Opened for play in 2007, the Creek Club course is the only private layout at the Reynolds Lake Oconee community, reserved for members and their guests, with Richland Creek coming into play at fourteen of the Jim Engh-designed holes.
In The American Private Golf Club Guide author Daniel Wexler writes: “Coming on the heels of high-profile designs by Nicklaus, Fazio, Rees Jones and Bob Cupp, Jim Engh was likely selected to create something attention-grabbing, and in this regard he certainly delivered.
Though with several bizarrely shaped putting surfaces, some equally flashy bunkering and the option of three (!) different greens on the par five 18th, ‘gimmicky’ is another suitable adjective.
Like most of Engh’s work, beyond the flash and trickery lies a real degree of tactical interest, as seen in the 578-yard 1st (where a creek affects one’s first and second shots), the 233-yard 11th (which features one of the largest boomerang greens of all time), and the 569-yard 12th, a wild three-shotter which employs alternative fairways and snake-like bunkers – and an S-shaped green.”
Three words describe “The Creek Club” in a nutshell: fun, fun, and fun! If there were ever a golf course that was custom built to host The Skins Game on television, it would be this golf course. Architect Jim Engh did a nice job using the natural land to offer a boatload of majestic views and dramatic elevation change throughout the round to shape holes and give the golfer nothing but confidence to swing away. All but a couple of holes offer elevated tees and downhill tee shots. The fairways are quite spacious and defined in most cases by signature Engh bunkering that helps define the holes and tell golfers where to go and where not to go. On top of all that, the course features zoysia fairways which are able to be cut in a diamond pattern that is a gorgeous look. The greens are bent which means during cooler times of the year they can run lightening quick but in the summer months they will be slower.
With all that said, the unique feature of The Creek Club is the green complexes. I can honestly say, I have never seen greens anything like this and many years ago when I was a kid I sketched golf hole designs with crayons and these are just the type of greens that I designed. To see a course execute my childhood visions for green complexes is something of a dream come true. So what exactly does that mean? What it means is that nearly every pin placement has three ways to get the ball close to the hole as each pin is somewhat of a funnel effect. The greens each have several sections so you certainly don’t want to miss the proper section of the green and an opportunity to get the ball close to the hole, but even if you do, your chance to recover is usually very good since you can come at the pin from almost any angle and have the ball collect to the hole. It does not really matter where you are, if you short side yourself you can usually hit it past the pin and watch the ball come back to the hole. I played the course late in the day and in the summer when the greens were moderately slow, figure a 9 on the stimpmeter. This made a big difference since the funnel effect would often leave the ball about 5-6 feet from the hole because the greens were not quite fast enough to take the full effect of the mini bowl like features that almost every hole offered. So I was faced with many 5-6 foot putts all day long. The greens rolled nice and true so it was good to have some challenge to have to make putts, most of which were luckily for birdie!
Even though nearly every hole has this same funnel effect, the designs of each were different and the shapes of the greens were different as well. Some narrow, some wide, some long, some wild and boomerang like. You will see in a few of the pictures and hole highlights that you really can’t describe these greens unless you see the picture and ultimately see the course in person.
The positives I would give Jim Engh in his creation is that he clearly worked his butt off to show great creativity, in a way I had never seen before. He accomplished showing great variety and interest around every single approach shot. He made golf fun and even a player struggling on a given day can still hit shots will yield a better result here than you would find on any other course I have ever seen. Hit your shot a ½ club short, no problem the ball will usually funnel close to the pin if you hit it on the right section. Hit it a ½ club long, no problem, same thing. Hit is perfect distance, get a great result. On some holes you could even hit it a full club long and still be reasonably close to the hole. You may read this and say it sounds silly, and it’s not real golf. Please let me tell you my opinion, not every course has to be like playing TPC Sawgrass, PGA West Stadium Course at La Quinta, or Bethpage Black. How often do you get to go out and play a relaxing round of golf where you can drop your guard and just have fun and score well? Believe me, there are plenty of places on this course to make a double bogey and from the back tees the course is over 7000 yards. Most of the approach shots are uphill after having a dramatic downhill tee shot. The par 3’s are really cool and everyone of them offers a real hole in one possibility as well as a great chance to screw up and make bogey or worse. Reality check: If you game is really off, you still won’t score well here. If your game is off by a little bit, the will be more forgiving than any other.
This quick summary gives you all the fun that can be had on this unique course. However, the course has its drawbacks and a few disappointments. First, while the views are very special in many places, the up and down is just too dramatic and happens too often. I felt myself getting dizzy by about the 7th hole. Second, while the vast majority of the greens are really well designed, the 16th, 17th and 18th holes are complete disappointments relative to the rest of the course. This course design was clearly a labor of love and there was tremendous thought put into each and every green complex, again, like nothing I have ever seen, so I respect a great deal what Jim Engh was able to accomplish, I just wish the course finished differently. Maybe reversing the 9’s would solve for this. A bit more on this later.
A few hole highlights that are worth sharing:
The 1st hole is a beauty – it’s a dogleg left that plays downhill from an elevated tee that presents an up uphill approach shot over a charming creek that is ready to grab a mishit approach shot. What’s great about this opening par 5 is that you are able to hit your drive on the right side of the fairway and watch it bounce to the left setting up a great chance to know it on this green in two shots. The uphill piece of this hole is severe so while the green is very receptive to most shots, you have to be accurate and long to have a realistic chance of facing an eagle putt. It’s a great opener that proved to be one of my favorite holes on the course.
The 3rd hole plays downhill yet again with a dramatic view. This is a fun hole for sure as definitely want to position your tee ball on the proper side of the fairway based on where the pin position is on this wild green complex. If you approach the green from the best angle, birdie is a real probability here so long as you can hit your approach shot on the right section of the green, your ball will almost certainly funnel close to the hole.
The 5th hole is undoubtedly the “signature hole” on this golf course. It’s a 475 par 5, with again a downhill tee shot and an approach to the wild 3 tiered green that goes back up hill. The fairway is split by the creek running through the middle but there is more than ample room to hit the left side of the creek. The green has 3 tiers from front to back but again has a funneling effect so long as you hit the proper tier. To give you some context, I hit a solid drive here from the tips but still had 195 yards left. I decided to hit a 5 iron and aimed to the right side of the green seeing a hill that looked like it would spring my ball towards the middle tier pin placement if my distance control was good. I wound up badly pulling this 5 iron left of the pin but still clearly on the green and when I arrived up to the blind green (meaning I could not see where it wound up from the fairway well below the green surface) to my surprise my ball was just 4 feet from the cup! This was a great gift from the course because on many courses a mishit pulled approach like this could have left me with a need to go up and down to save par. This was my 3rd birdie in the first 5 holes; who doesn’t like to see their ego stroked like this. This is definitely the hardest hole on the course, and I still hit two very good shots to reach this green in two, I just got lucky because Mr. Engh was clever enough on this hole to provide forgiveness regardless of which side of the green you hit your approach shot on so long as you hit the proper distance and wind up on the tier for which the pin sits as you can see from the pictures.
The 6th hole is a wild one. Your tee shot is guess what? Downhill, your approach shot is….correct, uphill. But this green is like nothing you have ever seen before. The green is a diagonal funnel where if your approach shot is anywhere near the pin placement, you will have a great birdie opportunity. You must just hit your approach in the direction of the hole. The pin sits in a valley below the area where you walk to the green so that any shot that is short, long, right or left, will run onto the green. Not to make those who have botched this hole feel badly, but if you don’t make par or birdie on this one, you will be most assuredly disappointed. The temperature was 93 degrees F when I played this course so the punishment for another birdie here was walking up the hill off the green made me feel noticeably winded. In order to design a green with such a funnel effect, what goes down must go up, and to get back to the path to get to the 7th hole is not an easy walk at all. I really enjoyed the 6th hole here.
The 7th is a par 3 that is probably the 2nd hardest hole on the front 9. There is water and 3 small bunkers fronting the green and in spite of a great view this is a scary looking hole. The green is another wild one and the entire right side if the pin is there is like the 18th hole on a miniature golf course. Don’t be tricked into thinking I am mocking that, you have to hit about a 6 iron to the right side of the green to find this funnel effect, with all carry over water, so it’s a real shot and easier to screw up than to pull off; yet the reward for pulling off this shot IF the pin is in the right side punchbowl is a great chance for a hole in one. Bad luck for me had the pin on the left side on a back shelf, which was probably the toughest pin on the green and my bogey on this hole supported that after I pulled my 7 iron left of the green. The pitch to recover was not overly tough but awkward nonetheless and I was able to get my pitch to 10 feet, but just missed the putt.
The 8th is a par 5 and the 9th is a par 4. At this point in the round is where I started to get a bit dizzy with the design. Both of these holes play downhill off the tee and uphill to the approach shot. It felt here like it was too much down off the tee, up to the green, over and over again. Some may argue this is a great use of land and showed super creativity but it just started to feel enough was enough at this point. The 9th green is probably the most severe on the entire course and the front pin position is separated by a tier that must be 15 feet in severity. I have to imagine that if the pin is positioned there and someone hits their approach shot long, a putt will probably go tumbling down the hill short of the green and create frustration. A nice attempt here by Jim Engh to do something radical but probably too extreme for my taste.
The back 9 is just as wild as the front.
The 10th hole could rival the 5th for the best architecturally design hole on the course. If you don’t love the 10th hole at The Creek Club, I’d love for you to explain to me why. It’s a beautiful looking hole that goes downhill off the tee but features a demanding drive that must avoid a challenging bunker straight ahead and forces you to keep your drive left to have a great angle into this challenging approach shot and green complex. If you hit the fairway you will have an approach shot that everyone should love. A creek runs diagonally in front of the green and the approach shot has a proclivity to pull your shot left to avoid the creek. But rest assured there is a hill that will kick your pulled shot left onto the green, SO LONG AS you don’t pull it too much, and even if you do, the chance for an up and down there is realistic. This was my 2nd favorite hole on the course.
I was not a big fan of the 11th hole. It’s a par three that is well over 200 yards from the back tees and features a boomerang shaped green that feels somewhat divided by a bunker that runs along the front middle. The entire right side of the green is way too narrow for a shot of this length. The view in the distance makes you only see houses and unsightly dead grass so for all the great views and interesting holes on the course thus far, this is one you’d like to forget.
The 12th is an interesting par 5 that has an amazing green complex with three distinct sections all of which are challenging, more like a traditional green with sections where a good shot will be rewarded but a poorly hit one will leave a very challenging up and down. The lead up to the green on this hole is interesting and presents many options and obstacles with a 5 trees that are left in unusual places (one in the middle of the fairway) to keep you on your toes. I like the hole.
The 13th is a hole that is truly a one-of-a-kind par 3. The green is narrow but funneled from front to back and amoeba shaped running probably 65 yards or so deep and has a dogleg left in the back section. Yes, I am JUST talking about the green complex. It’s certainly not a majestic look but one that screams hole-in-one if you hit the right section and get the right bounce. Unlike some of the other funnel effect holes, only the back left section has a true punch bowl effect, the rest of the green has so many bumps and humps that the ball can easily bounce onto the wrong section of the green leaving a really awkward and hard putt to get close to the hole. The tee shot is uncomfortable because you don’t really know where to hit your shot and your tee shot needs some luck to get close unless you have a back left pin as I did where you can go right at it, or just left of it to get close to the hole. This hole represents a great example of judging architecture unemotionally because I hit my best shot of the day here, a 6 iron from 195 that never left the stick, it wound up 3 feet from the hole and I made a nice birdie, but I studied this hole closely and found it to be way too gimmicky on the majority of the green and unsightly on top of that. Moreover, the walk off the green up the hill could make even the most fit athlete winded and needing a few seconds to catch their breathe.
The 14th is a nice par 5 that actually features a nice change of pace, an uphill tee shot and a downhill approach. For most this will be a layup par 5 as there is nothing but trouble short, it’s all carry over water and the green is designed to receive a wedge approach. If you do go for the green in two, the green sits in another amphitheater setting where there is a good chance your long approach shot could funnel onto the green. This is another somewhat boomerang green from left to right, so it’s a different shape and a fun hole. The approach with a wedge is what makes the hole, you have a great chance for a birdie if you play the hole the way it was designed. But you could easily make bogey or worse on this one.
The 15th is a solid par 4 that I liked, but not much to really highlight here except that it’s one of the more mundane greens on the course. It still have a somewhat bowl effect just not as severe as many of the others.
16, 17 and 18 are all disappointments relative to the rest of the stronger holes on the course. The 16th is a par 4 that goes mainly uphill and its short. But It just didn’t fit my eye to well aesthetically. The 17th is a par-3 with a green that seems totally out of sorts for this course. The green had only modified movement to it and just want not that memorable.
The 18th for me was the biggest disappointment on the course. The tee shot plays straight downhill, you cannot really see much of the hole from the back tee box and you can sort of see parts of the fairway. The width of the fairway is huge but there are 3 bunkers that guard the left side of the fairway. The right side slopes severely right to left and its easy to be left with an uphill lie on this hole if your tee ball doesn’t funnel down to the middle of the fairway. The most awkward part of this hole is that it has three green complexes. You read that correctly, three different greens that can be used on any given day. There’s one to the left, one in the middle and one on the right. The only green you can see off the tee is the one to the left. This green has a tall tree right smack in the middle of where you would hit your approach shot. I had to look twice to make sure I was seeing straight. Without this tree, that would be the best of the three greens relative to the direction the hole plays. The middle green has a whole bunch of disk like humps fronting the uphill green which obstructs the view of the green complex until you actually get up onto to the green. If it were me, I would completely renovate this approach shot to the middle green so that it has some optical appeal and doesn’t feel so awkward. This middle green has a left to right rippling effect that seems ok but for me is not the right design for a hole like this. If anything a hole like this should have a true punchbowl green relative to the rest of the course. This green is somewhat narrow while you can spring the ball forward on this green if you clear the humps short of the green and you can probably get the ball to roll back onto the green if you are just long, there are no optics here because you cannot see any part of the green due to this huge hump section fronting it.
The right side green should simply be eliminated. It’s the weakest of the three greens by far. First off, it turns the hole into a sharp dogleg right. While that makes it seem like an interesting alternative option, the natural land of this hole does not fit making it a dogleg right. If you hit your drive to the right, you really have no shot at all but to wedge out way left to leave yourself an uphill longer approach shot that has to go way to the right. This is a small green that has hardly any movement and if anything takes away from the other two greens which are more interesting and make for a better hole. With a modest amount of work, this hole could be vastly improved and it’s one of the examples where played at a shorter length it’s a much better hole. I looked at this hole from each tee box and the back tee makes the hole the weakest. The other tee boxes create a much better visual and offer more risk reward, even as the hole currently is designed without taking into account my proposed changes.
Overall I enjoyed The Creek Club. Some of the views are majestic, some of the holes are fantastic actually. On balance, it’s a super fun golf course that should boost most golfers ego’s if they are hitting the ball solidly and most importantly have good distance control. Keep in mind, all the highlights I shared above all require proper distances control for these green complexes and surrounds to take the design features to spring your ball towards the hole. If you don’t have the right distances on your approach shots you will be scrambling to save pars. I just keep thinking how much appeal this course would have if the PGA TOUR picked 4 players for a skins game here or if they had a match play event on the course, tour players would eat it up and you would see plenty of scores in the upper 50’s. You would probably see someone break Jim Furyk’s record score of 58 that he shot several years ago. In spite of my criticism of the 18th hole, don’t get me wrong, you can easily play this hole strategically and make plenty of pars and even some birdies to the middle green. The left green approach shot would be drastically improved is they just take down that one tree and then it’s a reasonably good hole, especially from the 2nd tee box which opens up the views and creates much more definition of where you need to go off the tee. The thought that went into many of these greens is like nothing I have ever seen and for that I applaud Jim Engh for his efforts. Finally, if I were just playing this course to play golf, and not be an architectural critic, I would walk off the 18th green (probably out of breath) and say, “wow, that was so much fun!”
For those who venture to Reynolds Lake Oconee for a golf getaway try to see if you can secure an opportunity to play the private Creek Club when there. Architect Jim Engh is more noted for his efforts in Colorado but the layout he created here is quite refreshing for its originality and imaginative routing plan.
The course is blessed with rolling terrain and this element really adds to the range of holes and shotmaking challenges you face. The opening par-5 is a quality starting hole. Giving players the opportunity for the bold play off the tee in hope of possibly going for the green in two shots. Parallel to the line of play down the left side runs pesky Richland Creek which invites players to hit as near as possible to it so that the angle to the green becomes more manageable than if one pushes a tee shot to the far right. I've played my share of Engh courses and his creative senses with par-5 holes is a true testament to his design skills.
The course is aptly named as the creek will be in play for 14 of the 18 holes.
The series of holes that follow is a mixture of short and long.
Creating par-4s that are less than 400 yards and more than 350 is no small feat. Often times the stronger players can usually beat such holes into submission through simple length. The 3rd, at 391 yards, invites the bold play but only when married to archer-like accuracy off the tee as the fairway tapers down and there's also a solitary bunker in the ideal landing spot for those who fail to pay close attention. The approach is also well done with a green residing on the other side of a creek and with different "fingers" which provides for a wonderful combination of pin locations.
At the 5th, Engh brings to life a long par-4 of 474 yards -- again with a creek that splits the fairway in two. The more challenging is the right side -- narrower but also providing a better angle into the green. The same creek runs alongside the green to the left and must be accounted for when driving to the more spacious left side of the fairway.
Dropshot par-3's have become all too commonplace but at the 7th Engh has done well as the green sits just on the other side of a protecting pond. The green also narrows when the pin is placed in the far right corner.
One of the fascinating features of Creek Club is how the fairways always turn in some sort of direction. You don't get the predictable formulaic straight razor cut of grass.
Three of the best holes at the entire Reynolds facility comes with the starting trio for the inward half. The par-4 10th once again uses a creek to its considerable advantage. The hole turns right in the drive zone and a creek runs in a diagonal perpendicular line. The more you hit left the more likely the creek will snare one's ball. Getting the ball down the right side is ideal but a nearby tree line and large bunker await those who poorly execute. The same creek runs alongside the right side of the green.
At the par-3 11th you encounter a boomerang putting green. There's a bailout area to the more spacious left side but when the pin is cut to the far right the landing area becomes much more constricted with wetland bracketing the sliver of green both front and rear. At 233 yards it's good to see the role of a long par-3 have such brilliant elasticity.
The par-5 12th that follows rounds out the troika in grand style. The hole once again uses a split fairway concept to a fine degree. There's ample room to the left but from that position the demands in attempting to get to the green in two shots becomes highly problematic as the creek you face then becomes a larger size pond to the left of the putting surface. The boldest of tee shots can attempt to go down the right side but the play is anything but elementary. There is an armada of small bunkers that must be avoided as well as trees that hug perilously near on that side. This is a par-5 that creates scoring situations -- from eagle to triple-bogey and all of it rests on the shoulders of players to decide which line of attack fits their appetite for caution and risk.
From the 13th thru the 17th you encounter a series of varying holes -- Engh smartly avoids predictability and therefore the interest level is kept up.
The concluding hole is one that will likely strike some as overkill but it's one I found a profound way to finish the round. The 18th is a par-5 that plays 557 yards. The first priority is avoiding three small fairway bunkers placed in the right center area of the fairway. Those who wish to push the risk envelope can aim just to the right of them. If successful you can shorten the hole somewhat and therefore have a go at the green.
The 18th provides for no less than three individual greens. No misprint. It's hard to say which one is the most challenging -- I believe the one to the far right is the first among equals.
The main detriment at Creek Club rests with the usage of zoysia grass for the fairways. The grass type provides for a verdant look when in season and no doubt one's ball sits very well. The downside is that zoysia is more of a cushioning carpet and therefore the wherewithal to secure any ground game dimension is not going to happen. That situation does change during the winter months when the surface is dormant. It's too bad because with a really firm and fast layout the fun factor would only elevate itself to a higher degree.
Like I said at the outset, if you trek to Reynolds see what you can do to secure a round here. Creek Club is captivating and Engh never fails to maximize thought provoking holes where creative thinking and adept execution are always called upon.
M. James Ward