East Lake’s history is truly moving so we think it is worth sharing. Tom Bendelow originally designed the East Lake course as a golfing accompaniment for the members of the Atlanta Athletic Club. The course was laid out in the suburbs of Atlanta on the site of an old amusement park and the course opened for play in July 1908. A young six-year old called Bob was at the East Lake opening ceremony in the company of his father, Colonel Robert P. Jones.
In 1913, the famous Scottish architect Donald Ross redesigned East Lake creating two loops of nine holes and in 1928 he returned to fashion a second East Lake course which opened in 1930 to coincide with Bobby’s Grand Slam victory celebrations. George Cobb made a few minor alterations to the original course ahead the 1963 Ryder Cup which culminated in a resounding 23 points to 9 victory for team USA against a beleaguered Great Britain & Ireland squad.
East Lake’s luck soon changed after the 1963 Ryder Cup as the Atlanta neighbourhood fell into urban decline. The Atlanta Athletic Club sold the second course to developers and moved out. But 25 members stepped in and saved the original course and formed the East Lake Golf Club. In the early 1970s public housing was built on the site of No.2 course and the area soon became a centre for poverty, drugs and violence. East Lake slowly but surely degenerated.
A charity with great vision bought East Lake in 1993 and decided to rebuild the course as a tribute to Bobby Jones. In 1994, Rees Jones was called in. Using the original drawings, Donald Ross’s original 1926 design was re-born. Today’s East Lake is the driving force behind the effort to revitalise this Atlanta neighbourhood. All profits from the club go to support the East Lake Community Foundation and as a consequence East Lake now stands as a symbol of hope as well as tradition.
We raise our glass to East Lake but we’ve just noticed that we haven’t mentioned anything about the course... click here to find out more or scroll down to read the course reviews.
In addition to hosting the 1963 Ryder Cup matches, East Lake played host to the 2001 US Amateur Championship. East Lake is also host venue for the Tour Championship, which has been held consecutively here in Atlanta since 2004.
I played Eastlake this week and after the first 4 holes I was underwhelmed. Then the rest of the course was fantastic. The par 5s are the highlight and are memorable. However, the par 3 9th and 15ths are very memorable. The course uses the "lake" very well. Another highlight are the fairway bunkers. Many holes look wide open, but fairway bunkers are strategically placed in landing zones making the fairways tighter.
East Lake Golf Club and Atlanta Athletic Club are woven into the legend that is Bobby Jones. East Lake was first laid out in 1904 by Tom Bendelow. It was redesigned in 1913 by Donald Ross and in 1994 by Rees Jones. Bobby Jones grew up playing there and served as the president in the late 1940s. I was fortunate enough to play East Lake nine days before the first FedEx Cup. This was before they changed their greens over, and they were in extremely poor condition. They were almost as sparse as the hair on my head. I made note of several of the worst greens to see how they would be televised. It was real interesting to see how angles and overhead coverage was utilized so that the poor greens were not apparent to the viewing audience. We were not allowed to play the tips, but for pure entertainment purposes I snuck to the back tee box on fifteen (six at the time) to see if I could hit the green. I couldn’t. It was especially thrilling to play a tournament course that already had the stadium seating, portable seating and luxury boxes erected. They have flipped the nines since I played it, so I may get a little confused, please bear with me.
The first hole is welcoming par five. Lots of bunkers left, but three mediocre shots should set up your par. The par 4 3rd is a good birdie oppty. Downhill, you can get a glimpse of the Atlanta skyline. Club selection on the approach is key. There is a large kidney shaped green protecting the green in front. Back pin location is easier. The 4th is just about 180 degrees, paralleling 4 and running uphill. Fairway bunkers left with a slight table top green with bunkers front left and right. The 5th is the third consecutive parallel par four. They just get longer and harder. While the par 5 6th starts off parallel, mercifully, it hooks right at the end. While uphill, it is reachable, if your tee shot favors the left side. There are well positioned fairway bunkers right and left and also protecting the green. The 7th is a long demanding par 4. Downhill, it has 4 fairway bunkers protecting the left side and once again two greenside bunkers protecting the front of the green on the left and right. The 8th is one of the shorter par 4s. When I played I was white knuckling to break 80. On the tee box you see 3 fairway bunkers right and death by water hazard left. Going with the negative swing thought of, “whatever you do, don’t hook it” resulting in a block to the fairway bunker. I was able to extricate myself. I suspect a much easier hole as the 8th as opposed to the 17th. The 9th is a 200+ yard par 3 uphill with bunkers left and right front. I agree with flipping the 9s as I am not a fan of finishing with a par 3.
To the back or the former front, depending upon one’s perspective. The 10th is a long par 4 uphill. Take an extra club on your approach, or perhaps two if the pin is tucked right behind the bunker. The 11th is a long par 3 over a lilly pond to a green protected with a bunker left and one front right. The 12th is an uphill par four with a fairway bunker right. There are two huge bunkers protecting the green on the right. The par 4 13th is the number one handicap hole. It is long and uphill with a couple of fairway bunkers on the right and the compulsory right and left greenside bunkers. I do not think it is the toughest hole. The downhill par 5 14th may not be reachable but is certainly a birdie oppty. Pick your favorite wedge yardage on your second shot. The island green 15th is a fan favorite and one of the first island greens in the US. The uphill slight dogleg left long par 4 16th, I think is much tougher than the 13th. Otherwise, why would I have double bogeyed it? The dogleg left 17th is a birdie oppty. Be wary of the 3 fairway bunkers on the left elbow and there is one front bunker running the entire width of the green. The 18th is a good finishing hole. Par five with a slight left bend. It has a little bit of everything, water hazard, fairway and greenside bunkers.
East Lake is a classic golf course and fun to play.
East Lake, like Los Angeles Country Club, is a city course hemmed in in its entirety by a perimeter fence. The course is built on gently rolling hills and with the exception of holes 4, 6, 8 and 17, the holes are routed east-west to play directly into the wind or down wind. After a gentle starter into the wind, the par three second hole plays down wind. Gently sloping hills and typical at East Lake as are shaved fall-off areas surrounding the green.
The 551-yard par five ninth hole was my favorite on the course. It sweeps down the hill from a tee box at the top and you have to play your third shot over the lake to a very well protected green. The majestic clubhouse in the background adds to the grandeur of the hole.
The front nine plays on the west side of the clubhouse and the back nine plays on the east side; and on the back, with the exception of the seventeenth, the holes run parallel to each other as you play up and down the hill. The back nine is the more interesting of the two.
The "signature" hole at East Lake is the eighteenth, which is a par three finishing hole which plays 207 yards uphill into the prevailing wind. It is a real testing way to finish off a testing round.
The clubhouse is shrine to Bobby Jones and is one of the best in the world.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs
Once I had my trip to the Masters confirmed I started my quest to play some Major Venues. It was pretty fast and not tough at Atlanta Athletic, but getting to ELGC was not easy at all. My first request through the Golf Club was not successful and felt disappointed, but just 2 weeks before flying I was confirmed by a friend who I didn´t know he was a Member. Luck? Maybe!
We flew the night before and landed 6am at Atlanta Airport, got the car and went directly to the Club. We were introduced to the Locker Room and I was lucky to get one from a 4 time Major Champion! A well deserved shower and a great breakfast watching 17th green where Bill Haas made that fantastic shot from the water to win the FedEx Cup some years ago.
Then we made a Tour through the Club House ... WOW! If you feel Bobby Jones is your idol like I do, this Club House for you is Disneyland! Memorabilia, Trophies, Luxury and Respect all together to tell us a lot about maybe the greatest golfer ever. It took us more than 1hr to visit every corner of it, guided by a very kind waiter who previously had given breakfast to us.
After that some warming up to get the Airplane off our body and to the course. We played walking with a fantastic caddie and it was a true golfing experience. At every hole he had stories from the past and the Tour Championship, showing us where the pros where shooting tee shots and about pin positions and all other secrets of the course. Unfortunately we did not play fantastic par 5 9th because it was under repair and scheduled to open 2 days after. They have a substitute hole between 6th and 7th, a par 3 of maybe 145yds.
Back 9 plays a lot tougher than front and it did reflect in my score. But who cares, I was able to walk a course with such history and I am graceful for having the chance to play it. There are some great holes and final 4 are really tough (4 bogeys for me!). If you have the luck to play this course, do not feel it is just the golf round. You are walking Bobby Jones' playgroung. There is a very nice mark on par 3 11th where Jones made a hole in one. Another Top 100 I will remember for my entire life.