Golfers looking for an up-scale and first-class resort experience will have their wishes come true at Reynolds Lake Oconee in Georgia. The region is simply gorgeous, serene, picturesque and peaceful – oh, and the golf is incredible with six courses, a top-notch teaching and training facility and the comforts of a Ritz-Carlton Lodge on the water’s edge.
Travelers have visited the area about halfway between Atlanta and Augusta for more than 100 years and many made it a family retreat. In 1979 the Oconee River was dammed, creating what is now Lake Oconee with more than 350 miles of shoreline that twists and turns into numerous inlets and small bays in the region. The area supports four boating marinas as well.
The Oconee Course is one of the finest public courses in Georgia and has received national accolades from GOLF magazine, Golfweek and Golf for Women. Each hole on the Rees Jones-designed layout is a unique experience but holes share the similarities of rolling terrain framed by tall Georgia pines, large receptive greens – all intermixed with Lake Oconee shoreline, ponds and creeks that require navigating around but are gorgeous to view.
Fairways are wide and although tree-lined, the areas under tree canopies are cleaned out so a lost ball is rare. My favorite stretch is holes 15-18. The 15th is a slightly downhill par 3 to a large green on a peninsula formed by two smaller inlets of water off Lake Oconee. Very tranquil.
It’s followed by the par 4 16th hole going back in-land with a creek running the entire length of the fairway and splitting hitting zones (the 12th hole is similar and stunning). The 18th hole is one of the finest finishing holes in golf – a par 4 with some teeth and a fairway that runs all along the shoreline with wonderful views of a massive portion of the lake. The course overall offers five sets of tees that avail to a huge challenge from the tips, but a gorgeous day spent outdoors from tees more forward.
The Preserve Course is a Bob Cupp design with assistance from PGA Tour players Fuzzy Zoeller and Hubert Green, two players that infused some fun into the design. In 2016 the course had some upgrades completed by Cupp, including a new routing called the ‘Quick Six’, a loop of six short holes that can be played in about one hour.
The Great Waters Course is a Jack Nicklaus design named for the fact every one of holes 11-18 all have Lake Oconee shoreline and inlets in play – and of course on great display as a visual marvel. A quote from Jack Nicklaus reads: “I think we have great tree-lined holes. We have great water holes. We’ve utilized the lake to a large degree for some of the difficulty of the holes. But we’ve also taken the holes and utilized the lake for view and kept the holes off of it. It’s one of the really great pieces of property that I’ve ever had the opportunity to work with.”
The National Course is a three-9 layout by Tom Fazio that has some of the highest elevation changes off tees and up to greens while offering great views of the Oconee River Valley. Many hardwood trees make up this area of the overall region. The Landing Course is the resort’s original design, first opened in 1986, acquired by Reynolds in 2005 and then revamped – as were most of the six courses, in the early 2010s.
The Creek Club is the only private track at Reynolds, and was designed by Jim Engh, who put together Michigan’s Tullymore Resort course – and there is some resemblance in exceptional man-made shaping used to accentuate great natural terrain. The Creek Club opened in 2007 and Engh was charged to create something with a different feel than the first five courses at Reynolds. He did it.
What stands out as most unique is the 18th hole. Engh couldn’t decide between three different green locations at the end of the valley, so they built all three and management rotates which one closes out your round. We played the first green that was tucked around a corner of trees to the right. If playing the third green golfers have an elevated finishing shot.
Any visit to Reynolds Lake Oconee (formerly referred to as Reynolds Plantation) should include a stop at the Kingdom of Golf presented by TaylorMade. It’s one of only two such amenities in the country and offers top-notch golf instruction and club fitting with the latest technologies and a personal touch. Behind the indoor/outdoor training building that hits out onto the driving range sits an enormous practice area settled in a small valley with three large greens, chipping areas and approach shot-making opportunities to tune up anyone’s game.
Whether a northern native is in the market for a winter home in the south, or a luxurious vacation spot to visit, Reynolds Lake Oconee should be on the shopping list.