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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Callaway Apex Pro Irons

Club Review: Callaway Apex Line

If you have read my Meet the Writer post you can see that I am playing primarily a Callaway set of clubs. This is 100% because I have done my research and hit most of the brands. Callaway has consistently won my respect for feel, look, and performance. Most people that know me know that come late winter, I am testing new clubs at my local Golf Galaxy or R.I.P. Golfsmith, just to see if there is something that might give me a new edge for the coming season. When it comes to irons, I have been playing Mizuno for the last 13 years; the Callaway Apex Pro’s have stolen the show.

Callaway’s Apex line of clubs consists of the Apex CF (cup face) 16 irons, Apex Pro 16 irons and the Apex Hybrid. The Apex CF is a game improvement iron with Callaway’s cup face technology to really get the ball to fly off the face. The cup face increases ball speeds and is said to have higher forgiveness across the face. If you aren’t able to play a muscle back blade, but also aren’t into playing that oversized game improvement iron, this might be the iron for you.

Callaway Apex Pro Iron Fade

Callaway Apex Pro (4-PW)

I played the Apex Pro 16 irons all last season and will play them again this season. Callaway did an amazing job when they created this iron. The iron has a tour inspired shape and is a quadruple net forged head without the cup face of the Apex CF. The main technology behind this set of irons lies in the progressive weighting, optimizing the center of gravity (CG) in each club. In the longer irons (3-5) the iron has a touch more offset and a tungsten insert to lower the CG and get a higher ball flight. In the shorter irons (6-A) the CG gets higher for a more controlled, penetrating ball flight. The 1025 mild carbon steel, along with Callaway’s forging process, gives this one of the softest and best feels I have ever felt when striking the ball.

Many people often look past how important picking a shaft is when buying any golf club. All of the technology in these irons will somewhat be wasted when not getting a shaft that matches your swing. Callaway offers many premium shafts by multiple different companies, and since we all have different swing types and speeds, all the more reason to take advantage of this when buying a new set.

Callaway Apex 3 Hybrid

Callaway Apex 3 Hybrid 20º

Callaway Apex Hybrid Top View

Callaway Apex Hybrid Top View

I don’t carry a 3-iron because of the invention of the hybrid. For a long time now, I have not been overly happy with my consistency and flight with a hybrid. Most hybrids perform too much like a fairway woods and not like an iron, which doesn’t allow for much stopping power on the green. Callaway’s Apex hybrid changes that. If you are looking for that fairway wood feel and flight this isn’t the club for you. The face cup technology comes back in with this club to produce higher ball speeds from center and off-center hits. A neutral, more iron like CG allows for control and workability, making this club perform much more like an iron. I love the number of different shots I can hit with this club and for better players this is a great long iron replacement.

Both of these sets of irons (along with the hybrid) are on Golf Digest’s hot list, receiving gold status and 5 stars in performance and sound/look/feel. I think this is spot on and think you should give these a try if you haven’t already.

Accuracy is key, fairways and greens!

Blackwolf Run Hole #7, Kohler Wisconsin

Rules of Golf Gets a Facelift

On the 5th hole of last years’ US Open at Oakmont, Dustin Johnson had begun to move his putter behind his ball; before addressing the golf ball, it rolled slightly back. Seeing that the ball had moved they ended up bringing in a rules official and because Dustin had not grounded his putter addressing the ball, they came to the decision that there would be no penalty assessed. Upon finishing his round, they brought Dustin in to review video footage of the ball moving. Even though Dustin continued to state that he did nothing to make the ball move, nor did he address the ball, officials decided the putter was in the vicinity and deemed Dustin caused the ball to move. They assessed him a one-stroke penalty. Even with this one-stroke penalty, Dustin still won the tournament by three shots.

Under newly proposed rule 9.2, if the ball or ball marker is accidentally moved there is no penalty incurred. This is one of many proposed rule changes just released by the USGA and R&A. The goal of these changes is to make the rules easier to understand and apply. I also feel there is an underlying attempt at speeding up the pace of play. Reading through the proposed rule changes to take effect in 2019, many of which we have just come to accept. I am very excited about what the USGA and R&A are refining.

I was definitely on the bandwagon of people who hated what took place last year with Dustin Johnson at the US Open. So the changing of that rule seems to be a long time coming, as it has been an issue in way more cases than just last year’s US Open.

Other proposals that I am impressed they are taking on:

  • Being able to repair almost all damage on the greens (exceptions being aeration and natural damage). No longer are you going to have to putt over spike marks. But in all seriousness, come on people, either don’t wear golf spikes, learn how to pick you feet up when you walk, or fix your own marks when you create the damage in the first place.
  • Removing the yellow hazards and marking all penalty areas in red with lateral relief. The amount of times I’ve found myself in yellow hazards has been minimal, but when it’s happened I’ve been unsure what kind of relief I’m entitled to.
  • Others may not agree with me on this one, but the allowing of distance measuring devices. As of now they are stating they would be allowed, and local rules could be put in place to not allow. I am all for this; I feel this has really sped up pace of play. It would be interesting watching the next PGA Tour event, seeing caddies no longer stepping yardage off from the closest sprinkler head.

Interesting rules I never really thought of being addressed:

  • Dropping the ball must take place at least one inch above the ground, no longer from shoulder height. Personally I feel like this takes some of the game of golf away, as it will now be much easier to drop in a wanted area. Gone would be the days of dropping and having it roll into the six inch deep rough a foot away.
  • No longer being penalized for hitting an unattended flagstick while putting on the putting surface. An interesting first take on this one is that if you choose to not take out the flagstick, putt your ball, and it hits the stick and doesn’t go in, you have still not finished the hole and will have to count that stroke to hole out. You are still better off taking the flag stick out when you get close than trying to use it as a backstop.

Rules that I think are going to get some backlash:

  • Search time for a lost ball going from 5 minutes to 3 minutes. I have been part of many a search where we have found it within the 5 and would not have inside of 3. I am okay with this change but we will see how others address this.
  • Suggested no stroke should take more than 40 seconds. I am not sure how this rule will come to fruition. Will competitors be calling this on each other? That could be an issue. As of right now it’s written as recommended but it will be interesting how this gets written in the official rules. The intent of this rule is understood, reducing the overall pace of play, which is needed.

Funniest rule change:

  • Allowing the use of a damaged club. All I can think of when reading this rule is Woody Austin rapping his putter against his head after only getting a 40-foot putt half way to the hole. Just last year, Zac Blair also bent his putter while banging it against his head and was disqualified for then using that putter to finish the hole. In all seriousness the rule this is addressing is quite complicated and if you’re actually still able to use the club you damaged, it does make sense.

These are just a few of the newly proposed rule changes. You can find all of the new rules at:

http://www.usga.org/rules-hub/rules-modernization/text/major-proposed-changes.html

The USGA and R&A are also asking for people to give their feedback. This is so great that they are asking the people that play the game every day for their opinions. You can find that survey at:

https://www.snapsurveys.com/wh/s.asp?k=148674720575

Winter Rules golfing in snow in Wisconsin

Winter rules still for us here in Wisconsin

Accuracy is key, fairways and greens!

Product Review: Callaway GBB Epic

A couple of months back there was a lot of talk around Rory Mcilroy. And it wasn’t about breaking off an engagement or winning another tournament. It was about him hitting a new piece of equipment from a brand that not many people expected to hear Rory moving to. He had been seen last fall hitting the TaylorMade M2, just like Tiger was. With Nike going away from the golf club business, their tour players were all up for new club deals. There seemed to be many tour pros going the route of TaylorMade. But another top pick by many of those ex-Nike staffers was Callaway. To the general public, we knew the brand was Callaway; that was the most we knew about the new driver Rory and others were testing. Then came some Instagram posts and a new commercial… with two bars and the sound of something banging against metal finished by the slogan “Something Epic is coming 1.27.2017” and Callaway’s logo.

Callaway’s new driver, the Epic Great Big Bertha (GBB) has two titanium rods behind the face, that they call jailbreak technology. The Callaway engineers came across this technology when they designed the gravity core in the Big Bertha Alpha and Big Bertha 816 Double Black Diamond drivers.

The gravity core was attached to the sole and crown of the driver; this changed the performance characteristics of the face. This stiffened the sole and crown, so they didn’t bulge as much on impact. The added weight of the jailbreak technology meant there needed to be weight saves elsewhere. With a titanium exoskeleton and a triaxial carbon crown and sole, the crown only weighed 9.7g. This allowed them to design a driver with an extremely high moment of inertia (MOI) and forgiveness. The jailbreak technology stiffens the crown and sole, and then transfers more energy back into the face…translating into higher ball speeds. Because jailbreak technology isn’t reliant on swing speed, Callaway says that the golfers’ club head speed doesn’t matter, all swing speeds will benefit from this new technology.

Other technologies found on the new Epic are the speed step on the top of the crown and the perimeter sliding weight (found only on the GBB Epic not in the GBB Epic Sub Zero model). The speed step is a similar technology to last years’ Callaway XR. For the XR, they brought Boeing in to help design a driver with greater aerodynamics. The perimeter sliding weight found on the GBB Epic model is said to be able to change direction up to 21 yards. On the GBB Epic Sub Zero there are two weight ports that hold a 12g and a 2g weight. There is one port closer to the face and one closer to the back, allowing you to have more forgiveness with the heavier weight in the back, or less spin with the heavier weight closer to the face.

When you hear such great things from pros testing the Epic and read about all this new technology, it makes you want to go see how it performs for you. I did just that. From the first swing of the Callaway GBB Epic Sub Zero driver, I fell in love. The feel off the face is something everyone needs to feel. It’s really hard to explain. It’s very solid, losing a lot of the flex you get from other drivers. While at the same time, it’s so soft it feels like you are able to feel the ball flexing along with the face…those few milliseconds before it springs off. The soft feel may have a little bit to do with the type of ball I have been hitting. I have hit the Epic with the new TaylorMade TP5, Titleist Pro V-1, Pro V-1X and the Callaway Chrome Soft, all premium level golf balls. Immediately I saw average gains of 3 MPH more ball speed and roughly 10+ yards of carry distance. All of this testing being in Wisconsin was done on a launch monitor originally. It wasn’t until our amazing spring warm up this past weekend that I have been truly able to see accurate carry distances outside. Even though it’s warm enough to golf, the ground is still very soft and there is no roll; most of the time the ball plugs. This makes it very easy to laser range carry distances. The soft ground also negates the extra roll you can get from a draw ball flight over a fade. With this club, my carry distance has increased by at least 10 yards. I can’t wait to hit it in regular conditions, since this driver has brought my spin down on average of 500 rpm.

There are a bunch of premium shaft offerings from Callaway at their $500 Epic price point. Their stock shafts are the Diamana M+ Green 40, Project X HZRDUS T800 55, Aldila Rogue Max 65 and the Fujikura Pro Green 62. There are many other premium shafts offered at no up-charge. I loved the feel and performance of the Aldila Rogue Silver 70 so much in my previous driver, that I have the same shaft in my new Epic. This is a low spin, low launch shaft that allows me to keep the heavier weight in the back of the head for more forgiveness, as my spin is already very low with this shaft head combination. So not only are my distances up but my accuracy has improved as well.

Like I mentioned earlier, Callaway has made the Epic in two different head designs. I chose the Epic GBB Sub Zero for myself. This decision was made from slightly better numbers and a better feel. Both of these things are per person. I would suggest testing them both, and depending on swing type and feel, you should see one of them perform and feel better for you. The reason the feel is so different, is the sliding weight track in the back of the Epic GBB. It leads to a different layout of the club head from a weight distribution aspect. I preferred the feel from the Sub Zero model. Anyone looking for more customization options should look at the Epic GBB since there are many more settings to help dial in the ball flight. All of this is similar to what TaylorMade is doing with their M1 and M2 club heads.

With most drivers coming out having technology we have all seen before… and for the first time in a long time TaylorMade not really even coming out with a new driver, the Epic is a driver you need to try.

In my first article I gave you all a brief description of myself and what I am currently playing. In my next article I will take you on a deeper dive into my bag and review how I chose the rest of my current set.

Accuracy is key, fairways and greens!