Renovations Continue to Roll at The Oconee

Written by Katelyn TenEyck

When the American Society of Golf Course Architects held its 67th annual conference this past April at The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee, it brought together four of the legendary course designers who have left a historical imprint on the Lake Oconee development.  Bob Cupp, Tom Fazio, Rees Jones and Jim Engh were all present for the event and took the opportunity to revisit their course designs. It was the first time these designers had been assembled together at Reynolds Lake Oconee, along with Jack Nicklaus represented by Chris Cochran of Nicklaus Design, who was involved in the recent redesign of Great Waters in 2009.

Rees Jones, who received the highest honor of the ASGA with the Donald Ross award during the conference, was able to spend a significant amount of time on his own Oconee course design before renovation kicked off this summer.  Jones, amidst festivities surrounding the ASGA event, rode the course and met with the Reynolds Lake Oconee team members to discuss specifics of the upcoming project, slated for completion this fall.

"Since opening, The Oconee course has always provided a challenging, but also very playable, enjoyable and visually interesting golf experience.  Our future vision for the course is simply to refine and enhance those existing characteristics to assure the course remains so favorably received. Currently, we are converting the putting surfaces to an ultradwarf bermudagrass variety that will provide improved and more consistent putting quality, throughout the year.  In addition, the main practice tee and teaching area is being regraded and expanded.  We are also adjusting select fairway and greenside mowing patterns, in order to improve playability, create new and diverse shot options and improve the visual definition of the course.  We continue to work with the maintenance department to identify and address both general and specific issues that will improve everyday playability, course presentation and overall maintenance efficiency.  We are excited about the future of the Oconee Course & our continued partnership with Reynolds Lake Oconee." -- Rees Jones

While Jones’ original design will not be altered, all 18 greens are undergoing a noteworthy turfgrass change to Champion hybrid bermudagrass, which will provide an excellent year-round playing surface.  This turf replaces the original Crenshaw creeping bentgrass that has been in place since the course’s 2002 debut. 

“We will have the durability of bermudagrass with the subtle putting qualities of bentgrass,” says Mark Lammi, vice president of golf operations at Reynolds Lake Oconee.  “Up until recently, bentgrass was the preferred putting surface.  But with the newer bermudagrasses that are available, we have the best of both worlds.”

Oconee now joins Great Waters, the famed Jack Nicklaus Signature course recently converted to MiniVerde bermudagrass greens and The Landing, the historic Bob Cupp design, with TifEagle bermudagrass greens with this conversion to Champion hybrid bermudagrass. 

At Oconee, while no changes are being made to the contours or Jones’ design of the greens, they are being brought back to their original outermost edges, which have been diminished over time due to the infiltration of the Bermudagrass surrounds. The collars have also been restored and have been sodded with different cultivars of bermudagrass, depending on whether the area was mostly shaded or in the direct sunlight.

“That is important to us here in the southeast,” explains Lane Singleton, Lead Superintendent at Reynolds Lake Oconee of the turfgrass options.  “We can use types that are more specific to each environment, rather than the more traditional ‘one size fits all’ approach.”

Also included as a part of the renovation is the expansion of the practice tee, which has increased in size by over 12,000 square feet.  This will provide players with quality hitting areas throughout the season.  Shaping the tree canopies will make the fairways appear more inviting, while opening up more of the dramatic views throughout The Oconee course. Creek beds are being refurbished at holes 12 and 16 for better flow of water throughout. The project also includes cart path restoration and bridge repair at holes 15 and 17.

Improving the golf courses has been a priority at Reynolds Lake Oconee the past year. That focus began in 2012, with enhancements at Great Waters and a significant renovation to The Landing. And with the Oconee improvements, Fazio is simultaneously overseeing work on the 27-hole National course, which is expected to reopen for play in 2014.

 “Golf is one of the cornerstones of the Reynolds Lake Oconee lifestyle,” says Lammi, regarding the recent renovation projects. “We feel it is extremely important to make it a tradition of bringing the actual course designer back to ensure we are maintaining the integrity of the design as we make our enhancements.   Although we are not making major design changes to the course, Rees provided great insight on how we can make small conditioning changes to enhance playability and I feel confident the members and guests alike will really enjoy the improvements to The Oconee course.”

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