It’s hard to describe the feeling you get when you step foot onto the grounds at East Lake. As you enter the immaculate clubhouse filled with endless amounts of Bobby Jones memorabilia, you realize just how special it is. The history speaks for itself, the layout is scenic and enjoyable and the Club culture is unlike any other in the game. The full experience from the moment you pull up to the front gate to time you walk off of the 18th green is a one of a kind experience.
To start, the first step into the clubhouse you realize that you’re immersed in a shrine of Bobby Jones’ memorabilia from photos of his rounds with Presidents to all four of his grand slam trophies on display. How many times do you get to spend the day at the course where Bobby Jones learned the game? The club has done an amazing job displaying the endless collection of trophies, clubs, badges and various other golf memorabilia that Jones accumulated during his accomplished career as an amateur golfer.
As you take in the shrine, you make your way upstairs to an immaculate locker room with panoramic views of the surrounding golf course. A friendly greeting and a quick shoe change and its off to the driving range, just steps from the clubhouse, where you’re greeted by your caddies for the day (no carts allowed). Your first shot of the day (if you go to the range) has to be at least 70 yards to carry the pond in front of the teeing area which is something you certainly don’t see everywhere you go.
And then it’s off to the first tee (formerly the 10th tee) to start the round which is a welcomed change, as you now start and end on a par-5. The overall layout is challenging but fair, and the mix of holes keeps the interest in every shot. What makes it unique from any other course are the views of the surrounding landscape. Nearly every hole has scenic views of the lake and clubhouse in the distance. Everything about it is picturesque and you can see that Jones had to have drawn inspiration for Augusta National from East Lake.
Out of the gate, starting on a par-5 allows you to ease into the round yet gives you the option to be aggressive and get off to a fast start. The uphill par-3 second starts the challenging stretch of holes with a 185 yard shot to a severely back to front green. Anything above the hole is slippery and missing the green makes for a challenging up and down. The third, fourth and fifth holes are all straight away par-4’s perfectly utilizing the natural lay of the land. The sixth is a challenging uphill par-5 putting a premium on the second shot to allow for a reasonable length approach. Seven goes back down towards the lake with a beautiful view of the surrounding landscape. Eight is guarded by the lake running down the entire left side with plenty of bailout room right leaving a tough angle and the possibility of being blocked out behind a tree. Nine (formerly 18) is a long uphill par-3 playing well over 200 yards, which is a great hole and one I didn’t mind finishing on but makes an even better 9th hole.
The back nine in my opinion is the tougher nine with holes like 13, 15, 16 and 18 all very difficult yet different from one another. Thirteen may be the best on the course at 421 yards from the back tee and an uphill approach to a large green. With a back pin it feels much like a par-5. Fifteen is likely the most scenic par-3 I’ve ever played with the water surrounding the peninsula green on all sides. Any hint of pressure makes for a nerve racking tee shot despite the sizeable green. With the water and clubhouse in the backdrop it really doesn’t get any better.
Sixteen is likely the toughest on the course where position off of the tee is important as it’s a dogleg left with a severe uphill approach. Anything out of position makes hitting the green in two nearly impossible. The small green is guarded by a deep front bunker making for a tough sandy. Finally, the 18th is a terrific finishing hole that allows for much more excitement in competition. The reachable green/water lined fairway could change the outcome of a tournament in an instant, what more do you want from a finishing par-5?
Overall, East Lake is a course that strikes the right balance between challenging a good player and allowing a high handicapper get a round with a minimum of delay (another quality Doak looks for). The layout really does do a good job of accommodating players of all skills with the variety of teeing options. There are many holes that require an all carry approach and the rough can be downright brutal at times, but that’s what you get when you play a championship golf course!
The only way to cap off the round is to have a drink in the impressive 19th hole overlooking the surrounding Lake. The staff is more than accommodating and do a great job showing their pride in the terrific and historic Club. The culture aligns perfectly with the legacy of Bobby Jones and I’m sure he’d be proud. It’s an honor to be able to experience all that East Lake has to offer. It’s more than just a round of golf, it’s an experience you won’t find anywhere else.