The Oconee Course
Truly One of Georgia's Finest
By Mike May
The quality of the golf experience at The Oconee Course at the Reynolds Lake Oconee (100 Linger Longer Road, Greensboro, GA; 706-467-1200) is on par with the quality of the resort experience across the street at the Ritz-Carlton Lodge, Reynolds Plantation (One Lake Oconee Trail, Greensboro, GA; 706-467-0600), but if I had to limit my description of this stay-and-play experience to just four words, they would be pure, pleasant, photogenic and peaceful, with an emphasis on the latter.
When you arrive on the first tee of The Oconee, you are on the cusp of a magical sightseeing and strategic golf journey which is one of the cornerstones of the Reynolds Plantation golf experience. This journey won't finish until you walk off the 18th green, just over four hours later. When you take a glance down the opening fairway at The Oconee - a 500+ yard par five - you can't help but take note of the beauty and serenity of this golf course. What's unique about this course is that you get that special feeling on every single tee. It's important to admire the breadth and depth of every hole before you strike your tee shots.
Golf course designer Rees Jones 'got it right' when he designed The Oconee, one of six golf courses at Reynolds Lake Oconee, located 80 miles east of Atlanta.
"The classic golf course that we designed fits the land perfectly," says Jones. "The topography is such that the green sites are natural and the finishing holes on both nines are spectacular."
Jones refers to The Oconee, a par 72 layout, as a "great golf course," which is an understatement. Truth be told, it's a masterpiece that is symbolic of what can be done with lakeside property and some imagination. Even if you don't play well at The Oconee, your memories of those tall Georgia pines acting as sentries alongside well-manicured fairways will put a smile on your face as you reflect on the privilege you had of spending a few hours in a wooded paradise trying to hit a little dimpled ball into 18 finely cut holes, each one 4 ¼" in diameter. While the greens are rather large, which gives the superintendent many different daily pin-placement options, they are receptive, consistent, fair, and fast (but not too fast!). Missed putts at The Oconee are the result of 'pilot error.'
When The Oconee was first opened in January of 2003, Golf Digest named it as one of the "Best New Upscale Courses." Since then, The Oconee has remained in the "Top 100 Resort Courses" by Golfweek.
In a nutshell, The Oconee will create an indelible memory for anybody who plays it. The attention to detail at this course is what sets it apart from many resort golf courses. Jones did a wonderful job of incorporating the natural woodlands, rock-strewn brooks, central Georgia's natural rolling terrain, and the breathtaking views of Lake Oconee. At The Oconee, all of the homes are set back from the fairways and are nestled in thickets of Georgia pines. And only two fairways (the 1st and the 10th) are remotely close to one another. When playing The Oconee, you have 18 distinct golf experiences which are cocoon-like which adds to this course's overall appeal and attraction. The only glimpse at civilization is at the turn and while playing the 18th hole.
To keep the golf experience at The Oconee fair, the course has five sets of tees, which are marked in a simplistic way: 'one,' 'two,' 'three,' 'four,' and 'five,' with 'one' representing the back tees. The distance from the back tees is a shade over 7,000 yards while the distance from the 'five' tees is just less than 5,200 yards. There is a distance for every handicap at The Oconee. For the avid/competitive players, the scorecard suggests a mixture of the 'two' and 'three' tees, which is referred to as the 'tournament' distance.
It's not easy choosing the 'highlight' shots and holes since the entire course is one big 'WOW' golf experience, but here are my most memorable moments:
Opening tee shots at great golf courses get your attention and the tee shot at the 1st at The Oconee does just that. The tee shot on the par three 5th hole requires focus because water lurks short and right of the green. At the 5th, it's possible to get 'up & down' from left of the green or from the two greenside bunkers, but not from the bottom of the lake. While the 6th hole is only 372 yards from the back tees, the second shot to an uphill green with a false front means you need to take an extra club or two on your approach, especially if the pin is at the back of the green. The 9th hole is tough from beginning to end - a long, somewhat tight par four which is flanked by water on the right from tee to green. Playing conservatively at the 9th hole, while settling for a bogey or a one-putt par, is a sound approach.
On the back nine, the 12th is one of those great short par fours which has a left-to-right flow from tee to green. To add to its degree of difficulty, a small pond sits at the front of the green while a rolling brook runs alongside the right side of the fairway. For the right-hander, this hole is best played with two power fades, but if the approach drifts too far right, it will find a 'watery grave.' The distinct feature of the downhill par three 13th is that the biggest sand trap on the course protects the front of the green. From an aerial perspective, that bunker looks like a miniature layout of the actual Lake Oconee. Take enough club to clear the 'sandy' lake. The par four 16th can best be described as 'tough love.' It's 'lovely' to look at, but it's 'tough' to play. This lengthy par four is a right-to-left dogleg which is bordered by a stream along the left side of the fairway. While the green is perched in the far left-hand portion of the fairway, the presence of the water hazard keeps you from 'cutting the corner' with your tee shot. Pars at the 16th are precious. At The Oconee, the best was saved for last. The par-four 18th hole is right-to-left, dogleg - the longest par four on the course. The presence of Lake Oconee impacts the tee shot and the approach to the heavily bunkered green. A par at the 18th is a PGA Tour-quality score.
The final attributes of The Oconee experience are its customer service and convenience. At the end of your round, if you feel that your golf game needs some TLC, The Reynolds Golf Academy, featuring the personal instruction of the highly acclaimed Charlie King, one of Golf Digest's "50 Best Teachers," is based at The Oconee. And, if you feel that you need new clubs, a swing analysis, and personalized club-fitting, that can be done at The Oconee, as well - at The TaylorMade Kingdom. Finally, as was mentioned at the beginning of this story, if you are going to play a first-class golf course, then you need 'hang your hat' at a first-class resort. It just so happens that The Ritz-Carlton Lodge, Reynolds Plantation is so close to The Oconee that it's more accessible with a short golf cart ride than driving your car. And, when you stay at this Ritz-Carlton, the quality of the visit as well as the list of things to do and enjoy are on par with the splendid memories that will be made while 'on tour' across the street at The Oconee.
Revised: 11/16/2015 - Article Viewed 19,123 Times - View Golf Course Profile
Written By: Mike May
Mike May is a Wellington, Florida-based freelance golf and sportswriter, who is also a 25+ year public relations and communications executive in the sporting goods industry. He is also a veteran high school soccer official, an experienced high school basketball coach, an avid athlete, a part-time personal trainer, and a passionate golfer who is forever in pursuit of Old Man Par. He is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America.
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