GREENSBORO, Ga. — It's a great time to be a golfer who loves buddies trips, as destinations all over-the-world continue to upgrade and expand their amenities, whether it's updated lodging or expanded amenities.
Since the 1980s, Reynolds Lake Oconee has blossomed into one of the southeast's largest golf communities and resorts. Stretching across 12,000 acres of rolling, forested hills, much of it undeveloped, it surrounds the many arteries of Lake Oconee.
Golf has always played a significant — but never singular role — in the lifestyle here, not when Lake Oconee yields 350 miles of shoreline and plenty of aquatic sports to partake in. Some members, in fact, combine the two by commuting to their tee time at Great Waters by boat, which has boat slips right next to the putting green.
With the debut of the new Sandy Creek Sporting Grounds at the end of 2017, Reynolds is targeting a broader spectrum of outdoor sport lovers. Residents, as well as guests of the cottages or the Ritz-Carlton can not only play golf and partake in various water sports on the lake, but now you can also include archery and shooting at a brand new, world-class, near 100-acre setup.
Reynolds is located an hour east of Atlanta, midway between the Georgia capital and Augusta. That's made it one of the more popular options for golf trips during the Masters week each April (click here for package details). Its roster of championship golf courses designed by top architects is impressive, including Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio, Rees Jones, Bob Cupp, and Jim Engh. Each course sports a different design style and has its own clubhouse, but all the layouts share the same Reynolds topography of pleasantly rolling hills and close vicinity to the lake.
Reynolds Lake Oconee was acquired by MetLife in 2014 and has been upgrading its facilities consistently since. The big news on the golf front in 2018 is that Great Waters, lauded by many as Reynolds' best course, will shut down at the end of the spring peak season for an extensive renovation conducted by the original architecture firm, Jack Nicklaus Design. The course is expected to reopen in the fall of 2019.
As for how you choose which courses to book, the best options for guests are those courses that feature plenty of lakefront holes: Nicklaus' Great Waters debuted in 1992 and features a stirring stretch ten lakefront holes, starting from the 9th hole to the 18th. The Lake Oconee course, designed by Rees Jones, came online in 2002 and features a walkable layout with caddies or forecaddies.
While Tom Fazio's 27-hole National Course isn't the highest-profile of the courses at Reynolds, it is the undisputed epicenter for buddies trips. The clubhouse is steps from the cottages and the National Tavern is the main draw. It's a sophisticated lodge-type setting with an indoor/outdoor atmosphere with lots of craft beer on tap, tons of TV screens for games, firepits and a wide-ranging menu. A lighted practice green beckons late-night putting contests. (The $339pp National Village Experience package includes unlimited golf, daily breakfast, villa room, $100 daily F&B credit and more).
For those looking for new sticks (or a new swing) this golf season, Reynolds is the longtime home of The Kingdom of Golf presented by TaylorMade, which excels in not only instruction with launch monitoring and video analysis, but also a comprehensive fitting service that, once your specs are determined, can turn custom clubs around in the time it takes you to eat lunch before your afternoon knockabout. They recently appointed Nick Bradley as the new Director.
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There are 117 holes of golf at Reynolds, and to squeeze them all in on a weekend getaway is a very ambitious undertaking (and you'll need a Reynolds Platinum Member-hookup to play the exclusive Creek). If your swing (or your body) needs an afternoon off, the sports on offer at the new Sandy Creek Sporting Grounds provide a neat alternative that keeps the competition and connection to nature flowing. The complex, in particular the 20-station clays course, is as elaborate as I've seen at any resort. Groups traverse through the woods and around lakes on a buggy to various setups, all designed to present a wide variety of clay speed, directions and lengths. The five-stand shooting range and an archery course, as well as elaborate game areas and hiking trails, make up this new, nearly-100-acre complex. Rifles and ammo are included and personal guides accompany groups around the course, while certified instructors also offer lessons.
Stay and play at Reynolds Lake Oconee
There are two main lodging options for golf trips to Reynolds Lake Oconee, The Ritz-Carlton Lake Oconee, and cottage rentals. The cottage rentals have buddies trips in mind, while the Ritz has all the comforts and amenities you'd expect, from spacious guest rooms with balconies to multiple dining options. The lawn slopes down to the lake where there is a lakeside pool, small beach area and dock for water sports.
Save a night on your trip for the Linger Longer steakhouse, which has excellent steaks and wines in a mingling setting. You can go really big with a "Chef specialty cut," like a 22-oz. cowboy dry-aged ribeye. The wine list in particular succeeds in ensuring guests adhere to the place's namesake.