Reynolds Lake Oconee is one the Ritziest (pun intended, you’ll understand in a minute) golf resorts east of the Mississippi River. Guest can stay at the Ritz Carlton (get it now?) or rent one of the spacious four-bedroom guest cottages located at various courses throughout the property. Courses, plural. In fact, there are 6.5 courses on the property (The National has 27 holes) – 5 of which are accessible to resort guests. Top course designers too: Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio, Rees Jones and Bob Cupp, who built both The Landing and Preserve. The 6th Course – The Creek Club – is a private member only facility and was designed by Jim Engh.
Although built by different architects, these five courses share several common traits. Rolling hills, significant elevation changes, challenging bunker placements, strategically placed water hazards and lightning fast greens are commonalities on all five tracks . Each course is so meticulously maintained that you feel guilty for not raking a bunker or repairing a ball mark.
The Landing was acquired by Reynolds in 2005 and was the first course to be built on Lake Oconee. It opened back in 1986 and was originally called Port Armor Country Club. The Landing was designed by the late Bob Cupp and redesigned in 2013 where it debuted as one of Georgia’s top courses, second only to Augusta. The course is a mixture of naturally wooded holes and rolling hills, with three holes wrapping their way around the shoreline of Lake Oconee. Water frames the borders of several greens with one position looking as if it were in the water. The course can be played for 7,048 yards, and is a suitable yardage for ultra-talented golfers or those that are into self-deprecation. Tee #2 plays 6,375 yards, with a rating of 71.7 and a slope of 131 and will give most golfers all they can handle. The Landing is a 2nd shot golf course and knowing where to hit it on the green is a must if you want to get it close. In my mind, the greens are what makes The Landing such a great golf course.
Another top-notch course at Reynolds Lake Oconee is The National. This course could have easily been named The Natural, as designer Tom Fazio has seen to it that many of the holes flow with the natural terrain of the land into valleys and ravines, making this course playable for all levels of members and guests. Beautiful flora is on display here, with azaleas, flowering dogwoods and Georgia pine forests present on every hole.
The National is a 27-hole facility that Fazio designed in 2000 and renovated in 2014. Three distinctly different nine-hole layouts will test every facet of your golf game. Each nine is named for the type of terrain they feature and no two holes are alike. Several courses feature creeks that meander down the fairways, wreaking havoc with what you think is a well-placed shot. All three tracts – The Ridge, Bluff and Cove – feature dramatic rolling terrain, hardwood forests and challenging putting surfaces, but what sets these courses apart from the others are the elevation changes – up to 60 feet from tee to fairway. The greens are typically large with noticeable undulation… and fast!
There are several memorable holes on these courses – one after another – but for me, number 6 on The Ridge Course is the clear winner. It’s a par 5, dogleg left that plays 544 yards from Tee #2 and starts off with a blind tee shot. Best to ride up and check out the landing area for your layup shot because there is a large lake to the left of the fairway bunker. A successful layup will leave you a short pitch shot to an elevated green well protected by sand and water.
The Preserve was the original course at Reynold’s Lake Oconee and dates back to 1997. It’s another beautiful Bob Cupp design, with help from player consultants Fuzzy Zoeller and Hubert Green. In 2016, The Preserve reopened after undergoing an extensive multi-phase restoration project overseen by Cupp himself. The makeover included a complete redo from tee to green, which included a new short course routing known as the “Quick Six”. It’s a loop of six holes, each under 130 yards that can be played in about an hour.
The Preserve also takes advantage of the rolling landscape and natural topography of the land, creating a course that is very playable for golfers of all levels and abilities.
Great Waters is a Jack Nicklaus Signature design that opened in 1992 to rave reviews. The course winds its way around Lake Oconee and features a parkland style front nine complete with thick pine forests and rolling hills. Water doesn’t come into play until the ninth hole, where it comes creeping in on the right side of the green. From here on in, you’d better get used to the wet stuff; eight of the final nine holes touch the lake.
Defined by a dramatic routing along the Lake Oconee shoreline, the Rees Jones designed Oconee Course is a true risk/reward layout, with the opportunity to play shots over inlets of Lake Oconee, or cut the corners of tree-lined doglegs. Oconee opened in 1992 and underwent a major redo in 2013 under the watchful eyes of Rees Jones. The par-3 holes are very appealing to the eye. Elevated tees, numerous water hazards such as creeks and ponds, and extensive bunkering provide a tough-but-fair challenge for every level of player. The course has established itself as being both aesthetically beautiful and playable for golfers of all levels.
As far as finding somewhere good to eat in the area, there is no need to go off property and The National Tavern is a great place to start. Located in the clubhouse at The National Course, the Tavern uses locally grown and seasonal ingredients in creating traditional favorites, usually with a fun and innovative twist. A good example of this are their appetizers which you can easily fill up on. The Not Yo’ Average Nachos are made with pulled pork and are big enough to share… with a football team! The soft pretzel sticks and Tavern Pimento Cheese are absolutely delicious. If you’re still hungry, I highly recommend the Mediterranean Grilled Swordfish and the Chicken Parmesan Meatballs. The Warm Peach Turnover and Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie are a great way to end your meal. The Tavern also serves several national, international and local draft beers as well as all of your favorite libations.
The Landing Restaurant at The Landing Club has some great Monday and Tuesday night specials, but what really sets them apart are their lunches; there’s no way you can leave hungry! Start with their Wedge or Summer Salad with Bibb lettuce, almonds, feta cheese and peaches – we are in Georgia – and toss it in a lavender vinaigrette dressing and you’ll be amazed at the taste combinations. Their grilled chicken sandwich is almost big enough to share and the flatbreads are highly recommended. Another popular lunch choice here is a made-to-order omelet, served with a small citrus salad, sliced tomatoes and toast.
If you’re looking for something a little more formal, there’s always the Ritz Carlton at Reynolds Lake Oconee. There are five dining options at the Ritz. Including Gaby’s by the Lake, which offers a great view of the pool and Lake Oconee as well as a multitude of lunch and dinner options. Being a carnivore, my favorite was the Linger Longer Steakhouse, which is open for both lunch and dinner and offers some of the most succulent cuts of beef in the area. The menu features a variety of steaks, seafood and chicken selections and a special USDA 35 Day Dry Aged Beef section. The desserts selection is limited, but there is something there to please everyone.
One story like this does not do Reynolds Lake Oconee justice; it will take several visits to complete this tale. Hopefully I will have the opportunity. For more information on Reynolds Lake Oconee or to book your next vacation, check out their website at www.reynoldslakeoconee.com. Be sure to check out their current offers and save yourself some dough.