The golfing birthplace of legendary amateur Bobby Jones, East Lake was originally created as the country club branch of the Atlanta Athletic Club. It’s first course, designed by Tom Bendelow, opened in 1908 but was overhauled by Donald Ross around 1913. Ross arranged his nines on either side of a large central lake and replaced Bendelow’s square greens with large, elevated putting surfaces surrounded by tricky gully areas. George Cobb then made changes to the course in preparation for the 1963 Ryder Cup, but soon after the Athletic Club sold the property to developers and the course slowly began to fall into disrepair.
In 1993, with the club bankrupt and the surrounding neighborhood notorious for its high crime rate, a local business philanthropist purchased the course and employed Rees Jones to modernize the holes and rebuild the lost Ross features. It’s hard to know precisely how close the current design resembles Ross’s intentions because successive clubhouse fires destroyed most of his plans. The routing appears faithful and Jones has successfully restored the green sites after Cobb had lowered them and flattened some of the more severe contours.
Visually the course is quite bland, however, and the general shaping lacks the sort of creativity one would expect from a quality Ross design. The standout hole is undoubtedly the par three 6th, with its cross-lake tee shot and famous peninsula green. This green complex actually featured on the Bendelow layout, although it was the conclusion of a par five played from a different direction. Other holes lean gently toward the water but few boast interesting ground movement or use the hazard as an integral part of design. The par five 9th does drop across part of the lake and is likeable for its staggered bunkers and tricky green. The approach across the trench-like bunker into the 8th is also good, as is the front-to-back green on the downhill 12th hole and the run of strong long holes from the 14th to the 17th.
The turnaround at East Lake and the surrounding area over the past decade or more has been extraordinary. The course itself doesn’t really reach great heights, but given the achievements of Bobby Jones it will forever remain a venue of historical significance.
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