By: Zack Buechner
In the summer of 2018, Jack Nicklaus and his design team were challenged to renovate the entire Great Waters golf course at Reynolds Lake Oconee. Originally opened in 1992, the course needed a face lift. Every blade of grass was ripped up while Nicklaus went to work with his team and used this time to not only improve the layout but also completely rebuild a few of the holes.
Plugged In Golf visited Great Waters in 2017, and you can read our course review pre-renovation HERE.
After checking into the pro shop and walking out the back of the clubhouse, you’re greeted with a spectacular view of the lake and the first of two practice putting greens. After admiring the views, I headed to the first tee which sits right next to the driving range, chipping area, and second putting green.
Each stand at the range has a custom plate with yardages to each pin, a pyramid of ProV1 golf balls, and an alignment stick. This is the type of setup that I measure every other driving range by.
The practice facilities at Great Waters are perfectly positioned near each other and close to the first tee, so it’s easy to get around while warming up. In fact, the back tees of the opening hole are positioned on the putting green. No divots please!
Customer Service & Amenities
When you arrive on property at Great Waters, you’ll immediately feel welcomed by each and every employee or staff member you interact with. I’ve never felt like more of a VIP than when I stepped out of my car and made my way to the clubhouse.
Although this is a public golf course, you’ll feel as if you’re a member-for-a-day with the amenities that Great Waters offers to every golfer. The locker room is fully stocked for any grooming needs. Stick around after finishing 18, and you’ll find an unbeatable view of the lake sitting on the patio eating lunch or dinner. I could spend hours simply enjoying the 19th hole.
Beauty & Scenery
The beauty of Great Waters is that it gets its name honestly. With more than half the course having views of the lake, its easy to see why Great Waters is consistently ranked among the top public courses in the country.
The recent renovation by Jack Nickalus has made the name even more appropriate by adjusting the landscape to open up even more views of the lake. Number 9 is a perfect example: the fairway was lowered so golfers can see the lake fronting the green from any tee box. Additionally, #13 had its green moved closer to the water and now demands a more accurate approach.
Even the holes inland that don’t have direct views of the lake are spectacular to play. The routing between tall pines gives a few of the holes an “Augusta” feel to them. Lead designer under Jack, Chad Goetz, mentioned the 5th hole had similar features to 13 at Augusta despite it only being a par-4. A dogleg-left with a creek down the left side and guarding the front of the green, its not hard to see the similarities. This is also the perfect location for the Nicklaus Bridge that connects the fairway to the green.
Like many Nicklaus designed courses, there is forgiveness and width off the tee. With the renovations, Chad Goetz worked with Jack on expanding the fairways throughout the course to allow for more options to play each hole. 12 of the 14 non par-3 holes had fairways widened during the renovation to increase playability and allow players a chance at scoring well on each hole.
The most memorable tee shots were 11 and 18. 11 is a risk/reward downhill short par-4 (pictured above) which has beautiful views of the lake from the tee box. 18 is just as spectacular as the tee sits almost like a peninsula on Lake Oconee with a view of the fairway, clubhouse, and the docks.
Approach shots are where Nicklaus challenges most golfers. Many of the greens at Great Waters are well-protected, whether by sand, large swells, or water. While each green has its own defense, it also has its secrets to scoring well. Take the new par-3 8th hole for example. On the right side of the green, there is a large mound that frames the green complex. While the bunker that fronts the mound spells trouble, landing your ball just beyond it will kick balls back on the green towards a left pin position and potentially setup easy birdie opportunities.
High ball hitters will certainly have the biggest advantage at Great Waters, but Jack’s renovation improved the layout so golfers of all abilities could score well here. The run-up areas have been expanded as have the bail out areas.
Although there are a number of forced carries, Jack has re-designed Great Waters to be enjoyed by any level of player. In his press conference at the grand re-opening of Great Waters, Jack said he wanted golfers to walk off the 18th green and say, “When can I come back and play here again?”
Greens & Surrounds
Another feature of Nicklaus-designed golf courses is the ability to create impressive visuals with each and every green. This is even more apparent post-renovation by giving a facelift to all the bunkers and adjusting them slightly to become more relevant. The renovations led to a more visually stimulating experience as you can see the face of the bunkers as you look towards the approach.
Nicklaus also is a proponent of bailout areas. Not every golfer will play each hole the same way, so allowing players a chance at par is important. Even on the holes that have water separating the green from the fairway, there is still ample room to miss the green, find dry land, and have an opportunity to get up and down.
Whether you played Great Waters pre-renovation or not, there is not a question in my mind that any style of golfer will enjoy this course. The views are unbeatable, the course plays fair and challenging, and with all the amenities of Reynolds Lake Oconee, Great Waters is a must-play.