The wide eyes tell the story. On the range, and by the putting green behind the clubhouse of the Great Waters Course at Reynolds Lake Oconee, LPGA Tour players in Georgia for the Drive On Championship had an almost universal reaction to this venue.
“Surprise,” Mel Reid said walking from the range to the tee. “In a good way. It’s definitely a pleasant surprise. I had no idea anything like this was out here. I’ve never played in this area. It reminds me of the (Lake of the) Ozarks. But no, it’s really nice.”
Lydia Ko agreed. “I thought this would be more of a resort-type course but it’s not. It’s quite good,” Ko said. “I am excited about it. It’s beautiful. It’s going to look really good on television.”
The Great Waters Course has always surprised people. From the old days when Davis Love III was beating Phil Mickelson in the finals of the Anderson Consulting Match Championship to more recently when the best college teams in the nation have squared off in the Linger Longer Invitational, players and spectators have uttered collective wows at the layout and the scenery. As early as Tuesday afternoon, a small flotilla of pontoon boats meandered into the harbor between the ninth and 18th fairways so that lake dwellers could get a glimpse of players getting their first glimpses of the course. Those socially distanced, water-bound spectators will likely increase as play officially starts on Thursday.
What they’re seeing is a gem of a course. Jack Nicklaus, who originally designed the Great Waters Course more than a quarter century ago, completed a redesign exactly one year ago with spectacular results.
“All golf courses look a little tired after the years,” Nicklaus said during his grand re-opening. “They need a little sprucing up. But I think this golf course also needed some improvements – things we probably couldn’t afford to do when we (originally built) the golf course but saw over time would make (it) better.”
The greens were completely rebuilt, with some old-world subtleties added. The eighth hole, a mid-length par-3 now has a green that looks like something C.B. Macdonald built in the 19th century. It runs away from players with the contours of the ground so that a low draw that lands on the front right will run all the way to the back left. That green and others require shots to be shaped, balls to the “worked” a term that has almost vanished from the modern game.
“I was really surprised with how difficult the second shot is playing and the greens,” Gerina Piller said. Piller is one of the three players who have saw the Great Waters Course before Jack’s renovations. She, along with Jackie Stoelting and Ryann O’Toole played in The Big Break Invitational at the course in 2014.
“I know with (the greens) being newer greens they're not very receptive as far as they run out and the slopes,” Piller said after her round on Tuesday. “You’ve got to definitely know where to land it and where the slopes are and use those to your advantage.
“It's definitely a second-shot golf course,” she said. “You’ve got to position yourself off the tee to get a better angle into the greens, more accessible pins.
“And, you know, you want to definitely be in the right quadrant for the greens. I know No. 11 is really, really big, but there are some that you just want to divide into quadrants and keep it in that area. So, it's going to be a great test. It's in phenomenal shape.
“When we played (in 2014) it was in awesome shape. I don't think I ever played in Georgia (before that). Maybe we played a Symetra Tour event outside Atlanta. I can't even remember the name of the course. But I hadn't played much here. It's a fabulous area. I haven't seen the other courses (at Reynolds Lake Oconee) but with it being on the water, you can definitely get those winds and the big trees… It's an awesome course. I really like it.”
Jack will be pleased to hear.
“People take a lot of pride in where they play and where they live and they don’t want the game to pass them by,” Nicklaus said. “You want to make sure that as people get older you include them in what you’re doing. But you also know that time moves on and you have young people who want to join so you have to have a balance.
“I try to make sure golf courses are playable for everybody but also attract the better players who want to come out.”
The best women in the world have come out to Reynolds Lake Oconee this week. And, so far at least, they are well pleased with what they have seen.