Last remaining daily fee option on Lake Oconee
For the past few decades, the Lake Oconee area has been known for the concentration of outstanding golf courses located along its shores.
The three original courses along the lake opened in the late 1980s/early ‘90s, and five more have been added since, along with a host of amenities that have transformed the area from a mostly second-home development into an actual community with shops, restaurants, a theater and a hospital.
The Lake Oconee area now features eight courses designed by the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio, Rees Jones, Bob Cupp and the duo of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw.
But all those courses except one are reserved either for their members or visitors to the area who are staying on site.
The lone remaining course on Lake Oconee that is available for daily fee play is one of the three originals that introduced the golf world to east central Georgia.
The Harbor Club, an exceptional design by acclaimed golf course architect Jay Morrish and former PGA Tour standout Tom Weiskopf, is one of just two courses on Lake Oconee that is not part of the Reynolds family of courses. With Cuscowilla recently becoming a private club, Harbor Club is the last remaining course on the lake that is accessible to golfers who are not club members or are staying on site.
Although Harbor Club lacks the exclusivity of the six Reynolds courses and Cuscowilla, it has always been considered on the same level as its neighbors, and a recent ranking of statewide courses by Golfweek has reinforced Harbor Club’s well-deserved reputation.
The Morrish-Weiskopf design is ranked third in Georgia in Golfweek’s “Courses You Can Play Category,” behind only Sea Island Golf Club’s Seaside course and Reynolds’ Great Waters.
Harbor Club is a semi-private facility and is now offering memberships to individuals and families living outside the club’s gates, as well as corporate memberships, with several different membership options available.
In addition to the club’s daily fee offerings, there are also stay-and-play options with local hotels and rental properties.
Brandon Matney, Harbor Club’s General Manager, says 85 percent of the property honors are primary residents.
“We’re not just a second home community now.”
Matney says Lake Oconee offers a “laid back, high end lifestyle,” and the area has become a more attractive option as a full-time residence thanks to the many additions that have made life on the lake much more convenient.
Early in its development stage, golf and the lake were about all Lake Oconee had to offer, but that is no longer the case. Among the additions are a charter school that ranks among the best in the state and already includes high school age students, with Lake Oconee Academy scheduled to become a full K-12 school next year.
The area now includes a full array of shops and restaurants, as well as an 8-screen movie theater and a quality new hospital which is looking to double its number of beds in the near future.
Harbor Club is positioned to be part of Lake Oconee’s growth, with some newly constructed homes, 600 undeveloped acres and amenities like a new marina that recently opened with a restaurant on the water that will be open during the Summer months.
The club has stability that was lacking in its infancy, with Matney’s father owning Harbor Club since the 1990s and Brandon operating it as the General Manager.
Brandon Matney says he has noticed “a big uptick in rounds and interest in the club” in recent months, as “more families want to play.”
To better accommodate the next generation of golfers, Harbor Club has joined the PGA Family Tee program and is in the process of placing two sets of kid friendly tees on the course.
The Morrish-Weiskopf design has helped up very well during its 25 years, with the only significant change a re-positioning of the green on what is now the 18th hole. The nines at Harbor Club have been reversed a time or two, with the current routing in place for about a decade.
The course now features a more dramatic opening group of holes and an extremely diverse finishing stretch, concluding with a perilous par-4 18th hole, which includes both a tee shot and approach over a creek that extends the length of the hole.
Measuring just over 7,000 yards from the tips with a Course rating/Slope of 73.6/138, Harbor Club is a tournament caliber course and has hosted early stages of PGA Tour qualifying, the Georgia Open and the GSGA Four-Ball Championship.
With six sets of tees, two of which share tee boxes with a slightly longer or shorter set, Harbor Club offers a comfortable yardage for all skill levels, ranging from around 6500 yards from the blue tees (71.5/132) to 6200 from the combo greens (70.0/129) and 5900 from the whites (68.7/123). The gold tees are also a combo set and play a comfortable 5500 (66.6/111) for seniors, with the red tees in the 5150 range.
Harbor Club features a terrific mix of holes, with a quintet of very strong par 4s offset by an equal number of considerably shorter two-shotters, two of which are drivable by longer hitters with the other three yielding short iron approaches even to the distance challenged.
Off the tee, Harbor Club offers reasonably generous landing areas, with almost every hole tree-lined along with some strategically placed fairway bunkers. Although the course borders Lake Oconee, the lake is in play on only a handful of holes, with water seriously in play on just four holes and lurking behind the green on three others.
The mostly ample putting surfaces are not overly undulating, but the subtle slopes can produce some putts with deceptive breaks. The size of the greens alone will produce their fair share of three-putts, with the greenside bunkering relatively modest with a handful of exceptions
The par 3s are split between two vulnerable holes of short to moderate length with little danger, along with the tour-length second (240 from the tips) and the extremely demanding and treacherous 17th, which was modeled after No. 12 at Augusta National with an additional 25 yards and a much more sloping putting surface.
At just over 500 yards from the back tees and in the 480 range from the blues, the two par 5s on the opening nine are within reach in two for low handicappers and offer scoring opportunities for the rest of us, providing you can avoid a sizeable number of bunkers along the way on both holes and some encroaching tree lines on the eighth.
The dogleg 11th is just plain long and tree-lined like the eighth, but with a lot less sand, although the bunkers that flank the fairway in the landing area of the tee shots get plenty of action. The 15th is part of the memorable group of finishing holes that begin with the longest par 4 on the course, the punishing 13th.
The par-5 14th is ranked as the No. 1 handicap hole, but if you two hit decent, well-positioned shots, it’s not nearly as demanding as the previous hole. However, if you attempt to carry the ravine with thick vegetation down the left side, the hole just might earn its most difficult status. Playing down the right side around the oak tree in the middle of the fairway off the tee is the more prudent option, with a downhill third to a large green offering an inviting shot, but one that might leave you with a substantial birdie putt if you come up short to a back pin.
Among the highlights of the thoughtfully-crafted Morris/Weiskopf design is a trio of par 4s that average around 340 yards from the back tees.
Water hugs the entire right side of the 374-yard third, with a bunker on the opposite of the fairway making a layup off the tee a smart choice. The short second can be dicey with the water uncomfortably close to the edge of the green.
The risk/reward seventh begins with an angled tee shot over a finger of the lake, with longer hitters having the option of going for the green off the tee at some peril. Three bunkers across the fairway are within reach for those who bail out or over-club, but if you can find the short grass, the hole will yield a non-threatening approach.
The 15th is shorter (312) and less perilous than the other two short 4s, but sand is in play right and left off the tee, along with two deep bunkers that pinch the green, which has an unseen water hazard just off the back if you catch your second a little thin.
With the change in nines, the first view of Lake Oconee occurs on the fifth, with the lake forming a beautiful backdrop on the lengthy par 4 and the downhill nature of the second shot effecting reducing the yardage a bit. Like the 14th, you can expect an extremely long birdie putt if you’re on the front of the green with the pin at the back.
The one hole that has undergone a significant change since the course opened is the lengthened 18th, which now requires the tee shot to carry a creek that runs the length of the hole, with the re-positioned green requiring a second carry over water to reach it, making for a very challenging finale.
Conditions are excellent, and the course is an easy drive on I-20 from Atlanta to the west and Augusta to the east, with both Macon and Athens even closer.
For information, call 706-453-4414 or visit www.HarborClub.com.