Jerry Pate knows golf. He's got eight wins on the PGA Tour, including the 1976 U.S. Open, and he's an accomplished course designer. Throughout the season, he'll be stopping by Devil Ball to offer an inside-the-ropes look at the week's upcoming course. Today: East Lake, home of THE TOUR Championship and the final stop in the FedEx Cup playoffs.
East Lake was originally designed by Tom Bendelow in 1910. Shortly thereafter in 1925, it was completely renovated by Donald Ross. In the early 1990's, Rees Jones redesigned the course during East Lake's major revitalization. Jones has continued to tweak the course for East Lake's most prestigious golf event, THE TOUR Championship.
Driving the ball straight should be paramount at East Lake. But off the tee, most of the hazards are located to the sides of the fairways. Rarely do they strategically narrow the fairway when a ball is struck longer than average. As a result, misplaced drives into a bunker are usually a better result than a ball lying in the thick Bermuda rough. This is particularly true since most bunkers are oriented parallel to the line of play, which typically allows ample room for a clear recovery shot to the green. The dogleg left par-four eighth is an example, where three bunkers are located on the inside of the dogleg. The fairway is as wide adjacent to the first bunker as it is to the last. There is no risk presented for challenging the hazards, and the reward comes only from hitting it longer.
Recently, the putting greens have been resurfaced with Ultra Dwarf Bermudagrass replacing the cool season Bentgrass. This will allow the Championship Committee to provide a firmer, drier, bouncier surface, thus rewarding well struck approaches. The rough and the hole locations will be the courses only major defense. Unless there is deep rough this week, look for the winner to be the one who can hit it long.
Jerry Pate has been designing golf courses for more than 30 years. His portfolio of work includes Old Waverly Golf Club in Mississippi, site of the 1999 United States Women's Open; Trump National Golf Club Colts Neck (formerly known as Shadow Isle) in New Jersey; Kiva Dunes on the Alabama Gulf Coast; and Rancho La Quinta Country Club in California. See more of his work at www.jerrypategolfdesign.com.