How excited am I to be packing for my first Golf Road Warriors adventure? Let me put it this way. I made my first and only trip to Reynolds Plantation exactly 20 years ago. Back then, there were only two courses on site at the far end of Linger Longer Road in sleepy Greensboro, Ga. Needless to say, the Ritz-Carlton Lodge had yet to be built. (The small media contingent on hand was asked to camp along the shores of Lake Oconee. We got free marshmallows. Just kidding!).
Short on time, I drove the resort community’s original venue, the Plantation Course, a pleasant, user-friendly design by Bob Cupp, saving myself for the property’s stellar newcomer, Great Waters. I played the course with Jim Lipe, a senior design associate with Jack Nicklaus. During the round, he pointed out every nuance of the routing, called attention to every feature. After getting pummeled for years by Jack’s penal, heavily mounded designs throughout the Sun Belt, I was floored by the quality of the understated, lay-of-the-land design at Great Waters.
Handed an exceptional parcel of land, Nicklaus built a truly spectacular course, but one that does not bend over backwards for dramatic effect. Half the holes at Great Waters flank the shores of Lake Oconee, a giant inkblot of water covering more than 19,000 acres. Jack could have fit in more holes along the shore, but chose not to. Happily, forced carries are rare at Great Waters. Most of the water is parallel to the line of play. This is, after all, a resort course. You’re supposed to have fun.
With Lipe, an ace, at my side (Jim played on LSU’s golf team), I used the same ball for all 18 holes and broke 90 from the blue tees. Pretty good for a New York City-based player whose practice was confined to hitting furtive half-wedge shots on a dog patch in Central Park at dusk.
I can still remember a few of the holes on the front nine at Great Waters, which runs inland through a pine forest and brings a man-made creek into play at four holes. The peninsular back nine, the one everyone talks about, circulates players from one lake cove to the next. To my mind, the incoming nine at Great Waters offers the most pleasant and memorable stretch of lakeside golf in the nation. (By contrast, Whistling Straits is memorable but not pleasant).
What I most liked about Great Waters were the tee placements. The back tees were designed to rivet a good player’s attention—Jack has yet to build a cream puff for anyone–but multiple sets of forward markers give everyone (including women) a more-than-fighting chance to succeed. For me, Great Waters signaled a new direction for Jack as an architect. This is also the course that put Reynolds Plantation on the golf map and paved the way for additional courses at the development.
Now comes word that Great Waters was totally renovated two years ago. Greens and bunkers have been restored to their original shapes and sizes. The putting surfaces have been converted from bentgrass to Miniverde Bermudagrass, an ideal choice for this climate.
While my game isn’t as tidy as it was in 1992, and while I’ll probably move up to the white tees on this trip, I can’t wait to renew acquaintance with one of my favorite Nicklaus-designed courses anywhere.