This article appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of LINKS.
Bobby Jones was not just the best golfer of his time, he was a keenly observant fellow, a man who knew how to recognize a good opportunity, on the course and off. Which makes one wonder: When he began searching for a place to build his dream course, how on earth did he miss Reynolds Plantation?
Think about it. Less than an hour from Jones’s native Atlanta—and on the direct route to Augusta—was this magnificent property, smack beside a national forest. During his many trips prior to the purchase of the Augusta National land, Jones surely passed straight across the Oconee River and through the rolling, pine-clad terrain. Did he never look out the window of his Model T?
Granted, the area was a bit rural, but let’s remember, Jones was looking for a place that would allow him to escape the rigors of city life, a sanctuary where he and his golf pals could kick back and enjoy one another’s company in relative solitude.
Well, Bobby may have blown his chance, but a couple of his contemporaries—Mercer and James Reynolds—did not, acquiring several thousand splendid acres, which they placed in a trust. Two generations later, their descendants developed the land into one of America’s preeminent golf resorts.
“Undiscovered gem” is an overused term, but in the case of Reynolds Plantation it applies. Due in large part to its unlikely location—neither mountains nor coastline—Reynolds, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, has remained off the radar of many traveling golfers, drawing the majority of its business from Georgia and the Carolinas. But it is unquestionably a gem, with several sparkling facets.
Except for Pinehurst, nowhere in North America can you find more courses emanating from the same hub: six of them in total, designed by Bob Cupp (two), Jim Engh, Tom Fazio, Rees Jones, and Jack Nicklaus, each with a different character and challenge. Also on site is the only TaylorMade “Kingdom” (a state-of-the-art custom-fitting center) on the East Coast, as well as a golf academy led by Charlie King, a Top 100 teacher according to both Golf Digest and Golf Magazine. So whether your goal is enjoyment or improvement, this is as good as it gets.
There’s no ocean but there is a beach—in fact, more than 80 miles of shoreline along Lake Oconee, the state’s second largest lake. Four marinas provide access to boating, jet skiing, and kayaking, and if you’re a fisherman, consider this: Each of Lake Oconee’s 19,000 acres is home to 433 pounds of fish—that translates to roughly five million bass, bream, crappie, and catfish for your angling pleasure.
For those who prefer to be pampered, the comfortably elegant Ritz-Carlton Lodge offers 251 tastefully appointed rooms and suites along with four restaurants (in addition to four at the golf clubhouses) and a 26,000-square-foot spa, all perched idyllically beside the lake.
The best news is that this gem has just undergone a thorough polishing. Two years ago, MetLife acquired Reynolds Plantation and began a multi-million-dollar renovation that has brought a new clubhouse to one of the courses, new putting surfaces to two others, expansion of the Kingdom and academy operations, and refurbishment of all the rooms and suites in the Lodge. There’s even a posh new coffee shop serving everything from ice cream and pastries to steaming Starbucks for those with early tee times.
The enhancements, well timed to coincide with the revived economy, have spurred increased business at Reynolds, in both resort traffic and real estate sales (the six courses are surrounded discreetly by nearly 4,000 homes and lots, with property ownership bringing a variety of membership opportunities). In the past few months, sales have begun to return to their pre-recession levels, but plenty of good deals are still available.
Likewise, rooms at the Lodge may be reserved just about every week but one, the same week that sells out months in advance each year. This year it’s April 7–13, when a few hundred savvy and fortunate souls will combine their golf vacation with a day trip or two to the Masters. These folks have figured out what Bobby Jones didn’t: That Augusta is a nice place to visit, but it’s no match for Reynolds Plantation.