As a young boy growing up in Atlanta, Heidrick & Struggles chief executive Pat Pittard used to walk over to the Donald Ross-designed course at the East Lake Golf Club in hopes of catching a glimpse of its most famous member, Bobby Jones.
"I remember, like it was yesterday, standing at the fence by the fourth hole, which runs parallel to Second Avenue, and watching Bobby Jones stroll by," says Pittard, who is now 53 and still lives in his hometown. "And when the Ryder Cup was played there in 1963, two of my buddies and I sat in a tree in almost the exact same spot and watched the greats of that era go by. We weren't very well-hidden, and most of them would smile up at us and give us a wave."
Sometimes, Pittard recalls, he and his friends used to sneak onto the course. "It gets dark very late in the middle of the summer in Georgia, and if a youngster were to have a five-iron and a golf ball with him at such times, he could play a few holes at East Lake, and the groundskeeper would give us a wink, as long as we replaced our divots and fixed our ball marks," he says. "It was during those early rounds that I decided the sixth was my favorite golf hole. And I still feel that way today."
No. 6 at East Lake is a par-three with one of the first island greens in the country. "The hole plays over a pond in back of the clubhouse," explains Pittard, who is a 17 handicapper. "And it can be a nine-iron or a five-iron, depending on the wind and where they put the tees. It is a legitimate birdie hole, but if you mess up even a little bit, you get wet. To me, it is the most uniquely East Lake hole. It has that wonderful Tudor clubhouse behind it, which has so many of Bobby Jones' old trophies inside. There's water in front of you, and the rest of the course stretches out all around. It's just a picture-perfect hole on a picture-perfect golf course, and every time I play it, I think of Bobby Jones, what club he might have hit there and how he might have played it."
East Lake is also special to Pittard because the course has been the centerpiece of an ambitious and successful community revitalization project in what has been a very depressed part of Atlanta. "The club used to have two 18-hole tracks," he says. "But then one of them was torn up to make room for a housing development, and the country club relocated to the suburbs. The original 18 changed hands a lot, and like the neighborhood around it, fell on tough times. But a local developer named Tom Cousins has restored it while making sure that other good things have happened to the area around it. So I like the fact that the course has had a positive impact on more than just golf."
PAT PITTARD CEO, HEIDRICK & STRUGGLES
East Lake Golf Club
Location: Atlanta, GA
Hole: 6th, par-three, 165 yards from the back tees, 150 yards from the regular markers
Hole Description: The tee shot plays a little downhill to a green set out on a peninsula with water all around. Bunkers abound on the left, and the green slopes from left to right, which also happens to be the direction of the prevailing wind. Trees growing to the right of the tee make it almost impossible to hang your drive out to the right and draw it onto the green. And balls that land short on a collar of fairway grass running about 30 yards in front of the green will often dribble back into the pond.
Course Architect: Scotsman Tom Bendelow laid out a nine-hole course on the property in 1908, and, five years later, the great Donald Ross tore that up and built a completely new 18-hole track.
George Cobb made some modifications to the layout prior to the 1963 Ryder Cup matches, and then in the mid-1990s, Rees Jones came in to upgrade the course and restore most of Ross' original design.
Club Description: Founded in 1904, East Lake had become a ragged, financially troubled enterprise when Tom Cousins bought it in 1994 and began turning things around. Though it remains a private club with mostly corporate members, it uses all profits to support local education, recreation, and social programs. And Cousins has been instrumental in implementing a neighborhood development plan that includes an 18-hole public course, a junior golf academy, and a caddie program that has employed some 250 young men and women from the area. The par-72 layout, which measures 7,108 yards from the back markers and 6,689 from the regular tees, will host the U.S. Amateur in 2001.
John Steinbreder is a senior writer for Golf Week and Golf and Travel magazines and is the author of five books, including Golf Courses of the U.S. Open.