Georgia’s Reynolds Lake Oconee encourages you to linger longer
By Ted McIntyre
With the blinds left open, there is little to disrupt the early morning light from flooding through a thinned-out stand of tall pines and into my bedroom at the National Club Cottages, one of a block of handsomely appointed new guest homes that border Tom Fazio’s National Course at Reynolds Lake Oconee, just outside Greensboro, Georgia.
We’re stumbling distance from The National Tavern, where the previous evening included a succulent ribeye, local craft beer, red wine and a $48 Remy Martin XO, the generous pour of which was fit for at least two of my group.
The course maintenance crew, buzzing around the driving range 300 yards away, are already feeling the heat with the mercury pushing 27°C on this cloudless early May day. Not surprisingly, Kaitlin Crawford is finding it particularly easy to gush about Reynolds Lake Oconee, one of two properties the Ritz-Carlton Area Communications Manager oversees. “Think of it as summer camp for adults,” she says. “Guests talk about de-stressing, about leaving their cell phones behind and reconnecting with their families—there’s so much to do.”
Sounds like an oxymoron to me—this juxtaposition of adult refuge and family Shangri-La—but being here, I get it. Situated roughly 90 minutes due east of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, midway between Atlanta and Augusta, the gem of Georgia’s Lake Country strikes a rare balance in its ability to accommodate a variety of guests, from golfing buddies, to active families, to romantic couples. Of course, 14,000 acres of rolling topography cut through Georgia pines and around meandering creeks will provide you with that sort of flexibility.
Rebranded from Reynolds Plantation, the destination’s core is comprised of The Ritz-Carlton, the only lakeside resort in the Ritz franchise, and the 17 sq. km Lake Oconee, a former river that became the state’s second-biggest lake in 1979 when Georgia Power Co. completed the Wallace Dam. It’s an idyllic body of water for the deep south—as calm as a coma, no alligators, no snakes, four marinas.
I suppose you could venture off property, perhaps stroll the quaint Main Street in Greensboro and grab a fork at the lost-in-time Yesterday Café, home of the buttermilk pie, or hoist a pint or three at the new Oconee Brewing Company. But it’s hard to leave Reynolds. Really hard. The first hint is the name of the street you turn left onto when exiting Highway 44 to enter the property: ‘Linger Longer’ Road. It’s drawn from the century-old motto coined by the Reynolds family, whose name adorns their treasured outdoor paradise.
Today, it’s the lifestyle and intriguing range of amenities that encourage residents and guests to extend their stays, beginning at the Ritz’s compact beach and venturing into the water with kayaking, boating and fishing. For landlubbers, there are 10 world-class tennis courts, 34 kms of bike and hiking trails, and the new Sandy Creek Sporting Grounds & Barn, which includes woodland archery and a truly inspiring clay-shooting course. The restored barn, which dates back nearly 200 years, overlooks a two-storey boathouse and 44-acre, bass-stocked lake, making it a hot venue for weddings and corporate functions.
That all said, when you click on the Reynoldslakeoconee.com website, it’s the golf that appears first—all 123 lush, manicured holes of it. The stellar architectural cast of the six courses here begins with Bob Cupp at The Landing (1986). Originally called Port Armor and part of a different community before merging into the Reynolds collection, it’s arguably Reynolds’ best value—an undulating routing that bends through the woods, with three holes wrapping along the Lake Oconee shoreline.
Cupp also crafted The Preserve in 1988 with the help of U.S. Open champions Fuzzy Zoeller and Hubert Green. The layout approaches the lake in just a few spots, but skirts numerous smaller water hazards, particularly on the back nine. While heavily wooded, the fairways are forgiving, albeit hilly, producing many uneven, tricky lies. Built into the course is the inspired Quick Six layout, where each hole measures under 130 yards, making for a fun one-hour-or-less jaunt through some of The Preserve’s prettiest spots.
Jack Nicklaus’ Great Waters (1992), currently under renovation, is arguably the most picturesque course in the fold. Player-friendly but loaded with risk/reward choices, its front nine winds through forest until the par-4 ninth, at which point the lake is regularly in view and in play.
Rees Jones’ The Oconee (2002)—think “O’Conee” for pronunciation purposes—presents spacious fairways among other forgiving elements, with options to cut the corners of lakeside inlets and tree-lined doglegs. It also offers a superb collection of downhill par-3s and an exceptional back nine, highlighted by the par-4 12th and 16th holes, each of which is split lengthwise by a snaking creek. While the lake doesn’t consistently come into play until the final few holes, it does smack you with a lasting impression, cutting in front of the back tees of No. 18 and then lining the entire left side of this punishingly long par-4 before wrapping around the back of green for good measure.
While the previous two courses command Reynolds’ most premium green fees ($260 US for the Oconee, if you’re not on a package), Fazio’s 27 holes at The National (1997) might be the best showcase of the local topography. To quote Fazio, “The three nines are named for the type of terrain they feature: Ridge, Bluff and Cove. No two hole are alike but all share a consistency in feel for the way they match the natural contours. There is no weak link among them.” Flowering wild dogwoods, firm, fast greens and 60 feet of elevation change add to the Augusta National flavour of the design.
Reynolds members, meanwhile, also have access to the private Creek Club, a 2007 Jim Engh creation that spreads over wide, well-canted fairways, with big rolling bunkers and slivers of lake dividing and defining a handful of holes.
Regardless of the venue, as a rule, stay below the hole at Reynolds. Greens are typically slick and downhill putts tend to run away like frightened deer. And bring your own distance measuring device, as there’s no GPS on the carts. On the other side of the coin, for all the water hazards, this is a collection of resort-friendly courses that generally shows little interest in punishing slight mis-hits if you’re playing the appropriate tees. And I can’t recall how many times my wayward shots were found resting clean upon a set of pine needles.
Should you require a tune-up at some point, the teaching gurus at the Reynolds Kingdom of Golf presented by TaylorMade are there to rescue you. A destination unto itself, this vast practice and training ground is the only TaylorMade facility in the U.S. that offers guests the same club-fitting experience reserved for Tour professionals.
Need a physical tune-up? The Ritz spa offers a golf ball massage, where a warmed ball is used to knead tired muscles. For those seeking an inner adjustment, Crawford recommends the sunrise yoga class at Ritz. But if it’s peace and tranquility you seek, it can also be found on the unpopulated fairways of Reynolds, where my group routinely felt as though we were the only foursome in Georgia.
Little wonder that repeat clientele are growing, according to Crawford. “There’s sort of an endless summer feel here,” she says.
Given the upscale level of accommodations, amenities and service, though, note that this is by no means a bargain basement sort of destination, as the driving range chatter I overheard might attest:
“Did you finally sell your Porsche?”
“Yes, I got something faster.”
And here I was thinking a Ford Model T might be more apt in these parts.
‘Linger longer,’ don’t ya know.
WHERE TO STAY: If the resplendent Ritz doesn’t serve your spatial purposes, there are also two sets of handsomely appointed, multi-bedroom guest homes (The Landing and National Club Cottages, all of which border golf courses) as well as the condominiums of The Village at Lake Club Point. Or if it’s more convenient, you can simply buy a house in this vast master-planned community, where most of the handsome abodes blend into the surrounding forest like tree bark.
Reynolds Lake Oconee: Reynoldslakeoconee.com
Ritz-Carlton Reynolds Lake Oconee: ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/georgia/reynolds