Lake Oconee’s Toughest 18

Because golf isn’t hard enough and we’ve got a root canal schedule for later, Lake Oconee Living magazine has created its own murderer’s row of golf holes. We met with all the club pros and discussed the merits and disadvantages of having to play these holes. For argument’s sake, we set up our fantasy 18 from the tips because, honestly, we hate ourselves.

So here they are – the best of the worst. Round killers, all.

1. Great Waters, #16. Par 4, 457 yards.

Nothing to see here, just the beautiful backdrop of Lake Oconee both left and behind a green that runs north to south in front of a fairway that runs east to west. At 457 yards, you just need a nice little 300 yard drive to get that trusty 7-iron in hand. Oh, not that this ever comes into play, but there’s a medieval little trap behind the green to complement the sand guarding the front. A fun game to play on this hole is to hit it in the backside green, come out and hit in the front side green, and repeat.

2. Cuscowilla, #3. Par 3, 187 yards

At 187 yards, this little beauty comes in as one of the shorter Par-3’s in our fantasy line up. The infamous Cuscowilla sand traps protect the natural bailout shot to the right of the green, or if you’re lucky enough to land in one of the traps, chances are good you will skull it out and into a pond protecting the front and left side of the green. This is simply a waste of strokes. Do what I do and put it in the pond off the tee. I swear there’s nothing alive in that evil pond. Lots of golf ball carcasses, though. It’s got that going for it. Which is nice.

3. Creek Club, #12. Par 5, 569 yards.

God, this hole is beautiful. Water in front for those who are brave enough to try and get home in two. A bailout area is left where a second shot has to find a diminishing fairway. Hit it right and short and you’ve got a chance. Go left and short and you’re in jail. But remember: It’s a beautiful hole.

4. Harbor Club, #13. Par 4. 471 yards.

It’s only 471 yards, but, to be fair, most of that yardage is uphill. The good news is there is a generous fairway (all 471 yards) so you get to hit a tee shot, a second shot and then your approach off a lush, well-maintained playing surface. Pull drives off the box catch a ridge that throws your ball deep into the woods on the left. There are things with no shoulders that live there. Long approach shots ricochet of a slope and into the North Forty. Five is a great score here, but I would advise to take your six or seven like a man be thankful.

5. The Landing, #12, par 4. 439 yards.

Your tee shot is probably the highest point on The Landing golf course. Below is a gorge. Straight away is a sliver of fairway with grass dunes rising like a dragon’s back up the left side. But look, if you just cut the right side off a touch, you can easily get home. Problem is there are traps and woods and most likely a hobo village you have to go over to cheat the distance. Never works, but we keep trying for some reason. Oh, the green runs from front to back like San Francisco’s Lombard Street. I swear, I’ve never seen a lag putt to two feet on this hole.

6. Cuscowilla, #9. Par 4. 473 yards.

Cuscowilla’s 18th hole (which we will get to) measures one yard longer that this hole and demands a draw for a right-handed golfer. This monster sets up for a fade around a grove of 700-year-old pine trees. Hit it just right and you got a chance of catching a natural slope, adding 30 yards to your drive and only leaving you a hybrid into the green instead of the 3-wood. Hit the way I usually do and you drop into the forest. Punch out (hitting a tree on the way), punch out again and you’ve got 220 to the green. Hit fourth shot into a bunker roughly the depth of the Mariana Trench. Walk in, pick up ball and tell playing partner to “give me a 6.” Sure.

7. Oconee, #18. Par 4. 466 yards.

Rees Jones is a master at deceit and is a cruel and vengeful man. I say this because on the Oconee’s 18th hole, there is a clear sight line over the lake and the bunker complex off the left side of the fairway. You cut the corner, Rees wills, and you get a reasonable approach shot to a fairly manageable green. I’ve tried this 17 times and haven’t made it yet. The next time, though, I swear I’ll clear it.

8. Great Waters, #3. Par 4. 432 yards.

The smart play is to leave your tee shot Florida State (wide right) of the bunker complex that sits on the left side of the fairway. That way you have a clear shot into one of the caverns of sand that protect a three-tiered green. However, as always, I find the bunkers left, bunkers in front, sand shot to the wrong tier and then a guaranteed three jack. Sometimes I 4-putt this green to make my playing partners feel better about themselves.

9. Harbor Club, #16. Par 4. 327 yards.

See the aforementioned places where good rounds go to die. I watched a pro take a 12 on this hole. The kind folks at Harbor Club have named all their golf holes. This one’s called “Deadman’s Gold,” which is appropriate because if you snap hook it left off the tee, you’re dead. If you drive through the fairway, you’re dead. If you hit it in Julian Sugg’s yard on the right, you’re out of bounds. How do I know Julian lives there, you ask. I’ve personally spoken with Julian several times while searching for my ball. He’s a genuine guy. Gets a lot of balls, he says.

10. The Preserve, #10, Par 4. 472 yards.

I shot par on this hole – once. My drive hit the cart path that cuts through the middle of the fairway and bounded like a new born Gazelle down the fairway leaving me a wedge to the green. Concrete is a wonderful thing. Hitting the green in two is no sure par. The green’s roughly the size of Bonneville Salt Flat less the sand and heat thing. It’s flat though, I’ll give them that.

11. The Oconee, #3. Par 3. 231 yards.

Okay, this is a 231 yard Par-3, which in and of itself means 98 percent of us are going to be short. So to compensate for the length, Rees Jones (see number 7 on our list) Constructed a continuous sand bunker in front and on the side of this green that resembles a giant, angry Octopus. Seriously, you could literally build another nine holes in this trap. The only way this hole could be any harder would be if the trap actually squirted ink on you while you were trying to putt. I’m gonna call Rees and see what we can do.

12. National, #9 Ridge. Par 4, 452 yards.

Here’s something funny – the Par-5, eighth hole before this gem is 497 yards. So for a measly 45 yards, you get one less stroke. Don’t worry, the last little bit – oh, 200 yards or so – is straight uphill to tilt-a-whirl putting surface that loves to throw its riders off. Par this hole and call it a day.

13. The Landing, #4, par 4. 458 yards.

Number four culminates a three-hole March to the Sea at The Landing. Whatever wind there is – and it can be substantial at times – seems to roar up a valley from beautiful Lake Oconee right into your face. The green sits complacently lakeside and the views are stunning, unless, of course, you are in one of the countless bunkers that protects the hole. To start the hole, they set you way, way back into the far corner of the universe. Lake comes into play left, out of bounds right. Wind in your face early and often.

14. Harbor Club, #17, par 3. 180 yards.

If your wife ever says she wants to start playing golf with your group, get her started on this hole. It’s 180 yards, all carry over some type of wetland marsh and a large sliver of Lake Oconee. Typically, there’s a large group of turtles on a log out there that, I swear, are taking bets on how many shots it’s going to take for me to find dry land. Oh, and the green tilts from back to front (toward the lake) at an angle that makes me think of poor old King Sisyphus and that rock he keeps pushing uphill.

15. Cuscowilla, #18, par 4, 474 yards

Since its inception, Cuscowilla has grown into one of the premier golfing destinations in the south. What has also grown in great regard is the tree on the left side of the fairway on this dog-leg left hole. And since its only 474 yards, you have to hit a high draw to have a chance at reaching the green, which is uphill, of course. Seriously, in my group, you get triple points if you birdie this hole (never has happened), double if you par and a point for a bogey. Give me a bogey on the tee and I’ll buy you a drink.

16. National, #8, Cove. Par 4, 449 yards.

Tom Fazio doesn’t even try to lure you on this big, swinging dog-leg right. Start out by hitting over a gulch uphill to a landing area that, from the tee at least, forces a fade. Thanks, Tom. If you miss there’s a patch of woods on the right that’s dark and dank and full of strange noises. Find the fairway and there’s plenty of adventure left. The Bermuda greens at the National are some of the best in the business and, to steal the last famous line Gary McCord ever uttered during a Master’s broadcast, “So, I don’t think they mow these greens, I think they bikini wax them.”

17. Great Waters, #5. Par 4, 422 yards.

Fantasy-wise, this is one of the shorter par four’s on the list. Don’t let that fool you. You start with a demanding tee shot out of a chute (don’t let that overhanging tree 130 yards away distract you) onto a minuscule fairway. Think you’re done? Think again. The approach is over a wide creek onto a three-tiered green. What’s fun to do here is hit your approach long and have to pitch back downhill to the green. That way you get to watch your new Titleist roll into the creek.

18. The Landing, #15. Par 428.

I always like to think Bob Cupp got in a huge fight with his significant other the morning he decided to design this hole. Tee shot is simple enough since they removed Dante’s pond (my term) from the bottom of the fairway. But then you’ve got this dramatic approach that goes Billy Goat (my term) up hill to a green with a nasty false front that, if conditions are just right, can sling the ball all the way back down the fairway to your feet. Congratulations, you’re still away.

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