Reynolds Lake Oconee, Great Waters course rankings:
Golf Digest: #95 US public, #15 Georgia
GolfWeek: #91 US residential, #2 Georgia
Golf.com: #41 US public, #2 Georgia
Designer: Jack Nicklaus (1992)
Of the 99 golf holes at Reynolds Lake Oconee, a handful of the most scenic may be on the back nine of the Great Waters course.
Several of the most scenic holes I’ve seen in Southwestern United States may be on this back nine, in fact.
Designed by Jack Nicklaus and opened in 1992, Great Waters is currently ranked as Golf.com’s #41, and Golf Digest’s #95 public course in the United States, and number two public in the state of Georgia by both GolfWeek and Golf.com. It’s worth mentioning that its #15 in Georgia ranking by Golf Digest is because almost every other course on the list is fully private and includes courses like Augusta National, Peachtree, East Lake and the Atlanta Athletic Club, by the way.
During a recent golf trip to Reynolds Lake Oconee in Greensboro, Georgia, seven of my friends and I spent our entire Friday on the Great Waters course, starting at 9:00 in the morning and playing 36 spectacular holes.
Great Waters, along with Rees Jones’s Oconee Course, is one of the resort’s premiere courses, meaning that while it’s part of the trip’s itinerary it costs an extra $55 per day to play. All replays are free of charge, dependent on available tee times.
Our first round was played on the National course the day before, whetting everyone’s appetite for some awesome golf – golf we’d have been unable to experience back home in Wisconsin.
We were started off on the back nine. As I said earlier, I can’t imagine a more beautiful conglomerate of golf holes: Save for the tenth, each hole has a view of Georgia’s largest lake, Lake Oconee, each hole is well designed and, in typical Nicklaus fashion, challenging from tee to green.
Similar to golf destinations like Bandon Dunes and Kiawah Island, Reynolds Lake Oconee’s courses are situated on the same general property but with distance between each – each course features its own course, clubhouse, bar and restaurant, practice area and overall environment.
The clubhouse at Great Waters is beautiful and well-appointed, as you will get a brief glimpse of from the next few photos:
View from the lakeside practice green:
One of the smaller collections of memorabilia inside the clubhouse:
The beautiful, slick-rolling back nine putting green along Lake Oconee:
Our group of eight was split between Great Waters and The Oconee, overall, for favorite golf experience, but for me it was Great Waters without question. The Oconee is no doubt a fantastic golf course, but the pure beauty and challenge of Nicklaus’s design won me over.
While we started on the tenth hole, I’ll still present the course from the first tee on – don’t worry, we’ll get to that majestic back nine… And the front nine’s really good, too.
Played between the tree lines, the trap on the right side is in play about halfway down the fairway. The left side is preferred off the tee, as that side offers a clean run toward the green.
The putting surface on one is large and fronted on the right side by a single trap.
The second hole is a par five with terrific elevation. The tee shot is again tree-lined, and the second shot leaves a risk/reward option of carrying the water on the right or laying up on the left side.
A plaque 218 yards from the green commemorates Mark McCumber’s double-eagle hole-out to beat Loren Roberts in the 1995 Andersen Consulting World Championship of Golf event.
This event was held at Great Waters between the 1995 and the 1997-1998 season, before it was renamed the Accenture-World Golf Championships and moved to Austin Country Club (last week’s PGA event).
Laying up will result in a short and straight-forward approach shot, but the risky alternative is tempting as the fairway in the driving zone is elevated significantly.
Greg’s approach shot following a massive drive on two – he got the calves in to that one:
A dogleg left par four, the third at Great Waters plays over a guarded elbow in the fairway. Two traps on the left side of the green protect par here, along with a lengthy distance over 400 yards from the two longest sets of tees.
Justin’s second shot from the shoulder bunker on three:
The first par three on the course, the fourth plays well downhill over a small creek that will catch anything real short, and becomes a more significant water hazard on the right side. The green here is sloped from back-right to front-left, and the bail-out area short-left was popular for our group in both rounds.
My tee shot in our second round ballooned out to the right, somehow hit a rock in the water hazard and ricocheted about 40 yards past the green on the next hole. It was a lucky break as I was still able to salvage four.
The fifth is a beautiful par four that is best played with less than driver off the tee. A draw around the corner in the fairway will allow for driver, but anything hit long and straight will likely find the pine straw and leave a next-to-impossible approach shot over the creek that meanders past the fifth green.
A well-hit, straight driver will leave a tumultuous low approach shot over the creek:
The Nicklaus Bridge welcomes players to the green complex, which abuts the creek and features a beautiful stone retaining wall.
The approach on five is all carry – anything short is gone.
A look back from behind the pin on five:
An uphill par four, the fairway on six leaves a largely blind tee shot that leads to a wonderful, narrow green complex with sand traps everywhere.
A back-right pin location was tough to get to, and made for some fun uphill, side-winding putts.
A closer look at this multi-tiered green:
Another uphill tee shot, the seventh is a long par four that measures 466 yards from the tips and 403 from the #2 tees – the tees at Great Waters are simply marked as 1, 2, 3, …
Straight as a matchstick, the seventh will require an accurate drive and mid-to-long iron, depending on the drive. The green is subtly raised with sand right and several tall trees protecting the left side.
The eighth is the longest par three at Great Waters, measuring 223 yards from the tips and 206 from the #2 tees. This two-tiered green featured a front pin location for our rounds, having us hitting long irons and all ending up just short of the green. A back pin would require much more, I’d imagine, as the putting surface is quite long front-to-back.
A look at the two-tiered green on eight:
The ninth hole gives players a sneak peak at that picturesque lakeside golf I mentioned earlier that’s found throughout the back nine.
The tee shot plays straight out toward Lake Oconee, and the fairway falls hard toward the left along the coastline. While it looks reachable, the water in front is well over 300 yards away, so swing freely and get a wedge in your hands for this testy little approach.
I stepped on one big time during our second eighteen on this hole, leaving 50-60 yards to the pin in the middle of the fairway – yep, chunked it in the water but still managed to salvage bogey.
The tenth at Great Waters is the only hole on the back nine not on the lake, although there are certainly views behind the tee boxes.
A straightaway par four of 380 yards from the first tees in, the hole is fairly tight with an array of fairway bunkers on the right side of the fairway. These are certainly in play, which I discovered the first time around.
A great drive will leave a short wedge in, which I was delighted to discover starting our second eighteen of the day.
Greenside bunkers protect the short-left side of the putting surface on ten, and with a right-side pin location the green ran hard from the back-left to front-right.
If you’ve spent any time on Reynolds Lake Oconee’s web site, you’ve undoubtedly been wowed by the drivable par four 11th! The layout of this gorgeous risk/reward hole is absolutely spectacular, and uses the lines and surrounding beauty of Lake Oconee well to lull players in to a false sense of comfort.
The view from the tees looks like there is nothing but fairway out ahead:
From the forward tees a little more becomes visible:
A panoramic view of the eleventh during our morning round:
A look at the green complex from the right-side pine straw – as you can see here, Lake Oconee comes in to play all along the left side of the fairway.
A closer view of the green – while this front-right pin was green-lit for long drives, anything toward the middle or left side of this laterally running complex should surely mean laying up.
Playing alongside a cove of Lake Oconee, the par five 12th plays over water (and fishermen) to a right-to-left fairway that climbs uphill. A tall draw was the best play here, although the dreaded straight ball left several of us in the trees.
A nicely drawn drive in to the fairway left me the below view for my second shot. I somehow failed to get a picture of the approach shot, which continued to play between the tree lines and slightly downhill.
The twelfth is the longest hole on the Great Waters course, teeing up from 559 yards from the tips and 521 from the #2 tees.
Thirteen is a strikingly beautiful par four. Aiming just left of the right-side fairway trap will lead to a tee shot bounding downhill with a great look at this lakeside infinity green. The left side is no good – trust me – although the fairway does funnel slightly from that side back toward the playing surface.
A view of this wonderful green on the long par four 13th at Great Waters:
For my money, the fourteenth is the most picturesque of many picturesque par threes at Reynolds Lake Oconee. Playing over the cove, it is a mid-length one-shotter from 160 to 185 yards, depending on tee selection.
With a lot of wind, this hole could be a real bear – we had a fairly calm day weather-wise, though, so it was more a matter of choosing the right club and putting a good swing on it.
This view was way too pretty not to take out the camera for:
A look back toward the tee boxes on the par three 14th:
Playing uphill and a bit over 400 yards, the par four 15th features one of the toughest greens on the entire course.
A roller coaster ride on the upper-back half had me aiming six or seven feet above the pin on a ten-footer for my birdie look. I left it just below the hole for a tap-in par, and while everyone else I played with had at least a birdie or two, I would leave Reynolds Lake Oconee completely birdie-less.
Another stunningly photogenic par four, the sixteenth plays 427 yards from the #2 tees and slightly downhill to another classic lakeside green complex. We had some really big hitters in our group, and three of us pulled drives slightly left, but no one made the water off the tee – swing away!
As an aside, anything just off the fairway and rough area in the trees is not hopeless at any of the Reynolds Lake Oconee courses – soft pine straw contains wayward shots and as long as they’re not in anybody’s yard means a recovery shot should be plausible.
Just another amazing lakeside hole on the back nine at Great Waters:
While the world of golf is enamored with long par threes, I am a sucker for a short one with a challenging green.
The seventeenth at Great Waters is such a par three, playing entirely over water to a small putting surface with subtle but significant contouring.
Capping out at just 164 yards from the tips and 146 from the first tees in, the seventeenth is all water and requires focus.
During both rounds, all four of us had some pretty great shots to this green, but I don’t think there were any birdies on this hole even though there were a number of tee shots inside ten feet.
Dan teeing it up on seventeen along Lake Oconee:
There’s a whole lot of water on seventeen:
The eighteenth is a fantastic finishing hole at Great Waters. While the tips extend to 540 yards along the lake, the first tees in are under 500 yards and will undoubtedly lead to a risk/reward decision between a long, 200-plus yard carry over water, or laying up to the right.
Hogan’s tee shot on 18:
During our first round I went for it from 220 and hit the top of the rock wall in front of the green. I smartened up during our second round, hitting a hybrid to the right-side shoulder in the fairway and an easy 50-yard wedge in and a good look at birdie.
It’s too easy to go to a world-renowned golf destination like Reynolds Lake Oconee and say to yourself, “I didn’t travel all the way to Greensboro, Georgia to lay up with 200-225 yards on a memorable par five.” Maybe that’s why I’ve never been lower than an 8-handicap.
A closer look at the well-protected green complex on 18 at Great Waters at Reynolds Lake Oconee:
Both the Great Waters and Oconee courses at Reynolds Lake Oconee – the resort’s premiere tracks – had been over-seeded early on in the year, which our group appreciated as it meant the tees, Tif Way 419 Bermuda fairways and MiniVerde Bermuda greens were green and lush.
The 419 Bermudagrass rough was still dormant during our trip, though, as is the tendency on southern courses during the late Winter / early Spring season. This is the same way the RTJ Golf Trail at Ross Bridge was last month – slightly “browned out” roughs, few leaves on the trees but beautiful everywhere else that matters.
The National course at Reynolds Lake Oconee had not been over-seeded, and the difference between the Oconee and Great Waters courses and it was drastic – the greens on their two premiere courses were much faster and more consistent – definitely worth the extra $55 per day to play them (including free re-play).
Great Waters is a fabulously designed and executed golf course, and there is no question it is deserving of its top 100 accolades. If you are visiting Reynolds Lake Oconee and are hesitant to spend the extra $55 a day to play the premiere courses like Great Waters, take my advice and do it. You’ll thank me later!
Location: Greensboro, GA
Yardage: One-7073, Two-6581, Three-6069, Four-5667, Five-5107
Slope/Rating: One-138/74.0, Two-133/71.9, Three-129/69.6, Four-122/67.7, Five-126/70.1
Weekend Rates: $195 including cart, range