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Hooters Tour making a return trip to Gainesville

Field of 168 professionals part of four-day tournament

POSTED: March 23, 2011 7:16 p.m.
Scott Rogers/The Times

1973 Masters Tournament Champion Tommy Aaron watches his drive from the 13th tee at the Chattahoochee Golf Course Wednesday afternoon during the Pro-Am tournament which kicks off the NGA Hooters Tour's Charter Childhood Cancer Awareness Classic this week.

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Rodger Hogan never broke from his brisk walk around the Chattahoochee golf course pro shop on Wednesday morning. Hogan, the director of golf at Chattahoochee, was getting 29 teams ready to play in the Pro-Am outing that afternoon on the course, kicking off the NGA Hooters Tour's Charter Childhood Cancer Awareness Classic that begins Thursday for 168 professional players in Gainesville.

On top of that, he was satisfying sponsor and vendor requests, answering a slew of questions, making sure lunch was served for golfers and ensuring the course was at its best.

Not to mention, Hogan was one of the golfers taking part in the Pro-Am event. Yeah, Hogan was probably the busiest man in Hall County on Wednesday.

"No, all week," said Hogan with a grin. "We've been busy ever since the qualifier on Monday."

However, he wouldn't have it any other way. The attention that Chattahoochee receives from hosting a tournament on the feeder circuit to the PGA Tour is priceless. Not only does it grab local attention, it receives publicity from commercials on Charter television across the state.

This is the second consecutive year that Chattahoochee has hosted the NGA Hooters Tour. For the Pro-Am event alone, the field grew by eight teams over 2010. In addition to four rounds of golf, other activities associated with the tournament include practice rounds, Wednesday's Pro-Am, a junior golf clinic on Saturday, and a silent auction.

"There's a bigger buzz with this year's event," Hogan said. "Last year, people didn't really know what to expect, plus people were on spring break last year, so people that wanted to attend might not have been able to make it."

Part of the proceeds from this year's Hooters Tour event go to benefit the Joanna McAfee Childhood Cancer Foundation. Charity founder Jeff McAfee, from Warner Robins, was on hand to play in the Pro-Am and raise awareness for the foundation, set up in memory of his daughter who died from cancer in 2005.

Each tee box this weekend at Chattahoochee will hold a placard with the story of a child who passed away from a form of this disease. McAfee played in the Pro-Am in a foursome of bereaved fathers with 1973 Masters Champion Tommy Aaron.

"I don't know what I would be able to do if I wasn't able to talk about my daughter in a meaningful way and keep her memory alive," McAfee said. "Our goal is to fund research and awareness of childhood cancer."

Golf enthusiasts will also be able to see some of the circuit's best on hand. Ted Potter, winner the last two weeks on the Hooters Tour, will be one of the top challengers for the title.

Casey Wittenberg, a past low amateur at The Masters, will also be in the field. Competition will be tight for one of the spots Saturday and Sunday. Last year, the cut for the 60 in the final two rounds was set at even par on Friday.

"We have a great field top to bottom for this event," said tournament director Jeff Harlow. "We have players that have been on the PGA, Nike or Nationwide Tour and may have had a bad year, so they're trying to prove themselves again."

Last year's winner for the Hooters Tour stop in Gainesville, Travis Bertoni, is now a full-time member of the Nationwide Tour, the final stop before getting on the PGA Tour.

Locals will also see some familiar names in the field with Justin Cochran, a 2009 Gainesville High graduate, and Josh Bunch. Cochran won a Hall County championship during his high school career with the Red Elephants, while Bunch holds the course record (62) and finished last year's event tied for 27th.

Cochran qualified by shooting a 75 on Monday to play as one of two amateurs in the 170-man field. Taking a semester off from college, Cochran has stayed at home and played as much as time and weather permits at Chattahoochee. As a result, he's cut about three strokes off his average.

"I'm really excited to see how I play against the other guys out there," Cochran said. "This is something I've worked extremely hard to achieve."

 



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