East Lake Golf Club – Another Atlanta Treasure!


East Lake Golf Club has been around a long time. Located about 5 miles east of downtown Atlanta, it’s the oldest golf course in the city. Since its first transformation from an amusement park to a golf course in 1908, until its present fame as the home of the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola and the Playoffs for the FedEx Cup in September each year, East Lake has been a player in the golfing community.

Bobby Jones, age 14, by Kellan & White via wikimedia commons

Originally planned as a summer-home community, East Lake was a destination for one of the original streetcar lines in Atlanta. When the Atlanta Athletic Club opened their first golf course there on July 4, 1908, Bobby Jones was six years old.  His father, Robert P. Jones, was an active member and served as president from 1937 to 1942 and as a director for 38 years. Bobby grew up around the course and he continues to be its most famous member.

Beginning in 1911 when he won the Junior Club Championship at East Lake and continuing until he won the Grand Slam of Golf – the United States Amateur, United States Open, British Amateur, and British Open – in 1930, Jones made his mark not just in Atlanta, but throughout the golfing world.

He is often referred to as golf’s greatest ambassador and greatest competitor. In 1933, Jones was a co-founder of the Augusta National Golf Club and established the world-famous Masters Tournament there in 1934. Many of his tournament trophies and other artifacts from his golfing career are housed in a museum in the clubhouse at East Lake Golf Club.

Other famous alumni are also honored at East Lake. Charlie Yates, for whom the public Charlie Yates Golf Course is named, is one such member. Charlie grew up in a house on the #2 course at East Lake, the revitalized course that now bears his name. A Georgia Tech star, he won the Georgia State Amateur in 1931 and 1932, the NCAA individual title in 1934, and in 1935, the Western Amateur. In 1938, he won the British Amateur.

by Boston Public Library via wikimedia commons

Among his other feats, Yates, who was the secretary of the Augusta National Golf Club, was the low scoring amateur in the Masters Tournament five times during his competitive career. Until his death in 2005, Charlie Yates was a civic leader in Atlanta, serving as the president of the Atlanta Arts Alliance (now the Woodruff Arts Center), the president of the Metro Atlanta YMCA, the president of the Atlanta Symphony, co-chairman of the Georgia Tech Centennial Campaign, president and life trustee of the Georgia Tech Foundation, USO regional chairman, and Director of the American Council For the Arts, among many other positions. In 1980 he was given the United States Golf Association’s Bob Jones award. And in the 1990s, he was involved in the efforts to rebuild East Lake.

Through the years, East Lake has hosted a variety of tournaments including the Golden Anniversary of the Woman’s Amateur Golf Championship in 1950, the 1963 Ryder Cup Matches and the 2001 U.S. Amateur. It’s currently the home of the TOUR Championship by Cola-Cola and the Playoffs for the FedEx Cup each September.

Sep 22, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Jordan Spieth (in red) acknowledges the crowd after finishing his round during the final round of the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

There have been a number of redesigns and improvements to the course through the years. In 1968, the original course and clubhouse were bought by a group of members, when the #2 course was sold to developers.

In 1993, the East Lake Foundation purchased the course and began an extensive renovation to restore it to its previous glory. Using the original drawings by famed architect Philip Shutze, the clubhouse was brought back to its 1926 grandeur.

The club was the cornerstone of revitalization for the entire neighborhood, which had slipped into decline for 20+ years. The East Lake community is now home to a mixed income development that includes charter schools; the earlier-mentioned Charlie Yates Golf Club, a public course which was built to introduce the children of the neighborhood to golfing; a revitalized East Lake Park; and the East Lake Neighborhood Community Association. Home values have increased dramatically as young professionals have purchased homes and renovated them.

Sep 14, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Billy Horschel celebrates a victory in the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The East Lake Golf Club is private. Membership is by invitation only, and individual memberships are no longer available. Some corporate memberships are considered. The gorgeous clubhouse is reminiscent of the early days of the country club.

You can take a tour during specified periods once a month, and reservations are required. Proper attire is also required – no jeans, cut-offs, or tee shirts. No golf carts – it’s a walking-only course unless you have a state-issued handicap certificate. Cellphones and other electronic devices are prohibited, as are hats in the clubhouse.

East Lake Golf Club and the Charlie Yates Golf Course are also philanthropic organizations whose motto is “Golf With a Purpose.” Proceeds from their operations support the East Lake Foundation whose mission, according to their website, is “to provide the tools for families of The Villages of East Lake and students of Drew Charter School to build a better life for themselves and future generations through education, mixed-income housing and community wellness.”

That’s quite a mission. And I’m especially proud of what East Lake is becoming, because that’s where I grew up. We weren’t members of “the club,” as it was called. But I did get to go to a birthday party or two there as a small child.  And when I was very young, we lived across the street from the lake and could see the lights reflect on the water at night and hear the beautiful music as people danced the night away.

What a fabulous legacy. Golf, history, beauty, and support for those who need it.  East Lake Golf Club is a true Atlanta treasure!

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