East Lake - Where 'Winning' Involves Much More than a Big Paycheck

By: Elisa Gaudet

Who would have thought that East Lake Golf Club, the home golf course of Bobby Jones and the man who transformed the game of golf, would be the model for transforming a community? East Lake in Atlanta is the permanent home of the Tour Championship, the season-ending event of the PGA Tour and the FedEx Cup Playoffs.

Tom Cousins

Interestingly, the FedEx Cup has America's third-largest purse awarded in sports according to Forbes. Ranked only behind the Super Bowl ($15.5 million) and the World Series ($14.8 million), the winner of the FedEx Cup collects a cool $10 million bonus.

Remarkably, the area where the tournament is held was once known as "little Vietnam" because of its extremely harsh living conditions, including crime rates 18 times the national average and 87 percent joblessness. It was a place with little hope until one man's vision triggered an amazing renaissance.

Just like Bobby Jones, Tom Cousins had a vision and dared to try something many of us couldn't even imagine. Both men can be credited for their ability to revitalize, energize and inspire.

They say "A rising tide lifts all boats." No one embraced that adage more than Cousins, who created a sustainable model for improved living. His Purpose Built Communities began with the East Lake Community in the mid-1990s and is now a model for 25 other blighted areas - in various stages of planning and development - in New Orleans, Newark, Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and Baltimore.

Cousins, a real estate developer who built the CNN Tower and much of Atlanta's skyline, saw a way to mitigate poverty and transform poor neighborhoods by making a paradigm shift. The concept of Purpose Built Communities is to create a holistic revitalization by combining public and private objectives. A key element of the approach is the establishment of mixed-income communities, where half the residents receive public housing subsidies and the other half pay full-market rents.

These communities offer attractive services and amenities, including a pool, tennis courts, public golf course, job training, charter schools, an elementary school, a daycare center and a YMCA. They're part of a network of nationwide communities that are building brighter futures, strengthening human and physical capital, and helping families break the cycle of poverty.

Since the transformation of East Lake, crime is down 87 percent and the school district has one of the highest average test scores in the Atlanta area.

In 1993, Cousins took over historic East Lake Golf Club, which had fallen on hard times. He restored the private course with the understanding that any profits would benefit the East Lake Foundation (www.eastlakefoundation.org). To date, more than $20 million in proceeds from club operations have gone to support the foundation, which has helped turn one of the nation's worst public housing projects into a thriving community.

Golf is a sport that excites and unites many of us, not only as spectators but as participants. What began as a spark - revitalizing a historic golf club, ignited the dramatic transformation of an entire community and improved the lives of many.

According to Cousins, while the excitement of the Tour Championship brings a great deal of attention to the Atlanta area, he would prefer to highlight the lessons taught by East Lake's Purpose Built Community. He quotes from an old Southern chapel songbook: "It only takes a spark to get a fire going, and soon all those around can warm up in its glowing, pass it on, pass it on."

Elisa Gaudet brings a wealth of entertainment and golf experience to Cybergolf. Elisa has spent the past several years in the golf industry in the U.S., Latin America and Spain. She worked for the PGA Tour and the Tour de las Americas before founding Executive Golf International, a golf marketing company that works with clients to develop strategies using golf as the medium. Often referred to as the Maria Bartiromo (a business analyst for CNBC) of golf, Elisa says: "Golf, as a marketing tool, has been around for years. It's amazing how many new ways companies can align their brand with the golf market to reach their target audience. Our goal is to create alliances and establish cross-border relations." Elisa also worked in the entertainment industry for over 10 years, including five in Los Angeles as a model and actress. She can be seen at many celebrity golf events and often gets the inside scoop from PGA Tour players. In 2011, Elisa published her first book, "Two Good Rounds" (Skyhorse Publishing). Her story for Cybergolf, "Golf a Romantic Affair at Cabin Bluff," won the top prize in ING's 2012 Travel Writing category. For more information about Elisa, visit her websites at www.onthelip.com or Executive Golf International www.execgolfintl.com.