LAKE OCONEE, Georgia – When John Matney and his partner purchased the Harbor Club property in 1992 there were about 60 homes in the community. But, as we all know, time has a way of changing things, often for the better. Fast forward to 2020 and there are now more than 550 homes and another 47 under construction. There are currently 1100 homesites and over 600 acres available for future expansion. Matney’s sons, Brandon, and Justin have bought out the original partner. Brandon serves as the community’s General Manager – a title he’s had since 2012 – and Harbor Club has been debt-free since the Matney family took ownership. In addition to being a great place to call home, this semi-private golf facility is also a convenient spot for visitors who come to Georgia for the Masters each April.
The Harbor Club is home to an 18-hole championship golf course designed by PGA TOUR superstar Tom Weiskopf and his golf course design partner Jay Morrish. They did their best not to disturb the existing environment and keep traditional hazards such as trees, water features, dramatic elevation changes, and other native vegetation intact as much as possible. Their courses typically do not intimidate and you’ll usually find at least one drivable par 4. It’s become their trademark.
Many of the holes at Harbor Club feature undulating fairways with generous landing areas flanked by strategically fairway bunkers that absorb errant tee shots. Just about every hole is tree-lined, however, the trees are not densely packed, so you’ll most likely find your ball but may not have a shot. More often than not, you’ll find yourself having to punch out which makes par a lot tougher. Beautiful Lake Oconee provides stunning views and comes into play on four holes.
Harbor Club offers golfers six sets of tees, so everyone regardless of age and ability should be able to find a suitable distance. The course measures 7,027 yards from the tips with a course rating of 74.2 and a slope of 138. Most guys will find the Green Tees (6,225 yards, 70.6/130) to be a challenge that still leaves them with a little bit of dignity intact. The Ladies Tees play 5,191 yards (70.7/126). Choose the set of tees that best suit your game and you’re sure to have a good time.
This course has several memorable holes. Brains over brawn comes to mind as you stand on the tee box of Number 3, “Stone Bridge,” a 345-yard par 4 hole that doglegs to the right. You can see the water on the right that will form the boundary once you hit the dogleg. Plan on hitting your tee shot no more than 200 yards and leave yourself a short to mid-iron into a long narrow green protected on the right by water.
Number 7, “On Golden Pond,” is the first of two risk/reward par 4 holes and brings Lake Oconee into the mix. The scorecard measures this hole at 323 yards however it seems to play considerably shorter and if you’re willing to take on the water, you can have a go at the green. Pay attention to which way the wind is blowing and let it rip! Should you decide to play it as a two-shot par 4, beware of the out of bounds and fairway bunkers.
Number 14 is a risk/reward par 5 named “Wildflower” for the brightly colored flowers on display in the field left of the large oak tree in the middle of the fairway. That oak tree splits the fairway; anything right of the tree usually means taking the long way home. A good drive down the left side will leave an opportunity to go for the green but will require about a 220-yard carry over the field of wildflowers. The long way home will likely consist of an uphill layup shot on a fairway that doglegs left. A good layup will leave a slightly downhill approach shot to a large, well-protected green. Good scores can be had here, regardless of how you play the hole.
The two finishing holes are two of the prettiest and most challenging holes in the area. Number 17, “The Marsh,” is a par 3 that reintroduces you to Lake Oconee. At 174 yards, it’s almost all carry over water to a green that is a lot wider than it is deep. Bunkers protect the green in front and back. Playing out of the sand from behind the green can be a precarious shot with the water looming in front of you.
The 18th hole, aptly named “Double Cross,” is a 415-yard par 4 with a creek that needs to be dealt with twice. From the Blue or Green tees, just right of the middle bunker is a good line and gives you plenty of fairway to work with. It’s a line that clearing the water shouldn’t be a factor. A good drive will leave a mid-iron approach shot over water into a green with a bunker right and water left. Par is a great way to finish your round.
In addition to a fabulous golf course, Harbor Club has great practice facilities that include a full-length driving range with targets, where you can hit every club in the bag. There’s also a short game area and a large practice putting green. If you’re looking for the latest in golf fashion, the pro shop is home to some of the game’s top designers, including a large selection of logoed apparel.
After your round, be sure to stop by the clubhouse for your favorite post-round libations or a bite to eat. The clubhouse restaurant serves lunch, dinner, and a Sunday brunch. The lunch menu features some amazing appetizers, sandwiches, and burgers including Loaded Sidewinder Fries with crispy bacon, scallions, and melted cheddar and parmesan cheeses. The Turkey Bacon Swiss Wrap, Reuben, and Clubhouse Burger are also excellent choices.
Dinner is a special event; start with an appetizer like Jumbo Blue Lump Crab Cakes or that southern specialty Fried Green Tomatoes and then move on to a variety of tasty entrees such as Filet Medallions, Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf (everything’s better with bacon) or Crab Stuffed Grouper. For dessert, you can’t go wrong with the Chocolate Spoon Cake, layers of chocolate cake and chocolate pudding. Whatever you choose, it’s all good.
Harbor Club at Lake Oconee is a mandatory membership community meaning if you decide to live in the community, you’ll need to purchase some level of membership. But you don’t have to live within the gates of The Harbor Club to be a member; both resident and non-resident golf memberships are available. As a member, you’ll have access to the award-winning golf course, the golf practice area, the fitness center, swimming pool, tennis and pickleball courts as well as a discount on services and storage at the marina. Several membership levels are available including full golf, weekday golf, junior golf, and corporate golf memberships.
Harbor Club at Lake Oconee is a lot more than just a golf course, although for many that is the main attraction. Harbor Club occupies 1,000 acres along 9 miles of Lake Oconee coastline. In addition to the golf course, you’ll find a junior Olympic-sized swimming pool, outdoor lit tennis courts, a playground for the kids and grandkids, and a walking trail. If boating’s more your style, Harbor Club’s marina offers dry-stack boat storage, a convenience store, two boat ramps, and dining at the Boathouse Restaurant.
When it comes to golf course communities, or communities with a plethora of recreational amenities, Harbor Club is at the top of the list. I would classify it as a “homecation!” If you’re looking for the best golf community value in the area, the clear winner is Harbor Club at Lake Oconee.