Short History of East Lake Golf Club

Courtesy of CEM0030

Courtesy of CEM0030

The East Lake Golf Club has a long and rich history.  As with any venue over 100 years old, it has witnessed the good and the bad.  With 30 of the world’s best golfers currently playing at the club and golf fans everywhere focused on East Lake, a captive audience awaits its tale.

The Atlanta Athletic Club bought almost 200 acres of land in 1904 around East Lake, a body of water surrounded by a forest. The property was to the east and south of the town of Decatur, about five miles east of Atlanta. Tom Bendelow designed the East Lake course. The first nine holes were completed by 1906 and the last nine in 1907.  In 1908, Bendelow created the “No. 2” course at East Lake.

World-renowned golf course designer Donald Ross re-designed East Lake in 1913.  His design called for the front and back nine holes to end at the clubhouse. Unfortunately, this same clubhouse fell to a fire in 1925, and soon after, Atlanta architect Philip Shutze constructed the present day two-story Tudor style building. Shutze’s East Lake clubhouse is one of several of his projects listed on the United States National Register of Historic Places.  Other Atlanta works include the Swan House, The Temple, the Albert E. Thornton House, and the Citizen’s and Southern Bank Building.

While the course and clubhouse remain icons of golf, East Lake may be better known for its association with legendary golfer Bobby Jones.  Robert P. Jones, Bobby’s father, was a club member from its inception.   Bobby learned and developed his game on the East Lake course under the tutelage of the club pro, Stewart Maiden. At the age of 11, Jones carded an 80 at East Lake. With his game honed on the East Lake course, Jones would enjoy an illustrious career as an amateur, including winning the Grand Slam of golf in 1930 (United States Amateur, United States Open, British Amateur, and British Open). Jones served as president of East Lake from 1946-47 and some of his golf memorabilia can be found today in the clubhouse.

East Lake hosted the Ryder Cup in 1963, and Arnold Palmer played and captained the winning United States team. Unfortunately, this event became one of the last pleasant memories until the early 1990s. The surrounding neighborhood in the 1960s fell into disrepair prompting the Atlanta Athletic Club to sell the No. 2 course and move to its current site in Duluth, GA.  In 1968,  a group of 25 East Lake members purchased the original course and clubhouse and created the East Lake Country Club.

The 1970s witnessed the construction of a public housing project on the site of the No. 2 course.  Poverty, drugs, and violence surrounded the golf club through the 1980s.

However, in 1993, a local charitable foundation purchased East Lake with the intent of restoring it as a tribute to Bobby Jones and the club’s other great amateur golfers, such as Charlies Yates.  Around this time the East Lake Foundation emerged to aid in the revitalization of the surrounding neighborhoods. In 1994, golf architect Rees Jones restored Donald Ross’ original design to give East Lake its current appearance and soon after, the East Lake Country Club became the East Lake Golf Club.  Jones also re-designed the No.2 course, which opened as the Charlie Yates Golf Course in 1998.

Today, all of the profits from the East Lake Golf Club go to the East Lake Foundation. The Foundation aids in the support of the health, education, safety, and productivity of the East Lake neighborhood.

One of the biggest supporters of the East Lake Foundation is the Tour Championship by Coca-Cola, which is the finale of the Professional Golf Association’s playoffs and the pursuit of the FedEx Cup (winner receives $10 million). The Tour Championship first came to East Lake in 1998 and rotated with Champions Golf Club of Houston until 2004 when East Lake became the permanent home of the Tour Championship.

Besides the Tour Championship and the Ryder Cup, East Lake has hosted six Southern Amateur tournaments, three Southern Opens, one Western Junior tournament, one U.S. Amateur tournament, and one U.S. Women’s Amateur tournament.

East Lake Golf Club honors the golfing greats of the past, present, and future while giving back to the surrounding community. It is a place revered by people across the globe but certainly no more so than those living a short lob shot away.  Tradition and charity combine to form one of golf’s greatest venues!

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