By Shane Sharp
One of the unfailingly cool things about pure golf destinations is their existence in the most unlikely of places. Hanging from a cliff in Oregon, like Bandon Dunes. Carved from the sandhills of North Carolina and Wisconsin, like Pinehurst and Sand Valley. Or even in the middle of a retired phosphate strip mine, like Streamsong.
By these lofty standards of remoteness, Reynolds Lake Oconee isn’t just accessible, it’s downright convenient. Georgia’s largest golf destination is situated midway between the Atlanta metro area and iconic Augusta, just 90-minutes from either. Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C. and Charlotte, N.C. are a 2.5 and 3.5-hour drive, respectively, putting it in play for thousands of golf-crazed Carolinians.
One part luxury resort, two parts private golf community and overall pure golf nirvana, Reynolds Lake Oconee is home to five courses ranked among the best in the country by the holy trinity of Golf Digest, Golfweek and GOLF Magazine, a stunning Ritz-Carlton hotel, sporting grounds with clays, archery and off-road driving, and over 376 miles of shoreline flowing along a 12,000-acre freshwater lake.
Unlike “golf for golf’s sake” destinations, there are myriad ways to experience Reynolds Lake Oconee. It can easily facilitate a golf buddy trip with is 90 holes of resort golf designed by the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio, Rees Jones and Bob Cupp. Onsite cottages (more on this to come, below) can easily accommodate groups of any size. Note: The Creek Course onsite is a members-only, private course, whereas the other five courses are open to resort guests and members.
Bestowed with numerous “best for families” awards, Reynolds Lake Oconee is equally adept at hosting a couples’ golf retreat or family golf trip with premier lodging at the lakefront Ritz-Carlton, fine dining, seemingly unlimited activities and inspiring sunrises best savored with a cup of coffee overlooking the lake. With all this stated, here are a few tips for anyone considering a golf sojourn to this golf shrine of the Southeast.
When it comes to executing the perfect golf buddies’ trip, order of play matters. You don’t want to take on a resort’s toughest track right out of the gate, yet the crew still wants a little taste of what the golf destination has in store. That’s why The Landing is the ideal leadoff / arrival-day course at Reynolds Lake Oconee.
The Landing was golf course architect Bob Cupp’s first solo design after launching his career with Jack Nicklaus in the 70s. Formerly known as Port Armor and acquired by Reynolds Lake Oconee in 2005, it’s optimally located just outside of the resort community’s entrance. Arrival and checking in at the golf shop is seamless, and there’s a generous practice range for a few warm-up swings before heading out.
The front nine offers a handful of holes right along the lake – highlighted by the dramatic view on the 490-yard par-5 second – and is relatively flat compared to the pitching and rolling back nine.
Throughout Cupp’s compelling routing and layout, landing areas are visible from the tee box and wide enough to handle the inevitable first-round shot dispersion that comes with a couple of hours spent in the car.
Golf groups come in all shapes, sizes and skill levels, and The Landing not only features five sets of tees, but also three combo tees rated by the Georgia State Golf Association. The “Tournament” tees – a blend of the “One” (back) and “Two” (next to back) tees offer an outstanding mix of challenge and playability for mid to low handicappers. At 5,155 yards, the Four/Five combo sets up well for women and juniors who want to kick it up a notch from the 4,798 forward tees.
After The Landing, the course lineup is flexible just depending upon the length of stay, time of the year and whether the itinerary calls for 18, 27 or 36 holes a day. The Oconee, designed by Rees Jones, is accessible right from the Ritz-Carlton and is a nice option for the final morning of an extended stay. The Preserve and The National are just a chip-shot away from each other, setting up for an awesome one-two punch over a long summer day.
But one thing’s for sure: Great Waters, wherever it fits into the rotation, needs to stand alone on the golf docket for that day, and must be savored from the first tee to 18th green. Reynolds Lake Oconee’s crown jewel was renovated by Nicklaus Design in 2019. The dramatic layout features some of the most breathtaking golf scenery in the Southeast with nine holes lining the shores of Lake Oconee. And stretching to 7,436 from the Golden Bear Tees, Great Waters is the undisputed “must-play” for big game hunters.
Reynolds Lake Oconee is the only golf resort in the U.S. to have five golf courses ranked by Golfweek as “Best in State.” Great Waters is No. 2, Oconee No. 4, The Preserve No. 10, The National No. 11 and The Landing No. 12. The National, a vintage 27-hole Tom Fazio design, is easily good enough to move up into the top 10.
The tract of land Fazio was handed has more movement than any other course on the property, with elevation changes of more than 60-feet from tee to greens. With three distinctly different sets of nines – Ridge, Bluff and Cover – The National takes on different personalities depending on which two are paired for 18 holes that day.
Perhaps most importantly, though, this is Tom Fazio we’re talking about, easily one of the top 10 golf course architects of all time, and inarguably one of the top two or three modern designers of the past 40 years. The National is Fazio at his modern best, circa 1997, during his “big” phase – big landing areas, big greens and big-time bunkering (more than 100, to be somewhat exact).
The Ritz-Carlton Lake Oconee’s undisputed fine dining headquarters is Linger Longer Steakhouse, an upscale chophouse on the level of the great steakhouses of North America. For disarming casual experience, pull up a seat at the bar and order off the main menu. For the full Linger Longer effect, grab a table in the dining room by the open kitchen or double-sided stacked-stone fireplace.
Steak is the obvious choice, and it says here that the N.Y. Strip and whipped potatoes are as good as it gets. A pleasant surprise, Linger Longer also offers “Chill,” a raw bar experience that’s open daily with fresh oysters, tuna tartare, crab claws and lobster. Pro tip: get the souffle and order it well ahead of time.
Allow us to roll it back to The National. In some locales, 27-holes, a robust practice range, full-service tavern and boutique market would constitute a golf destination unto itself. And this is a great way to spend a day at Reynolds Lake Oconee – play all 27 holes if available followed by early dinner at The National Tavern, situated behind the ninth green of the Bluff course.
The menu is cleverly organized by serving size and type. There are small plates, big plates, sammies, sharables, pie – as in pizza pie, and sweet small bites (i.e., dessert). The craft beer and wine lists are extensive, and while there are many tempting options, an ice-cold Create Comforts Tropicalia IPA and a works pie with pepperoni, Italian sausage, peppers, onion and mushrooms is hard to beat, post-round.
GOLFTEC, Club Champion and True Spec Golf have collectively ushered in the golden age of club fitting. For players who are agnostic about which brand they play, these are all superb options for dialing in their games. But millions of golfers are TaylorMade through and through, and Reynolds Lake Oconee quickly moves to the front of their golf bucket list because of “The Kingdom.”
The Kingdom of Golf, presented by TaylorMade, is one of only two of its kind in the world and is home to a club fitting center, golf instruction, including seven indoor hitting bays with TrackMan launch monitors V1 Swing analysis, and not one but two actual TaylorMade TOUR trailers. Customized experiences are even available for large groups.
For couples and families, The Ritz-Carlton is by far and away the preferred option. It’s an unlikely location for one the famed luxury hotel brand’s finest hotels but seeing (and staying) is believing. Its craftsman-style architecture and interior flow is reminiscent of the Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay, one of the great hotels of the world, as its firepit-themed rooms on the bottom floor.
It’s entirely possible to not leave the hotel and grounds and have a full-day of adventure on a pontoon boat or stand-up paddleboard out on the lake, or a relaxing time spent lounging by the pools (plural) and enjoying a treatment in the 26,000-square-foot spa. Whichever it is, wind down the night with a Bourbon from the Barrel Room in the lobby, sipping with friends or family on the couches by the fireplace.
For golf groups, both the Ritz-Carlton and The National Village offer spacious cottages. The National Club Cottages are adjacent to the National golf course overlooking the short-game practice facility. They feature four bedrooms, 4.5 baths, full kitchens, two open living spaces and an expansive porch area for enjoying an evening cigar. Additional cottages options are available at The Landing and Oconee courses.
For more information on visiting Reynolds Lake Oconee, visit www.reynoldslakeoconee.com.