How Golf Helped a Community Turn Itself Around
By guest blogger Alexandra Rice
Many residents in Atlanta's East Lake community would say it was golf that saved their ailing town. In my recent article on the community's redevelopment I focus a lot on the area's new charter school (this is Education Week, after all), but the impact of the two golf courses on East Lake's turnaround deserves a few words of their own.
Today, at the Charlie Yates Golf Course, students from the nearby Drew Charter School take lessons with former golf pros and learn the principles of the game, and some students have gone on to win scholarships to college through golf.
Students in grades 2-8 take classes as a part of their physical education curriculum. The classes are offered year-round to the students free of charge. This course, built after the redevelopment of the East Lake Golf Club, is public and a symbol of the community's revival.
The East Lake Golf Club, a private facility and the home of legendary golfer Bobby Jones, is a 100-year-old club with a colorful history. After its official opening in the early 1900s, the club experienced decades of prosperity, hosting several big-name tournaments, before it fell into disrepair in the 1960s. East Lake Meadows, a public-housing project was built on part of the course, and the area quickly took a turn for the worst.
It wasn't until the early 1990s, when a few philanthropists bought the property, that the course was restored to its original luster. Today, all proceeds from the fully refurbished course go toward the East Lake Foundation, which reinvests the funds into the community.
The clubs' mottos—"golf with a purpose"—is not something residents take lightly. On the course, the students, from mostly minority and low-income families, get a chance to learn a game traditionally associated with middle- and upper-class communities. The idea, the school says, is for students to learn the principles of golf—discipline, hard work, and integrity—while playing the game.
Drew Charter School parent Dennis Thomas said golf is a big part of the school's appeal because students, like his daughters, can learn the game and life skills at the same time.
"For me, in our society, what it does for them is it slows things down. It let's them concentrate and be themselves a bit more. For Drew, it's part of who they are."
Photo: Two Drew students practice teeing off at the nearby Charlie Yates Golf Course. Volunteer mentors and golf professionals at the public course provide Drew students with lessons in golf and life. (Pouya Dianat for Education Week)