Celebrating 20 years at East Lake Golf Club
Part I, Historic Milestones
This year, the TOUR Championship will be celebrating the 20th playing of the event at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, GA. To commemorate this milestone, we’ll be diving back into the archives for some of the greatest moments, records, winners and statistics.
TOUR Championship awarded to East Lake in 1998
In the early 1990s, East Lake Golf Club hit a fork in the road. Then came Tom Cousins.
Equipped with a vision to revitalize the East Lake neighborhood after decades of drugs and violence left the community with the nickname “Little Vietnam,” Cousins purchased the Club in tandem with the creation of the East Lake Foundation to help make his vision a reality.
In 2013, Cousins told the AJC’s Steve Hummer: “(The group that owned East Lake) got into financial trouble, and the court ordered the sale of it,” Cousins said. “One of the bidders was a junkyard. And I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, what else could happen out here?’ It was one thing to have a defunct golf course over there. But a junkyard?”
In 1994, Rees Jones restored Donald Ross’s original golf course layout. Using the original Philip Shutze architectural drawings, the clubhouse was brought back to its 1926 design and condition. When the restoration project began to gain momentum, the PGA TOUR came calling about hosting one of its secondary Tour events there.
Cousins stepped in again.
“I said uh-uh, if we ever have a golf tournament, it ain’t gonna be the second rank,” Cousins told Hummer.
The PGA TOUR responded: ‘How about the TOUR Championship?’
From 1998-2003, the TOUR Championship alternated between East Lake and Champions Golf Club in Houston. By 2004, the TOUR Championship had found its permanent home in Atlanta.
Calamity Jane a meaningful tradition at East Lake
East Lake Golf Club is synonymous with the legacy of Bobby Jones, who famously captured the Grand Slam in 1930. It’s where Jones played his first and last round of golf and where he honed his game on his way to becoming one of the game’s greatest champions.
He is also well-known by the nickname of his putter, “Calamity Jane,” which was given to him by the brother of Jones’ instructor, Jim Maiden. The term “Calamity Jane” comes from an old folk hero Martha “Calamity Jane” Cannary, woman of the Wild West who was known for her sharp-shooting and countless acts of heroism.
Prior to handing it over to Jones, Maiden named his putter “Calamity Jane” due to the calamitous affect it would have on his opponents during a round.
In 2005, East Lake Golf Club felt it was appropriate to salute the memory of Jones by gifting the winner of the TOUR Championship with a replica of the Calamity Jane. And so began a meaningful tradition that has allowed the likes of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy to look back fondly on the legacy of Jones and the indelible impact he made on the game.
Introducing the FedExCup
The PGA TOUR officially launched the FedExCup competition in 2007 as a means to recognize the season champion, with the TOUR Championship and East Lake Golf Club marking the finale of the FedExCup Playoffs and PGA TOUR season.
What started as a $10 million bonus to the FedExCup champion has now inflated to $15 million beginning in 2019.
The first FedExCup was won by Tiger Woods, who scorched the field in Atlanta with a 72-hole scoring record of 257 (-23) en route to being the first to have his name etched in the base of the Tiffany-born FedExCup.
Flipping the Nines
In 2016, the TOUR Championship announced it would flip the nines for the TOUR Championship moving forward, meaning the tournament – and season – would conclude at a gettable, downhill par 5 as opposed to a difficult, 235-yard par 3.
“I think it's really, really cool. Nine (now No. 18) makes for a fantastic finishing hole. From five being a monster hole, having to go to six and playing those as No. 14 and 15 and play those two holes really when the pressure is on, that will make you step up and have to commit to some shots.” – Jordan Spieth
In the four tournaments since the flip, the par-3 ninth has surrendered only 46 birdies, while the par-5 18th has given up 10 eagles and 225 birdies compared to 215 pars.
The moments that have been born from the switch have been worthy of the season’s final act. In 2016, Rory McIlroy famously holed out from 137 yards at the par-4 16th for an eagle and followed it up with a birdie on the par-5 18th to force a playoff and win his first FedExCup.
Two years later, Tiger Woods completed his anticipated return to the winner’s circle and made the triumphant walk toward his 80th career PGA TOUR victory with the help of a few thousand fans.
$34 Million and Countless Lives Touched...
Since the first TOUR Championship was held at East Lake Golf Club in 1998, more than $34 million has been raised for the East Lake Foundation through the TOUR Championship alone.
The impact that has resulted from the partnership has been pretty staggering, in a good way. Violent crime has declined by 99 percent since 1995, while school test scores and property values have surged. Nearly 100 percent of the students in Drew Charter School’s first three senior classes graduated and were accepted to college. East Lake has become a community where every child - and every family - has a chance to succeed.
While $34 million is an exciting number, it is really about the lives touched by the Foundation, and the opportunities to celebrate those lives through the TOUR Championship. That said, please meet Hailey Fisher, the 2019 Hope Tee Shot recipient.