Outstanding courses, premier training centres, top-notch hospitality and endless off-course activities are among the many reasons this reinvigorated Georgia retreat could have you heading south.
Is it possible there exists a "sure thing" golf getaway? A place that, regardless of age or interest, will please both golfers and their non-golfing guests alike? Or is the very notion of a sure thing in golf travel like the elusive and legendary Chupacabra, the Yeti, the Ogopogo--ceaselessly hunted but always just beyond reach?
If such a place does exist I'd put my money on it being Greensboro, Georgia-based Reynolds Plantation at Lake Oconee. And luckily for me I was sitting on an invitation to observe first-hand the final results of various and many improvements completed around the massive 10,000-acre property during the two years since MetLife took the reins of the development.
MetLife's multimillion dollar upgrade plan aimed to improve nearly every facility on the expansive property in one way or another--golf courses included. Plus there was word that Met Life planned to build some new additions from the ground up.
I was already on a tight schedule and would have just a couple of days to poke around, so I packed a bag and began my journey from California to Georgia.
THE RITZ-CARLTON LODGE. Unless you're a personal guest of a homeowner, the award-winning Ritz-Carlton Lodge will sit at the centre of your Reynolds Plantation experience. The well-appointed lobby, which shows off its sturdy wooden beams, a tall brick fireplace, and high-arched ceiling is cool and inviting.
The spacious interior provides easy access to restaurants, the lounge, the newly added coffee shop and the Ritz-Carlton's 26,000 sq. ft. spa. Opposite the entrance, guests will find a terrace that overlooks the property's courtyard and offers unobstructed views of the lake.
Originally introduced in 2002, the rustic 251-room lakeside facility received a significant head-to-toe makeover, courtesy of MetLife. It shows in everything from the polished wood surfaces to the spotless floor coverings. The staff are exceptional in every way. Unafraid of eye contact, always smiling, genuinely engaged. I've never met a Ritz-Carlton I didn't like.
By the end of a stay at any Ritz-Carlton, I often feel inspired enough by the service that I renew a commitment to myself to be similarly helpful to the people in my own life. I don't believe I can offer a higher compliment.
LAKE OCONEE. Life at Reynolds Plantation revolves around the water, much as it did for the Muscogee (Creek) people that settled the shores of the Oconee River more than 250 years ago.
Lake Oconee was created just 35 years ago when Georgia Power completed the Wallace Dam and proceeded to flood the downstream Oconee River valley. With 374 miles of shoreline and a surface area totaling 19,000 acres, Georgia's second largest body of water provides limitless action for water warriors who prefer the action of wakeboarding, skiing, tubing and the like. For a calmer cruise, plenty of options exist for paddlers, too.
The Reynolds Plantation property alone occupies 80 miles of Lake Oconee shoreline and includes four full-service marinas for those cases when you need a vehicle with a proper motor.
If you're the sort that gets fired up about fishing, you're in luck; Oconee's waters are filled with (literally) millions of fish, including sunfish, catfish, bream, crappie and numerous varieties of bass.
There are healthy populations of Alligator Gar in those waters, too. Never heard of them? Me neither, so I looked them up. Before you stick your own drumsticks in the water, I suggest you look them up too.
THE PLAYGROUNDS. Reynolds Plantation at Lake Oconee Plantation has a total of 117 championship-quality holes of golf, spread across six courses. Each track was carefully designed by golf course architecture A-listers, including Bob Cupp (2), Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio, Rees Jones, and Jim Engh. Guests of the Ritz-Carlton Lodge can play every course with the exception of the members-only Creek Club by Jim Engh (2007). Even Doral, Pebble Beach, and Bandon Dunes don't offer as much golf.
Trying to review the details of each course is a fool's errand. Besides, during my brief stay I only manage to play two of the six courses on the property.
Depending on your choice of tees (there are five), Rees Jones' Oconee course can on one hand present a lengthy 7,000-plus yard distance test or a shorter, subtler challenge that's all about position.
Starting from the tee, Jones seems happy to guide golfers into one tough choice after the next. A first shot that has a player successfully skirting a hazard, for example, often leads to a second shot that confronts you with one of the architect's more troublesome poisons. The pleasure of a shot that finds the target you've chosen is short lived when, after arriving at your ball, you realize you've not chosen the target at all--rather, you have been lured behind a dogleg that's all but invisible until it's too late.
Jones' test is not at all unfair. In fact, I found the Oconee's funnel-like fairways pleasantly forgiving--often at the timeliest of moments. Jones may play with golfers at times like a cat with a mouse, but he stages his game with rewards too. An ample fairway might provide leniency just as Oconee begins to show off its stellar lake views.
GREAT WATERS. This 1992 Jack Nicklaus Signature course is often considered the best of the six. It has a great many features that are classic Jack, including lots of wind challenges that make club selection unique from round to round, if not hour to hour. The course's lake holes deliver awesome panoramic views that give you a clear look at some of the natural forest (and mega mansions) across the water. The last eight holes are on the lake.
If you're feeling competitive and up for a test bordering on the superhuman, you might consider playing a few of Great Waters' holes from the Championship tees. One of them, a par-4, weighs in at roughly 550 yards into the wind and requires a tee shot of more than 250 yards just to clear thick rough and find the fairway. Consider this: even a 300-yard bulls-eye off the tee leaves another 250-yard or so approach shot in to a green surrounded on three sides by the lake.
For the smarter among us, those who prefer to play to their level, the course is mostly manageable and always enjoyable. No matter how you decide to play, the course will leave you with plenty of stories to recount at the 19th hole.
THE ACADEMY REWARDS. Every golfer's swing strays off course from time to time. During such occasions, it's good to see the King!
Ritz-Carlton guests have all the necessary credentials required to schedule individual or group lessons led by Top-50 Golf Instructor Charlie King. The father of "Anti-Method Golf" (www.antimethodgolf.com), King favours tailoring swings to the unique physical and mental characteristics of each and every individual. According to King, "your personality, your mindset, the way you’re built and the pace you walk and talk must be taken into account for you to play golf your way and reach your potential as a player."
I caught a brief glimpse of King's operation, located adjacent to the Kingdom, immediately following our satisfying day examining Great Waters. One thing's for sure: the land he has to work with is, like everything else at Reynolds Plantation, a sight to behold.
The outdoor short game facility alone features a handful of greens surrounded by traps (and built to a variety of elevations), strategically located ponds, and even a few menacing trees--some stretching higher than 100 feet. It's hard to imagine a shot challenge that can't be recreated, and eventually overcome, at the Academy.
GOLF AND THE KINGDOM. TaylorMade-adidas Group (TMaG) originally created its fully stocked equipment-fitting studio known as The Kingdom exclusively for its staff pros--top-ranked players such as Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose. There are just two like it in the country, the other being at TMaG's Carlsbad, California headquarters.
Recently, however, TMaG unlocked the doors of the Kingdom for guests of the Ritz-Carlton Lodge, which means "regular Joes" like you and me can now access the same precision-fitting services and technologies: trackman, motion analysis software, a network of strategically positioned cameras and a Quintic high-speed camera that can capture 250 frames per second.
THE ROCK HOUSE. The rustic, well-aged "Rock House" provides a great setting for an evening of cocktails and tapas. Between bites of carefully crafted, small-plate presentations of duck, quail and fish, the property's resident historians paint a picture of what life was like at the beginning of the "Reynolds period".
In the early 20th century, successful inventor Mercer Reynolds first purchased thousands of acres of land along the Oconee River in an area then known as Cracker's Neck. He viewed the property as a welcoming sanctuary which family, friends and even strangers passing through could use for refreshing the body, mind and spirit. While he left the land largely undeveloped, in the mid-1920s he erected a hunting and fishing lodge he affectionately nicknamed "Linger Longer", a reflection of his guests' reluctance to leave.
The Rock House is a carefully produced replica of Reynolds' historic lodge. Sadly, the original was swept away in the 1970s when Georgia Power flooded the valley that's now the bed of Lake Oconee.
Today the building is used for private events as well as for educational programs designed for kids, cooks, amateur archaeologists and more. It is a frequent starting point for a long list of field trips offered around the property.
It is also meant to serve as a permanent reminder that Mercer Reynolds' enduring spirit of hospitality and inclusiveness at Linger Longer--and of course his own enjoyment of the sporting life--is central to the inspiration underlying many pleasures Reynolds Plantation offers its guests to this day.
Good to know
Plan your flight to arrive at busiest airport in the world, Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International (ATL). Unless you have a ride waiting, renting some wheels is a must. The last leg of your journey still requires an 80-minute drive to Greensboro on Interstate 20 east toward Augusta.
Where to Stay
Ritz-Carlton Lodge, Reynolds Plantation
Address: One Lake Oconee Trail, Greensboro, GA 30642
Guests-Only: Notable Golf Extras
The Kingdom at Reynolds Plantation
Reynolds Golf Academy
The Ritz-Carlton Spa, Boutique, and Fitness Center
Meetings & Weddings
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