The Reynolds Lake Oconee resort – originally known as Reynolds Plantation – lies to the east of Atlanta, within a massive ten thousand-acre property that once operated as an old family hunting and fishing retreat.
The Oconee River was dammed in 1978, forming an enormous man-made lake around which the Linger Longer development company was able to sell plots of land for housing before subsequently building six golf courses along the 90 miles of Lake Oconee shoreline.
The Landing and The Preserve were the first two Bob Cupp-designed 18-hole layouts to appear here in the late 1980s. Jack Nicklaus then built the Great Waters course in 1992 which was followed five years later by Tom Fazio’s 27-hole National layout.
Into the new millennium and Rees Jones added the Oconee course in 2001, around the same time that the 251-room Ritz-Carlton resort and spa opened for business. Finally, in 2007, Jim Engh fashioned the member-only Creek Club course.
Rees Jones returned to the Reynolds Lake Oconee resort in 2013 to significantly renovate the Oconee course, cutting back trees and re-laying all eighteen greens.
In Daniel Wexler’s The American Golf Resort Guide the author describes the Oconee course as “another strong test, with a front nine full of sound (if somewhat predictable) holes led by the 559-yard pond-guarded opener and the strong 435-yard 9th”.
He continues: “the back nine, however, offers somewhat more, beginning with the creek-menaced 363-yard 12th and the 231-yard 13th, a sandy one-shotter which is tough and not terribly inventive. But the real fun comes late (at) a pair of waterside finishers, the 546- yard 17th and 466-yard 18th.”
One of the advantages in playing the Oconee Course is its close proximity to the top tier Ritz-Carlton lodging establishment. The Rees Jones course is a tale of two different stories.
The outward nine is merely satisfactory. In addition, the 1st and 10th holes are mirror images of one another. Both are par-5's, both go in the same direction and both are simply redundant.
The terrain is good with sufficient elevation change. The issue is that too many of the holes feature the same dynamic -- elevated tees hitting downhill to fairly receptive targets. Three of the four par-3 holes play noticeably downhill and the final one -- the 15th -- is wonderful eye-candy but lacking any real strategic impulse. The green designs are also good but nothing that truly separates itself for meaningful creativity.
The inward side is the better of the two nines. There's more hole diversity. Three of the best holes on Oconee come on the back with holes 12, 16 and 18. The 12th is under 400 yards but features a creek that runs parallel to the line of play up the right side. The golfer has to be wary in being too aggressive with the tee shot and the green is protected on the right side by the same creek.
At the 16th you encounter a 425-yard par-4. This time there's a creek that runs parallel up the left side and then swings in front of the elevated putting surface. In my mind, this is the best hole on the course. Marrying precision in concert with sufficient distance is called upon as well as first rate approach.
The 18th brings golfers home in fine fashion. You tee off over a portion of the Lake as the hole turns left in the drive zone with bunkers staggered on both sides. The key is favoring the inside location of the right side bunkers. Attempting to cut off the left side doesn't really pay off as much as one might think when standing on the tee box. The 481-yard par-4 also features a very deep green -- the key being proper club selection to get somewhere near. The putting surface also narrows considerably when the flagstick is placed in the rear most area. Only the brave or foolhardy will attempt to flight one's approach all the way to pin high given the challenges encountered from both sides.
Overall, Oconee is a very playable course. However, it's the overall architectural details and richness in hole diversity that's missing for the entire 18 holes.
M. James Ward