When evaluating the difficulty of a golf course, one of the first aspects to consider is the length of the course in question.
At Legacy on Lanier, the yardage listed on the scorecard is one of the lesser elements of the challenge posed by one of the Atlanta area’s most visually appealing but deceptively demanding courses.
Legacy on Lanier has been around since the mid-1980s and has undergone a few name changes (originally Lake Lanier Island GC, then Emerald Pointe) along with a fairly extensive renovation in the late 2000s.
The renovation added around 240 yards to the back tees, but the course still maxes out at a modest 6,580 yards from the black tees, with the blues just under 6,200. Among the alterations to the course was a change in the bunker patterns that brings sand more into play off the tee, and the addition of an all-new par 3, which replaced a par 3 which is no longer part of the course.
The renovations have resulted in considerable changes to the Course Rating/Slope numbers, which are significantly higher than before Billy Fuller did some tweaks to the original Joe Lee/Rocky Roquemore design.
Other than the removal of the short, downhill par-3 13th and its replacement by a new par 3 located in proximity to the clubhouse and playing as the 10th hole, the changes made to the course are not obviously evident. But as head professional Brian Conley points out, “This is not Emerald Pointe. It’s short but it’s mean. The yardage is very misleading. If you don’t understand how the course plays, it can be challenging.”
It doesn’t take a great deal of understanding of visual appeal to recognize that Legacy on Lanier is one of the most scenic golf courses you’ll encounter. Of the 18 holes, 12 play along Lake Lanier, down from 13 prior to the removal of the old 13th hole.
The lake is not a serious factor on all 12 holes, but is very much in play on all but a handful of the dozen, and provides one splendid view after another.
“This is probably the most scenic course in the Southeast,” Conley attests. “There are no homes and the course sits on top of the lake.”
In addition to attracting resort guests and a local clientele that enjoys the course’s beauty and challenge, Legacy on Lanier is a very popular site for various outings.
“The course lends itself to scramble golf,” says Conley, citing the risk/reward nature of a number of the holes and the frequent presence of hazards that can inflict severe damage to individual scorecards.
“In stroke play, it can eat you up, but it’s fun and enjoyable in a team environment. You can try to drive some of the par 4s and go for the par 5s in two.“
With two inviting par 3s of short to medium length and one of the two over-water par 3s lacking serious distance, the opportunities for a hole-in-one exist, with Conley pointing out that three were made at Legacy on Lanier in events earlier this year.
One of the changes made to the course that predated the renovations was the reversal of the two nines. That kept players from starting on a difficult stretch of holes that began with a dangerous par 5 and included a trio of potentially penal par 4s and the most demanding par 3 on the course.
The original back nine (now the front) is shorter than the current one, and does not have as many holes capable of producing some ugly numbers on the scorecard. But it has a few holes where the lake is a serious concern, although there are also several holes that can be very inviting if you can hit it solid and relatively straight.
Legacy on Lanier is rated at 72.7/141 from the black tees and 71.0/137 from the blues. The white tees measure just over 5,700 yards and are rated at 68.8/128, with the forward tees around 4,850.
Because several holes require carries off the tee or an approach shots over water, the selection of which tees to play can be the difference between an enjoyable round or too many visits to your bag for a new ball. The lack of serious scorecard yardage can be an enticement for golfers to play the course from a set of tees that may be a little more than they can handle, with the difference between the blue and white tees particularly significant on a handful of holes.
If you play the correct set of tees, Legacy on Lanier is definitely capable of yielding more than its share of scoring opportunities, along with the occasional likelihood of an unpleasant number on the scorecard.
The course begins with a trio of holes that exemplify its dual nature. The opening hole is a short and relatively narrow par 5, with trouble lurking on the right, particularly for those going for the green in two. The hole takes a bit of a dip for the second shot, with an uphill third over front bunkers to an angled green with some friendly mounds to the left and rear of the putting surface, but a sharp drop-off to trouble on the right.
The second hole is an all-carry-over-water par 3, but maxes out at 170 yards from the back tee with room to miss on the right. The third also features a carry over the lake, but in this case it’s a tee shot on a par 4 with a strong risk/reward nature. Longer hitters can go directly at the green, but there is trouble left and long even if you clear the water off the tee.
The tee shot is also a challenge for those who have no prayer of driving the green, with a small landing area beyond two bunkers requiring a precise shot that has to carry water and sand without flying too far into trees at the corner of the hole just before it makes a sharp turn to the left.
The only other serious trouble remaining on the opening nine is found on the winding par-5 sixth, with water down the left in play all the way to the green, most notably on the second shot where the fairway angles to the right.
The course turns inland for a trio of par 4s to conclude the nine, with all three beginning with downhill tee shots. The most interesting of the three is the eighth, with a trio of bunkers in the fairway forcing a decision for longer hitters to either attempt to carry them or lay up. A sharply uphill approach to a shielded putting surface requires both a solid strike and precise distance control to avoid difficult short game shots from in front of the green.
The new par-3 10th features four tees with four slightly different angles to hole locations on a large green that slopes from left to right off a hillside and is flanked by three bunkers. With the short, downhill former 13th no longer part of the course, it’s replacement is the last respite before a before a perilous five-hole stretch that does not respond well to miss-hits or off-target shots.
The downhill, dogleg left, par-5 11th necessitates both accuracy and length, with bunkers and a drop-off left of the fairway and trees tight to the right on the second shot. Anything left of the green will plunge down an embankment into the lake or trees and a dicey lie if you choose to attempt a recovery shot rather than accept a penalty stroke.
The 12th is among the more dramatic holes on the course, with the angled tee shot having to carry a sizeable expanse of the lake to reach the fairway from the back two sets of tees. The tee shot is considerably shorter but still daunting from the white tees, but if you can keep it dry off the tee, the hole becomes much more inviting as long as you avoid the bunker that guards the front of the green with the Lake precariously close on the right.
Lake Lanier looms all the way down the right side of the 13th, but there is a little room left off the tee and a bailout area left of the green that takes some of the peril out of the hole.
The 14th is the toughest hole on the course and one of the most demanding par 4s in all of Atlanta. The landing area for the tee shot is among the more generous on the course, but the lengthy second offers no room to miss, with the lake below the level of the green to the right and a hill with dense vegetation on the left. For shorter hitters with a fairway metal in hand, it’s do or die, usually the latter.
The toughest par 3 at Legacy on Lanier is the 15th, with a healthy carry over the lake and a bunker to a large green, and anything right plunging down a hill to a watery grave.
Like the front, the back nine turns inland for the last three holes – a short par 4 with a green obscured from view, a reasonably long and rolling par 5 with some helpful fairway slopes and a straightaway par 4 of moderate length with one of the more adventurous putting surfaces on the course.
Even with all the hazards in play, the greens are a big part of Legacy on Lanier’s challenge, offering sufficient movement and pace to keep things interesting once you reach them.
Because of its location and scenic appeal, Legacy on Lanier’s rates are in the upper tier of metro Atlanta’s daily fee facilities, but food and drink in the clubhouse is free, with fresh sandwiches supplied daily by Blimpies.
Legacy on Lanier is one of two courses built on the island, but PineIsle, the original Lake Lanier layout, remains out of use, with Conley noting that its possible revival “is still up in the air.”
Until then, Lake Lanier will still have one of the state’s most entertaining and scenic courses, with Legacy on Lanier a joy to play even if your scorecard may have a few blemishes on it.
For information, visit www.lanierislandsgolf.com, or call 770-945-8789.