Big Things in the Works at The University Club (FKA Tripoli)

I recently had the opportunity to check out a local private club I’d never played before: The University Club. You probably know it as Tripoli, and great efforts are being expended to change that.

Debuting in 1921, The University Club is part of the northwest side of Milwaukee’s “Murderer’s row” of classic tracks off Good Hope Road, alongside The Wisconsin Club (fka Bryn Mawr), Brown Deer Park Golf Course, and a mile or so from Milwaukee Country Club.

I was really impressed with The University Club. The conditions were terrific, I enjoyed the variety of hole layouts and was pleasantly surprised by the topography and scale of the property. I expected a smaller footprint and had no idea there’d be as significant of elevation changes. Plus, I thought their men’s locker room is awesome (full wraparound bar with TV’s and seating areas).

The University Club is one of the most intact Tom Bendelow courses in the country. In fact, sixteen of the course’s greens survived numerous renovations over the past 96 years and are absolutely stalwart Bendelow designs. Highlighting those are the putting surfaces on four and thirteen, both strategically as good as you’ll find in the Milwaukee area.

A  look at the 13th green, both undeveloped when Bendelow originally envisioned it and as a finished product nearly 100 years later:

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The 13th green – now and as raw land when Bendelow originally designed it (photos courtesy The University Club)

In conjunction with their recent merger with The University Club’s downtown dining location, the FKA Tripoli Country Club is making huge updates to their golf facilities, bringing in nationally renowned course architect and a friend of mine, Andy Staples of Staples Golf Design.

While attention will be put toward improving the course’s play-ability and environmental sustainability (potentially including strategic tree removal, utility updates and some course design adjustments), one of the highlights for Staples’ renovation is the development of a world-class on-site practice facility.

The University Club short game area plan

Staples’ concept for a new short game practice area (links to SGD website)

Adding in the practice area will require adjusting the 12th green and making several other tweaks to the area it will occupy, as laid out above.

While modern architecture rains praise on Bendelow’s best designs – Medinah, East Lake, Mission Hills and Olympia Fields, to name a few – there are factions of the golf world who for a time were critical of his general body of work based on the volume of courses he designed between 1898 and 1933.

Coined the “Johnny Appleseed of Golf” by Golf Digest Senior Editor of Architecture Ron Whitten, Bendelow designed between 600 and 1,000 courses and also served as the initial Superintendent at the country’s first municipal course: New York’s Van Cortlandt Park, starting in 1899.

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Tom Bendelow

As a salesman for Spalding sporting goods, Tom worked hand-in-hand with A.G. Spalding to bring the great game of golf to the masses. Scores of courses were developed, new players were introduced to the game, and you guessed it – Spalding sold a ton of golf equipment.

Tripoli was one of Bendelow’s first projects after leaving Spalding to work full-time for American Park Builders, the group responsible for arranging the construction of Tripoli, in 1922.

The original criticism against Bendelow was that he was the “18 stakes on a Sunday afternoon” architect during his time with Spalding. Basically, that he would show up and put stakes in the ground to denote where tees, fairways and greens should be – all in a single day – and move on to the next project. I’m not sure anyone could do more than that and be attributed with designing 1,000 golf courses, especially in the early 1900’s when travel was I’m sure at least a little less convenient.

“18 stakes on a Sunday afternoon” changed when Bendelow took over for William Langford at APB. Now having access to staff and other great resources, Bendelow was able to contribute the time and on-site TLC toward his projects that greatness requires. Tripoli was an original benefactor of that.

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Tom Bendelow’s design of Tripoli as shown in a 1922 APB brochure; this is the most detailed original color rendering of the course that includes fairways vs rough, greens and bunkers

One thing noticed on Bendelow-designed courses is the ease of walking from green to tee. While I could tell The University Club would normally be a great walking course, it was far from an easy hike on our dreadfully hot 95-degree September morn. Several of the uphill climbs actually left me a little dizzy toward the end – as I was saying earlier, there’s a lot more elevation than I expected.

While having the next tee nearby makes for easy transitions, advances in golf equipment technology have made shots that were heroic during Bendelow’s days not only realistic now, but to long-ish hitters almost standard.

At 440 yards from the tips, and 418 from the first tees in, for example, the 16th should be a challenging par four. The course institutes in-play out-of-bounds to discourage players from trying to cut the corner, but a 240-yard carry here leads to a really good reward… And it’s not like someone who can carry 240 ever mishits the ball, which is a great thing because directly along the line of that 240 is the 12th green.

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The dogleg left par four 16th at The University Club

One potential solution to get players to play the 16th the way Bendelow meant for it to be played could be as simple as relocating the tee boxes further right. This would make the direct route toward the green much less possible and force players to aim down – or nearer to – the hole’s fairway.

Having to hit long- or mid-iron in over the creek to a heavily contoured green would bring back the bite on this pivotal par four.

Tripoli 16 & 2 & 12

The ideal tee shot on 16 is ~240 yards directly over the 12 green

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The 16th hole green complex and Tripoli windmill

Playing The University Club with Andy, it was fun to visualize his thoughts on the redesign. His great respect for the architecture that’s made golf’s golden age courses thrive over the past century I think will lead to changes that are often subtle to the eye, but will help reinstate Bendelow’s strategic themes while promoting a more fun environment for championship golf. These “subtle changes” should make massive impacts for a course that already has a lot going for it.

As shown in Bendelow’s 1922 color rendering (earlier/above), a lot of his time and efforts were spent on design features that have since been covered by trees.

It’s easy for club members to freak out when “tree removal” is mentioned. We hear numbers in the hundreds, even thousands, and imagine a course we’ve come to know and love looking like scorched earth (picture Lawsonia’s Links course or the updated Blue Mound Country Club). The truth is that most courses can lose hundreds, if not thousands of trees and leave the course visually comparable but strategically and environmentally better off.

“We don’t have a total number of trees in mind at this point. What I would say is, many courses of this age have seen trees planted for a variety of reasons, and now that they are 50-60 years old their impact on the course in terms of playability and turf health is significant. We’re going to concentrate on providing sunlight and air movement for all of the greens, and do our best to open up angles of play and approaches to greens that are more in line with how the course was originally intended to play.  This isn’t to say we’re going to remove all the trees.  We’re going to highlight the architecture through thoughtful removals and in some cases replacement, thinking about how members actually play golf.”

-Andy Staples

A few examples of areas where Bendelow’s design strategy has been overrun by tree growth:

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Mounding now in the trees on the right side of the fairway on 13

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Bendelow’s mounding on the right side of 15

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Looking toward the location of Bendelow’s original bunkers on the left side of 16

A notable up-and-comer in the industry, GolfWeek recently email blasted their entire readership with a list of four keynote speakers headlining their 2017 Architecture Summit at Streamsong this December: Tom Doak, Gil Hanse, Rich Mack of Mosaic (developers of Streamsong), and Andy Staples. That’s some good company to keep.

An expert in the field of sustainable golf design, his most famous work is probably the development of Sand Hollow in Hurricane, Utah. A famously tough critic, Even Tom Doak gave Sand Hollow one of the highest scores (an 8/10) in volume two of his Confidential Guide to Golf Courses.

It’s Staples’ recent renovation of Meadowbrook Country Club in Northville, Michigan, though, that is probably most relevant to The University Club project.

Host of the 1955 PGA Championship, Meadowbrook celebrated their 100-year anniversary by hiring Staples and closing down for 18 months to make course updates. They entered that shut-down with 86 members on a waiting list to leave… And emerged with a full membership of 325 plus a waiting list to join¹.

Staples’ work in Northville has been hailed as a massive success, and Golf, Inc Magazine has named it one of five finalists for the world’s best course renovation project in 2017. It’s easy to see why from the pictures – it looks spectacular:

Meadowbrook CC hole 8

Meadowbrook CC renovation project: Hole 8 (par 3) – links to mlive article

Like at Meadowbrook, I’m sure it’ll be tough for the membership at The University Club to endure a season without golf, but I think they made the absolutely right choice in hiring Staples, and I’m excited to follow the renovation’s progress and see all the great things he and his team do when it reopens down the road.

 

¹ Source: Crain’s Detroit article: “Meadowbrook Country Club Golf Risk Pays Off With Membership Surge,” July 23, 2017

A [Small] Sneak Preview of Mammoth Dunes at Sand Valley

This past May (therefore, a small sneak peak), I spent the weekend on Petenwell Lake in Adams County, Wisconsin, for my friend Scott’s bachelor party. Our buddy Kyle and I headed up to Sand Valley Golf Resort a few hours before our group’s scheduled tee times for a sneak preview of the second championship course on site, Mammoth Dunes.

I love Sand Valley. Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw designed the original course there expertly: It’s fun, challenging, unique, FAST, rugged and tremendously beautiful. It also makes visitors feel as if they’re hundreds if not thousands of miles from what they know to be Wisconsin.

I’ve written quite a bit about Sand Valley, but have yet to post anything about David McLay Kidd’s upcoming Mammoth Dunes. We were able to walk six holes [with a guide and without clubs – it was still an active construction site], and they looked spectacular:

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Hole 1: Par 4 (413/394/358/324/221/198)

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1st hole green complex at Mammoth Dunes

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Hole 2: Par 4 (410/406/360/330/286/236)

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Target area off the tee on 2

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From the central fairway bunker on 2

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A look back toward the tees on 2

If you visited Golf Digest’s website any time during 2016, chances are you noticed an interesting reader competition: “The Armchair Architect.” 532 entries were received and reviewed by David McLay Kidd, Mike Keiser and Ron Whitten, and the winning entry was by computer gamer Brian Silvernail of Rockledge, Florida.

Silvernail’s proposed hole is a split-fairway downhill par four where flying three traps on the right side will propel tee shots downhill and left, making it a potentially drive-able par four.

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Brian Silvernail’s winning “Armchair Architect” entry (linked to Golf Digest article)

I never submitted my entry for the competition, but after working on it with the topographic map that was provided I can see in person that my hole design probably wouldn’t have worked. My concept was to have distinct risk/reward areas where the smartest shot is a shorter one to a plateaued fairway on the left.

The right side would lead to longer drives and shorter approach shots, but those approaches would be made more challenging by uneven and tight lies, a blowout trap that obstructs the player’s view on that right side, tricky green contours that would make holding those shots difficult, and a more rugged path, in general. Meanwhile, a downhill shot from the plateau to the left would allow the smart player to hit a wide open green from an even lie, unobstructed view and receptive putting surface.

In person, I don’t think the area allotted has enough space to make something like that happen, and plus there’s a distinct possibility that the concept would look gimmicky, contrived and probably not be considered anyway.

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The par four 14th – subject of Golf Digest’s Armchair Architect contest – being roughed in

 

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Hole 15: Par 5 (522/509/448/398/365/325)

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Hole 15: Par 5 (522/509/448/398/365/325)

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A beautiful, natural location for the 15th green complex

I had been drooling over pictures of the par three 16th for quite some time – it looks as good in person as it does online:

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Hole 16: Par 3 (180/164/134/134/113/113)

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The massive green complex for the par three 16th

The tee shot on seventeen brings players back out in to the wide open area used for the course’s first two holes:

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Hole 17: Par 4 (432/427/363/352/260/237)

The fairway on 18 is shared in parts by the first, 17th and 18th holes. Miss this fairway and you’ve got some real accuracy issues.

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Hole 18: Par 5 (536/511/488/473/438/360)

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The approach on 18 heading back to the Mammoth Dunes clubhouse

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A look back from the 18th hole green

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View from the patio of one of the suites in the Mammoth Lodge

The new clubhouse and lodge at Mammoth Dunes was done beautifully, featuring common spaces and private lodging in the rustic farmhouse design style that’s swept the nation stemming from HGTV’s “Fixer Upper.”

The Mammoth Bar and clubhouse are now finished and fully operational, but earlier this summer they looked like this:

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View of The Clubhouse from the first hole tee boxes – it has since been completed

One of my favorite things great golf resorts do is to add non-championship golf, golf-related facilities. Keiser created “The Punchbowl,” as well as the 13-hole Bandon Preserve par three course at Bandon Dunes; Paul Schock added the Gil Hanse designed “Horse Course” at The Prairie Club; World Woods has a wild, 2-acre putting green and practice holes; to a lesser degree, Streamsong has a fun par three bye hole.

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If Coore/Crenshaw’s design work on The Sand Box is comparable to their work on Bandon Preserve, visitors to Sand Valley will be in for a real treat

What do these things all have in common? They’re great places to spend extra time and especially initiate camaraderie through one-off competitions (aka gambling).

Sand Valley is finishing their first add-on golf facility: A 17-hole par three track designed by Coore/Crenshaw. The initial plan was to name it “Quick Sand,” but in conversation with Craig Haltom of Oliphant yesterday at Lawsonia it sounds like they’re now leaning toward “The Sand Box.” The short course is one of the things I’m most looking forward to checking out next season, and I don’t think they can go wrong with either name even though I love Quick Sand.

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The sandy area to the far left in this image is the site used for the Sand Box

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Sand Valley GM Glen Murray in the Mammoth Dunes pro shop, then still under construction

Preliminary plans are in the works for a weekend buddies trip to Sand Valley next Spring, and to say I’m looking forward to that trip is an understatement. Now we’ve just gotta make it through another long and cold Wisconsin winter…

Have you made your first pilgrimage to Sand Valley yet? If so, what were your impressions, where do you think the courses will stack up against the country’s best destinations, and what are you most excited for?

Course Wrap-Up:
Location: Rome, WI

Sand Valley Golf Resort Website

Golf Course Review: Hidden Glen at Bentdale Farms

Hidden Glen is one of those courses that is really hard to play the first time. I came in to this round confident and playing really well (for me): My previous five rounds were 78, 81, 82, 85 and 83, and for the first time in my life I’m under a 9 handicap at 8.3. I’ve been thrilled and feeling almost unstoppable on the course. I’ve been hitting fairways and greens, and putting out of my mind.

All that came to a screeching halt at Hidden Glen Golf Club in Cedarburg.

I should add that I really enjoyed the course, and the conditions were nothing short of perfect. These lightning fast, multi-tiered greens beat me down, though – save for a one-putt birdie on ten, I never figured them out and three-putts were nothing if not regular.

Hidden Glen is a course where local knowledge is king, and there’s a lot out there to be had. While my golf game struggled mightily, I really enjoyed the course and think my next time on it will probably see me shaving ten strokes off the 95 I shot this time… Or more. Hopefully I’ll find out soon!

To the course…

The first hole requires a shot toward the right side of the fairway. A narrow, kidney bean shaped green resides on the long side of a pond that keeps the track’s opener from being your typical introductory handshake.

The second hole introduces the player to a few of the design elements they can expect throughout their round: Wide, forgiving fairways, concealed target lines and elevated, multi-tiered greens.

Anything right of the trap way on the left border of the second hole is fine off the tee – this par four comes down to what you do on the two-tiered green that rises from left to right.

The third at Hidden Glen is a classic Dye family risk/reward par four: Longer hitters are baited in to chopping off as much of the massive pond as they can to get closer to the green, while the smart player hits the high percentage shot down the left side fairway to leave a 150-yard approach shot.

From the combo tees we were playing, the green was a little over 300 yards of carry away, and the target areas for bigger drivers of the ball required carries between 225 and 280 yards.

With water left, long and right on the approach shot, being able to get the drive closer off the tee would certainly come in handy…

The fourth is a very nice island par three. Thin from side-to-side, the green is deep enough to allow for an extra club on the tee shot, which is important on a wide-open course where a 10 mph wind is considered a light breeze.

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Hole 4: Par 3 (133/125/118/118/86)

A tough par five, the fifth tees up over water with a fairway that runs from right to left and again rewards the long [and accurate] driver with both a shorter distance in to the green as well as a chance to get there in two. Shorter hitters will likely need to lay back and play long shots down the fairway.

The sixth, while short in distance, is quite possibly the hardest par three on the course. The green here is long from front-to-back, opening up a great variety of possibilities for lengths, but is really, really narrow from right-to-left.

The left side of the green (with the front pin we had) is crowned and falls off to a collection zone that reminded me of other collection areas from my past:

So… Don’t go left on the sixth at Hidden Glen. Trust me.

The seventh is a long par four, playing around 480 yards from the combo tees. It’s a bit of a risk/reward hole (similar to a road hole), with small hills hiding the landing zone for players trying to bite off distance – sand traps protect much of that area, as well, adding difficulty to the approach shot if not carried.

The green on seven is receptive to long shots, running uphill from front to back.

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Hole 7: Par 4 (490/460/443/420/372)

As mentioned earlier, Hidden Glen is a tremendously challenging golf course for the first-time player. While the first bunch of holes introduce beginners to well constructed, tumultuous green complexes, it’s on the eighth hole that PB Dye’s design starts peppering the course with a rather new-age defender of par that will really disorient newbies: Blind shots.

The tee shot is to a wide, easy-to-hit fairway. From there, things get a bit more complicated – we couldn’t see the green until about 20 yards out, in fact. Nick gave me a line near the two furthest right pine trees in the distance, which turned out to be pretty accurate.

Ten foot tall grass mounds shroud the green complex, which runs uphill right-to-left from a sharp dogleg in the fairway. The mounds also hide six small bunkers.

Uphill and long, the par four ninth plays over water from 443 yards from the second tees in. The green is long but narrow from right-to-left, and if the approach is errant will potentially leave another blind recovery shot over mounding.

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Hole 9: Par 4 (463/443/414/388/341)

Elevated tees frame the tenth hole fairway nicely, which bends 90 degrees from left to right past the wasteland. Huge hitters can wail away here, but the farther right the tee shot is the more likely it is to find the massive tree or hazard in the bend.

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Hole 10: Par 4 (363/340/322/297/271)

The eleventh really got me. I had a hard time figuring out the distance to the treeline, or the dogleg, and had no idea what would happen if I was a little left. From the tee, it looks like a sea of fescue. When driving past it in the cart, though, there is a lot of sandy wasteland and bunches of fescue that are nowhere near as penal as I’d expected.

I was never comfortable on the tee, and pushed driver hard right in to the woods.

The second shot is well uphill to a short, elevated two-tier green that is much higher on the right side than the left.

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Hole 11: Par 4 (404/389/373/353/326)

Twelve is a tough par three, teeing up from 185 yards from the combo tees (237 from the tips and 210 from the first set in). There are no trees around, and considering it’s on a higher point of the golf course the tee shot will be heavily influenced by wind.

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Hole 12: Par 3 (237/210/185/174/148)

The thirteenth has probably the widest fairway at Hidden Glen, and probably one of the widest I’ve ever seen. While there are no major concerns off the tee – swing for the fences! – there’s a lot going on green-side.

A pond creeps up to the front-left in the approach area, and the putting surface is canted severely from right-to-left, toward the water and a shallow, narrow sand trap that separates the green and pond.

I hit a great tee shot on this hole only to hit a marginal at best approach that left me on the top shelf (right side of the green). I was happy to make five.

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Hole 13: Par 4 (480/424/411/394/374)

While the entire left side of the driving zone looks like a lost ball waiting to happen, the tee shot on fourteen should actually be fairly straight-forward. There are sand traps beyond all the fescue, but not as much tall grass as it appears from the tees. The right side is wide open.

A great tee shot on fourteen will allow for a long approach to a green that is fairly level and open. While it’s accessible, it is also incredibly sloped and long from front to back (another multi-tiered green complex).

With a front-left pin location, we could see the flag from the tee box on fifteen. This would be the only time we’d see it until walking up to scout our approach shots. The fairway runs about 280 yards before dropping off a cliff that leads to a blind, lowered green.

Water on the left side borders this recessed green, so pick a tree in the distance to aim at before hitting a wedge in but make sure to err toward the right.

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Hole 15: Par 4 (353/327/315/300/263)

The tee shot on sixteen should split the two trees nearest the right side of the fairway in the distance. A large bunker protects the left side leading up to its right-to-left dogleg, and the green is slightly elevated and tough to hit due to its massive false front.

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Hole 16: Par 4 (396/374/354/311/260)

Playing over water, the seventeenth cuts the northwest corner of a pond to a small green protected on the left by a serpentine trap and on the right by two small pot bunkers.

As is the case with all par threes at Hidden Glen, wind will inevitably play a major factor in strategy on the seventeenth.

Playing over 500 yards from all three of the longest tee boxes, a tee shot over water and then playing way uphill to a crazy small and significantly contoured green with a huge false front makes the eighteenth at Hidden Glen one of the most challenging finishing holes I’ve seen in a while!

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Hole 18: Par 5 (559/532/509/478/422)

I hit a ridiculously good tee shot on eighteen, leaving myself 210-220 in uphill. I hadn’t hit a fairway wood all day, but figured this was a good opportunity as Nick had already closed me out in our match play and this would not be a relevant score as my number of shots was starting to add up exponentially.

I missed a little short and left, leaving myself a downhill, side-hill flop that I skulled almost to the practice green. A typical view of the recovery shot if short on eighteen – completely hidden is the false front and right-side collection area:

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One of the things I liked best about Hidden Glen is that the course truly requires players to hit all kinds of shots and clubs. There is terrific variety to the par threes and the conditions are absolutely immaculate – these were probably the fastest greens and fairways I’ve played this year.

The clubhouse is very nice, and the men’s locker room provides a first-class experience including its own bar. Their freshly fried potato chips were delicious and, as I’ve come to expect at private clubs in Wisconsin, they pour a good drink.

Because everybody asks me “What would you compare it to?” I spent some time thinking about it. I think Hidden Glen is for sure its own course, but at the same time if I had to compare it to one course it would be Hawk’s Landing in Verona, Wisconsin. The others that come to mind, to some degree, are Meadow Valleys at Blackwolf Run, Strawberry Creek and to some degree the Irish course at Whistling Straits. These are all regular tournament/championship courses, are rather wide and forgiving off the tees and are all meticulously kept.

Similarly to my own home club (North Hills Country Club), Hidden Glen is all about the golf experience. There are no pools or tennis courts, which I’ve come to realize are actually good selling points for avid golfers who’d prefer not to worry about additional costs and liability.

Just sixteen years in the making, Hidden Glen is one of the newest private golf clubs in the state, and I have to say they appear to be healthy and growing: Their membership is young and involved, and their course is beautiful, challenging and one that I’d love to get back to for a second glance with a little more local knowledge.

 

Course Wrap-Up:
Location: Cedarburg, WI
Yardage: Tournament-7017, Championship-6621, Member-6255, Intermediate-5914, Forward-5278
Slope/Rating: Tournament-140/74.3, Championship-136/72.5, Member-132/70.9, Intermediate-130/69.3, Forward-127/70.8
Par: 72
Weekend Rates: Private (~ $100 guest fee)

Hidden Glen Golf Club Website

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)

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Course Review: Great Waters at Reynolds Lake Oconee (GA)

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:

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View from the lakeside practice green:

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One of the smaller collections of memorabilia inside the clubhouse:

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The beautiful, slick-rolling back nine putting green along Lake Oconee:

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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.

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Hole 1: Par 4 (409/391/371/329)

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.

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Hole 2: Par 5 (507/480/447/390)

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).

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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.

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Greg’s approach shot following a massive drive on two – he got the calves in to that one:

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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.

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Hole 3: Par 4 (432/410/382/335)

Justin’s second shot from the shoulder bunker on three:

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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.

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Hole 4: Par 3 (186/169/152/143)

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.

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Hole 5: Par 4 (422/387/357/243)

A well-hit, straight driver will leave a tumultuous low approach shot over the creek:

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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.

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A look back from behind the pin on five:

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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.

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Hole 6: Par 5 (522/495/472/400)

A back-right pin location was tough to get to, and made for some fun uphill, side-winding putts.

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A closer look at this multi-tiered green:

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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.

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Hole 7: Par 4 (466/403/361/318)

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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.

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Hole 8: Par 3 (223/206/184/154)

A look at the two-tiered green on eight:

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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.

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Hole 9: Par 4 (392/376/359/306)

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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.

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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.

 

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Hole 10: Par 4 (409/380/355/317)

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:

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Hole 11: Par 4 (349/314/277/260)

From the forward tees a little more becomes visible:

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A panoramic view of the eleventh during our morning round:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Hole 12: Par 5 (559/521/489/426)

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.

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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.

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Hole 13: Par 4 (434/408/377/322)

A view of this wonderful green on the long par four 13th at Great Waters:

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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.

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Hole 14: Par 3 (186/164/118/99)

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This view was way too pretty not to take out the camera for:

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A look back toward the tee boxes on the par three 14th:

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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.

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Hole 15: Par 4 (416/409/352/268)

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.

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Hole 16: Par 4 (457/427/404/355)

Just another amazing lakeside hole on the back nine at Great Waters:

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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.

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Hole 17: Par 3 (164/146/137/127)

Dan teeing it up on seventeen along Lake Oconee:

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There’s a whole lot of water on seventeen:

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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.

 

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Hole 18: Par 5 (540/495/475/387)

Hogan’s tee shot on 18:

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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.

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A closer look at the well-protected green complex on 18 at Great Waters at Reynolds Lake Oconee:

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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!

Course Wrap-Up:
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
Par: 72
Weekend Rates: $195 including cart, range

Great Waters at Reynolds Lake Oconee Website