The National Course at Reynolds Lake Oconee -- Fazio brand of variety in Georgia

By Jeffrey A. Rendall, Photos by Bethany Rendall

GREENSBORO, GA – “I was never on either of those courses, so I can honestly say they didn’t influence me at all,” replied legendary golf course designer Tom Fazio when asked whether he tried to make The National at Reynolds Lake Oconee fit in with the other spectacular layouts already in place at the location when he initially surveyed the project in the mid 90’s.

Of course Fazio was referring to the first two courses at Reynolds, The Landing (originally known as Port Armor, designed by Bob Cupp in the mid 80’s) and Great Waters (opened in 1992), the Jack Nicklaus inspired gem that hugs Lake Oconee and provides the scenic views the resort community is celebrated for. The Rees Jones masterpiece The Oconee rounded out Reynolds’ public/resort golf courses in 2002.

The par four 1st hole on the Ridge nine offers the first slightly uphill approach shot to a very undulated green.

It may seem odd that Fazio wasn’t interested in seeing the other tracks before embarking on the ambitious project that resulted in The National, but he says it’s just the way he prefers to operate. “It’s generally my modus operandi that I don’t go and see other golf courses no matter where I am.

“I’m interested in the land that we have, the elevations and the details of what that involves,” Fazio elaborated. “Reynolds has some community components to it so you have to plan real estate. You don’t always get what you think you’re going to get or want in terms of the land.

“Not that that’s a compromise or bad, it’s just the way it works out. The whole programming at Reynolds was taking the existing land that you have and work with what your client’s trying to accomplish with the overall process and make it happen from there. I think that’s what The National was all about.”

Coming home on the par four 9th hole on the Cove nine. Quite a panorama to behold.

Yes indeed. When plotting a golf course on such a unique setting as Reynolds it must be an earnest mental exercise to figure out what not to include. The 27-hole facility does not appear to contain a perfectly flat spot on the entirety of the landscape which offered a wealth of opportunities for a mind as fertile as Fazio’s to sculpt and chisel like a Baroque artist would a magnum opus out of a hunk of marble.

The National’s original 18 holes (today known as The Ridge and The Bluff nines) opened in 1997, five years after Nicklaus’s Great Waters. The Cove nine joined the group in 2000. According to Fazio it was never in the works to do two complete 18-hole layouts so the three-nine setup adds yet another exclusive element to those enjoying The National experience on a regular basis.

That’s the way the course was intended to be – played regularly, that is. “The National project was programmed to be the members’ course, kind of more of the private side of it at the time,” Fazio remembered.

From behind the flag on the par three 3rd hole on the Ridge nine.

“It’s where the people get familiar with it and get used to playing it. So you have to really want to make it enjoyable and create variety and have a lot of elements to it. I think that’s what was accomplished at the project.

“In that part of the country the land is so wonderful there are so many opportunities to create such wide varieties of settings. And they have other golf courses that are distinctive in their own right in where they are and what they do.”

It’s true. If there’s one thing The National is known for (as opposed to the other courses) it’s the property’s elevation changes (up to 60 feet according to the website). Members, guests and resort visitors staying at one of Reynolds’ properties or the Ritz-Carlton have access to the facility so I’m guessing most players have the occasion to familiarize themselves with the layout’s nuances and hidden (to the first time player at least) challenges.

After a downhill tee shot shoot for the flag on the par four 5th hole on the Cove nine.

That’s not to say there are a ton of blind shots at The National – there aren’t – but there are a number of holes playing uphill (or severely downhill) presenting difficulty in choosing the right club for approach shots. Add in the imaginative undulations on the large greens and it makes for some interesting putting situations if you select poorly from the fairway.

The course is also well bunkered so expect to bring your sand game. The green complexes include fairway cut roll-offs so if you miss on approaches there’s usually still an option to putt if you like or even try a bump and run. Needless to say there isn’t anything goofy or overdone at The National – such foolery wouldn’t fit with the theme of the resort.

At least for the first time out plan to soak in the beauty of the surroundings and don’t get too distraught if your score doesn’t match your handicap (note: Reynolds provides a card with helpful playing tips for all its courses so it’s highly recommended that you heed the advice if you’re shooting for a number).

The par five 8th hole on the Ridge nine represents a good birdie opportunity if you can hit the fairway from the tee.

I wouldn’t say The National plays like a true mountain course but there are definitely elements of the style. Fazio said there wasn’t any intention to unduly burden anyone with the undulations. “You could say some people don’t like uphill holes, but does that mean people won’t like the golf course?”

Fazio answered his own question. “Well, there are uphill holes at Augusta National, it does not mean they don’t like them. Again, it depends on the writer, the thinker, the guy who has an opinion. People can say whatever they want to say, that’s the unique great thing about golf. Everybody has an opinion. It doesn’t make someone’s opinion better than others and so for me it’s about variety and how you take the existing piece of land and make it the best it can be.

“I think The National land gave me lots of different prospects.

The view from the 2nd tee of the Cove nine reveals the beauty that is The National.

“It’s not a first-time player type of golf course, necessarily. Because of the programming. If it were strictly a resort course we probably would have done some different grading because you do have a lot of one-time players at those types of places.”

For what it’s worth the starter warned us to expect the unexpected on our initial journey around the National’s links. Having played dozens of Fazio courses over the years you’re never sure what to anticipate other than a beautifully laid out course that pleases the senses and adds just enough challenge to stimulate but not be overbearing. The National clearly could play very hard if the pins were tucked and the fairways narrowed with mowing patterns, but for the resort player it’s also quite wide and forgiving for wayward tee shots.

As is true for all of the Reynolds courses we visited the woods bordering the playing areas were cleared and offered soft beds of pine straw to play out of if need be. You won’t lose a lot of golf balls on The National unless you’re really off (or in the water), which is nice.

Looking back at the tough par four 9th on the Ridge nine. It is uphill the whole way, so take plenty of club.

Hitting off the pine straw to holes up above or down below kind of reminded me of what we see on TV every April at a course just up the road at Augusta (about an hour’s drive east of Greensboro).

Since Fazio is intimately familiar with the most famous of all American golf courses, was there any thought to making The National an Augusta National-like golf experience?

No – at least not intentionally. “Certainly there are environments, like when you go to Pinehurst, and you have terrain like that with pine trees and the brown pine needles that drop from the long leaf pines it’s just kind of all the same, it’s just automatic. That’s just the environment of the region.

The par five 4th on the Cove nine is a true three shot hole. Local knowledge helps.

“So it’s not necessarily trying to copy what something else is about. But it’s also the environmental transformation that occurs within the regions from Atlanta through to almost South Carolina. It gives you that kind of natural distinctive character.”

The National’s azaleas and extensive landscaping must help conjure up visions of Augusta -- though by the time we played (in early August) everything was quite green and lush. The flowers were gone. The Bermuda grass fairways offered plenty of roll and the rough was cut down just enough to hold balls moving to the extremes yet short enough to spot easily and advance.

Green speeds were quick but not crazy. The Champion Dwarf Bermuda requires reading the grain but grows profusely during the warm months. Needless to say the greens were in terrific shape. It you miss a putt it’s your fault – don’t blame the superintendent at The National. We were very pleased with the conditioning all around.

At 553 yards the par five 6th hole is the longest on the Ridge nine Trouble surrounds the green.

As expected, variety is built in at The National. That’s a Fazio attribute no matter where you find one of his courses. “Variety is what we do. I’ve probably done over a hundred golf courses between my summer home and my winter home; between Cashiers North Carolina and Jupiter Florida -- none of ‘em look alike, none of ‘em play the same.

“It’s not a style in any of them so The National is just one of those special places that happened to be in the middle of this big development program of variety that just fit naturally for us. It’s a place to create a distinctive golf course.

“It wasn’t a planned program other than borrowing our standard method of the way we do things. Just like our new golf course at Congaree in South Carolina – it’s very different. It’s not like Sage Valley, it’s not like Kiawah, it’s not like anything else we’ve done in South Carolina or North Carolina. It’s a one of a kind custom type of golf course.”

Near the green on the sharp dogleg right par four 8th hole on the Cove nine. It carries a well deserved #1 handicap designation.

Because of the setting and the plentiful variety of strategies that could be associated with playing the course I wondered if it was designed with hosting any kind of professional events in mind.

Again, Fazio replied in the negative. “The possibility of hosting a tournament didn’t factor in and is not pre-planned.

“You go to a region or an area and you look at whether it already has a golf event there. They’ve (Reynolds) had some events on Jack’s course at Great Waters I think with the view of the lake and the setting… The National’s program was for a member’s club and a member’s setting with residential areas around it.

The view from the tee of the par four 2nd hole on the Ridge nine. As usual, Fazio presents options on the type of tee shot to hit.

“Just like you have with Pinehurst -- if you’re going to have a golf event at Pinehurst, where are you going to go? Number Two. Certainly from my standpoint my goal is always to design a golf course for every level of player from the best to the average player, the high handicapper, the residential player, what have you. Whether they host a golf tournament down the road is up to the operations/management that changes over time. You don’t pre-determine that especially at a place that already has so many other options, like Reynolds Lake Oconee.”

Another thing that’s never pre-determined is the need to renovate the course from time to time. The National underwent some fix-it work in 2014 but Fazio says it didn’t impact the layout. According to the designer the bunkers were redone with a change in sand, new liners put in and brought up to date with all the new technologies necessary in today’s golf world. Most if not all of the changes were invisible to the naked eye.

The National has numerous hole highlights but Director of Golf Wes Forester helped us pick out a particular link on each of the nines.

Admire the view of Lake Oconee and take one club less off the tee of the par three 3rd hole on the Cove nine.

“Among the highlights of the National is the Bluff course’s par-3 fourth hole, where Lake Oconee flows along the entire right side of the hole and continues behind the green. It offers one of Reynolds greatest expansive looks at the lake, as well as the Great Waters Course in the distance.

“The Ridge nine’s signature hole is its closing ninth, a long par 4 with a tight landing area guarded by fairway bunkers. The approach comes to an elevated green protected by more bunkering.

“The standout hole on the Cove nine is the fourth, a twisting par 5 shrouded in a stand of hardwood trees.  The true three-shot hole features a creek cutting in front of the elevated green.”

For as hilly as The National can be in spots walking is definitely an option – and Forester says it’s encouraged. I would imagine the weather is conducive to a nice stroll a good portion of the year – but probably not in the heart of summer when we visited.

Since the terrain was so varied with all of the undulation changes I asked Fazio what could be done to provide guidance on uphill shots to greens not observable from the fairway.

“Well, that’s where the false fronts come in. That’s where you have the turndown of the grade that allows you to see the detail of the false front. It’s a front that’s false so that literally means it’s not the front. That part of it gives you the visuals to match.”

It’s theory that works in practice at The National. Simply put one of the finest golf experiences you can find in this part of the country – or anywhere else for that matter.


 The National Course at Reynolds Lake Oconee

1130 National Drive
Greensboro, GA  30642

Phone: (706) 467-1142


Course Designer: Tom Fazio
Director of Golf: Wes Forester
Course Superintendent: Will O’Steen

Course Statistics:
            Ridge/Bluff Course
            Tees     Rating/Slope   Yards
            Gold    73.4/137          6,955
            Blue     71.5/133          6,544
            White  69.7/126          6,094
            Red     71.4/124          5,316

            Bluff/Cove Course
            Tees     Rating/Slope   Yards
            Gold    73.8/137          7,034
            Blue     71.7/133          6,593
            White  69.8/127          6,138
            Red     71.5/127          5,296

            Ridge/Cove Course
            Tees     Rating/Slope   Yards
            Gold    73.6/138          6,987
            Blue     71.4/133          6,533
            White  69.7/126          6,072
            Red     71.3/126          5,236


$185 for Peak (April 1-July 4 and September 1-November 15)

$129 for Non-Peak (July 5-August 31; November 14-March 31)

Check the website for current rates and package deals.

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