More To It Than $10 Million

East Lake Golf Club revitalizes community

The PGA Tour marks its official end to the 2018 season this week. The Tour Championship, featuring the top 30 in the FedEx Cup points list after a long season and three playoff events, will have a lot of action inside the ropes. But, truth be known, what is going on outside the ropes is the far bigger story.

The transformation of this East Lake community from a slum-infested section on the outskirts of Atlanta and the home of the East Lake Golf Club was truly amazing. The club came to be in 1906 and is the oldest golf club in the greater Atlanta area. It has had its share of notable members but none more skilful or famous than the legendary Bobby Jones.

I still remember my first visit many years ago. To say that I was dismayed at what I discovered would be a gross understatement.

The PlayOffs, as the tour likes to say, are a series of four events. In the first event, the top 125 players on the FedEx Cup points list compete in The Northern Trust Championship and must finish in the top 100 to move on to the next event, the Dell Technologies Championship, held just outside Boston at TPC Boston. Now it gets a little tougher as only the top 70 get to move on to the BMW Championship, the third PlayOff event.  Out of those 70 players, only 30 will qualify for the very lucrative TOUR Championship and the FedEx Cup Finals.

One astonishing result of the PlayOffs is that three-time major winner, Jordan Speith, failed to make it into the top 30 and into this elite field for the first time in his career. But perhaps a far bigger surprise is that Tiger Woods did make it. In fact, given the small size of the field, I think Tiger has a great chance of winning.

Now, just to complicate things a little more, there are really two events taking place at the Tour Championship. There’s the tournament itself, with the winner bagging a hefty paycheck, and then there’s the finalization of the season-long FedEx Cup bonus money. The goal was simple — to finish in the top five on the points list going into the Tour Championship. The big advantage of being in the top five is that if one of the top five then wins the Tour Championship, he will be guaranteed to win the season-long FedEx Cup and the $10 million bonus pool.

Tiger is the only two-time winner of the FedEx Cup. He first won in 2007 and then got the job done again in 2009. The top five going into the Tour Championship at East Lake this week are Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Rose, Tony Finau, Dustin Johnson, and defending champion Justin Thomas. If any of them win the tournament, they not only take home the first-place check but also bag the big prize, the $10 million.

As I mentioned earlier, a far greater story has been taking place outside the ropes. I vividly remember my excitement level being very high prior to my first visit to East Lake and the home of Bobby Jones. I was told Bobby’s boyhood home was right across the street from the club. As I took the final turn to the club, I thought for certain I had gotten lost. The houses across the street, including the Jones household, were in a state of total disarray. Junked cars were on the street as well as in most driveways. More houses had boarded up windows than front lawns. It was tough to realize that the famous East Lake Golf Club was actually located in a slum. It was reported that sometimes golfers were robbed at gunpoint while playing the course. And then, Tom Cousins purchased the club and all this was about to change.

Cousins had a vision. He was well known in Atlanta as a highly regarded real estate developer and loved golf. He is given much credit for developing the Atlanta skyline and was hugely responsible for bringing the NBA Atlanta Hawks to town. In 1995, Cousins purchased the East Lake Golf Club with the intent to use all the profits from the club to revitalize the East Lake community.

Junked cars were towed away, dilapidated houses were torn down and new state-of-the-art affordable housing complexes came to life. New schools were built and now receive high praise for their excellent educational results and opportunities. The changes to this area are so dramatic and so uplifting that similar projects called “Purpose Built Communities” are coming to fruition all over the country using East Lake as the prototype.

So, for sure one player is going to earn $10 million. However, giving hope and opportunity to so many youngsters is of far greater value. As we all know, golf is only a game, but it can offer so many opportunities to so many. As you enjoy the on-course competition this week, also know that what is going on outside the ropes, where so many youngsters are being given a real chance to win, is the bigger story.

Tom Cousins was great at constructing big buildings but even better at building big dreams.

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