TOUR Insider: Historic East Lake set to provide a spooky-good finale

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East Lake Golf Club is the stage for the FedExCup Playoffs finale, the TOUR Championship.
September 18, 2013
By Fred Albers, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent

O.B. Keeler, sports writer and Bobby Jones' biographer, compared golf courses to battlefields.

In the case of East Lake Golf Club, he was spot on.

Long before Donald Ross worked his magic over the rolling hills, the property had an interesting history. At the turn of the century, it was an amusement park where Atlantans would escape the summer heat to picnic and swim. There were carnival-like attractions, complete with a toboggan sled ride down the hills of the yet-to-be-constructed golf course into East Lake. It was called, “shoot the shoots.”

There is also the darker side of the property.

On July 22, 1864, during Union General William Sherman’s march to the sea, 10,000 Civil War soldiers died on, or near, what is now East Lake Golf Club. Area farmhouses were used as makeshift hospitals.

During construction of the golf course, Civil War munitions were found and if you look closely at the eighth fairway, there is a curious swale that appears oddly out of place with the rest of the topography. Confederate soldiers constructed that swale as a defense position during the Battle of Atlanta.

There are more than just golfers who roam the hills of East Lake. Just ask Charlie Harrison and his wife Sylvia.

They live in a house just opposite the third fairway, 2420 Alston Drive to be precise. Some believe Charlie and his wife share their home with Colonel Robert Augustus Alston.

The Colonel built the house in 1856, naming it Meadow Nook. It’s the second-oldest home still standing in Atlanta. Colonel Alston fought in the Civil War, became a politician and was murdered over a legislative dispute.

Charlie and Sylvia insist the Colonel never left Meadow Nook.

Shortly after purchasing their home, they noticed pictures would be moved and things oddly out of place. An upstairs bedroom has a particularly eerie feel. Sylvia says it’s as if someone is watching and can detect another presence in the room, but looks upon the ghost of Colonel Alston as more of a friend and protector than a haunting apparition.

Sylvia delights in telling you the Colonel is “her ghost because he only rearranges pictures of Charlie’s family and not her relatives.

One night Colonel Alston did more than just rearrange the furniture.

A violent storm raged while Sylvia was alone in the house, reading in bed. She anxiously watched weather reports on TV as the wind and rain pelted the 150-year old house.

At this point of the story, details are a little conflicting.

Sylvia says she heard a crack outside and got up out of bed just as a 150-year-old oak tree crashed into the bedroom. The massive trunk all but destroyed Meadow Nook and construction engineers estimated it weighed 48,000 pounds.

Charlie, a champion golfer who can spin a story almost as well as he can a pitching wedge, maintains it was Colonel Alston who urged Sylvia to get up and out of bed, saving her life.

Never one to let facts interfere with a good story, I prefer his version of the truth.

During this week’s TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola, if a ball takes a strange hop into the rough or inexplicably topples into the hole, I like to think that’s just Colonel Alston being a good host.

Observations

Changes: Fairways have been widened at East Lake this year. At first you might think that could lead to lower scoring but the opposite might be true. Golf balls use to run out and stop in the rough. Now the fairways run right up to bunkers. Instead of lodging in the rough, the ball will run into the sand.

Final hole: East Lake is unusual in that it ends with a par 3. The 18th hole is an uphill approach and the tee can stretch back to 235 yards. Golfers have given me different opinions about the unusual finish. Some say they would prefer the nines be reversed, which would provide an eagle opportunity at the par 5. Others say they like the par 3 finish, because they are guaranteed a perfect lie for the approach. Like or dislike, it is a challenging hole averaging 3.217 strokes last year.

Home course: If you are looking for a home-course advantage, cast a glance at Matt Kuchar. The Georgia Tech graduate played there frequently during college as the Yellow Jackets used East Lake as their home course. Does Kuchar have an edge at East Lake? The numbers say no. Matt’s best finish at East Lake is a T10 in three trips to the TOUR Championship.

Clubhouse: This is my favorite week of the year for rain delays because it provides the chance to spend time in the clubhouse. East Lake is filled with Bobby Jones memorabilia. If ever presented the opportunity, take your time pouring over trophies, clubs and letters from the great amateur champion. Tucked away on the second floor, is a case dedicated to Alexa Stirling-Fraser. She was a childhood playing partner with Jones who went on to win a trio of U.S. Amateur titles and two Canadian Women’s Open Championships.

Winner, winner: The law of averages always comes into play with golf, just like baseball.  If a lifetime .300 hitter spends the first half of the season batting .250, he’s a good bet to bat .350 in the second half. Tiger Woods had a bad putting week at the BMW Championship. He had five three-putts and missed a half dozen putts from 5 feet or less. That is totally incongruent with his putting numbers on the year. Last week’s bad luck and misfortune turns into this week’s triumph. Woods wins the TOUR Championship, captures the FedExCup Playoff title in the process and also becomes Player of the Year on the PGA TOUR. He’s in for quite a week.

Fred Albers is a course reporter for SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio. For more information on SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio, click here.

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