Reynolds Lake Oconee raises the bar with improved 'Kingdom'

New Reynolds Kingdom of Golf at Reynolds Lake Oconee in Georgia raises the bar on instruction, clubfitting

GREENSBORO, Ga. -- Besides the six meticulously maintained golf courses and luxury accommodations, one of the most appealing aspects of Reynolds Lake Oconee has been The Kingdom and the instructional program and facilities headed up by top-100 instructor Charlie King. This was only one of three places you could go through a fitting just like the TaylorMade-sponsored tour pros -- and it still is. But now it's been raised to a new level.

In short, if you liked the Kingdom before, the new Reynolds Kingdom of Golf presented by TaylorMade is even more appealing.

As it turns out, Reynolds' contract with TaylorMade recently expired. The resort extended the partnership with TaylorMade, but also undertook an expansion project, bringing nearly everything in house, including the staff.

"Game improvement is a cornerstone of the Reynolds lifestyle," said Mark Lammi, vice president of golf operations for Reynolds Lake Oconee, which has assumed ownership and operation of The Kingdom. "By extending our long-time partnership with TaylorMade and adding in the world-class instruction of Charlie King's team, we will have one of the most premier game-improvement centers in the country."

Taking over ownership and operations means Reynolds will be able to expand what it does, Lammi said. And that includes more access for resort guests and an increase in the junior and family-development programs.

Recently, I had the opportunity to experience a sampling of the full scope of the operation, which included a chipping-and-putting lesson from Charlie King, a putter fitting and swing evaluation. The Kingdom has also retained the TaylorMade fitting trailer, which means after a fitting clubs can be built on site.

This expansion also includes two fully enclosed hitting bays, three covered and heated hitting areas, TrackMan 4 launch monitors, and high-speed Ximea cameras. It's but another example of the $40 million investment in ongoing renovations at Reynolds Lake Oconee (formerly Reynolds Plantation).

The Reynolds Lake Oconee experience

Located between Atlanta and Augusta, Reynolds Lake Oconee already ranked among the best experiences in the country with six award-winning golf courses designed by the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio, Rees Jones, Bob Cupp, and Jim Engh. With the launching of the Reynolds Kingdom of Golf, it is now also one of the most complete golf experiences as well.

Since MetLife's initial investment in August 2012, five of the six golf courses have undergone substantial investment and improvements, including the Plantation Course, which reopens this spring following a renovation. Additionally, a golf village was built at the National Course, and dining areas in the Great Waters clubhouse were renovated. The rooms, cottages, restaurants, spa, and pools of The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee have been redecorated and refurbished.

Ritzy at the @ritzcarlton @reynoldslakeoconee. Classic Rolls-Royce driven by one of the guests. Mint condition.

A photo posted by Mike Bailey (@mstefan.bailey) on

There are actually a couple of options for accommodations when staying at Reynolds Lake Oconee. You can enjoy one of the many condominiums or houses available in the community or my personal favorite, The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee, a lakefront resort and spa, which was named a 2015 AAA Five Diamond Lodging and 2014 Forbes Four-Star resort.

One thing that's always consistent about The Ritz-Carlton is its spa experiences, and the Reynolds Lake Oconee experience was no exception. This luxury spa offers a menu infused with native Georgia ingredients, water-themed therapies and a lodge-like space with windows overlooking the lake. Sprawling across 27,600 square feet, the spa includes relaxation lounges, a traditional barbershop space, a dedicated nail treatment room, 24-hour fitness center and indoor pool.

Recently, there's also been some improvements at The Ritz-Carlton as well. Its 251 rooms and suites were redecorated and refurbished, each reflecting a design scheme that captures the region's deep Southern roots and abundant natural beauty, with a vibrant color palette and elements of classic Southern design, such as antique style furnishings, rich pecan woods and custom hand embroidered fabrics. The Cottages by the Lake and the Lake House were also renovated as part of this investment.

Georgia's Bistro was updated and renovated and now features new leather banquette seating, a rustic gnarled wood table, new chairs and oxidized copper tabletops as well as new lighting fixtures, floor coverings and artwork. The "new" Georgia's Bistro continues to offer Southern-inspired menus highlighted by regional, farm-to-table, seasonal fare with additions from the herb garden.

Other dining/golf options at Reynolds Lake Oconee

Another restaurant option at The Ritz-Carlton is Gaby's by the Lake, an outdoor venue that offers sweeping views of Lake Oconee, as well as a full menu of casual favorites and cocktails throughout the day.

This was where we had lunch before our experience at The Kingdom and a round at the Oconee Course, a terrific Rees Jones design that also received some enhancements recently. While Jones' design was not altered, turf on all 18 greens was changed to Champion hybrid bermuda which provides a superior year-round playing surface. This turf replaces the original Crenshaw creeping bentgrass that had been in place since the course's 2002 debut.

Of course, with six golf courses, there are plenty more dining options at Reynolds Lake Oconee, and I got to experience a couple more of them during my stay.

The Linger Longer Steakhouse, located in the Oconee Course clubhouse across from to The Ritz-Carlton, is a newly renovated restaurant that offers a wide variety of fine steaks. It also has an extensive wine list emphasizes reds from around the world, as well as varietals from Georgia's own Persimmon Creek Vineyards, with more than 40 wines by the glass.

And finally, we also got to dine at the Overlook at Great Waters, which has panoramic views of Lake Oconee and the 18th hole of the Great Waters Course, which is one of my favorite Jack Nicklaus designs anywhere. Surf-and-turf dishes, grilled smoked pork chops, shrimp and grits and chocolate peanut butter pie are some of the highlights of the menu.

As for the golf course, which opened in 1992, Great Waters is a dramatic layout that offers some of the most breathtaking golf scenery in the Southeast. A top-100 course on more than one list, Great Waters was renovated in 2010 with a greens restoration that included a conversion from bentgrass to Mini Verde and tweaking of the bunkers as well. The course is credited with putting Reynolds on the map. It has a great history, and the renovation assures the golf course maintains its level of excellence in the future.

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.

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New Reynolds Kingdom of Golf at Reynolds Lake Oconee in Georgia raises the bar on instruction, clubfitting