What you need to know about East Lake Golf Club
August 19, 2019
By Ben Everill, PGATOUR.COM
- East Lake Golf Club is home to the PGA TOUR’s season finale. (Stan Badz/PGA TOUR)
The TOUR Championship has a new format this year, but one thing remains the same: the FedExCup finishes at Atlanta’s East Lake Golf Club. As the oldest course in Atlanta, East Lake has provided plenty of excitement over the years. But its proud history began well before it started hosting the PGA TOUR’s season finale. Here are eight things you need to know about East Lake Golf Club before the TOUR Championship gets under way Thursday.
1. It was originally part of Atlanta Athletic Club.
The Atlanta Athletic Club (AAC) was formed in 1898. The club was dedicated to several sporting endeavors, but it initially had no golf course. John Heisman, the Georgia Tech football coach for whom the famed Heisman Trophy was later named, directed the club’s athletic program of swimming, tennis, basketball and track.
In 1904, it acquired property in the Atlanta suburbs to create a country club. Tom Bendelow was tasked with laying out the course. East Lake is the oldest golf course in Atlanta. The course was completely reworked by Donald Ross nine years later. That layout survives as the basic design today.
The Atlanta Athletic Club sold the course in the 1960s to relocate to its new home in Duluth (where it held the 2011 PGA Championship and 1976 U.S. Open). As the area around East Lake began to decay, the original course and clubhouse were saved by a group of 25 members who purchased them and began operation as the newly-formed East Lake Country Club in 1968.
The course failed to thrive until 1993, when a local charitable foundation purchased East Lake with the intent to restore it as a tribute to Bobby Jones and the club’s other great amateur golfers.
The East Lake Foundation has used the renovation as a catalyst for revitalizing the surrounding community. In 1994, Rees Jones, son of famed golf course architect Robert Trent Jones, restored Donald Ross’s original golf course design at East Lake to its current layout today.
2. It is the home of Bobby Jones.East Lake Golf Club is where Jones learned his craft. (Getty Images)
World Golf Hall of Famer Bobby Jones, widely known as one of the greatest golfers of all time, learned his craft at East Lake. He was there at the age of 6 when the course held its grand opening in 1908.
Jones turned the golf world on its head in his time as an amateur. Jones won 13 national championships from 1923 to 1930: four U.S. Opens, five U.S. Amateurs, three Open Championships, and one British Amateur. He won the Grand Slam in 1930, claiming all four of those championships in the same calendar year. He would then go on to help found Augusta National and the Masters tournament.
3. Several amazing artifacts still remain in the East Lake Clubhouse.Jones' memorabilia on display at East Lake Golf Club. (Keyur Khamar/PGA TOUR)
The East Lake clubhouse was ravaged by a fire in 1925. Some priceless artifacts were lost in the blaze, including Jones’ clubs and the original Havemeyer Trophy (which is awarded to the U.S. Amateur champion). But East Lake is still home to several of his trophies, his beloved Calamity Jane putter and other artifacts.
The clubhouse also has artifacts from the Ryder Cup, Walker Cup and TOUR Championship. You’ll find Jones’ old locker in the pro shop. The double locker, bearing Nos. 690 and 691, held Jones’ clubs, shoes and other necessary accoutrements of the great champion. The members made it for him after he won the Grand Slam in 1930.
4. An amusement park used to sit on East Lake’s land
The 1890s version of amusement park is a little different than what you’re accustomed to today, though. East Lake’s sparkling stretch of water surrounded by forestland was used for the entertainment of many. There were no rollercoasters, but the chief attractions were a swimming beach, picnic tables, hot dog, popcorn and peanut stands, and a penny arcade where patrons could get a glimpse of such scenes as Pike’s Peak and the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris. A steamboat that huffed and puffed up and down the narrow confines of the lake also gave sightseers a thrilling ride.
5. It took the arrival of the FedExCup for Tiger Woods to have success at East Lake.Woods won the inaugural FedExCup trophy in 2007. (Caryn Levy/PGA TOUR)
The TOUR Championship was first played at East Lake in 1998 and has been there every year since 2004. The first season of the FedExCup was three years later. Prior to that, East Lake was not a site of success for Woods. Hal Sutton was the first player to win a TOUR Championship at East Lake when he took out Vijay Singh in a playoff. Woods was 20th that year in his first TOUR start at the course.
Two years later, Woods was a complete phenomenon. He already had nine wins in the 2000 season when he came to East Lake. So, when he shared the 54-hole lead with Vijay Singh Woods was the hot favorite to win. But rival Phil Mickelson had other ideas and a final-round 66 for Mickelson helped him overtake Woods.
Two years later, Woods had the chance to be a final-round conqueror, but a Sunday 70 left him in seventh spot behind Singh. His East Lake woes did not stop there. In 2004, when the TOUR Championship returned again, Woods again fashioned himself into the 54-hole lead, tied with Jay Haas and four clear of the rest of the field. Surely this time … Nope. His 72 on Sunday relegated him to another runner-up finish as Retief Goosen’s scintillating 64 set up a four-shot win.
A year later, Woods sat third with a round to go, one back of Goosen and four back of surprise leader Bart Bryant. Despite the presence of Woods, Bryant continued his hot week and extended his lead, winning by six shots.
And so it came to 2007, the opening season of the FedExCup and the new $10 million bonus for the season-long champion. Woods led the regular-season points and still held the top spot when he arrived in Atlanta. Woods was determined to put his past East Lake issues behind him. An opening 64 had him in third place, but he backed it up with a 63 to take control of the tournament. He turned a three-shot buffer through 54 holes into a dominant eight-shot win to exorcise any demons.
Now some would argue some of the demons returned in 2009 when Woods shot a final-round 70 to finish second to Mickelson’s 65, but Woods still claimed a second FedExCup with the result. He remains the only two-time winner of the season-long championship.
Which brings us to last season. Who could forget Woods coming down the 18th hole on Sunday. The crowds burst through the ropes to create one of the greatest scenes sport has ever witnessed. It was Woods’ 80th PGA TOUR title, and came more than five years after his last victory. It was one that certainly helped erase any previous pain at the course.
6. There have been some pretty impressive members over the years.
Along with Jones, there have been some other impressive members over the years.
Charlie Yates was born in Atlanta in 1913 and was raised in a home near East Lake's fourth green. Yates won the Georgia State Amateur in 1931 and 1932 and in 1934, he won the NCAA individual title. He won the Western Amateur in 1935 and the British Amateur in 1938. He was low amateur at the Masters five times and was secretary of the Augusta National Golf Club.
Alexa Stirling-Fraser was born in Atlanta in 1897. As Bobby Jones' childhood golfing partner, she was dubbed "The First Lady of East Lake" and "The Empress of Golf" to match Mr. Jones' "Emperor" nickname. She won her first title at East Lake at the age of 12. In 1916, three days before her 19th birthday, she won the first of her three U.S. Women's Amateur Championships. When the tournament resumed after World War I, she successfully defended her crown in 1919 and 1920, and placed second in that tournament in 1921, 1923, and 1925. In 1920 and 1934 she won the Canadian Women's Open.
Born in Macon in 1905, Watts Gunn won the 1923 Georgia Amateur. He made golf history in 1925 in the U.S. Amateur, played at Oakmont, setting the world record for international championship golf by winning 15 straight holes in a match. In that tournament, he went to the finals against friend and rival Bobby Jones, marking the only time two players from the same city ever met for the U.S. Amateur crown. He won the Georgia State Amateur title in 1927 and 1928. In 1927, he won the Southern and National Intercollegiate tournaments, and the following year he won the Southern Amateur and Southern Open Championships. Gunn was a member of the United States Walker Cup teams in 1926 and 1928 and later served as president of the AAC in 1953-54.
Atlanta native Charlie Harrison won the Atlanta Athletic Club Junior Championship in 1945 and the Atlanta City Junior Tournament in 1947. He went on to win the Atlanta Athletic Club and the Atlanta City Amateur tournament nine times and the Atlanta Country Club Championship six times during his golf career. Harrison also triumphed at the 1955 Southern Amateur and the 1959 Georgia State Amateur tournaments. In 1966, Charlie was ranked as the 13th-best amateur in America. He served as director of the Southern Golf Association in 1969, associate director from 1976-1980, and was president of the Atlanta Golf Association from 1971-1985.
7. It is now a huge part of the highly-successful East Lake Foundation.
East Lake Golf Club has played a central role in the remarkable transformation of the East Lake community. With the motto “Golf with a Purpose,” it joins organizations like the Charlie Yates Golf Course, The First Tee of East Lake, the Charles R. Drew Charter School, the YMCA and of course the PGA TOUR and its TOUR Championship in contributing to the success of the project in a different way.
The East Lake Foundation was formed to revitalize a suffering inner-city neighborhood and turn it into a vibrant community where all residents can thrive. Over the last two decades, the Foundation has proven that working with residents and public and private partners, while providing the right combination of comprehensive programs and services, is transformative for the community.
The East Lake Foundation works with many partners to deliver and support a wide range of programs, including early childhood education; supplemental enrichment at Drew Charter School; college and career readiness and scholarships; entrepreneurship, work readiness and financial literacy training for adults; golf and life skills instruction; and healthcare access and education.
8. It has played host to some incredible shots that ultimately helped players to $10 million.
Rory McIlroy's must-see eagle hole out at the TOUR Championship
Every shot matters for a winner, but there were two moments at East Lake in the FedExCup era that will make highlight reels for the rest of time. In 2016, Rory McIlroy needed something to happen fast. Three shots behind with three holes to play at the TOUR Championship, McIlroy holed a pitching wedge from 137 yards for eagle that gave him the spark he needed to close with a 6-under 64 and join a three-way playoff with the FedExCup title riding on the outcome.
He drilled a 15-foot putt on the same hole to win it all.
In 2011, Bill Haas and Hunter Mahan needed a playoff to decide the FedExCup champion. On the second playoff hole, Haas pulled his approach into the water. A dry summer left the water level lower than usual, allowing Haas to still see part of his ball. His recovery shot from the hazard spun to within a few feet of the hole. A par on the next hole was enough to hand Haas the title. "You play it like a bunker shot, for those of you that want to know, if there's a little bit of water, if you don't mind getting your feet dirty, and then blast it out of there. It came out perfect. Lucky,” Haas said of the miracle shot.