Tony’s Test Drives
One in a series of occasional reviews of courses, destinations, equipment or products by our traveling golf writer and host of the GolfTalk Live radio show.
By Tony Leodora
There are a number of rewards that come with embracing the golfing lifestyle. At the top of the list is golf travel.
Seeing the country while playing the game of golf provides a never-ending treasure of rich memories. And those memories reach the highest level when visiting one of the great golf resorts of America.
There are a number of heralded resorts that offer all of the elements – multiple great golf layouts on one site, a variety of accommodations that range from comfortable to luxurious, outstanding restaurants, and plenty of other activities to fill the hours not spent on the golf course.
The names roll off the tongue – Pinehurst, Barefoot Resort in Myrtle Beach, Palmetto Dunes on Hilton Head Island, Doral and Innisbrook in Florida, Pebble Beach, Whistling Straits. The mere mention of these places transports golfers into daydream mode, and plants the seed for plans that will result in the next great golf trip.
Reynolds Plantation, in the lake country of Georgia – about 75 miles northeast of Atlanta – is one of those properties. In fact, after considering all of the factors, it might be at the top of the list.
Reynolds Plantation is a 10,000 acre collection of properties and golf courses developed along the picturesque shores of Georgia’s massive Lake Oconee. It is conveniently close enough to Atlanta, and all of its travel connections, despite seemingly being light years away from all of the hustle and bustle.
Twenty years ago it was a little known upstart of a golf resort that was tucked away in a very rural part of the Georgia countryside. With the addition of golf courses, a variety of accommodations, residential properties and acclaimed restaurants, it has grown into one of the most special golf locations in the country.
Of course, when talking about world-class golf resorts, every discussion must begin with the quality of the golf courses. Reynolds offers 99 holes of golf open to the public – plus another outstanding 18-hole private layout – all within the confines of the property. It is the ultimate combination of convenience and excellence.
“You would be hard-pressed to find this combination of outstanding golf and accommodations on one property anywhere in the world,” says Mark Lammi, director of golf operations at Reynolds Plantation. “Plus, with the variety of great golf courses, designed by great golf architects, you could play here for the rest of your life and never get bored.”
Lammi, a native of Easton, Pennsylvania, knows all about the attraction that Reynolds Plantation poses to golfers from the North. He studied the golf industry in the Penn State Professional Golf Management Program and it didn’t take long for him to decide that his golf future was on the shores of Lake Oconee.
“Once you make the move to Georgia’s lake country, you get stuck here,” Lammi admitted. The golf is the first attraction. Everything else solidifies the decision.”
The first golf course that started drawing attention to Reynolds Plantation was the Plantation Course – designed by Bob Cupp, with collaboration from famed professional golfers Fuzzy Zoeller and Hubert Green. It opened in 1988 and immediately shined the spotlight on Reynolds Plantation.
The Plantation Course used the rolling hills of the interesting natural terrain and combined it with vistas of beautiful Lake Oconee. The fairways were cut from among the towering pine trees and the layout demands shotmaking skills from the golfers. It is the shortest of all courses at Reynolds and is appealing to players of all skill levels.
Another Bob Cupp design, The Landing, actually predates the Plantation Course. At the time of its opening, in 1986, it was known as Port Armor and stood as one of the more difficult courses in Georgia. It was later purchased, the name was changed, and it was added to the Reynolds Plantation collection.
The Great Waters Course, a Jack Nicklaus Signature design, opened in 1992. It features the most holes (nine) directly on the shores of Lake Oconee of any course at Reynolds Plantation and immediately achieved a national reputation.
A renovation of the green complexes and the bunkering in 2009 enhanced the quality of the Great Waters Course. It recently was chosen to host the first-ever Big Break Invitational, a 72-hole made-for-television tournament that featured a select field of 40 past champions from the Big Break television show. It was televised live on The Golf Channel.
The National Course opened in 1997, featuring 18 holes of natural beauty designed by Tom Fazio. An additional nine holes were added in 2000. Fazio made use of impressive elevations, as well as some inspirational vistas of Lake Oconee to create an unforgettable experience.
Dense forests of hardwoods, pines and flowering wild dogwoods provide the backdrop to some of Lake Oconee’s most dramatic lakefront topography. An extensive renovation in 2014 included converting the greens to Champion Bermuda.
Rees Jones joined the all-star team of golf course architects at Reynolds Plantation in 2002, with the opening of his Oconee Course. Again, much of the lake comes into play on this challenging layout, but Jones added some additional dramatic features.
The Oconee Course is an idyllic sanctuary, providing a pure, undisturbed setting for golf. Jones added a series of small waterfalls, flowing from greenside creeks, that enhance the beauty at the same time they increase the difficulty. The finishing three holes are an unforgettable crescendo to the trip around the Oconee Course.
The Creek Club, designed by architect Jim Engh, opened in 2007 and provided a private course for both residents and visitors to Reynolds Plantation. It is a stark contrast to the rest of the courses at Reynolds Plantation, with distinctive bunkering and a more rugged look to the entire layout.
That assortment of world-class golf at Reynolds Plantation should be enough to attract avid golfers from around the world. But there is plenty more to the vacation and permanent lifestyle at Reynolds Plantation that has quickly made it so attractive.
The vacation options range from the highly rated Ritz Carlton Lodge – a relaxed version of the luxury that has become attached to the hotel chain’s reputation – to an assortment of cottage options.
There are 2, 3, 4 and 6-bedroom cottages and houses available for rent though the main office at Reynolds Plantation. All offer the lakeside charm and convenience that enhance a visit of any duration.
One phenomenon that has been a noticeable part of the vacation growth at Reynolds Plantation over the years is the fact that some of the vacationers don’t want to leave. In fact, a growing community of part-time and full-time residents has evolved along the shores of Lake Oconee. As a result more amenities in the way of shopping, dining and services have developed in the surrounding areas.
Speaking of dining, the evolution of the culinary scene at Reynolds Plantation has attracted national attention in recent years.
There is a great variety of restaurants on property. The Plantation Grille is the comfortable and casual “neighborhood” gathering spot that features nightly specials. The Landing Restaurant has signature dishes such as the “Nothing but Crab” Cake, Fish & Chips, and a down-home meatloaf. The Overlook at Great Waters is a second-floor dining room with huge glass windows that provide spectacular views of Lake Oconee. It features fine dining without exorbitant resort prices. Georgia’s Bistro specializes in local cuisine that capitalizes on seasonally fresh ingredients from local farmers.
The Linger Longer Steakhouse in the Oconee Clubhouse is operated by the Ritz Carlton and offers high-end steaks and an extensive wine list. Another Ritz restaurant is Gaby’s by the Lake – outdoor dining with a charming lake view. It features a quality modern menu for “come as you are” dining.
Once visitors are fed, rested and entertained by the great golf courses of the Reynolds Plantation property, they might be motivated to improve their golf games.
One way is by spending a few days with Top 100 instructor Charlie King and his staff at the Reynolds Golf Academy. King is known for his philosophy that does not re-make the golf swing from scratch, but attempts to improve the game of the golfer within their particular physical limitations. His approach is popular with golfers of all ages.
Or, golfers might turn to a technological approach to improving their game. That can be achieved with a visit to the Kingdom at Reynolds Plantation. This TaylorMade-operated facility originally only was available to PGA Tour professionals. Now it offers an unmatched custom golf club fitting experience for all ages and skill levels. Add the TaylorMade Putting Lab and the Kingdom brings the ultimate in technology to the masses.
Need something more to convince you of the quality of recreational life at Reynolds Plantation? There is great fishing, boating, tennis, hiking – or just relaxing in a hammock and enjoying the natural beauty of the Lake Oconee area. Put everything together and it becomes quite evident why Reynolds Plantation has skyrocketed to the top of the list of great golf resorts in America.