Reynolds Plantation (Great Waters)

More than a scenic, challenging layout, Jack Nicklaus’ Great Waters was one of the most influential courses in the evolution of course design in the United States

By: Tom Cunneff

Appeared in 2011 Nicklaus Premier Clubs

Georgia has been good to Jack Nicklaus. He has won six Masters at Augusta National Golf Club, the site of some of his memorable moments, including the most dramatic of all—the 1986 Masters. Conversely, Nicklaus has been good to Georgia, with seven designs that have enthralled the Peach State’s golfers. Of the septet, the most engaging of all is the Great Waters course at Reynolds Plantation.

Great Waters is one of six courses at Reynolds, an expansive golf community located along Lake Oconee, halfway between Atlanta and Augusta. The other layouts, from Tom Fazio, Rees Jones, Jim Engh and Bob Cupp, have holes along the water, but none uses the lake as effectively as Great Waters, which has nine waterfront holes.

“We have 12 or 13 holes that will knock your socks off,” says Nicklaus. “In fact, the biggest problem we faced on the back nine was not to use the lake on every hole. We didn’t want to be redundant.”

Opened in 1992, Great Waters was Reynolds’ second course, quickly attracting residents to the burgeoning community, especially after its exposure  from 1995 to 1997 as a host of the Andersen Consulting World Championship, the precursor of the  WGC-Accenture Match Play. Its critical role in the growth of Reynolds Plantation makes Great Waters one of the most important courses of the late 20th century. Its success sealed the marriage between golf and real estate, the most important trend in course architecture over the past two decades.Great Waters’ place in golf history wouldn’t be nearly as prominent if the layout itself hadn’t offered a great golf experience that is better than ever after a recent renovation. Nicklaus reshaped fairways, improved drainage, removed 600 trees, refurbished bunkers and restored greens, switching the surfaces from bent to MiniVerde. 

“We’re all very excited about the renovation,” says Scott Justman, the head professional, “but you can’t talk about Great Waters without talking about the aesthetics. Jack said it was one of the best pieces of land he’s ever had to work with because of the views.”

Nicklaus actually made players wait for a glimpse of the lake, which first comes into view on the 392-yard 9th. Then, nearly the entire back nine skirts the 19,000-acre body of water, which provides risk-reward flourishes to holes like the 349-yard 11th, where a long drive—helped by a favorable bounce—can reach the right side of the 12,000-square-foot green. But an inlet to the left makes driver a risky choice off the tee. 

The lake effect is in full bloom, both visually and strategically, on the final three holes, on which the greens sit on peninsulas. The 457-yard 16th requires a solid long iron to make par, while the 164-yard 17th asks for a carry over water.Members, residents and guests of the 251-room on-site Ritz-Carlton Lodge will want to play every course at Reynolds Plantation. But of the 117 holes (National has 27), the one they remember most is the heroic second shot over a finger of Lake Oconee at Great Waters’ 540-yard 18th. There is no thrill like seeing the ball land on the green for a chance at a round-capping eagle.

A stay at one of the Lodge’s comfortable rooms or the community’s well-appointed cottages is perfect for exploring Reynolds Plantation’s charms and amenities. These discovery packages are a great way for visitors and future residents to play the courses, including Nicklaus’ masterpiece.  

“Great Waters is a key component in the variety of golf at Reynolds Plantation,” says Bob Mauragas, the vice president of golf. “It has a great history as a prominent course in the golf industry, and it’s also one of many terrific amenities our members enjoy on a daily basis.” 


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