The Golf Club at Cuscowilla was nominated by Bill as a Gem and was added to the Top 100 website in May 2008. Since then, Cuscowilla has become a highly ranked Best In State course within Georgia. Bill’s original comments are as follows:
“Cuscowilla was designed by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore this course is very reminiscent of a Scottish style course with ragged, deep bunkering, native grass areas. Designed for walking and greens that give you lots of options when your approach shot strays. It is a true gem that always makes you pay attention to each shot and never gets boring.”
Located on the shores of Lake Oconee (the second largest body of water in the state of Georgia), the golf course at Cuscowilla is an integral component of a residential development that also offers fishing and boating as alternative outdoor sporting pursuits.
Opened for play in 1996, the course starts and ends in woodland around the clubhouse but most of the fairways are laid out in the open within a gently rolling 700-acre estate.
The opening five holes offer a gentle start to the round before the toughest hole on the front nine is played at the 465-yard par four 6th. On the back nine, the monster par five 14th is another testing hole that double-doglegs, dipping down from the tee then up to the pin during its 623-yard journey from back tees to the green.
The four par threes at holes 3, 8, 11 and 16 are all fine short holes (varying in length between 133 and 233 yards) but many believe the best two holes on the card to be the elegant short par fours at holes 5 and 12.
Cuscowilla is an outstanding Coore/Crenshaw design that is now over 20 years old. The course is set on the shore of Lake Oconnee about an hour east of Atlanta and is a private members club with housing around the course. Apparently Coore and Crenshaw were given their choice of the property to lay the course out and the houses added later, in contradistinction to most housing development courses in the USA. This has resulted in an outstanding layout that was a joy to play. At 6700 yards from the back tees the course is relatively short by modern standards, but the par of 70 with only two par fives and a set of green complexes that rival any I have every played make this course a tough test of golf even for the accomplished player.
The course is set in an area of incredible beauty, and the lake dominates play on both 10 and 11. The holes flow through all sorts of terrain, with wide open almost heathland like holes on the front followed by several tree lined tight holes on the back, with all sorts of variations in between. The tee shots provide a variety of challenges. The open driving lines of the first hole are followed by a tight drive off the tee at the par five second. The fourth is a cape hole over water while the tee shot at six has to negotiate a large bunker that pinches in from the level. The variety of challenges off the tee tend to keep the player off balance and requires firm commitment and concentration to play well. The bunkers are beautifully constructed with rough edges and wild grasses growing around them that give the course a rough natural look. The green complexes are like nothing I have ever played and rival the magnificent green complexes at Chicago Golf Club. Every green has multiple slopes and contours that demand the utmost in accuracy on the approach. Hitting the green is merely the first step here. A poorly struck shot may find the putting surface, but if your ball is in the wrong spot there are many times where a two putt is almost impossible. I love the design element of defending the course from the green rather than demanding laser like ball striking since this expands the enjoyment factor to all levels of golfers.
This course has many good holes, several great ones, and none that are close to being poor. The opening hole has a generous fairway that dog legs left and slightly up hill. There is plenty of room here at the start but the green is well protected by slopes both on and around the green. The second is a nice par five that rewards a draw off the tee and a fade on the approach. The green has a huge swale and if the pin is back and the chip is mishit slightly the ball may roll back to your feet. Five is a short, 300 yard par 4 dominated by a bunker to the left that challenges the golfer to decide whether or not to try and drive the green or lay up for an approach to a narrow sloped green.
Seven is a nice par 4. Trees to the left will lead the player to bail to the right, but a large lone pine guards the right side of the green if the shot has been played it too safe. Eight is a 235 yard par three with a reverse redan green that allows the player to roll the ball to pins in the back. This is the #18 handicap hole which probably tells you all you want to know about the difficulty of the course. Ten is a strong par 4 over the lake. It is a classic cape hole that allows the player to choose his line and take his chances. The green is protected by a bunker right hard off the lake and a massive slope to the left of the green. Eleven is a short par 3 with the right edge of the green perched into the lake and a steep slope in the front of the green. Twelve is a tight but drivable par 4 with another devilishly sloped green with any number of difficult pin placements. Fourteen is a beautiful uphill par 5. The landing areas offers an awkward stance so you really have to control your swing to place the ball in an appropriate position for the approach shot. Fifteen plays across an inlet of the lake and is guarded by a lateral hazard to the right and two large bunkers left. This may be the most difficult green on the course and if your ball is in the wrong place a four putt is a definite possibility. 18 is a nice finishing hole. The hole played 475 yards with a rolling sloping fairway the dog legs left to a slight uphill finish.
Cuscowilla is an absolute joy for a members club. There are four loops of holes that return to the clubhouse; 1-6, 7-9, 10-14 and 15-18. This allows members to head out for less than a full round if there are time constraints. The greens offer an infinite variety of challenges and pin positions. With a little change in wind or weather the course can play remarkably different. If you were a member you would probably become a very good putter and short game player or you would lose your mind. If I was looking for a club to join I can't imagine you could find a place that was more beautiful or as much fun to play as Cuscowilla. If you ever have the opportunity to play here I would takeout. Since I hit the ball into so many bad places the first time around I would love to go back and try and redeem myself. However as difficult as I found the course my wife, who is a 30 handicap, shot a 95 which is one of her best rounds ever, proving that the course can be enjoyed by players of all levels. I have played several Coore/Crenshaw courses and I would rate this course slightly behind Bandon Trails and above Streamsong Red. I think the course deserves strong consideration for a top 100 USA ranking.
I was able to parlay a round at Cuscowilla while on a golf trip to Reynolds plantation in 2018. Very different from anything in the area as there are really only 2 lake holes (10 and 11). Mega wide fairways and on the 3rd day of a golf trip it was great to be able to rip driver with a little more freedom. The greens have plenty of subtle undulation and once you hit them, watch out for the grain. Extremely laidback vibe. Our caddie (Trey) actually lived on property and hosted us for an emergency 9 during golden hour at the end of the day. By far my favorite course I’ve played in Georgia and can’t wait to go back.
Cuscowilla is one of my favourite Coore/Crenshaw courses in America. It was such a wonderful experience. The routing gives you a nice mix of everything. You’ll play in wide open spaces, you’ll play down tree-lined fairways, you’ll play over water, you’ll play towards and around Lake Oconee – and above all, you’ll be blown away by their minimalistic aesthetics and world class green sites.
The course really impresses and demonstrates how talented Coore/Crenshaw are when giving a fabulous piece of land. You’ll admire rich red sand in many of the best bunkers the dynamic duo has ever designed. Often times you’ll look around you and start comparing the architects with artists. Which came first, the shovel or the paintbrush?
I am a big fan of Coore and Crenshaw designs and Cuscowilla is among the reasons why. I just like their design aesthetic and philosophy. Make the course playable from tee to green; if you hit a decent shot and put most of the challenges near and on the greens so that even if you are not a long ball hitter you can enjoy the course without it being a push over.
The opening hole is gentle starter but the green is angled so you have to get your flat stick working right out of the gate. The 2nd hole is a more demanding par five that is well trapped and tree lined.
Like all their courses, being able to bump and run shots is a critical skill at Cuscowilla. The long par four 13th hole is a good illustration of this, it is one without bunkers but is anything but a pushover.
Making the experience even better, the course is located at Reynolds Plantation, which is a world-class resort. In my view I would rather play Cuscowilla than other courses that rate higher in Georgia such as Peachtree and Ocean Forest. It is a gem of a course and a great day’s golf.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs