Jones never turned professional. That’s another component of it. And it’s a fun thing to be part of."
And despite a weekend rain that soaked the course and delayed the start of Monday's semifinals some four hours, Parker said the competitors are thrilled to have an opportunity to play the same course where Jordan Spieth won the FedExCup six weeks ago.
"The kids I’ve spoken to are very excited to be here and excited to play the golf course," he said. "I don’t see any reason why it won’t continue to grow and be more popular and better."
For Parker, the idea of having a world-class amateur field playing so soon after the top 30 PGA Tour professionals is undeniably a win-win for his club.
"There’s definitely room and space for this event," Parker said.
"Our dream is have someone come and win the East Lake Cup, and then come back perhaps even the next year and play in the Tour Championship. That would be a neat story."