Atlanta has played host to numerous championships over the years, and in a month, it will host the World Long Drive Championships. The four-day championship will be held at Bobby Jones Golf Course begins on Wednesday, Oct. 18, and concludes on Sunday, Oct. 22.
GF Sports and Entertainment (GFSE) added the Pro Long Drive Association (PLDA) to its portfolio in December 2022. After a 3 year hiatus due in part to COVID restrictions, GFSE relaunched the World Long Drive Tour in March 2023 with 12 domestic events and 30 international events in 12 countries.
As the owners of the long-standing Atlanta Open, holding its championship in Atlanta made sense. “Atlanta is a great market,” said Zane Smith, Vice President of Business, GF Sports & Entertainment. “We have an office here. We have boots on the ground and great local ties to the community and the charities in the community. So we really wanted to double down our support and keep our connections to the city growing.”
The tour has drawn a great deal of interest from competitors.
# of competitors
At the top of the leaderboard in the open division is Kyle Berkshire, the 2019 WLD Champion. Martin Borgmeier, Justin James, Josh Koch, and Zack Holton round out the top five. Berkshire played collegiately at the University of North Texas. The Baltimore native remembers his first truly long drive. “I was 19 and at college golf practice,” said Berkshire. “There was this downwind par 5 and the cool thing about it was I did it in front of the whole team. It was the 17th hole and I decided to hit it as hard as I could and it was absolutely perfect. It (the golf ball) ran out to like 415 yards and at that point, my path was kind of set.”
To date, Berkshire has the longest drive recorded in competition at 474 yards. Outside of competition, the 215-pounder has flirted with 500 yards when he cracked one out to 492 yards.
In the Women’s Division three-time champion Phillis Meti (750 points) leads Monica Lieving (687.5), Devon Cassazza (617.5), Kelly Rudney (552.5), Gabi Powell (455), and five-time champion Sandra Carlborg (450).
If the women’s top six seem to be missing a name, it would be fifth-ranked Alexis Belton. The college golf star at the University of Texas Wesleyan is once again shifting gears and will be transitioning to the commentator booth.
Her success on the golf course in college and on the WLD Tour almost didn’t happen. Belton was a high school basketball star in Ruston, Louisiana, and was selected to the 2nd team All-State. The 5’9” prep star had absolutely no intention of playing golf until her health teacher asked her to join the high school team. “I said no way, that’s lame,” Belton said laughing at the memory. “He (the teacher) said “You get out of school all day, you get free food, and you get to pick your outfits. And that’s when golf became a thing for me.”
Golf became a major thing for Belton. After a year at the University of Mobile where she produced three top-ten finishes, she grabbed her clubs and went west to Austin, Texas to play for the Rams. Three years after graduation she joined the tour. Belton had her best finish in 2019 finishing in third at the 2019 World Long Drive Championship.
The sport is growing rapidly. There has been a noticeable increase in the industry sphere from new apparel, podcasts, and in the pro golf ranks. Golf has even reached the Hip Hop community. Atlanta had something to say about that. Olajuwon Ajanaku and his business partner Earl Cooper founded Eastside Golf in East Atlanta.
Since founding the lifestyle brand in 2019, the Morehouse golf teammates have taken all the right steps including forming a relationship with the Jordan Brand. Collaborating with the iconic brand has brought names and faces to golf wear that historically would never have been imagined in the space.
Right on their heels is avid golfer, podcaster, and influencer Gerard Dyson. The Army veteran is the founder of Atlanta-based Dyson Golf ATL.
Dyson, an avid golfer, travels around the country playing in tournaments and at times collaborating with other podcasters like the Los Angeles-based Bogey Brothas and Hackerish Golf. The slogan Hackerish Golf founder Michael Ralph came up with explains the mission eloquently -growing the game of golf one hack at a time.
The growth of the game has been accelerated by the availability of golf simulators and glitzy modern driving ranges like Top Golf. The Callaway-owned business has grown by leaps and bounds since opening in the United Kingdom in 2000. The tech-driven golf gaming venue boasts over 80 locations around the world.
The merger between the PGA and the Saudi-backed LIV Golf is not to be overlooked. Founded in 2022, LIV Golf immediately went after some of the biggest names on the PGA Tour. Huge contracts and prize money were placed on the negotiating table generating attention from golfers and non-golfers alike. Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, and Brooks Koepka all signed guaranteed contracts with eight- and nine-figures in them. It was reported that Tiger Woods turned down a contract for close to $1 billion to stay with the PGA.
The actual number was between $700-800 million but what’s a $100 million between friends? A lot. You know you have big paper when passing on nine figures is even in the realm of being possible. Go ahead and check your bank balance. In the wake of the signings, lawsuits ensued. Both sides pointed fingers before finally, the PGA acquiesced to the merger.
The excitement around the game of golf has never been more electric. GFSE is poised to tap into that energy with a format that features high-energy music, cheering, and big personalities.
Fans interested in seeing the competition firsthand can purchase tickets for the pocket-friendly amount of $10. children ages 12-and-under get in for free-99. The final round of the four-day championship will be broadcast nationally on the Golf Channel on Oct. 22 at 8:30 p.m. Eastern.