Quinntez Gurndy, Rob Johnston and Tavarez TateBy Collin Kelley

Thirty of the PGA’s top golfers will return to East Lake Golf Club Sept. 22-26 for THE TOUR Championship, with the winner walking away with the FedExCup and a $10 million purse. But the East Lake community will reap even greater benefits.

“Before 1992, East Lake was one of the most difficult urban life stories to tell,” said Rob Johnston, general chairman of the tournament, recalling the crime, gang activity and despair of the neighborhood that the police often referred to as “Little Vietnam.”

Developer and philanthropist Tom Cousins had the vision to rescue the neighborhood and return the East Lake Golf Club, once the home course of legendary Bobby Jones, to prominence.

The East Lake Foundation was created to jumpstart the revitalization, followed by the opening of the nationally acclaimed Drew Charter School and the Charlie Yates Golf Course. THE TOUR came to the East Lake Golf Club in 1998 and its now the tournament’s permanent venue.

THE TOUR’s net-proceeds for the East Lake Foundation add up to a $1 million-plus each year, and that money is put back into the Drew Charter School and programs like CREW Teens and The First Tee Club. “The money is critical to the infrastructure and programs to help children get a foothold in life,” Johnston said.

With the Golf Channel and NBC televising all four days of THE TOUR, Johnston said it was an “awesome showcase to highlight the course, the Foundation and the kids.”

The majority of graduates from Drew Charter School go on to high school and college with high test scores, Johnston said.

One of those students is 17-year-old Tavarez Tate (who was one of Atlanta INtown’s 20 Under 20 honorees in January), who graduated from Drew Charter and now attends Carver Early College. He’s still active with CREW Teens, which provides academic support for teens in the East Lake community, and has gone on to lead nonprofit organizations and volunteering around the community.

“THE TOUR made a great impact on my life,” Tavarez said, who was a member of The First Tee Club, which provides leadership and education to promote character development through the game of golf.

Tavarez, who hopes to study business administration either at Morehouse or maybe UCLA, still volunteers with The First Tee and has become a big fan of golf as well. “None of this would have been possible without Drew Charter School and the programs at East Lake. It changed my perception of what’s important in life and what I need to accomplish.”

Quinntez Gurndy, the director of Crew Teens, said the program has become popular in the community without any kind of recruiting necessary. “The after school center operates four days a week and we get 30 to 35 each day,” Gurndy said. “There’s a communal aspect and there are opportunities to learn and connect.”

Gurndy said one of the most challenging aspects of helping the kids is motivation. “They have to understand delayed gratification,” Gurndy said. “You don’t see the end result and pay off for the the work until later on in life.”

Johnston said there neighborhoods like East Lake prior to its rescue still remain across the country, but those issues could be remedied with programs like the ones at East Lake. “We hit a homerun in a small microcosm,” he said, “but I think others will see what’s possible and it will spread across the country.”

The TOUR also provides seed money that the East Lake Foundation wants to give to other communities – and philanthropic-minded individuals like Tom Cousins – to help them begin their own transformation.

Johnston said more immediately that THE TOUR is still looking for support from the Atlanta business community by purchasing blocks of tickets and by local nonprofits getting involved in the Tickets Fore Charity program, where organizations promote the sale of tournament tickets, with 100 percent of the net proceeds remaining with the charity.

For more information, visit www.tourchampionship.pgatour.com

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.