The Oconee Course at Reynolds Lake Oconee: The One that Has It All
Last year when I visited Reynolds Lake Oconee for the first time, I arrived at about 7:30 in the morning on a beautiful Fall day.
I’d just taken a red eye to Atlanta from Portland, and watching the sunrise as a drove down I-20 for my first trip in 20 months post-Covid, was one of my better travel memories of the past decade.
But it wasn’t just the drive.
It was the destination.
As I pulled into Reynolds for the first time, on a perfect morning, I got my first view of the Oconee Course.
It was so picturesque I literally found the nearest parking spot, and sprinted out to the course to take photos.
Unfortunately, the Oconee, one of 6 courses at Reynolds, would be closed during that trip due to overseeding.
Fast forward exactly one year, and I find myself back at Reynolds Lake Oconee.
I had some unfinished business.
I only played 2.5 of the 6 courses on the last trip, so I wanted to see a couple more that I missed last go around.
So this time I played rounds on both the National and Oconee Courses – and let’s just say, I wasn’t disappointed.
First Impressions of the Oconee Course at Reynolds
As you can tell from the introduction of this post, my very first impression of the course was pretty special.
But what about showing up for a round?
The Oconee clubhouse is just a stone’s throw from the wonderful Ritz-Carlton, so if you’re staying there and looking for a single round of golf – this is your best option.
The range is sprawling and very well maintained. They use great Taylormade balls, and it feels as nice as any high-end resort or private club I’ve been to.
In the case of Oconee, it’s both. Reynolds members are treated to golf at any of the courses, and resort guests of the hotel, cottages, or condos have access to all the courses but the Creek Club. The only open play for the general public comes once a year during Masters week.
Everything at Reynolds feels thoughtful and well-executed, and the clubhouse is no different.
From the moment I saw the waterfall cascading down the hill near the left side of the first green, I had a feeling I was going to like this course.
Front Nine of the Oconee Course
One of the great things about golfing at Reynolds is that all the courses are very different from one another. Bandon Dunes is the ultimate example of a resort where you can rank any of the courses in any order, and no one would be able to fault you for it.
While Reynolds certainly isn’t Bandon Dunes, it’s one of the few golf resorts in the country where this same type of ranking comes into play.
I’ve heard people say Creek for instance is their favorite, or their least favorite (it’s a polarizing course.)
But the most common answer I heard from members and pros, was that the Oconee Course is their second favorite of the courses, often behind Great Waters.
The course opens with a wonderful par 5 that’s reachable in two with a solid drive. But with a bunker right of the green, and a pond left, you better be confident in your swing.
The second is a mid-length par 4 that requires you to look at the day’s pin for the best line off the tee. Pin right? You can play it safe left of the fairway bunker and have a good line in.
But if the pin is on the left, the best line forces you to try and clear the fairway bunker. Is it worth the risk? That’s up to you.
The 5th is a fun downhill par 3. 7 is also a downhill par 3, but with a different type of defense. Instead of water, short right as it is on 5, that’s where your bailout is on 7. It’s left and long that will cause trouble.
And with our pin all the way in the back, it tricked a few of us into going flag hunting leaving us over the green on a very steep bank.
There’s some great movement in the fairways on the front 9, with multiple dogleg holes having pretty steep slopes at the corner. This helps give some friendly kicks for less-than-perfect drives.
Throughout the first half of the round one of the themes is a downhill tee shot to an uphill approach.
You see this on at least 5 of the first 11 holes. But the hole designs are still quite varied, and despite that commonality, it never feels like you’re playing the same hole over and over again.
9 is a tricky par 4 with a green that’s very well defended by a bunker and water on the right, while still providing a great bailout option left.
The Oconee does a nice job of providing solid defense, without forcing you into making shots that are too difficult. There are both spots to bail out and run the ball up to the green on most holes.
Recognizing this, it’s easy to see why it was voted one of the 50 Best Courses for Women in the country by “Golf for Women.”
Back 9 of the Oconee Course
While the front 9 is great, the back 9 is where Oconee really shines. It just keeps building to a wonderful crescendo finish.
The 12th hole on the Oconee course is one of my favorites at all of Reynolds. There’s a creek that meanders down the entire right side of this par 4. The fairway is wider than it looks from the tee, but you still have to hit a pretty precise tee shot to avoid the water or left bunker.
I was told the 13th has the biggest bunker in the entire state of Georgia. Not sure if that’s true or not, but it’s certainly one spot on the course you’d be best off avoiding.
14 is challenging par 4 which gives you all kinds of lines you can take off the tee.
The further right you go? The more bunker you’ll have to clear, but the shorter your approach will be.
You’ll take the bunker out of play if you stay way left, but it will leave you with a very long approach. It’s a great-looking and thoughtfully designed hole.
If it weren’t for 18, you’d likely consider the 15th the “signature” hole on the course.
It’s a beautiful par 3, and is one of the few holes on the course that’s actually on the lake.
16 is similar to 12 in that it has a creek that runs the length of the hole. It starts right of the green, bisects the fairway, and then meanders down the left side of the hole towards the tee box.
It comes into play on each shot and is a fantastic feature. Creeks like this one and on 12 are just one way that Jones added variety across the course.
The par 5 17th heads directly out towards the lake, and the bridge I was so enamored with on my first visit to Reynolds.
And then you get to 18.
I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say 18 is the most difficult hole in all of Reynolds.
From the blue tee boxes you’re looking at over 460 yards. It’s a little bit of a cape hole. You’ll have to clear the lake and a bunker just to make it to the fairway. From there you’ll likely still have a long iron or more to get home.
Full disclosure, I pretended this was a par 5, and was happy to get on in 3 and take my two-putt for bogey.
It’s one of the most beautiful holes on the course, but man, it’s a brute.
Final Thoughts on the Oconee Course at Reynolds Lake Oconee
Personally, I think the entire Reynolds golf experience can be summed up by playing the Oconee Course.
It takes elements you see on all of the other courses (the water from Great Waters, the movement from Creek, the playability of Preserve, the elevation changes, and challenge of National) and it gives it all to you on one course.
The Oconee course starts out good, but it builds throughout the round. It just keeps getting better and better as you make your way around the course.
While Great Waters may get more press and accolades, I think the Oconee Course is the one that provides the quintessential Lake Oconee golf experience, and makes for an excellent first round and introduction to the resort.
This is by far one of, if not the best original Rees Jones course I’ve played. The only other one that competes for me would be Atlantic Golf Club on Long Island.
Oconee keeps you engaged and interested for all 18 holes. As soon as you begin to see patterns or think that you know what’s coming on the course, he changes it up and gives you something totally different.
The Oconee Course can be setup to be incredibly challenging if need be, but it’s still extremely playable for golfers of most skill levels.
I’ve said it many times over the last year, but the sheer amount of variety Reynolds provides both in its golf courses as well as the community, in general, is very impressive.
If you’re visiting and only have time for 1 or 2 rounds? The Oconee is one of the best courses in Georgia, and playing it is a decision you won’t regret.