While I’m still experiencing quaking tremors after brandishing the Golf Road Warrior’s sword and shield for five consecutive days at Reynolds Plantation, my thoughts about the golf community are beginning to cohere.
Because the season’s first major is nearly upon us, it’s easier to assess the appeal of this 10,000-acre community in Georgia’s red clay country 75 miles east of Atlanta. For this reason: An hour’s drive west of the development is Augusta, as in Augusta National, home of the Masters and every golfer’s idealized image of the perfect inland course.
Augusta has exerted a powerful influence on golf design throughout the interior regions of the South, especially places where the land rolls and the pines grow tall. With its piney woods abloom with white dogwoods and pink azaleas, an Augusta fantasy can play out quite convincingly on a fine spring day at Reynolds Plantation, especially on the National, Tom Fazio’s subtle homage to Augusta.
At Reynolds, members and resort guests are privy to a panoply of golf excellence few other communities can match. With 117 holes draped across rolling hills and dropped along the shores of Lake Oconee, Reynolds Plantation offers exceptional variety. Each venue has a fully staffed golf shop. Swing fix? Reynolds Golf Academy will get you back on track. New sticks? The TaylorMade Kingdom, located adjacent to the Oconee Course, is where the touring pros go to get fitted for the tools of their trade. You can too.
Golf is the engine that drives the train at Reynolds, but there’s plenty to do after the final putts are holed. Spanning 19,000 acres, Lake Oconee, Georgia’s second largest lake, offers some of the state’s best fishing. Locals reckon there are 43 pounds of largemouth bass per acre in Lake Oconee. You can test the theory by hiring a guide (ask for Norris) at one of the resort’s marinas and trying your luck on a lake that boasts 374 miles of shoreline. With or without a fishing rod, boating is a pleasure on Lake Oconee, especially a peaceful moonlight cruise on a pontoon boat. By day, water sports range from canoeing and kayaking to water-skiing to wake-boarding.
The community boasts 15 miles of nature trails that wind through the forest and along the lakeshore, giving hikers and joggers a chance to see deer, turkey, fox, otter and waterfowl. Reynolds Plantation is also home to a resident bald eagle colony.
The dining options at Reynolds are excellent. Two of my favorites are Gaby’s by the Lake at The Ritz-Carlton Lodge, a casual, open-air restaurant set on a stone patio that features savory grilled entrees; and Linger Longer Steakhouse in the Oconee Course clubhouse, which offers classic steakhouse cuisine with wines to match.
Charming small towns and a few rare gems can be found outside the gates of the community. For example, nearby Eatanton was the home of author Joel Chandler Harris, creator of the Uncle Remus Tales. Brer Rabbit himself resides at the Uncle Remus Museum.
A short drive north of the resort is Madison, a lovely town spared by General Sherman during his infamous march through the South. The town’s beautifully preserved historic district has dozens of antebellum buildings. Madison is known for small antique shops that offer everything from heirloom jewelry to large credenzas. For an inkling of what life was like in the South before the Industrialized Age, visit the Madison-Morgan Cultural Center.
Is Reynolds Plantation for everyone? No, it’s not. This is a quiet, refined getaway designed to appeal to affluent country clubbers accustomed to well-groomed courses and courteous service. Property ownership is a requirement for membership at Reynolds, but resort guests can enjoy all the benefits of the community without plunking down an initiation deposit.
The Ritz-Carlton Lodge, overlooking the Oconee Course, is one of the most stylish retreats in the South. Opened in 2002, the fieldstone and shake-sided lodge makes a favorable first impression: The flagstone-floored lobby has Oriental rugs, hardwood beams stretched across its cathedral ceiling, comfortable leather couches and a large stone fireplace. The spacious guest rooms are done up in warm earth tones of amber, green and brown. Most feature lake views from their verandas. Rooms are furnished with antique reproductions, while the elegant bathrooms, accented in marble and granite, have a separate shower and freestanding bathtubs. Indoor and outdoor pools, notably a beautiful infinity-edge pool set above the lake and its attractive man-made beach, complete the picture. The Lodge also manages six multi-bedroom cottages and a 5,400-square-foot Presidential House. Each is tucked alongside the 18th hole of the Oconee Course.
The hotel’s top amenity is its 26,000-square-foot spa, which features décor and treatments influenced by the Creek Indians who once inhabited the area. Nestled on one of the lake’s secluded coves, the spa utilizes native herbs and flowers as well as Georgia red clay, which Native Americans and early settlers valued for its medicinal value. The theme of the treatments changes with each season.
In addition to The Ritz-Carlton Lodge, Reynolds Plantation offers an array of multi-bedroom golf villas and cottages sprinkled throughout the property. These nicely furnished units, designed for prospective real estate buyers, typically include a cheerful living room, a large, fully-equipped kitchen, and a deck or porch with a golf course view. Again, the golf courses at Reynolds are accessible to Ritz-Carlton guests as well as those who purchase one of the property’s “Discovery Packages.”
In sum, Reynolds is not raucous. It’s refined. If you want action, go to Myrtle Beach. If you want a serene getaway that simulates, just a little, it’s more famous neighbor to the east, then Reynolds Plantation is an ideal choice.