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ところで、今週末のゴルフ大会へは行くんですか。

I feel I have a decent understanding of both of those particles, but I'm wondering how the meaning of the sentence changes with and without the は after へ.

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は is the topic particle and can be used in combination with a variety of particles. When combined with the subject particle が or the object particle を, は usually replaces が or を. With all other particles, it goes after the particle. (In fact, を+は may also turn into をば, see Dono's comment.) In your example sentence, it makes ゴルフ大会へ "to the golf tournament" the topic of the sentence.

A similar sentence would be

今週末のゴルフ大会には行くんですか。

and the difference between this and your sentence is just the difference between に and へ.

  • When は follows を, it does not always replace it. It may also become をば. – Dono Oct 2 '12 at 6:58
  • @Dono Never knew, thank you. Added this in the main text. – Earthliŋ Oct 2 '12 at 8:18
  • @Dono: Reference? I've never heard that. And in fact, heard that that can't happen. – istrasci Oct 2 '12 at 15:19
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    @istrasci Did you try to look it up? Link: dic.yahoo.co.jp/… Quote: 「格助詞「を」に係助詞「は」が付いたものの音変化」. Or you could try a Google search and read through thousands of examples. – Dono Oct 2 '12 at 15:24
  • @Dono: I'm too lazy to do most things myself. That's why I became a software developer. – istrasci Oct 2 '12 at 16:15
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One definition of は is as the "topic marker particle." In some instances, you can better understand the meaning by (clumsily) translating it as "as for." So in this instance one could translate the sentence as follows:

ところで、今週末のゴルフ大会へは行くんですか。

By the way, as for this weekend's golf tournament, are you going ?

Which would be translated in "natural" English as:

"By the way, are you going to the golf tournament this weekend?

In spoken conversation, one could expect to hear this sentence without the は, as follows:

ところで、今週末のゴルフ大会へ行くんですか。

This would be less formal, and one could even drop the へ to make it more casual:

ところで、今週末のゴルフ大会行くんですか。

So the first example would be the most grammatically correct, as well as the most polite and formal.

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