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

Reynolds Lake Oconee, National course rankings:
Golf.com: #5 Georgia public

Designer: Tom Fazio (2000, 2014)

During last month’s trip to Lake Oconee, Georgia, our first 27 holes were played on The National course. The National features three nine-hole tracks: The Ridge, Cove and Bluff. On most days, two of the nines are open while the third is being worked on – we were unfortunately not able to check out the Ridge course, but were very happy with what we found on the Bluff and Cove tracks.

Designed by Tom Fazio and debuted in 2000 (the third nine was added in 2014), the National at Reynolds Lake Oconee is the only 27-hole course on the property and, while it is not considered to be one of the two “premiere” tracks at Reynolds, I have been told it is the sure number three and from what we saw that’s for good reason: The nines are really well laid out and interesting, and Fazio’s layouts feature beautiful views, great shot quality and plenty of challenge.

We played the first tees in for all of our rounds in Lake Oconee, which made for a comfortable 6,593 yards for the Bluff/Cove combination at the National. Bluff/Cove is the longest combination of 18 holes on the premise, measuring 7,034 yards from the tips. The other two combinations are in the mid- to high-6,900’s.

Flying in to Atlanta, everybody’s flights were well timed so we didn’t have to wait more than 30 minutes for everyone to get their golf bags and then have Jeff, our trip planner, pick us up curbside in a massive white van. Even with eight guys’ luggage and golf bags, we fit in easily with room to spare, making for a comfortable hour and a half journey to Lake Oconee.

We arrived at the National more than an hour ahead of our tee time, and were all still wearing what we traveled in from Wisconsin during March – there were a lot of open van doors in the parking lot for us to change in to golf clothes since we were not yet able to check in to the condos.

Day one was the one suspect day of the trip weather-wise, and I chose long pants. I regretted that decision as the sun made for a more than comfortable golf experience.

A quick group shot before heading out for our first nine – we played a total of 91 holes in three days while at Reynolds Lake Oconee:

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Jeff, me, Greg, Dan, Nick, Mitch, Mike and Justin on the first tee of The National, Bluff nine at Reynolds Lake Oconee

While the layout of the National course was very enjoyable, there was a big difference in conditioning here versus on the Oconee and Great Waters courses. Oconee and Great Waters, which are Reynolds Lake Oconee’s premiere tracks, were over-seeded during the early season to encourage more lush, green conditions, while the National and other courses on the property were allowed to grow in more naturally.

That should be great for the regular season, but for a bunch of guys from Wisconsin it made for conditions that were less spectacular (as a caveat, the conditions on the other two courses were phenomenal): Still dormant grass and slower, sometimes choppy putting surfaces. Being the first course we played on site, we had no complaints and it was a terrific warm-up round.

Now for a walk-through of the Bluff and Cove nines on Tom Fazio’s National course…

The sand traps down the right side of the fairway are definitely in play off the first tee, as is the treeline down the left side of the fairway. It’s a fairly straightforward opening hole, though, which is welcomed following all the travel it took to get there.

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The National, Bluff course hole 1: Par 4 (386/365/313/278)

The second hole on the Bluff course has an absolutely diabolical green. With a middle-right pin location, a few of us thought we had perfect approach shots. We all watched as our balls veered further and further right until they were all well off and below the green surface. This is a tough pin to get to.

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The National, Bluff course hole 2: Par 4 (384/364/336/297)

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The National, Bluff course hole 2: Par 4 (384/364/336/297)

A look at the green from behind:

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The National, Bluff course hole 2: Par 4 (384/364/336/297)

With a fairway bending right and then finishing slightly uphill, the third hole on the Bluff course urges players to try cutting the corner for a better angle in – I tried and hit the right-side fairway bunker, making for a much more challenging approach.

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The National, Bluff course hole 3: Par 5 (550/526/500/445)

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The National, Bluff course hole 3: Par 5 (550/526/500/445)

The uphill approach to the third green:

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The National, Bluff course hole 3: Par 5 (550/526/500/445)

The first of the par threes on the Bluff course, the fourth is a beautiful one-shotter abutting the shore of Lake Oconee. Playing around 165 yards from the #2 tees, I hit a club longer than normal and hit the back-left of the green, caroming right and catching the back slope to find its way back toward the hole. I had about a fifteen-footer left, which I nestled up for an easy three.

Even with 91 holes, I didn’t have a single birdie on the trip. Our group had quite a few overall, though, including two on par threes by Jeff during our first 18, and two by Greg on the first nine of day two at Great Waters. These guys were throwing darts!

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The National, Bluff course hole 4: Par 3 (173/165/137/132)

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The National, Bluff course hole 4: Par 3 (173/165/137/132)

Heading away from Lake Oconee, the fifth plays left-to-right with a litany of fairway traps to avoid.

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The National, Bluff course hole 5: Par 4 (388/361/339/262)

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The National, Bluff course hole 5: Par 4 (388/361/339/262)

The first par five on the Bluff course, the sixth is the longest of the 27 holes at the National golf complex. Tipping out at 573 yards, or 544 from the first tees in, the key to this three-shotter is the second hole.

The tee shot is mostly blind…

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The National, Bluff course hole 6: Par 5 (574/544/512/477/420)

… But reaching the top of the hill in the driving zone reveals everything going on with this long par five. The second shot requires strategy: Do you take on the water and bunker green-side sand trap, or play safe right of the green and leave a short wedge in?

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The National, Bluff course hole 6: Par 5 (574/544/512/477/420)

Sharply downhill, the seventh on the Bluff course is a beautiful par three that maxes out at 213 yards. The elevation change takes at least a club or two out of your hands.

From just over 200 yards, Jeff put his tee shot to a foot for a tap-in birdie here.

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The National, Bluff course hole 7: Par 3 (213/200/191/149)

A look back toward the tee boxes from behind the seventh green:

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The National, Bluff course hole 7: Par 3 (213/200/191/149)

A meandering brook dissects the fairway along the left side and leads all the way up to the green complex on the par four eighth on the Bluff course.

A visually beautiful golf hole, the smart play here is less than driver to lay up before the creek and leaving around 125 yards in.

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The National, Bluff course hole 8: Par 4 (397/373/351/325)

Water runs all the way up to and around the green complex. There were turtles everywhere on this hole.

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The National, Bluff course hole 8: Par 4 (397/373/351/325)

The ninth is a challenging par four to finish the Bluff course. Teed up from just under 400 yards from the #2 tees, you know there’s water straight ahead and right of the driving zone. This unknown took driver out of everyone’s hands during our first round – a couple of us hit driver the second time around, though, and ended up in good position.

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The National, Ridge course hole 9: Par 4 (420/392/360/332)

The water is probably close to 300 yards out over the central fairway trap shown below:

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The National, Ridge course hole 9: Par 4 (420/392/360/332)

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The National, Bluff course hole 9: Par 4 (420/392/360/332)

We played our second round at the National course on the Cove nine.

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The National, Cove course hole 1: Par 4 (418/397/380/357/330)

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The National, Cove course hole 1: Par 4 (418/397/380/357/330)

The second hole on the Cove course plays over water and uphill. Just left of the right-side fairway bunker is a great aiming point, allowing the ball to carom left and set up a great look at the elevated green.

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The National, Cove course hole 2: Par 4 (405/381/350/320)

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The National, Cove course hole 2: Par 4 (405/381/350/320)

The third on the Cove course is a fantastic downhill par three with an infinity green. The trap that protects the right side of the putting surface would instill some anxious pre-swing moments regarding club selection.

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The National, Cove course hole 3: Par 3 (191/168/147/129)

Heading back in to the woods, the fourth is a ridiculously challenging par five!

The path to the green is unclear from the tee, so swing away and see where it ends up. This is not a two-shot par five, as anything toward the left side of the fairway will have zero chance of flying the tall Georgia pines and making it all the way up the hill.

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The National, Cove course hole 4: Par 5 (563/517/466/411)

Anywhere on the right side of the fairway is likely to be well over 200 yards out and take on the same treeline, not to mention the

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The National, Cove course hole 4: Par 5 (563/517/466/411)

The smarter play is laying the second shot back to create a clearer path where you can get a little air under the ball. The creek running in front of the green complex comes in to play, but the more challenging aspect of the approach shot is gauging the change in distance to account for with the elevated green.

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The National, Cove course hole 4: Par 5 (563/517/466/411)

Far below elevated tee boxes, the fairway on five runs laterally from right to left, back toward Lake Oconee.

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The National, Cove course hole 5: Par 4 (400/378/356/323/277)

While it might be tempting to play a high draw over the treeline, the left side of the fairway does drop off towards the woods. That being said, I enjoy how the wooded areas at Reynolds Lake Oconee are mostly playable – mulch covers most of the areas where slightly errant shots might end up.

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The National, Cove course hole 5: Par 4 (400/378/356/323/277)

The green on the fifth hole abuts the cove that this nine is named for:

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The National, Cove course hole 5: Par 4 (400/378/356/323/277)

Another right-to-left, elevated tee shot, the sixth is a manageable par five playing to just 480 yards from the #2 tees.

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The National, Cove course hole 6: Par 5 (502/480/461/440/392)

A raised green is well-protected by sand traps on the left side, but allows for approach shots to be run on from the right. This short par five provides an opportunity to make up a shot.

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The National, Cove course hole 6: Par 5 (502/480/461/440/392)

The eighth is one of the most highly elevated par threes on the entire property, playing way downhill to a wide but shallow green that slopes from back to front.

Playing similarly [but thirty yards shorter] to the seventh on the Bluff course, Jeff stayed locked in on elevated par threes, knocking his tee shot here to two feet for another tap-in birdie.

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The National, Cove course hole 7: Par 3 (170/165/148/120)

Featuring yet another nice elevated tee shot, the eighth is the number one handicapped hole on the Cove course. A long par four that stretches to 449 from the tips, and 420 from the first tees in, the line off the tee is perfect for a long, high fade.

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The National, Cove course hole 8: Par 4 (449/420/395/373/335)

The green complex on eight is small in relation to most at the Cove course, and is well defended on both sides by deep bunkers:

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The National, Cove course hole 8: Par 4 (449/420/395/373/335)

The finishing hole on the Cove course is the longest par four of the National course’s 27 holes, measuring 462 yards from the back tees. While 418 from the #2 tees shortens things up considerably, the difficulty here – like on the ninth hole of the Bluff nine – is all in the approach shot over water.

The longest hitter in our group, and one of the longest hitters I know in general, Mike, was the only one who had an issue hitting driver off the tee. Our other foursome, waiting for us on the hillside above the ninth green, watched his tee shot hit the middle of the cove, well over 300 in the air – tough luck, for sure.

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The National, Cove course hole 9: Par 4 (462/413/374/336)

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The National, Bluff course hole 9: Par 4 (462/413/374/336)

Day one of our Reynolds Lake Oconee trip was 20-30 degrees cooler than the next couple of days that featured clear skies and temperatures in the 70’s and 80’s. While the grass certainly shows as greener on the other two courses, the sometimes lackluster skies also dim down the photos from this day.

One thing that was unfortunate about the recent cold spell is that the weather killed off the azaleas we were excited to see on these beautiful Georgia golf courses. Being only an hour from Augusta and two weeks before The Masters, several Reynolds Lake Oconee staff members told us there was concern about these flowers at Augusta National, too.

I struggled a bit on day one. My swing was off, I was miss-hitting short wedge shots and leaving myself long putts. Regardless, it was a fantastic day and a perfect start to our Georgia golf trip.

Course Wrap-Up – Bluff/Cove:
Location: Greensboro, GA
Yardage: One-7,034, Two-6,544, Three-6,094, Four-5,759
Slope/Rating: One-139/74.0, Two-138/72.0, Three-136/71.1, Four-128/68.6
Par: 72
Weekend Rates: $165

The National at Reynolds Lake Oconee Website

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