Never a Dull Moment at Reynolds Plantation's Golf Courses

By: Steve Habel

Getting away from it all by not going too far away seems harder and harder in the 21st century. But the folks that live and vacation at Reynolds Plantation in northeast Georgia have the scenario down pat, even as the economic challenges of the past several years try to make a dent in their little corner of paradise amid the forests of yellow-pine timberland.

Oconee's 16th Hole

Reynolds Plantation is an upscale residential community with a genteel Southern atmosphere sporting 118 holes of golf, a variety of accommodations for overnight guests and more than 90 miles of shoreline along Lake Oconee - all less than 80 miles from the Atlanta airport.

It is a golfer's dream, with six courses flowing through stands of pine and oak, over hills and down into valleys toward the shores of the lake, which was created in 1979 when Georgia Power completed the construction of Wallace Dam on the Oconee River.

Its six courses (two designed by Georgia resident Robert Cupp and one each by Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio, Rees Jones and Jim Engh) and the constant variety of play and challenge form a memorable golf experience, either for a few days, an extended vacation or for residents who've put down stakes and live here.

On our past trip to Reynolds Plantation, we were lucky enough to stay on-site and play five of the community's courses. The first part of the trip chronicled Cupp's work on the property and can be found at

Here, we take a look at three of the other tracks - the Nicklaus-designed Great Waters, the Jones-fashioned Oconee and Tom Fazio's oversized work at The National, the community's only 27-hole arrangement. The sixth course - the Engh-designed Creeks course - will have to be played (and written about) as soon as I can get back to Reynolds Plantation.

No. 5 at Great Waters

Balance is the Key at Great Waters

When Nicklaus walked the land that would become the Great Waters course, he knew he had an opportunity to build a track that would become memorable at every turn and challenging on each shot. "The property was one of the best I have ever had a chance to work with," Nicklaus said. "But we had to find the golf course."

He did that admiringly and put together a great collection of holes, some routed through pines and rolling down toward the edges of the lake, and others playing across the huge water body. Indeed, nine of the holes at Great Waters bring Lake Oconee into play and the entire course offers some of the best vistas found in the Southeast.

Opened in 1992 and refreshed by a total reworking of its greens and bunkers in 2009 to put it back to the Golden Bear's original designed, Great Waters is a par-72 carded at 7,073 from its backs set of six tees. From the tips, it carries a rating of 73.7 and a Slope of 134.

From the very first tee shot, the Great Waters requires players to focus, not just because of the beautiful pines, azaleas and pink dogwoods but because the course demands it.

No. 11 at Great Waters

The 507-yard par-5 second can be reached with two great shots, but anything right will find a fountain-adorned pond or the large tree that Nicklaus left in place to protect the back-right pin placement.

All three of the par-4s on Great Waters' front nine are formidable, none more so than the 422-yard fifth. The hole has a creek running down the left side from tee to green and the water runs back across the fairway before the bulk-headed putting surface. A close second would be the 392-yard ninth, whose fairway bunker pushes the target to the right, assuring that the approach must be played over the lake fronting the green

Nearly every hole on the back nine skirts the lake. Take a chance at reaching the 349-yard par-4 11th in one mighty swing but beware of the deep bunker front-left and the lake on the starboard side. When the flag is placed at the left-hand side of a green between three bunkers and surrounded by water, it appears to be floating.

The green at the 186-yard, par-3 14th sits directly along the banks of Lake Oconee, the Peach State's second-largest water body, and on the 164-yard, par-3 17th golfers may need to hit a shot over fishermen bobbing in boats between the tee and the green, which is situated on the other side of an arm of the hazard.

Great Waters hosted the Andersen Consulting World Championship of Golf, now known as the WGC Accenture World Match Play, from 1995-97. It was voted the No. 5 "Top 10 Nicklaus Courses You Can Play" by Golf Magazine and among "America's Best Residential Golf Courses" by Golfweek Magazine.

Great Waters was not the first course at Reynolds Plantation, but it's considered by many as the track that helped put the community on the map.

No. 5 at Oconee

Nothing Easy about Jones' Oconee Layout

Even though the Oconee course at Reynolds Plantation is considered the community's "resort" track, primarily because of its location near the Ritz-Carlton, the hilly terrain and Jones' testy routing make the track a real challenge.

Opened in 2002, par-72 Oconee stretches 7,029 from its back set of five tees. Thanks to elevated greens, numerous water hazards (the lake enters play on five holes), interior creeks and ponds and extensive bunkering, the course carries a rating of 73.4 and a 136 Slope.

Still, it's playable for middle- and high-handicappers as there are few forced carries. "We have uncovered a dramatic golf course without changing a lot of what we found when we got here," Jones once said of Oconee.

His layout has plenty of risk-reward options that involve shots over sections of the lake and corners of tree-lined and bunker-protected doglegs. Its uphill approach shots toughen up the shorter par-4s (three here are 368 yards or less) and the longer two-shotters - three are at least 435 yards from the tips.

Oconee is good from the initial shot. At the 559-yard par-5 opener, the fairway moves downhill toward large bunkers that narrow the approach and the green on a cape is protected by water front and left.

No. 3 plays much longer than its 417 yards, moving down and then up to the left with two bunkers guarding the left-front. The 435-yard ninth staggers off an elevated tee to a mounded fairway pinched by a bunker on the right side of the landing area.

Oconee is known for its excellent collection of par-3s. The 171-yard fifth is a beautiful little down-hiller with two willow trees framing a pond, and the 203-yard eighth features a flat green that lets players roll the ball onto the target.

The 13th - at 231-yards - is fronted along the right by one of the largest bunkers I've ever seen; there's another tee used in tournaments that can take this hole to 260 yards. The 15th brings the lake into view, if not into play, with purple mule grass giving the 175-yarder plenty of color.

Oconee reaches a peak over its final three-hole stretch. A rocky stream flows toward the tee along the left side of the 422-yard, par-4 16th and goes all the way to the green angled leftward of the fairway. This is a bear when the pin is tucked at the back-right, hard by the stream, though there is a bail-out area on the left.

No. 17, a 546-yard par-5, plays up to a hill in the fairway - if you can get over it, the ball will roll an extra 30 yards. And the closer (a tough-as-nails, 466-yard par-4) sports a tee shot over water and then runs up to an elevated green bunkered both sides.

There are three things to always remember when playing Oconee: make hay on the front side, which is easier and about 200 shorter than the back; play your shots without expecting much - if any - fairway roll; and stay below the hole on the greens, which are well-sloped but without many of the severe tiers found on Reynolds Plantation's other courses.

Remember, too, that Oconee is a course that can be attacked off the tee, as there is plenty of room to hit driver on the two- and three-shot holes, even on the short par-4s.

For those reasons and more, the now-defunct "Golf for Women" magazine ranked Oconee as one of the nation's "50 Best Courses for Women," and Golf Digest featured it among its "10 Best New Upscale Courses of 2002."

No. 2 on The National's Bluff Nine

Fazio Times Three at The National

Fazio, just like Nicklaus and Jones (and - to a lesser extent - Cupp), was given a piece of land for The National course that offers elevation changes and Lake Oconee shorelines. The National's charms are more in line with the overall feel of Reynolds Plantation: full of grace and subtle charm that's not afraid to stand up and demand your attention every once in a while.

The National is physically similar to the others, winding up, down and around hilly terrain (there is as much as 60 feet of elevation change on some holes), and its routing is defined by pine forests and views of the Oconee River Valley. It has a lot of water - its streams, ponds and the lake are all in play pretty much throughout the round. The strategy here must figure in the 115 bunkers Fazio has placed in crucial areas.

The Ridge and Bluff nines, both opened in 1997, make up the original 18 at National. The Cove side followed in 2000. Expect plenty of ups and downs on all three, with some holes that descend and then rise up to perched putting surfaces.

The par-36 Ridge extends 3,454 yards and is chock-full of drama. I loved the 187-yard par-3 third, where the tee shot seems to hang in the air forever. The 421-yard par-4 fourth features a tee shot that must carry a lake on the left and is narrowed by two bunkers on the port side of the landing area. The short (497-yard) par-5 eighth has severe elevation changes, downhill from tee to fairway, then back up on the approach.

Lake Oconee flows along the right side of the 173-yard par-3 fourth at the Bluffs (3,501 yards from the tips), and wraps around behind the green, which is narrow and deep. The 574-yard fifth heads straight off the tee, but then asks the player whether to try to carry a pond and bunker to reach the green in two; even if the answer is no, the lay-up area will require some carry over a pond to find a shallow piece of fairway on the far side.

The 4th Green at The National's Cove Nine

On the Bluffs' 397-yard par-4 eighth, a creek crosses the fairway beyond the landing area, then re-enters play at the front and right side of the approach.

The Cove is the longest nine at The National at 3,533 yards, and Fazio was obviously able to see what worked on the course's other two nines and add some zest.

The downhill, 191-yard par-3 third is framed beautifully by the lake behind the green. On the 563-yard par-5 fourth, a creek separates the fairway from the putting surface, which is set at a 45-degree angle from a lay-up area that looks like a big, green question mark. The par-5 sixth, at 502 yards, is reachable to two, but the approach is uphill to a green with a false front and two deep bunkers guarding it on the left.

The breaks on the greens on Cove are more subtle than on the other two nines, making them easier to negotiate - especially the second time around. Fazio offsets that characteristic by emphasizing the short game as the green surrounds may be the most challenging of all the courses at Reynolds Plantation.

Golfweek ranked The National as one of America's top real-estate courses, but the houses that appear sporadically are well-hidden by hills and trees.

Ritz-Carlton Lodge at Reynolds Plantation

Staying at Reynolds Plantation

One of the best ways to experience a golf vacation (which could also include fishing and other outdoor activities) at Reynolds Plantation is to stay at the posh Ritz-Carlton Lodge located in the middle of the community.

The luxury hotel features 251 well-appointed rooms and suites, many with views of Lake Oconee. There are also several two- and three-bedroom cottages available as well as the Presidential House, which sits on the lake shore next to the main lodge. Other accommodations on the property include fully-appointed Marina Cove, The Landing cottages or condominiums at the Village at Lake Club Pointe, each with a living room and kitchen.

The resort also has a 26,000-square-foot spa and fitness center and four restaurants with varying menus.

For more information, visit

Steve Habel is one of Cybergolf's world correspondents, contributing news stories, features, equipment and book reviews and personality profiles from his base in Central Texas. He is also works as a contributing editor for Horns Illustrated magazine, a publication focusing on University of Texas sports, covers the Longhorns for CBS Sports, is regional editor for Texas Golfer magazine and files stories for Golf Oklahoma magazine, Texas Links magazines and Golfers Guide. Habel's main blog ( features news on golf and the Longhorns, and another ( his many travels, on which he has played more than 350 golf courses since 2009. Habel is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and the Texas Golf Writers Association.