News & Opinion

Is East Lake a good fit for PGA Tour’s finale?

East Lake GC par-3 15th green left clubhouse background.jpg
Atlanta’s East Lake Golf Club, which has played host to the PGA Tour’s Tour Championship since 2004, will welcome the top 30 in the FedEx Cup standings beginning today.

The storied Atlanta course rates as worthy, but Atlanta falls to impress as a host city, John Hawkins contends, but Mike Purkey points to Bobby Jones’ former home as a Southern star

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Longtime golf journalists John Hawkins and Mike Purkey, who co-host the weekly Hawk & Purk podcast on MorningRead.com, also discuss and debate the game’s hottest issues in this weekly commentary.

Is East Lake a good site for the Tour Championship?

Hawk’s take: The golf course itself is fine, but a tournament with such gigantic intentions (and a $15 million top prize) deserves a far livelier atmosphere than anything Atlanta has delivered over the years. This week obviously gets a pardon due to COVID-19, but other than when Tiger Woods won here in 2018, East Lake has basically served as the world’s largest outdoor library while hosting an event that needs at least some onsite energy to help generate interest.

As we’ve learned over the past couple of months, spectator enthusiasm plays a huge role in making any athletic competition more appealing to viewers at home. The 2018 PGA Championship in St. Louis, where Woods battled Brooks Koepka deep into the final nine before driving it into a hazard at the 17th, remains the most recent signature example. The crowds at Bellerive were massive, creating an ambience ideal for any high-profile gathering of the world’s best golfers.

Atlanta simply doesn’t have that gear in terms of civic interest. And the Tour Championship – especially since it became the FedEx Cup postseason finale in 2007 – has suffered because of it. The other playoff events have been held at different locations throughout their existence. Why not the one that would most benefit from a change of scenery? The longer you wonder why the PGA Tour doesn’t address such matters, the more you realize that it’s satisfied with the way things are, which is a shame.

Purk’s take: Actually, East Lake Golf Club is the perfect venue for the Tour Championship. It has everything you would want for a season-ending event. First, there’s heritage. In 1913, Donald Ross redesigned the original Tom Bendelow routing at East Lake.

Bobby Jones grew up playing golf at East Lake under the tutelage of professional Stewart Maiden, and Jones was a member there all of his life. The best players have competed at East Lake, not only in the Tour Championship but in the Ryder Cup and U.S. Amateur.

Architecturally speaking, East Lake is an excellent test. It can stretch to more than 7,300 yards with a par of 70 and has a demanding set of par 3s. Bermudagrass rough isn’t overly long but can be problematic. When the nines were reversed in 2016, it increased the potential for drama as the 18this now a 590-yard par 5. The final 30 in the Tour Championship won’t shoot the grass off the place, but there still are a lot of birdies available for those who hit it in the fairway off the tee.

The argument that Atlanta fans don’t produce enough atmosphere doesn’t hold water. Look back to 2018, when Tiger Woods won the Tour Championship. The scene throughout the final round was electric. The thousands of fans following Woods down the 18thfairway will be one of game’s enduring visuals. How can you ask for more than that?

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