Golf Course Review: The Oconee at Reynolds Lake Oconee (GA)

One of the top golf destinations in the southeastern United States, Reynolds Lake Oconee is home to 117 golf holes. 18 of the best of those are on its Oconee course, designed by Rees Jones and originally unveiled in 2002.

Jones inherited some of the best terrain on the entire property to work with for the back nine of the Oconee course, meandering through inlets and setting up gorgeous tee shots over water on the par three 15th and closing par four 18th.

The 18th is one of the strongest finishing holes I’ve ever played, driving over Lake Oconee from 466 yards from the tips and still 426 from the third tees in.

What it lacks in lake frontage, the front nine makes up for with elevation. The fifth through ninth holes all have elevated tee shots, highlighted by a beautiful pair of par threes (5 and 8).

In addition to thousands of visitors, the Oconee course has played host to the annual Linger Longer Invitational college championship, the 2007 PGA Cup and the annual Chik-fil-A Bowl Challenge. Along with Great Waters, the Oconee helps put the premier in Reynolds Lake Oconee’s premier golfing destination.

The course begins with a long par five, measuring 538 yards from the first tees in. A small pond comes in to play about 450 yards down the fairway, and the green resides off a short dogleg left alongside the water.

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Hole 1: Par 5 (559/538/513/417)

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Hole 1: Par 5 (559/538/513/417)

Hole two at The Oconee is a mid-range par four with an interesting green complex. Heavily protected on all other sides, the pin while we were there was right in the front-right – the only area not bunkered.

You’ll see on the second hole that the Oconee course puts a premium on accurate driving. It’s heavily wooded but very fair – none of us had significant issues keeping our tee shots in play.

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Hole 2: Par 4 (397/377/367/315)

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golf balls

“Roll” Back

USGA Executive Director Mike Davis recently met with Jack Nicklaus and what was there main topic of conversation?… Rolling the golf ball back. Jack stated, “I’m happy to help you, I’ve only been yelling at you for 40 years.” His golf course designs are fantastic, one of my favorites being The Bull at Pinehurst Farms in Sheboygan, but I very much disagree with his stance on the golf ball. New golf courses have gotten much longer, yet your average golfer isn’t gaining 10, 20 or more yards per year. The golf companies sure try to tout that with each new driver launch, every half year, you will gain more distance. But your average golfer isn’t changing physically like the players on tour now are. The era of Tiger and intense strength training, along with golf club technology, is accentuating the newer golf ball distance. 

The average drive of your every day male golfer is 214 yards, with his swing speed coming in around 93 mph. The leading driver of the ball on the PGA tour is Tony Finau at an average of 327 yards with a swing speed of 124 mph. His backswing is also about as short as a 80 year old golfer. If golf’s governing bodies (USGA and R&A) were to roll back the golf ball, this would effect your daily golfer much more than your long hitting tour pros. Even across the PGA tour, you are going to continue to reward your long hitters more as they are still going to be able to reach long par fives. They might have to use a longer iron or possibly even a 3-wood, but all of your moderate and short hitters on tour are now no longer going to be able to hit that par 5 in two. 

Mike Davis made the statement, “Throw Dustin (Dustin Johnson (DJ)) an 80 percent golf ball and say, ‘Let’s go play the back tees,’ and guess what, it would be a great experience for him.” If Dustin is hitting the ball 315 yards and he then uses an 80 percent golf ball and is only hitting it 252 yards. Your average male golfer at 214 yards is still significantly behind DJ and no where near the caliber of player. How is that going to be a great experience for Dustin? We would all love the opportunity to play with a PGA Tour player but there is nothing saying it makes it any less fun playing a different set of tees. 

I love seeing pros shoot low scores. Even though the US Open is an amazing golf tournament, the fact that they like trying to keep the score around even par to me is not as much fun to watch. I would much rather see birdies being made versus players nearly breaking their wrists in six inch thick rough and only advancing the ball 30 yards. When you hear announcers and tournament organizers talk about normal golfers being able to relate to making a bogey, par, par, bogey, bogey… sure maybe they can relate to the overall score or barely advancing the golf ball, but its not because of the extreme conditions. Its because your average golfer is that much different than a tour pro. 

Golf course architects keep talking that the only solution is to lengthen courses. But take a look at this week and last week on tour. Both Riviera and PGA National (Jack’s course) are playing at less than 7400 yards with water, bunkers, rough and narrow landing areas all keeping the long ball in check. Both of these courses could do even more to shrink down and force long hitters’ hand when putting the ball out there that far. If you look at last year’s US Open at Erin Hills, playing at around 7800 yards, Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar, Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk and Zach Johnson were the only players in the top 25 shooting under par (with an average drive of less than 300 yards). All of these players scored because they were in the top ten of Fairways Hit, Greens Hit or Average Putts. An 80% golf ball would have not allowed these players to reach some of the holes they were reaching, and would also have made them have to come in with a longer iron or wood most likely making them less accurate.

I am not saying that I am against golf governing bodies making a change, I just don’t think the golf ball is where it should be done. 

My Top 50 Golf Courses in America

When my brother and his wife bought me a golf ball cabinet about ten years ago, I started collecting logo balls from all the different courses I played. I hadn’t started my foray in to golf writing at the time so its contents grew slowly but steadily, consisting primarily of muni tracks around Waukesha County.

I started WiscoGolfAddict in 2011, and during that year played 59 different courses including three of my first private clubs. With 2012 came my first out-of-state golf trips: Myrtle Beach with my cousins Frank and Jeff, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with a group of friends. It was also the year I played my first Tour courses, including Erin Hills, Blackwolf Run’s River course, Chambers Bay, University Ridge and Cog Hill No. 4 Dubsdread. I played 126 rounds in 2012 at a total of 52 different courses.

While I’d consider 2012 to be the year that opened my eyes to world-class golf, I’d also consider it to be the year that opened my eyes to the way golf can drain my bank account. An audit of my post-season golf charges that year was just shy of $10,000.

My first media event invites started coming in 2013, first for a pre-event media day at the John Deere Classic at TPC Deere Run, and soon after a weekend trip to Madden’s Resort on Gull Lake in Brainerd, Minnesota. Exciting things with my golf writing were starting to snowball, and they have only continued to this day.

Through my writing I have experienced amazing public and private golf courses around the country, built out a wonderful network of industry experts and friends, and am continuously learning about all the things that make golf great – especially from the design and architectural side.

The experts (Doak, Fazio, Coore, Crenshaw, Jones, Staples, Trent Jones, Jr, …) may score 80-95 on a scale of 100 for their course design knowledge. I can’t claim to know more than 10-20, which is probably still generous, but the path to learning is filled with playing new styles of courses and constantly picking up on the both subtle and not-so-subtle nuances that architects institute in their designs. It’s an adventure I hope to enjoy for years to come.

While Golf Digest, GolfWeek and Golf.com release their best courses in the US lists on an annual or semi-annual basis, I have just one: This running list of the 50 tracks I consider to be the best in the country… out of the hundreds that I’ve played.

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1. Pacific Dunes (Bandon, OR)

Architect: Tom Doak (2001)
Yardages: Black-6633, Green-6142, Gold-5775
Slope/Rating: Black-142/73.0, Green-133/70.7, Gold-129/68.6

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The Top 50 Golf Courses in America (click here for the list)

Golf Equipment Review: Seamus Feel Player Golf Shoes

One of the many things I love about my wife, Kelly, is that she likes to spoil me with awesome presents.

Kelly knows my favorite golf brand is Seamus, and although she’s not a golfer she knows it resonates with me. Similarly to Ashworth’s Golf/Man campaign (R.I.P. Ashworth), Seamus celebrates the game’s rich heritage and traditions with classic style that features super-high-quality materials, fabrics and craftsmanship.

Early last year, Seamus announced a new venture: Feel Player shoes. They were accepting pre-orders for up to 200 pairs, and luckily Kelly saw the email blast and knew I’d love them.

I can’t say it was easy waiting for these to arrive! Not only did images of the prototype look great, but I was excited in general about getting something as exclusive as “200 pairs pre-ordered.” I’m also a huge advocate of walking golf, so the thought of having a shoe that feels like a moccasin intrigued me.

Feel Player boxed

A great example of Seamus Golf’s always masterful packaging/marketing

 

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The Seamus Feel Player golf shoe (photo credit: Seamus Golf)

 

Minimalist in style, the Feel Players debuted at $195/pair with the option of adding a “Supporter kit” for an extra $100. The supporter kit included a shoe bag, shoe horn, special ball mark, coaster, a tartan pouch for the little items, an extra pair of reflective laces, a hand-signed note of thanks from the shoe’s designer, Michael Friton, and Seamus owner, Akbar Chisti, and a cleaning kit from one of their local Portland, Oregon companies.

The 200 pairs took three weeks to sell out, and most were purchased during the first week.

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America’s Best On-Site Non-Course Golf Facilities

One of the trends I’ve loved witnessing over the past few years has been the addition of non-course golf facilities at top-ranked resorts. These value-added venues give players fun options when they’re off the tee sheet to settle bets, enjoy the land, be social and bond especially during trips to remote golf destinations.

One of the first of these I ever had the pleasure of checking out is still my favorite: The Gil Hanse and Geoff Shackelford designed H-O-R-S-E Course at The Prairie Club in the Sand Hills of Nebraska.

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One of an infinite number of potential tee boxes on the Horse Course at The Prairie Club

 

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“Routing” for the Horse Course – there are no actual teeing locations, and the next green can always be anywhere

 

Like in a game of basketball H-O-R-S-E, the player in charge calls a teeing location and green. From there, the competition usually goes one of two ways: Closest to the pin or fewest strokes to hole out.

Even with no official tee boxes or routing, the Horse Course at The Prairie Club was ranked the #10 Most Fun Course in America by Golf Digest in 2015.

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