East Lake: The Tour’s final exam is tough but fair

September 19, 2013

We’re conditioned to revere Atlanta’s East Lake Golf Club, not only because it’s played host to 12 previous TOUR Championships, but also because it produced the greatest genius of golf’s Golden Age, Bobby Jones, who grew up in a home on the perimeter of the course. In truth, East Lake is somewhat cramped, with parallel holes and little elevation change. Yet, it’s the perfect stage for the season finale.

East Lake may lack the design drama of many big-time tournament venues, but what we’ve discovered after these past 12 championships is that it’s perfect for the job for two reasons. First, it doesn’t overly reward the bomb-and-gouge crowd, putting emphasis instead on strategy and course management. Second, it unfurls a super-strong, if unorthodox finish that honestly rewards the guy who has played the best.

After the 15th, a par-5 where birdies and eagles fly in abundance, East Lake serves up three superior holes for championship play. The 481-yard, par-4 16th is the best hole on the course, one that plays downhill but into the wind. It enjoys sensational views not only of East Lake itself, its waters glistening in the late afternoon sun, but also of the Atlanta city skyline. The 453-yard 17th is simply a marvelous hole. With the lake on the left, breezes from the left and bunkers to the right, the 17th requires an exacting tee shot. The intriguing green is sloped back-to-front on the front half, then right-to-left on the back portion, causing havoc with less-than-perfect approach shots. Of course, you’ve got to reach the green, and any shot slightly pulled can catch a shaved-down slope and find the lake, not a result anybody relishes, unless your name is Bill Haas.

Finally, the 18th is an unusual but ripping closer, an uphill, into-the-wind 235-yard par-3. Many of the pros will need woods to reach the undulating putting surface, so if the 18th qualifies as an unconventional finishing hole, at least it’s a demanding one. At times it simply plays too hard, with a parade of players coming nowhere near birdie. As a TV viewer, I’m not yawning, but I’m stifling them. That’s OK. For 10 million bucks, let these guys prove they can hit a major-league shot to close it out.