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.
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.
The third is the first of many great dogleg par fours on the Oconee. This one is a slight veer to the left, and starts out toward a corner fairway trap.
The uphill approach shot plays over sand to an elevated green – another design aspect that Jones incorporates early and often on the Oconee course.
A fairly straight-forward par four, the fourth tips out at 368 yards from the One tees and plays straight ahead. It’s bombs away here for longer hitters hoping to get a short wedge in their hands for a birdie opportunity.
The fifth is a beautiful downhill par three. Playing shorter than its longer counterpart thirteenth, this is a great opportunity to get close with a short- or mid-iron.
The sixth is one of those golf holes made for a great look-back golf photo. A short dogleg right, the tee shot begs players to hit a high cut over the treeline.
Jones’ green complex here is magnificent: Significantly raised with bunkers all around the front, left and right sides.
A great opportunity to get home in two, the par five seventh tips out at just 500 yards. The tee boxes are nicely elevated above a narrow fairway and cross-bunkers reside around the 300-yard line.
One of the nice things players will notice at Reynolds Lake Oconee is that when they’re a little off the fairway there’s usually still a shot. Similar to many courses down south, the first few paces in to the woods are covered in pine straw, making finding balls easy and not overly penal to recover from.
Another downhill par three, the eighth is a bit longer than five and plays to a green complex that hangs on a ledge above the ninth.
I love Jones’ design on eight. The green is heavily protected on the left side, which also keeps anything hit left from disappearing too far from the target.
The right side, on the other hand, is open and allows tee shots to bound on to the green surface and roll left.
The first thing you’ll notice from the ninth tee boxes is that the right side is dead. Aiming a little left is friendlier – a hill keeps anything slightly errant that direction on the playing surface.
Long serpentine sand traps protect the right side of the playing surface on nine, keeping balls hit a little that way from rolling in to the water.
It also creates a really difficult approach shot, contending with the pine tree seen below and a little inlet of water before the green from that side.
Similarly to the front, the back nine begins with a long, straight-away par five. Tipping out at 571 yards, the tenth features an interesting green that slopes hard from the right down toward the left.
The eleventh has one of the best green complexes on the entire course, highly raised and fronted by a massive, hand-like greenside bunker.
The twelfth is a short, aesthetically pleasing par four. Take out the creek that runs down the fairway, though, and it’s a strategic dogleg right with beautiful bunkering. Less than driver is smart here, leaving a wedge or short iron in to a massive green.
Thirteen is a beast of a par three. The green is plenty large, and the elevated tees make the length play less than it shows, but there is something about this tee shot that is awfully intimidating.
Everyone hit the sand in front, which was no piece of cake.
The thirteenth plays considerably longer than the fifth because it is. Keep in mind what the wind was doing on five, though, as the two holes line up awfully well:
The fourteenth is a strong dogleg right par four that finishes downhill. Cross- and elbow-bunkers on the right side must be carried or maneuvered off the tee, which will set up the best possible approach shot.
Aiming left of that cluster of traps will present a higher margin of error off the tee but a more challenging angle in.
I love a good traverse from a green to the next tee box, and the ride between 14 and 15 – where the views open up to Lake Oconee – is a doozy:
The fifteenth is a gorgeous little par three over an inlet of Lake Oconee. The bailout here is right, offering some extra green space and an easy chip to a very wide green left-to-right.
The sixteenth hole on the Oconee course is one of the prettiest, with a babbling brook running down the entire left side of the fairway and then cutting in front of the green.
As you can see below, this hole is made for golf photography:
The seventeenth features something rare on the Oconee course: A green that runs away from the fairway. Downhill the whole way, this mid-length par five can require a deft touch from many downhill lies.
As I mentioned earlier, eighteen is a terrific finishing hole. A long par four, tee selection plays a huge role here as a significant carry over water is required from the back boxes. From 426 and 375, though, the tees are on the other side of the water.
From the back markers, this is a really cool tee shot – obviously, the more of the shoreline you try to cut off will make for a shorter approach shot.
An infinity green that abuts Lake Oconee frames a glorious end to the round:
The Oconee is a fabulous Rees Jones track. While evidence of his design elements are everywhere – especially with fairway bunker placements and his use of the green surrounds (especially contours and run-offs) – it also has a feel that is very unique in comparison to other Rees Jones golf courses I’ve played in the past.
The Oconee is a challenging course, but it doesn’t beat you over the head. The traps are a hazard as they should be, but they’re far more benign than at Cog Hill, No. 4 Dubsdread, for example.
The Oconee shows Jones’ versatility in course design, being able to ramp up the difficulty as needed while providing a fair, fun and visually stimulating golf experience. Paired with Great Waters, The Oconee is a true travel-worthy course at an out-of-the-way golf destination that is well worth the travel.
Location: Greensboro, GA
Yardage: One-7029, Two-6732, Three-6294, Four-5718, Five-5198
Slope/Rating: One-137/73.5, Two-134/72.1, Three-128/70, Four-122/67.4, Five-122/69.9
Weekend Rates: $260