JOHNS CREEK — Amid the scent of grass, sun block and concession food, Michael Ackerman and his father-in-law, Carol Morin, watched as golf’s elite players took practice shots on the ninth hole.
"It’s less crowded," said Morin of the practice round Tuesday. "You can see the players, which is important. You see them on TV, but to see them up close is a real treat."
The 2011 PGA Championship didn’t officially begin until this morning. But Ackerman and Morin were among the tens of thousands of spectators to visit Atlanta Athletic Club since Monday, watching practice rounds and collecting autographs.
For city officials, the tournament culminates about two years of planning and preparations.
"I’ve been to the event for the last two years sort of getting ready, but of course … it was only imagining what it was like to actually host it," said Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker. "Now that I’m actually here, it’s obviously very, very exciting."
The tournament, the fourth and final major of the PGA Tour, rotates sites every year. Atlanta Athletic Club last played host to the event in 2001, before the city was incorporated.
"It’s a thrill to see this many visitors in our city, to see so many smiling faces," Bodker said. "And we’ve got nothing but congratulations’ for the job that the city team has done in our part of this."
As the practice rounds have been good for golfers to get a feel for the course, Bodker said they’ve also been ideal for tuning up traffic control.
To that end, a bridge was added at the main entrance, allowing pedestrians to cross over Hwy. 141 from the parking lot.
With parking lot access sold out, the only way to reach the event is to ride an air-conditioned shuttle bus from the Arena at Gwinnett Center, about nine miles away, said city spokeswoman Rosemary Taylor.
And it’s not just parking that’s filled up.
"Hotels are booked, restaurants are full and our stores are hoping that folks will shop while they’re here," Bodker said. "This tournament brings huge benefits not just to Johns Creek but to the entire region."