If you're seeking a traditional high-end resort experience during Masters week, that can be found by driving south from Augusta about seventy-five miles to Lake Oconee (pronounced uh-KO-nee). This area has become a hot spot for golf real estate development over the past ten years, and there are four major communities here with some very good golf courses. Three are private clubs, but during Masters week they open their doors to the general public.
With separate Jack Nicklaus, Bob Cupp and Tom Fazio courses, Reynolds Plantation is the largest of these lakeside communities, and Fazio's National, which opened in 1997, is alone worth the trip. The National was cut through land that was once used as a timber farm, so it looks and feels like a much more mature course than it is. It's not long-- 7,015 from the tips, 6,536 from the blues and only 6,050 from the members' tees. But Fazio makes up for that with tough greens, eighty-three bunkers and water on ten of the eighteen holes. The back nine is the most scenic and the toughest part of the course, with two standout par threes, including number sixteen, which plays two hundred yards downhill from the blue tees. The green sits at the base of a hillside, which means if you're long you'll have to play downhill again into a green that slopes from back left to front right. This long par three begins a great string of finishing holes. Seventeen is a par-four four-hundred-yard hole that has a creek down the left side. Just in front of the green, the creek feeds into a pool that extends up to the edge of the putting surface. Shots into the green must carry the water and several large boulders molded into the banks. The eighteenth plays long and straight off the tee, then bends to the right into a green with water right and a bail-out area short left (which is not a bad place to be when the pin is short right).
The Harbor Club & Cuscowilla
These two courses, within a few miles of each other and close by Reynolds Plantation, are both worth playing. The Harbor Club (par seventy-two, 7,014 yards) is a Tom Weiskopf-Jay Morrish design that has hosted the state's four-ball championship. The club's eighth hole, a 180-yard par three, is the architects' version of Augusta's number twelve. The green is almost identical, and if you ever want to imagine yourself charging into Amen Corner on Sunday afternoon, this is the place. The Harbor Club also has great greens and cuts them down this week to show them off. (Most other courses here let their greens grow in to accommodate this week's heavy traffic.) Cuscowilla, a par-seventy 6,847-yard layout, is a Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw design that opened in the fall of 1997 but has not received the attention it deserves. It has a very natural appearance, with shaggy rough, sod-faced bunkers and crowned greens. Coore and Crenshaw designed the course with the notion that players would walk rather than ride. All the Lake Oconee courses offer a very civilized golf experience, which during or after a few crazy days in Augusta is probably just what you'll need.
For a tee time, call . . .
Palmetto Golf Club, 803-649-2951
The Club At Jones Creek, 706-860-4228
Forest Hills Golf Club, 706-733-0001
Reynolds Plantation, 706-467-3151
The Harbor Club, 706-453-4414
The Golf Club At Cuscowilla, 706-484-0050