With 36 holes of championship golf, as well as a par three course, the Atlanta Athletic Club has plenty of holes to keep the golf club members happy and, as implied in the name, the club also has one of the best athletic facilities in the country. Naturally at such a fit and healthy club, golfers are encouraged to walk the courses rather than take a cart.
Founded way back in 1898, Atlanta Athletic Club was originally a pure athletics club and golf did not appear on the agenda until Tom Bendelow was commissioned to design a golf course in Atlanta’s suburbs as a golfing accompaniment for the athletic club members. The new course was called East Lake and it opened for play in 1908. Amongst the crowd, which was gathered for the opening ceremony, was a six-year-old boy called Bobby Jones.
The Atlanta Athletic Club may be best known as the home club of Robert Tyre Jones but his home course was East Lake which the AAC sold shortly after the 1963 Ryder Cup had been staged there. The Atlanta Athletic Club subsequently commissioned another Robert T Jones to design two new courses on a new site at Johns Creek, which was large enough for athletics as well as golf.
In 1964, two new Robert Trent Jones-designed courses opened for play and they were named Highlands and Riverside. The Highlands course is invariably considered to be the premier layout at Atlanta Athletic Club and the 1976 US Open was played on this course.
“Until 1976, the Open had never been played in the southeastern quadrant of the country – east of the Mississippi and south of the Potomac – but that year it went to the heart of the Confederacy, to the Atlanta Athletic Club.” Wrote Robert Sommers in The US Open - Golf’s Ultimate Challenge. “ It was there because Bobby Jones had written to the USGA asking for it to be played at his home club (this was, however, a different golf course; he grew up playing the old East Lake course). His letter was dated November 16, 1971; he died thirty-one days later. There was never any doubt he would have his wish. Unfortunately, the golf course, which was only a few years old, was nothing special, and if not for a stunning 5-iron shot on the last hole, it would rank among the least memorable of all U.S. Open championships.”Jerry Pate’s 5-iron shot was “Heard Round the World” as he struck his ball to three feet on the final hole to win the 1976 U.S. Open. The 1981 and 2001 PGA Championships were held at Atlanta Athletic Club – Larry Nelson and David Toms won respectively.
The 93rd PGA Championship returned to Atlanta Athletic Club in 2011. Germany’s Martin Kaymer was the defending PGA champion following his maiden Major victory at Whistling Straits, but he failed to make the cut. The American rookie, Keegan Bradley, who beat countryman Jason Dufner in a play-off, won the event.
This was a very special day. I departed from Argentina the night before and went directly to play East Lake after landing. We had lunch there and then straight to AAC to play Highlands where Keegan defeated Dufner in that playoff. The afternoon was special from beginning to end despite being in a rush and finishing the round just before dusk. We got to the Club just 30mins before the tee time with almost no time for warming up although it was not needed as we played in the morning.
The Club House is all you can expect from a Major Championship venue, amazing. Memorabilia all over it, Trophies, Pictures, Scorecards and more nring you to great moments we have seen on TV.
The course is great from beginning to end, although the back 9 are better in creativity, design and challenge. I had a rough front 9 with too many mistakes but on back 9 I hit all 9 GIR to a great 36. We played blue tees (6900yds) but under very wet conditions and very hilly so they seemed to be like 7200yds, a brutal test for a second round of a day after 10hrs flight.
There are great holes but I have to place par 4 9th, par 4 11th, par 5 12th and 15-17-18 as the most remarkable places of the course. 12th is an amazing par 5 where the back tee is elevated like 20mts from landing area. 15th is the par 3 were Dufner sent the ball to the water: we played the third tee box and had 220yds to pin, a very difficult 4 iron. 17th is a great par 3 over the water and par 5 18th (which Pros played as par 4) is a great finishing hole where to get home in 2 you need a monster drive (which I didn't have!).
My only regrest is we played in a cloudy day and many of the flowers had not exploded yet so the potential beauty of the course was not at its highest. But a hell of an experience and a brutal challenge, playing one of these makes you see the difference with the Pros. Greens were rolling at least 12 in the stimp, some putters were just too tough for amateurs even low handicappers.