FedEx Cup/Tour Championship: East Lake hole-by-hole breakdown

Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

FedEx Cup/Tour Championship: East Lake hole-by-hole breakdown

PGA Tour

FedEx Cup/Tour Championship: East Lake hole-by-hole breakdown

Four miles east of downtown Atlanta, the 30 finalists for the FedEx Cup are  battling it out in the perennial Tour Championship by Coca-Cola at classic old East Lake Golf Club. A $1.53 million first prize awaits the Tour Championship winner and there is a $10 million bonus for the overall winner of the FedEx Cup.

It’s same golf course as last year where Rory McIlroy won in overtime. East Lake clocks in at par-70, 7,385 yards: a solid, demanding parkland layout of no distinctive strategic complexity but noted for the excellence of its turf cover in a region and season notoriously tough on greenkeepers. It’s not an especially difficult course and it’s devoid of blindness, maddening quirks or the unexpected fold in the ground.

Since 2004, the average winning score here has been 11.5-under par. The absence of wind as a complicating factor – a function both of location and of extensive tree plantings – further simplifies the number of variables that the world’s elite players deal with as they vie for the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup title.


No. 1: Par 4, 469 yards

The event starts on a converted par 5, this one heavily bunkered the length of the fairway on the left side – close to the line best suited for approaching the small green. The putting surface is really designed for a par 5 and thus somewhat elusive to long irons on a low trajectory. A deep, front-right bunker at the green forms a deflective angle that makes approaching on that side very difficult. This forces golfers on the tee to favor the tightly bunkered left side.


No. 2: Par 3, 197 yards

This hole occupies the far northeast corner of the property and plays slightly uphill to a deep green, the rear third of which cannot be seen from the tees. It’s also heavily bunkered at 4 o’clock and 7 o’clock, which means that the oncoming middle iron has to be perfectly struck or it will bound over into heavy rough and leave an awkward up-and-over chip shot for recovery.


No. 3: Par 4, 391 yards

A promising start, and the course hits a stall in the form of three consecutive par 4s arrayed in parallel, sausage style. This downhill hole is the tightest drive of any par 4 at East Lake, as a massive fairway bunker looms on the right and an overhanging hardwood short of it that cuts off the landing area. It’s mainly just a layup off the tee for these guys. The approach shot has to carry a front trench bunker that, from the fairway, looks bigger than the green. Even with a modest prevailing wind of only three miles per hour, the green isn’t drivable from the tee, though some player might nonetheless bomb driver with hopes of reaching that front bunker.


No. 4: Par 4, 479 yards

The uphill drive has to trundle through an ominous-looking chute of trees and needs to steer wide right of two expansive fairway bunkers 280-330 yards out on the left. The irony here and elsewhere at East lake is that for all the normal advice of bunker avoidance, players are better off hitting an approach out of the sand than from out of the thick Bermudagrass rough.


No. 5: Par 4, 442 yards

Straightaway and slightly downhill, tight off the tee, to a green with a second tier that makes getting an approach close to a hole cut back there very difficult, especially out of the rough. From behind the green, as with much of East Lake, par-saving recoveries will go a long way to positioning players for a good round.


No. 6: Par 5, 525 yards

Now the course kicks into high gear with the first of four stirring and readily memorable holes. The pressure here on the 6th tee is that you feel like you have to make birdie just to stay abreast of the field. From the low-lying tee, the land here is just crying out for a left-to-right slider played off a deep bunker on the left side such that the land steers the ball safely around two steep fairway bunkers short-right. From there, 220-235 yards out from the green, it’s an uphill cut (except for Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson) to a potato-chip green that’s easy to hit but hard to hold if approached through the middle where the waist-line is narrowest. There will be many eagles here, with the hole playing close to a 4.5 average.


No. 7: Par 4, 481 yards

A dramatic downhill tumbler, with a great view of downtown Atlanta to the west and a clear sense from the tee that you had better hit this fairway. The right side falls off quickly into woods; the left side gets progressively narrower from 230 to 320 yards off the tee thanks to four successive bunkers arrayed diagonally into the line of play. Catch the speed slot right center and some players will be hitting wedge into this green. Miss the fairway right and recovery is dicey. In any case, the real trouble as players get to the green is keeping an approach shot from racing over and down a steep embankment.


No. 8: Par 4, 471 yards

Over the years. the lake on the left side has been brought more into play. Three yawning fairway bunkers 265-310 yards off the tee on the right are definitely to be avoided, though that brings water more into play. The raised green, protected up front, kicks everything to the left and toward that water again. Just ask Bill Haas, who in a 2011 playoff against Hunter Mahan made a miraculous up-and-down greenside recovery on a ball half-submerged in the pond, then went on at the next hole to win the FedEx Cup.


No. 18 at East Lake Tour Championship

(Golfweek File Photo)

No. 9: Par 3, 235 yards

East Lake used to be one of only a handful of major-venue courses (Congressional’s is gone, leaving Pasatiempo in California and The Cascades in Virginia) to end on a par 3. This one will get the players’ blood racing because it demands a long-iron, rescue club or fairway metal to a well-bunkered, small green perched 15 feet above the tee box. Too bad the raised green made for mediocre spectator viewing.


Hole No. 10: Par 4, 424 yards

Straightaway, uncomplicated, to a fairway set perpendicular to the contour line. The hole is organized around four natural high points – tee, green and two intermediate rolls in the fairway, with most drives coming to rest beyond the second rise in a swale that leaves an uphill approach of about 140 yards to a green bunkered at 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock.


(Keyur Khamar/PGA TOUR)

Hole No. 11: Par 3, 214 yards

A perfect medium-length par-3, slightly uphill and across an inconsequential front pond, to a modestly sloped green reminiscent in its bunkering of the 11th at St. Andrews – a deep bunker front right and another deep hazard flanking the left side. The putting surface, tipped toward the tee and thus receptive of the approach, is divided by a subtle ridge that effectively splits the green. If the hole is cut on the right you can work the ball off the slope; if it’s cut on the other side you have to approach from the left. Wind up on the wrong side and you have a testy up-and-over long putt.


Hole No. 12: Par 4, 389 yards

With dense trees and out-of-bounds looming the length of the right side, the smart play here off the tee is a long iron or fairway metal past the first bunker on the left and short of a second bunker 300 yards out. From there, it’s just a short iron into a green perched above the fairway and aligned from front left to back right.


Hole No. 13: Par 4, 440 yards

This is another hole that favors the left side of the fairway thanks to a pair of fairway bunkers along the right, high side and a dense stand of trees farther on. The elevated green tends to promote approach shots that wind up short, thanks to front bunkers that are foreshortened and a green that tips from back to front.


Hole No. 14 Par 4, 520 yards

Here’s a members’ par 5 routed at the far southeast end of the golf course that offers a modest reverse-camber effect and tips from high right to low left while bending up toward the right. A low-slung swale across the entrance tends to catch a lot of golf-ball traffic, especially from approach shots played out of the rough.


(Stan Badz/PGA Tour)

Hole No. 15: Par 3, 211 yards

This is one of the country’s oldest isthmus par-3s (technically it’s not an island, but it’s close to being one) and surely East Lake’s most action-packed hole. The tabletop green is encircled by the club’s massive lake and offers one very busy bunker on the left. If there’s any wind to be found at East Lake, it’ll be in effect here thanks to the complete exposure of the hole to the elements. A back tee, set far to the right on what is technically the wrong angle, makes the hole extremely awkward to play because the offset axis of approach lines you up over the water and makes a draw really hard to control. It also ends up making players line up far left to hit a left-to-right approach that often gets overcooked and winds up wet. The flat-profile green offers a back-left hole location behind the bunker that is the most inaccessible of any at East Lake. Here’s hole that will decidedly play over par and presents the chance of a real disaster coming in.


Hole No. 16: Par 4, 454 yards

This uphill hole twists around a strategic bunker on the (ideal) right side, 280 yards to reach and 300 yards to fly. The safer, right side of the fairway is cut off early, which means that bailout drives often end up in dense rough that makes it hard to get to this uphill green and brings into play a very deep bunker that pinches into the front left of the approach.


Hole No. 17: Par 4, 443 yards

This is the only one of East Lake’s holes that is not set at a rigid right angle to the holes immediately in front of or behind it. There used to be n need for a driver here but a new back tee, 30 yards and to left, brings bunkers on the left into play. These bunkers create the only strategic value on any tee shot at East Lake because there’s actually reward in the form of fairway beyond the sand. Everywhere else there’s just rough. The rolling fairway includes a remnant Civil War-era entrenchment. From the landing area to the right of the three fairway bunkers, the short-iron approach has to be precise and with perfect spin onto the hardest green to hold at East Lake. A deep front bunker with a raised edge cuts off incoming shots and makes golfers hit it just a little harder and firmer to make sure they carry – with the consequence that many shots end up running out long and over. The perched green is the scene of many short-sided recovery shots. Here is the most delicate and subtle of all holes out here.


East Lake

(Golfweek File Photo)

Hole No. 18: Par 5, 600 yards

Forget the length here; this will be an easily reachable in two for players who can drive the ball 300-plus yards in the air and reach the downward-kick point where the fairway turbocharges the ball forward. From there, short of the lake that cuts across the fairway at 380 yards off the tee, it’s a fairway wood or long iron to a green that will hold a shot slung in on the left side and skirting two bunkers that protect against a front-right entrance. Lots of audience here, lots on the line, though not that much of a risk because there’s no water in play on the second shot.

East Lake Golf Club, Atlanta, Ga. Architects: Tom Bendelow, George Adair, Donald Ross, George Cobb, Rees Jones. Ranked No. 74, Golfweek’s Best Classic Courses.


Scorecard

No. 1: Par 4, 469 yards        No. 10: Par 4, 424 yards

No. 2: Par 3, 197 yards        No. 11: Par 3, 214 yards

No. 3: Par 4, 391 yards        No. 12: Par 4, 389 yards

No. 4: Par 4, 479 yards        No. 13: Par 4, 440 yards

No. 5: Par 4, 442 yards        No. 14: Par 4, 520 yards

No. 6: Par 5, 525 yards        No. 15: Par 3, 211 yards

No. 7: Par 4, 481 yards        No. 16: Par 4, 454 yards

No. 8: Par 4, 471 yards        No. 17: Par 4, 443 yards

No. 9: Par 3, 235 yards        No. 18: Par 5, 600 yards

In: Par 35, 3,690 yards       Out: Par 35, 3,695 yards

TOTAL: Par 70, 7,385 yards

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