East Lake: Why Flipping Nines Is Good for Tour Championship

Sep 25, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Brandt Snedeker and Steven Bowditch walk to the sixth green during the second round of the Tour Championship by Coca-Cola at East Lake Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 25, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Brandt Snedeker and Steven Bowditch walk to the sixth green during the second round of the Tour Championship by Coca-Cola at East Lake Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports /

Flipping the East Lake nines will spice up the TOUR Championship.

East Lake Golf Club is going to be rerouted for the Tour Championship, but is that a good thing or is it just a publicity ploy?

If you’re watching the Tour Championship on television, it may not matter to you whether the tournament finishes on a par three, a par four or a par five. But if you were ever to attend the tournament, it would immediately be clear why changing the order of the nines makes perfect sense.

And for viewers, it may make for more drama, although it’s hard to beat Jim Furky’s putt for victory with rain dripping so hard that he had to wear his cap backwards or Bill Haas blasting out of water in the playoff to beat Hunter Mahan or even Jordan Spieth completing a year-long victory march.

What the change does is to put the challenging 6th hole front and center. It now becomes the 15th hole. In case you have forgotten, that hole is a par three over water to a small green. It’s not an island, but it might as well be. Having the hole early in the round allowed players to recover from hitting a ball in the water there, but having it as the 15th hole penalizes the player who gets a case of nerves coming to the final holes of the tournament. It is sure to be a difference-maker with this new routing just because so many have found themselves water-logged in the past without the pressure of the finish.

In addition, having the final hole as a par five will allow more chances for birdie and even the occasional eagle, which should make for an exciting finish.

Two players, both winners at the Tour Championship, like it, according to the PGA Tour.

“I think it’s it really, really cool,” said Jordan Spieth. “Nine (now No. 18) makes for a fantastic finishing hole. From five being a monster hole, having to go to six and playing those as No. 14 and 15 and play those two holes really when the pressure is on, that will make you step up and have to commit to some shots. I think it’s very interesting. I think it would make for a finish where you see a birdie or eagle more than pars like it has been in the past.” Spieth won the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup in 2015.

“The sixth hole (now No. 15) is a really good par 3 and holes 7, 8 and 9 (now Nos. 16-18) are really good birdie holes, but you can also make some numbers on those holes as well,” said 2014 FedEx Cup and Tour Championship winner Billy Horschel. “I think it’s going to be exciting. The fans are going to love it.”

Television likes the change.

NBC Sports lead producer, Tommy Roy said, “From the 12th hole through the 18th, the final holes will be incredibly compelling. I imagine there will be quite a difference in how a player feels on the 15 tee staring over 200-plus yards of water compared to how that tee shot felt before.”

PGA Tour provided stats show that there are likely to be scoring changes with the new finishing holes.   There have been 1651 birdies on what will be the 18th hole since since 1998, but only 18 eagles. There have also been 854 bogeys.

PGA Tour Stats on East Lake GC since 1998
PGA Tour Stats on East Lake GC since 1998 /

Certainly the former 18th, which is a tough and long par three, did not typically feature birdies as the outcome. For those who like to see a tournament ended with a disaster, it was great. But if you like to see the winner have to make birdie at the end, now that’s possible.

The final two holes will have many good spectator areas, particularly the new 18th, which is down hill, and then over water to a green in front of the clubhouse. Fans will line the fairway and can have with good views of the finish on both sides.

The only fly in the golf ointment is that the new 15th (formerly the 6th) is great on TV, but is very hard to spectate because there just isn’t much room for fans on the course in that location. There is only a ribbon of cartpath and grass connecting it to the rest of the golf course.  The cart path runs behind the current 5th and 7th greens that runs along the lake. Fortuitously, there is a space between those two greens that has been used as an area to growing extra grass for repairing turf, and it happens to be in a perfect location for a great vantage of the new 15th hole.

Next: Predicting the 2016 PGA Majors

Look for the East Lake leadership and Tour Championship organization to get any changes right, if not the first year of the change, certainly by the second, as they have done everything else right.

( Quotes and chart provided by PGA Tour)