Great Waters Golf Course: The Crown Jewel of Reynolds Lake Oconee
Before my recent trip to Reynolds Lake Oconee, I’ll be honest I didn’t know much about the area.
I knew there was a beautiful lake.
I knew there was a Ritz Carlton resort.
And I knew they had a golf course that was supposed to be phenomenal called Great Waters.
It’s one I’ve wanted to see for a long time, dating back to my original quest on this site of playing the Top 100 public courses in the USA.
I was a little disappointed as early on in the trip planning it looked like it might not happen due to a crowded tee sheet and some outings happening while I was there, but the week before I arrived we got it locked in.
First Impressions of Great Waters Golf Course
Great Waters is a Jack Nicklaus design that was finished in 1992. By car, it’s located a little bit farther from the other courses near the Ritz Carlton, about a 25-minute drive. Or if you have access to a boat, it’s a pretty quick trip across the lake.
As with most of the courses at Reynolds, the entry leading up to the Clubhouse is beautiful. Large trees abound, and a classic-looking clubhouse overlooking the lake is clearly a special spot for guests visiting the Club.
The driving range is pristine, and if I were a member of Reynolds, I could see myself easily spending days out on this property just for the clubhouse, practice facilities, and views alone.
While the course has always been well-regarded, it underwent a large restoration in 2018 and 2019 that has left Great Waters looking better than ever.
Among the changes were:
- Changing all the greens to TigEagle Bermuda grass
- Replanting all fairways to use Zoysia (which I’ve found lovely to play on)
- New plumbing was installed
- Tree clearing to improve sightlines and turf quality
- The course was made both more challenging with the addition of “Golden Bear” tees stretching to nearly 7,500 yards (!!!) and easier with new forward tees bringing it down to just 4500 yards
- 1/3 of the holes received major design updates.
Great Waters Golf Course: Just the Facts
- Designer: Jack Nicklaus
- Built-in: 1992. Renovated in 2019
- #88: Golf Magazine Top 100 Courses You Can Play (2021/22)
- #77: Golf Digest America’s Greatest 100 Public Courses (2021/22)
- Location: Lake Oconee, Georgia
- Fees: Varies
- Website: https://www.reynoldslakeoconee.com/life/golf/great-waters
- Slope: 143, Rating: 75.7
The Front 9 at Great Waters
I played the private Creek Club the day before, and Great Waters could not be more different from that course.
They both have views and impeccable conditioning, but outside of that – they’re two completely different experiences.
You immediately notice upon reaching the first tee that the course is in immaculate shape. The Bermuda roughs and Zoysia fairways are a delight to play off of – although being from the west coast, it still always takes some getting used to Bermuda grass.
One of the updates made in 2019 was moving the Golden Bear tee box on #1 back to the putting green. The first time I ever saw a shared teebox/putting green was at The Golf Club, and I still enjoy it whenever it’s done.
I didn’t know a ton about the golf course before I played it, and I found myself after the first few holes saying “where are the Great Waters!?”
“Oh, just wait until you get to the back.”
The first few holes were good golf holes if a little unremarkable.
The par 5 2nd provides a great risk-reward opportunity on your second shot. If you hit a good drive you were left with: layup short of the water, bail out left, or go for the green – and I enjoyed that hole.
The first one-shotter, the par 3 4th I thought is an excellent part 3 and one of the first truly scenic holes in its hole design.
Five is a great par 5 with a huge creek guarding the green and is one of my favorite approach shots on the course.
But honestly, it was when I got to 9 that I really started to get it.
The first 8 holes I thought were good golf holes. But there wasn’t anything that truly wow-ed me.
When you get to the 9th hole? All of that changes.
The 9th is one of my favorite golf holes I’ve played in some time.
It’s a shorter par 4 that allows you to hit just about whatever you want off the tee based on what you want to have on your approach shot.
What’s most notable is that in the renovation they lowered the fairway by up to 10 feet in spots to actually give you views of the water from the teebox.
I didn’t see the course before renovations, but having that wow factor on the tee, after the first 8 holes being through inland neighborhoods I thought was a great upgrade.
The Back 9 at Great Waters
To put it simply, the back 9 is why you come to Great Waters. And it truly is among the best 9 holes of golf in the country.
Not only are the views gorgeous, but the holes are fun and interesting as well.
Every hole on the back but the 10th features the lake in one way or another – but the most visually arresting is arguably the drivable par 4, 11th.
You duck into the trees off the 10th green, and when you get to the teebox you’re met with this view:
This is another hole where you can hit just about anything you want. Have a right pin? Green light! Left pin? You may be smarter to pump the brakes and layup to a comfortable distance.
But when I got to 11 right at the peak of golden hour, I didn’t want to leave.
12 is a wonderful uphill par 5 that features water near the tee, and leaves you wondering if you’re leaving it for good.
Never fear, the green on 13 is delicately pushed right up to the water, one of the changes in the renovation, and makes for one of the most beautiful spots on the course.
The 14th is one of my favorite par 3s on the course playing along the coast of Lake Oconee.
By the time we got to 15 we were chasing daylight a little bit, and watching the ball roll off the false front was not a welcome sight. But honestly, it was a poor shot, so it did exactly what was intended 🙂
16 is a brute of a par 4 heading out towards the lake.
17 is a beautiful par 3 that forces you to go straight over Lake Oconee.
And finally, you reach 18, which gives off some 18 at TPC Sawgrass vibes in that the entirety of the left side of the hole borders the lake. It’s a great risk-reward tee shot, as the closer you keep it to the lake, the better your chances of reaching the green in two.
Final Thoughts on Great Waters at Reynolds Lake Oconee
One of the things I was concerned about going into the round is just how penal the course would feel. 1992 was right in the heart of Jack Nicklaus’ phase of “let’s create the toughest golf courses we can.” And knowing there is so much water on the course, had me concerned.
But overall, the course doesn’t feel as penal as I expected. There are some excellent strategic design elements that force you to make some risk/reward decisions.
And in most instances where water is on the course, they do a good job of making it a strong visual factor, without forcing you to hit heroic forced carries around every turn.
Great Waters is rightly in its place within the top 100 public courses in both Golf and Golf Digest publications, and it’s a wonderful experience for all guests visiting Reynolds.
While I wish there were a few more views on the front, everything from 9 on more than makes up for it. Much more so than another Ritz Carlton property at Half Moon Bay, where you have to wait until the 17th to get a taste of the beautiful water views on the Old Course.
When you visit Reynolds Lake Oconee, make sure Great Waters is part of your course rotation, as you’ll be talking about that back nine for a long time to come.
Learn more about the other golf courses at Reynolds Lake Oconee.