Why first-time LPGA site Great Waters promises a thrilling finish this weekend

18th hole Great Waters course Reynolds Lake Oconee

The difficult par-5 18th hole on the Great Waters course at Reynolds Lake Oconee.

Courtesy Reynolds Lake Oconee

The LPGA Drive On Championship is halfway complete, which means we are 36 holes (pending a playoff) from crowning a champion along the shores of Lake Oconee in Georgia. The sprawling lake area is the site of a number of golf courses, most notably Great Waters at Reynolds Lake Oconee, the host course this week. We played the layout last year (and spoke with its designer, Jack Nicklaus). Here are 6 things you should know about the rookie LPGA venue.

1. It does lake golf right

The course is on a precious peninsula of Lake Oconee property, and the routing lulls you into a sense that you won’t see a lot of lake golf. Only the 2nd, 6th and 9th holes on the front nine really give you a sense that you’re near a large body of water.

But then the back nine hits. Holes 11-18 all have some level of the lake in play. You play over it, toward it, along it, away from it. It’s not omnipresent in the sense that you’re worried about losing balls, but it does amp the scenery on the final eight holes.

2. The finishing stretch is LEGIT

The final three holes at Great Waters will prove a worthy champion Sunday. There’s 16, a long, downhill par-4; 17, an all-carry par-3 over a tiny little bay; and 18, a snaking par-5 that demands all kinds of strategy for the final approach of the round. If Sunday is breezy, look out for some water balls. Oh, and pontoon boats, too.

3. Jack Nicklaus’ restoration finished just last year

When we sat down with Jack in 2019 to discuss his work, he detailed everything that can happen to a course over time, and why it needs constant TLC. (Nicklaus Design originally built Great Rivers in 1992.)

“I’m here to re-do the golf course to bring it up to snuff,” Nicklaus said. “Irrigation needs to get redone after so many years, the greens need to be redone. Bunkers need to be redone. Your grass conditions change and have probably gotten contaminated over time. Some places there’s not good drainage, that happened because of housing. There’s a million different things to rebuild a golf course. And here we are now. I think Great Waters is pretty well set for another 25 or 30 years.”

4. Great Waters has hosted big-time golf before

An annual worldwide match-play event was held (at least in part) at Great Waters in the mid-90s. The event had regions across the world where the best players advanced through regional play to the world championship.

The course also played host to the first Big Break Invitational, which pitted many former contestants from the popular Golf Channel show.

The 9th hole on the Great Waters course at Reynolds Lake Oconee.

Reynolds Lake Oconee

5. It’s one of six courses at Reynolds Lake Oconee

This land hasn’t been golf land for very long. But there are a bounty of courses on property. Besides Great Waters, there is:

The Landing
The Oconee
The Creek Club
The National
The Preserve

In other words, no shortage of options.

6. The lake is man-made — and plenty lies beneath

Looking out on what the lake is today requires so much context for what it was 50 years ago. The Oconee River ran wild through the area before two different damming episodes helped create the huge lake you see today. As a result, there are houses, roads, vehicles, etc. hidden beneath the water.

Rest assured, there are plenty of balls down there as well.

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A senior editor for GOLF.com, Zak joined the staff GOLF staff three weeks after college graduation. He is the utility infielder of the brand, spanning digital, print and video. His main duty is as a host for various GOLF.com video properties and its award-winning podcasts. When the Masters comes around, be sure to tune in to hear him and fellow staffers recount the most memorable tournaments in Augusta National history on A Pod Unlike Any Other.