A Detailed Guide to East Lake Golf Club
You’ve probably heard of East Lake Golf Club before, most likely because you follow the PGA Tour and know it’s the home of the season-ending Tour Championship. Now it’s time to learn about how East Lake GC got started.
We’ll tell you all about the golf course. This page is going to bring you full circle around the private golf club located just a couple minutes away from downtown Atlanta.
The Tour Championship has treated us with lots of highlights and impressive performances over the years, and we intend on sharing those with you.
We’ll direct you to an in-depth guide that covers everything about the culminating event on the PGA Tour schedule, something you surely won’t want to miss.
It’s obviously one of the featured destinations for all tour pros, as there are a whole lot of perks that come with being one of the 30 men who qualify for the nine-million-dollar event. But it’s also one of the great stops for all golf fans each and every year.
The fact that East Lake Golf Club hosts the Tour Championship in the fall each and every year means that golf enthusiasts like us can schedule trips well in advance. It couldn’t be easier to get to or be in a city with more to do.
In terms of watching the highest-quality golf and being in an awesome area with so much to see, it can’t get much better.
Start with this table of a few key points before transitioning into the opening of East Lake. Grab a drink and get nice and comfortable, because we’re going to give you all the juicy information you are looking for.
Enjoy our guide to Atlanta’s oldest golf club!
East Lake Golf Club – Key Facts
- Atlanta, Georgia
- Year Opened
- Owner/Operated by
- Course Designer
- Donald Ross, Rees Jones
- 7,346 yards
- Host to
- The Tour Championship (1998, 2000, 2002, 2004-Current), 1963 Ryder Cup, 2001 U.S. Amateur
- Official Website
The Birth of East Lake Golf Club
The beginning of East Lake Golf Club and the beginning of golf in the city of Atlanta happen to coincide with each one another. That’s because East Lake was the first golf course built in the capital city of Georgia way back in 1904.
The formation of the Atlanta Athletic Club in 1898was led by John Heisman, the renowned football coach who headed the Georgia Tech program from 1904-1919. This newly formed group purchased the land at East Lake in 1904 with the intention of building a golf course.
We can thank Donald Ross for creating this masterpiece, as the Scottish course architect has done numerous times over his career. If you aren’t familiar with some of his other work, perhaps Pinehurst #2, Seminole Golf Club, and Aronimink GC ring some bells.
Despite Ross being the man responsible for making East Lake Golf Club what it is today, he actually wasn’t involved in the initial design. Tom Bendelow is credited with laying out the first 7 holes in 1906, before completing the additional 11 holes the following year.
It wasn’t until 1913 that Donald was brought in to apply “his special touches,” which, in this case, involved redesigning the majority of the golf course.
One of the names synonymous with East Lake Golf Club is Bobby Jones, the legendary golfer who also served as the club president from 1937-1942. This was Bobby’s home track, the course that stakes the claim of being the site of his first and last round as a golfer.
Over the years, East Lake experienced its fair share of difficulties and wasn’t always a thriving private country club. This includes the massive fire in 1925 that burned the clubhouse to the ground.
The only positive that came out of that devastating occurrence was that Philip Shutze, the famed creator of the Swan House in the upscale district of Buckhead, was called in to build a new one. The result is the magnificent, two-story clubhouse at you see today.
The surrounding area had gotten so bad by the 1980s that East Lake was turning into an overlooked golf course with nothing beneficial about it.
They caught a big break in 1993 when a local charity decided to step up and make some contributions, thus saving the club from further damage and potential bankruptcy.
Tom Cousins was the man behind the foundation, and his plans were to renovate East Lake into a “shrine” of sorts to commemorate the great Bobby Jones. This catapulted the creation of the East Lake Foundation, which in turn ended up helping the weakening community get back on its feet.
Things got better the next year in 1994 when acclaimed golf course designer Rees Jones was asked to restore the course back to the original design that Donald Ross had intended. The double graduate of Yale and Harvard was able to do just that, making it a championship-quality venue right away.
By 1998, this track had matured into a brute of a golf course, but one that was in immaculate condition without a single blade of grass out of place.
It was clear that it was ready to host the Tour Championship, an event we will go into much greater detail about in a devoted segment below. In 2008, a few modifications were made to the course, mainly ditching the Bentgrass greens and switching to Bermuda grass on all 18 of the putting surfaces.
Speaking of the golf course, now is a perfect time to segue into the layout and specifics of the design.
Laying out the Course
Before we start explaining some of the key holes and laying out the golf course, it’s important to make note that in 2016, East Lake GC officially announced the permanent “switch of their nines.”
The first hole would now be the tenth hole, while the tenth hole became the first hole. You may remember players finishing up on a treacherous 235-yard par 3 – that hole is now the 9th hole. Consequently, the old 9th – an awesome par 5 over water – is now the finishing hole.
Don’t worry; the thrilling finishes won’t be going anywhere. Future Tour Championships will likely be filled with even more drama and excitement in years to come, thanks to the potential of eagles and birdies on the “new home hole.”
Fans will appreciate this type of finish as opposed to seeing players make bogies on a tough hole.
Both the 9th and 18th are obviously two of the most memorable holes at East Lake, but it’d be ignorant to leave out some of the other hidden gems that Rees Jones was able to bring back to life. Let’s take a look at some of the can’t-miss holes on the scorecard.
The first thing you notice when looking at the East Lake scorecard is that the championship tees are no joke. At 7,346 yards and playing as a par 70 with only two par 5s, this is a “meaty golf course” that has no letup the entire way around.
Right off the bat, players are staring at a demanding par 4, one that measures 469 yards from the tips and is lined with gigantic trees that guard both sides of the fairway.
The left side is interjected by fairways bunkers, but any tee shot missed right will be blocked out by the massive vegetation. Good luck battling the first-tee nerves and making par here.
The 3rd hole can be taken advantage of with a well-positioned tee shot, but the first real birdie opportunity doesn’t come until players walk off the 5th green and play the par-5 6th hole.
The 525-yard hole is strikingly short by today’s standards on the PGA Tour, so players need to pick one up here if they plan on posting a good number. The bombers will be able to carry the two bunkers on the right and will only be left with a mid-long iron into this elevated green.
We spoke briefly about the 9th hole, the former 18th hole at the home of the Tour Championship. The tees get moved around during the event, but if they want, they can stretch this out to nearly 250 yards to a back pin.
For such a long par 3, it’s an awful small landing area if you want to have a “look at two” on the 9th hole. No matter who you are and how well you are playing, par is always a tremendous score here.
The back nine at East Lake may start out calmly, but it sure doesn’t finish that way. If players are planning on shooting a low one, they’ll need to do their damage early on the back nine.
The 14th hole is a 520-yard par 4 (par 5 for the members) that surrenders very few birdies when the conditions aren’t perfect. Even in ideal weather, this hole is far from a bargain.
If the wind is up, there might not be a more difficult hole at East Lake GC than the 211-yard par-3 15th. The putting surface has no protection from large trees like most of the other greens out here, meaning even what feels like a mild breeze will eat up any balls that are not hit perfectly.
Imagine playing the iconic “Island Green” 17th at the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, except here, they tacked on about 70 yards.
Players aren’t flipping wedges here; it’s more like a hold-off 5 iron that needs to miss the water and dodge the deep bunker that guards the left side of the green. As tough as it is to make par at 15, things don’t get much easier for players when they walk to the next tee.
The 16th at East Lake Golf Club is the no.1 handicap hole on the golf course, and we think it has earned that right. Not only is it uphill and 454 yards, but there’s a long fairway bunker up the right side in the landing area, and the left side has another bunker and enormous trees.
There’s no way around it – you just “gotta man up” and pipe one down the middle. Any drives other than solid ones down the right center of the fairway will force players to hit some sort of hooking-long iron to a green that has more sand traps that will swallow any balls left of the surface.
The 17th hole is an awesome par 4, one that curves to the left and tests every nerve of every golfer who plays this hole. It’s famously remembered as the site where Bill Haas hit the spectacular “water shot” on the second playoff hole against Hunter Mahan in the 2011 Tour Championship.
Considering that a $10 million first-prize check awarded to the FedEx Cup winner was on the line, not to mention the title of being crowned the Tour Champion, we’d say this one will be replayed for decades to come.
The final hole is one that players will be looking forward to all round long. The big hitters will be especially licking their chops at the 590-yard finisher.
You can ignore that number because a well-hit tee ball will barrel down the downslope and chase down to the bottom of the hill, leaving players with some sort of long iron or utility club left into the perched green. Eagles and birdies will be made, and that’s exactly why the Tour Championship reversed the two nines.
Let’s now jump right into the tournament that every PGA Tour player dreams of reaching.
The Tour Championship
You hear it all the time from PGA Tour players – that they just want to make it to the season-ending Tour Championship. The reason is all the bonuses that come along with getting into the 30-man field. We are talking about a lot more than job security; we are talking about automatic entries into the Majors and the WGC events.
It’s an enviable position, and it’s why the guys are gunning so hard for a spot in the field. There is a whole lot more to tell you about the last tournament of the year that decides the FedEx Cup.
Who has won and what are the most unforgettable moments are just some of the questions we will reveal answers to in our dedicated page to the Tour Championship. It’s been held at East Lake every year since 2004, so there were simply too many fond memories to try and squeeze them all onto this one page.
Please indulge yourself by clicking the button below!
1963 Ryder Cup
While the PGA Tour’s final event of the year might be the one tournament that East Lake Golf Club is known for, you may get a different answer if you ask the members of the winning American squad from the 1963 Ryder Cup, played at the historic Donald Ross design in Atlanta.
George Cobb was asked to come in and rebuild part of the golf course specifically for this tournament. The University of Georgia alum and esteemed golf architect came in and did a marvelous job.
Considering he was responsible for creating the Par-3 Course at Augusta National and the Quail Hollow Club, among many other brilliant designs, this didn’t surprise anyone.
The only people left in shock were captain John Fallon and his 10-man Great Britain team. Team USA, led by playing captain Arnold Palmer, absolutely thumped the GB squad 23-9. Once they swept the Friday-afternoon session of foursomes 4-0, they never looked back.
Six of ten competitors from the USA team recorded 4 or more points during the week, while nobody from the European side managed to accumulate more than 2 ½.
2001 U.S. Amateur
The best amateurs in the world were asked to test their mettle at East Lake Golf Club during the 2001 U.S. Amateur Championship, the first and only time the USGA has made the trip to the private golf club in Atlanta to host one of their Championships.
Bubba Dickerson was an incoming junior at the University of Florida at the time and was a well-decorated collegiate player.
The SEC Freshman of the Year in 2000 was a First Team All-SEC selection as a sophomore, propelling him into his magical summer of 2001. He won not only the U.S. Amateur, but he also was victorious at the prestigious Western Amateur.
The red-headed kid from Jacksonville, Florida, was 5 down through 14 holes in the morning round of his Championship match versus Robert Hamilton, although he never seemed to be phased. Winning the final four holes to get back to only 1-down heading into the afternoon 18 was all the momentum Dickerson needed.
He would stiff a 4-iron on the final hole of the match (the current 9th hole) and make birdie to seal the deal. Add that to the NCAA Team Title the Gators took home earlier that summer, and you could say it was quite the 3-month stretch for Bubba Dickerson.
Maybe the USGA returns to East Lake one year, and maybe it won’t. Regardless, it’s a place that Bubba Dickerson won’t ever forget.
Right in the Heart of Atlanta
Here are a few things to keep in mind if you ever want to be a spectator at the tournament that decides the FedEx Cup. We aren’t going to give you a big catalog on getting to Atlanta, because let’s just be honest.
Since 1998, the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport has been the busiest airport on the entire planet according to the number of traveling passengers. If you can’t find a flight that lands in Atlanta, then you may want to ask for some serious help because that is probably the least of your concerns.
Obtaining tickets to the Tour Championship is just as easy. All you have to do is have $50 and know how to get to the golf course. Once you take into account the fact that East Lake Club is situated just 14 miles northwest of the airport, you’ll realize it’s just a short Uber or Lyft away. As far as what else to do during your off time while in Atlanta?
We are no travel advisor experts, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out where the coolest attractions are.
Whether you are interested in the Georgia Aquarium, featuring more than 120,000 animals, or you prefer perusing around the World of Coca-Cola, you’ll find plenty to do and plenty to see.
If you get the itch to play some golf while watching the Tour Championship participants, do yourself a favor and check out the 9-hole, par-30 Charlie Yates Golf Course across the street from East Lake.
This public domain is designed by Rees Jones and features the same pristine grass and conditions that the “big boys” are playing under on the other side of 2nd Avenue.
The good news is that it will only cost you between $16-$26 to play, depending on if you want to walk or ride and whether it’s a weekday or weekend.
We strongly suggest just bringing your sticks along for the trip. It’s fairly difficult to not be tempted to play after an action-packed day at East Lake, not to mention that the weather is generally pretty perfect in Atlanta around late September/early October. Trust us when we say to bring your clubs along.
A Short Review
There is a reason why the PGA Tour has chosen to come back to East Lake Golf Club to host the Tour Championship every year since 2004. We almost get tired of hearing players use the same types of adjectives to define the property and condition of the course.
Flawless, perfection, ideal. It’s like heaven on earth.
Once you see the grounds at East Lake first-hand, you will understand exactly why they say the things they do. Having Donald Ross and Rees Jones lend their hands and expertise to designing a golf course is like needing a piece of artwork and asking Michelangelo and Van Gogh to be the painters.
We showcased the signature holes and attempted to portray how challenging the course can play. The Tour Championship is obviously East Lake’s marquee event, but we wanted to allude to the Ryder Cup and U.S. Amateur that were both contested on site.
While they aren’t on the schedule to come back to Atlanta anytime soon, fortunately for you, the Tour Championship is.
If you have been trying to make your way to a PGA Tour golf tournament or you have been contemplating booking a trip to Atlanta, what else do you need to be convinced?
Atlanta offers something for men, women, and children of all shapes and sizes, and the level of golf that is played during the Tour Championship is second to none. Start making arrangements to attend the next Tour Championship now. We can assure you that you won’t be disappointed.