Steve Pike Anywhere: Great Waters at Lake Oconee

Great Waters Golf Course, located about 85 miles east of Atlanta, tucked into the rolling lake country of Georgia, is one of six golf courses at Reynolds Lake Oconee.

GREENSBORO, Georgia – Great Waters at Lake Oconee has opened after a highly-anticipated renovation by its original legendary designer, Jack Nicklaus. The 18-month project included a completely rebuilt, modernized, and reconditioned version of the 1992 original that helped put the Reynolds Lake Oconee golf community here – about 90 minutes from Atlanta – on the map.

There wasn’t wrong with the original design, said Nicklaus, but the Golden Bear added, as any course gets older, things such as the irrigation system wear out, and the greens mix deteriorates.

“It was just time to come back,’’ Nicklaus said. “I think Chad Goetz (the lead designer on the project for Nicklaus design) did a beautiful job. We enjoyed being able to be a part of what’s going on here.’’
Working within the guidelines of the original routing and strategy, the Nicklaus Design team rebuilt Great Waters from beneath the ground up, including new drainage and irrigation systems, as well as updated bunker designs that are a major part of the modern infrastructure.

“Every golf course has a life cycle, like a car,” Goetz said. “Things wear out and things change a lot in 30 years. Technically, we rebuilt the golf course. It is the same golf course, but now it is really polished.”

Extensive tree clearing took place to reduce shade and improve overall turf quality. This also allowed for wider fairways (Zeon zoysia) and rough (TifTuf Bermuda). The ninth hole, in particular, benefits from tree removal as it now opens up a vista to Lake Oconee. The 11th, and 13th holes also now have better views of the lake.

“You try to keep the lake in play but not in play,’’ Nicklaus said. “Visually yes, but you don’t want to make every shot on the water penal. So you try to strike a balance. I think we did a reasonable job of that.’’

The par-3 8th – one of Great Waters’ signature holes – is the only completely remodeled hole. It now plays over or along bunkers to a more receptive green. The par-4 first hole didn’t get a complete remodel, but fairway bunkers were added to the right to help catch balls that hit the left-to-right down slope. In fact, Great Waters’ overall bunker areas were reduced. The result is classic, more crisp look that helps them better frame the fairways and greens.

A Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course that introduced the Golden Bear’s design work to Lake Oconee in 1992, Great Waters has a dramatic layout that offers some of the most breathtaking golf scenery in the Southeast.

Each of the greens complexes new and have been converted to TifEagle Bermuda, a grass that should perform better in the shade and hold color in the fall. The grasses were selected for their ability to remain in top condition year-round.

A new set of forward tees were added at about 4,500 yards and new back tees were added that makes Great Waters’ overall distance approximately 7,400 yards.

All told, the Nicklaus-led renovation makes Great Waters a larger-than-life course that is an excellent test for Reynolds Lake Oconee members and guests, as well as guests of lodge-style, 251-room Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee.

There’s a tee box for every skill level; the fairways and greens each are receptive; and the views of Lake Oconee are spectacular.

“I want people to walk away and say, ‘That was really a fun course. I wonder what time I can get on tomorrow?’’’ Nicklaus said. “I don’t want them to walk away and say, “Where am I going to play tomorrow? I want them to enjoy (Great Waters). And I want them to say, ‘There’s more out there for me to see.’’

Located between Atlanta and Augusta, Reynolds Lake Oconee is considered one of the country’s more diverse golf experiences, with courses designed by Nicklaus, Tom Fazio (The National); Rees Jones (The Oconee); Bob Cupp (The Landing, and The Preserve); and Jim Engh ( the members-only Creek Club).

Reynolds Lake Oconee also features a full range of sporting activities, with access to more than 350 miles of Lake Oconee shoreline and four marinas; shooting sports at the great Sandy Creek Sporting Grounds; hiking trails; and an award-winning tennis center.

Steve “Spike” Pike is a lifelong journalist whose career includes covering Major League Baseball, the NFL and college basketball. For the past 26 years, Spike has been one of the more respected voices in the golf and travel industries, working for such publications as Golfweek, Golf World and Golf Digest for The New York Times Magazine Group. In 1998, Spike helped launch the web site for the PGA of America. As a freelance travel and golf writer, Spike’s travels have taken him around the world. He has played golf from Pebble Beach to St. Andrews, walked the Great Wall of China, climbed an active volcano in the Canary Islands, been on safari in South Africa and dived with sharks off Guadalupe, Baja California. He lives in Delray Beach, Fla, and can be reached at

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