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!

The Players Championship and TPC Sawgrass



Courtesy of Craig ONeal

Courtesy of Craig O’Neal

Professional golf split into two organizations in 1968: the PGA of America and the PGA TOUR.  Founded in 1916, the PGA of America consists of local club and teaching professionals at golf courses throughout the country.  This group focuses on growing the game of golf and working closely with amateurs.  Also, this organization oversees the PGA Championship each year.  The PGA TOUR operates as the organization for professionals who play in tournaments. It hosts almost 50 events each year and consists of the PGA Tour, the Champions Tour, and the Tour.  The PGA TOUR does not host one of the professional Majors:  the Masters, the British Open, the United States Open or the PGA Championship. The fact that the PGA TOUR hosted no signature event led to then-PGA TOUR commissioner Deane Beman’s brainchild:  the Tournament Players Championship.

Beman sought to have a championship for the PGA TOUR, much like the PGA Championship for the PGA.  Only recently split from the PGA of America, the PGA TOUR, according to Beman, needed to establish important events that would lure the television networks and the money they could provide.  The Tournament Players Championship became the first of such events.  Later, the World Series of Golf (currently, the WGC-Mexico in Mexico City, the Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, TX, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, OH, and the HSBC Champions in Shanghai, China), Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament and Arnold Palmer’s Invitational at Bay Hill Club and Lodge became PGA Tour mainstays.  All of these tournaments helped establish credibility for the PGA TOUR and attract much needed television revenue.

The Tournament Players Championship (TPC) teed off in 1974 at the Atlanta Country Club.  Jack Nicklaus won the inaugural tournament in early September and would win three out of the first five TPCs.  The event moved to the Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas for 1975, then in 1976 to Inverrary Country Club in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  The event moved to Sawgrass Country Club’s Oceanside Course in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida for a mid-March date in 1977 and remained there until 1982 when the Stadium Course at TPC at Sawgrass opened.

Before the construction of the Stadium Course, Beman envisioned a special and unique site for the Players Championship.  He believed the players of the PGA TOUR should own the event and the host site.  Beman sold his idea to landowners Jerome and Paul Fletcher, who liked it so much that they offered to sell 415 acres of wooded wetlands and swamp to the PGA TOUR for $1.  This land served as the basis for the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course.

Beman told Dye that he wanted a course that would favor no specific player or style of play.  The course had to be balanced; must contain a selection of short, medium and long holes within the categories of par-3s, par-4s and par-5s; and had to have right and left doglegs.  Also, the course must not have two consecutive holes played in the same direction so that wind direction would have a more balanced influence on the players.

Because the site was to be built on wetlands and amidst heavy woods, Dye created lakes for strategic play of a hole and for fill necessary to create contours of play and “stadium” mounding, according to  Spectator viewing became an integral part of Dye’s design. Strategic viewing areas lined the 1st and 10th tees and the 9th, 16th, 17th and 18th greens.  These mounds allowed thousands of spectators to have unobstructed views of play.

The famous 17th island hole came about by accident.  Dye originally designed the green near a small pond. However, constructors continually dug out valuable sand around the pond until the green was surrounded by water, and arguably the most famous par-3 hole in golf emerged.

The event changed its name to the Players Championship in 1988.  The event and TPC Sawgrass are indeed owned by the players and the tournament has the richest purse of any tournament on the PGA TOUR, $10 million in 2015.  The field consists of 144 players chosen by various criteria, including rankings, PGA TOUR victories and Majors titles.  Players can also receive invitations from the Players Championship Committee.  Winners of the Players Championship receive exemptions of five years on the PGA TOUR, three-year exemptions for the Masters and British Open, and an exemption for the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship later that year.

Beginning in 2007, the Players Championship moved from its March date to its current May date in a restructuring that accommodated the new FedEx Cup, which concludes with the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta in September.  Players now have a significant event for six consecutive months beginning in April (The Masters in April, The Players Championship in May, the U.S. Open in June, the British Open in July, the PGA Championship in August, and the Tour Championship in September).

The Players Championship has become known as golf’s fifth major because of its lucrative purse, exemptions and FedEx Cup points awarded (the same as the four Majors). TPC Sawgrass offers a challenging, yet fair, golfing experience for players of all levels, professional and amateur, while the course contains one of the most famous par -3s in golf, the 17th island hole.  It may have taken a few decades, but Beman and the PGA TOUR found their signature event.



The Masters Tournament at Augusta National

For a golf fan, the Masters tournament at Augusta National is the ultimate venue for golf. Legendary Atlanta golfer Bobby Jones designed the course and Horton Smith of Missouri won the first tournament in 1934. Americans won the tournament from 1934 through 1960 (no tournament 1943-45) before Gary Player of South Africa won the first of his three titles in 1961.

Interestingly, very few golfers with Georgia ties have won the Masters. Savannah-born Claude Harmon won in 1948 while Tommy Aaron from Gainesville put on the green jacket in 1973. Larry Mize from Augusta and Georgia Tech took home the title in 1987. St. Simons resident Zach Johnson won in 2007 before UGA golfer Bubba Watson earned his green jacket in 2012.

Jack Nicklaus has won the most titles with six while Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods have won four apiece.

For those of us who won’t be at Augusta National this weekend, grab a pimento-cheese sandwich and some sweet tea, plop yourself in front of the tellie, and enjoy a bit of heaven as the world’s best golfers vie for the title of Masters champion!
Photo by Pocketwiley