Whether one is on the course or in the magnificent clubhouse, it’s impossible to escape the unifying message that runs throughout the East Lake experience. It’s a message that encapsulates the central mission of the club since its reinvigoration in the 1990s.
“Golf With a Purpose” not only saved East Lake, but also delivered an entire neighborhood from despair. For 20 years, it has helped to restore hope to those who most needed it.
East Lake once was known as the “Club of Champions,” but it fell on hard times in the 1970s. The area was trapped in a seemingly never-ending cycle of violent crime, poverty and drug dealing. It was the heart of one of America’s most dangerous zip codes and, in a reference to the war-torn country, became known as “Little Vietnam” as long-time residents of the community moved away.
That would change in the 1990s. Tom Cousins, one of Atlanta’s most successful businessmen and well-regarded philanthropists, unveiled a grand vision that would not only reclaim the proud heritage of the course, but use it to bring hope to the residents of East Lake. Cousins believed the club – and, more importantly, its relationship to the history of the game of golf – could rescue the neighborhood.
Cousins recognized there was a lack of opportunity in East Lake, and much of that resulted from the flight from the area that had occurred during the previous 20 years. Rather than abandonment, he chose reinvestment.
Cousins purchased the course and invested all proceeds from member fees, tournament revenues and other club-focused income back into the neighborhood, and “Golf With a Purpose” was born.
The new East Lake Foundation moved to replace the dangerous public housing project with the Villages at East Lake, a mixed-income housing development, as well as establish a “college to cradle” educational model. Part of this educational investment required replacing the failing public school with the Drew Charter School, ensuring a quality education for the children in the neighborhood from birth through graduation.
In addition, it renovated the Charlie Yates Golf Course, providing a public course open to the community, as well as launched the First Tee of East Lake, offering year-round life skills and golf instruction to children in the neighborhood.
Known as the “East Lake Miracle,” the neighborhood has evolved into national model for community redevelopment:
- Violent crime has been reduced by 95%
- In 2013, 98% of Drew Charter School students (grades 3 to 8) meet or exceed state standards for reading, language arts and math
- In 2012, the graduation rate for active participants in the East Lake Foundation’s CREW Teens program was 90% and more than eight out of 10 grads went on to attend college
- The opening of the Drew Charter School’s junior/senior academy provides cradle-to-graduation educational opportunities for all children in East Lake
Today, the game of golf continues to transform lives and create opportunity. Those who set foot on the East Lake greens, whether it’s to play a round of golf, or to watch the PGA TOUR’s top players battle it out for golf’s season-ending prize, are themselves becoming part of that ongoing, life-changing work.
Though the successes of the past 20 years are many, the East Lake Miracle marches on today, offering opportunity, progress and hope for communities who have chose to follow the lead of the foundation.