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Johnny Vardeman: New book records history, stories about East Lake golfing
Johnny_Vardeman
Johnny Vardeman

You don’t have to be an avid golfer to know who Bobby Jones was or what East Lake is.

Jones is described as the greatest amateur golfer ever, and as an Atlantan put Georgia on the golfing map. East Lake is one of the two golf courses he is most associated with, the other being Augusta National.

Augusta National is the home of the Masters Golf Tournament, and East Lake is host to the Tour Championship, the culminating event of the FedEx Cup playoffs. Tiger Woods won the Tour Championship last year, and Justin Rose won the FedEx Cup there.

Jones was the first golfer to win the “Grand Slam,” the four major tournaments during his era. He also founded Augusta National Golf Club and co-founded the Masters Golf Tournament.

East Lake was his home course, although he founded another Atlanta course, Peachtree Golf Club.

Those interested in golf, especially East Lake, will be interested in a book about the course written by Linton Hopkins, “East Lake — Where Bobby Learned to Play.” It traces the history of the course, how the club and neighborhood dropped from prestigious to rundown, then its restoration and resurgence as one of the nation’s premier courses.

It also takes the reader hole-by-hole along the course, recounts some of Bobby Jones’s rounds and accomplishments and relates various stories and memories of those who played or otherwise had something to do with East Lake. One of those memories is from a Hall Countian, Anne Warren Thomas. Her parents were Irene and Green Warren, who were close friends with the Jones family, including daughter Mary Ellen, one of Anne’s friends. Anne recalls memories of “plain Mr. Jones,” as she called him, not realizing his famous golfing career until later.

Hopkins, the book’s author, is a retired neurologist whose grandfather and father had learned to play golf at East Lake. When Hopkins began playing there in 1989, he began to make notes about his memories, hearing stories from such golfers as Tommy Barnes and Charlie Yates. That later resulted in a book that sold out, and his new book is its sequel.

The book is available at the website, hopkinsbook.com, eBay, Amazon and probably Barnes & Noble soon. The hardback copy is $29.95; paperback $24.95.

Golfing comes to Gainesville

Bobby Jones at least once played in Gainesville, helping inaugurate the Chattahoochee Golf Course, Hall County’s first, when it was just nine holes at the end of Riverside Drive on what is now the property of American Legion Post 7. Alexa Stirling, a top female amateur who had played with Jones from their childhood on, also was invited to the inaugural round, but there was no mention of her having played in Gainesville.

The Chattahoochee Golf Club acquired more than 100 acres from Georgia Power Co. in 1919 at $15 an acre to develop the course. The club had been organized in 1917 with $6,000 in the bank, but because of World War I, building of a course was postponed. A $20,000 bond issue promoted by 60 members added to the budget for the new course after the war.

A hotel on the property was planned, but it never came about.

Jock Inglis, a golf course builder from Alabama, designed the course, and it apparently was finished by another builder, Tom G. Nichols of Atlanta. Plans for an additional nine holes never happened.

These were the days of persimmon drivers, hickory shafts, mashies, niblicks and brassies instead of the high-tech numbered golf clubs of today.

Jones helped open the Gainesville course in 1920 with famous golf writers O.B. Keeler and Ed Danforth on hand. Summer heat had devastated the greens.

That course eventually fizzled, and another nine-holer built at the end of Woodsmill Road is now under Lake Lanier. Chattahoochee Golf Course, Lake Lanier Islands and Chicopee Woods are the current Hall County courses.

Watch for more local history in this column next Sunday.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville; phone 770-532-2326; email vardeman1956@att.net.

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