All great golf destinations are decidedly not created equal.
Sometimes the allure is the sense of isolation. Sometimes, you're energized by the knowledge that other people are enjoying a golf course and resort right along with you.
Some resorts are just that: places to go for a few days, bask in pristine and engaging golf courses, sleep, eat, drink, repeat a couple times and then return home.
Others have another purpose: a home for those same avid golfers. Visiting these places immediately gets the golfer fantasizing: What would it be like to live here?
Reynolds Lake Oconee invites that question as soon as one arrives. Staying and playing at this five-course (actually six...more on this in a minute) feast of golf just an hour east of Atlanta makes one feel a part of a passionate community of golfers who relish the opportunity to play the game up and down the gentle Georgia hills and along the edges of one of America's most beautiful lakes.
So whether you've been to Reynolds Lake Oconee on a golf trip and have caught yourself fantasizing about enjoying it permanently or whether you've simply heard the rave reviews, here's what it's like to live there:
Reynolds Lake Oconee: An Introduction
Originally developed by the Reynolds family, who accrued wealth and property on the strength of agriculture, timberlands and real estate development, Reynolds Lake Oconee has grown steadily from inception into one of America's best-known communities for those seeking second homes or a relaxing full-time lifestyle. The development changed hands in 2012, when insurance giant MetLife bought it.
Since day one, MetLife has invested tens of millions of dollars into refreshing and improving every facet of the place, particularly its golf courses. Every visiting golfer will notice the immaculate condition of the courses, as Reynolds Lake Oconee (renamed from "Reynolds Plantation" a little over three years ago) is as vibrant and pristine as ever.
Its namesake lake is the main draw, with 374 miles of coastline that offer not just calming views but a host of recreational opportunities. Boating, fishing and swimming make the lake a hub of activity; each of the community's golf courses interact with it as well. With four dry storage marinas throughout the property, access to Lake Oconee is easy for all boaters.
Speaking of which...
Its hybrid resort/community status makes Reynolds Lake Oconee one of the most comprehensive golf facilities in the world. Offering six courses and 117 total holes (five 18s and the 27-hole National complex), visitors and members have no shortage of options. The club also offers different levels of membership to fit the disparate budgets of owners and prospective owners.
Members and resort guests alike have the run of five courses, with the sixth and newest layout - the 10-year-old, Jim Engh-designed Creek Club - reserved solely for the Platinum-level membership.
What impresses us in particular about Reynolds is the fact that while many residential communities will reserve all of their choicest land for high-dollar-figure homesites, the Reynolds family, who developed the property, made sure to give the golf courses plenty of spectacular real estate themselves. Furthermore, the community's overseers have made sure that none of its layouts have grown too long-in-the-tooth, thanks to an aggressive strategy of periodic renovation to the courses and their attendant facilities.
Members of the club at Reynolds Lake Oconee have an incredible selection of golf courses to play on a daily basis. And unlike other larger and more crowded communities, tee times here are easy to come by, and in the event that one course is unavailable due to an event, plenty of other options exist.
In fact, the flexibility created by the sheer number of courses at Reynolds Lake Oconee enables the community to close one per weekday for maintenance. As a result, all of the courses are known for being in immaculate year-round condition.
Here's a quick introduction to the courses:
Designer: Bob Cupp
This is Reynolds Lake Oconee's first and most member-friendly course, originally called The Plantation. The Preserve sports beautiful year-old bentgrass greens, redone bunkers and improved drainage, thanks to a 2015/2016 renovation.
Designer: Jack Nicklaus
The Golden Bear's design skill takes the form of numerous interactions with the water, as nine of the last ten holes touch the lake. Great Waters has hosted more high-level competitive golf than other courses on property, including the PGA Professional National Championship and what is now the World Golf Championships - Dell Technologies Match Play.
Opened: 1997 (Ridge, Bluff), 2000 (Cove)
Designer: Tom Fazio
The National features a good amount of elevation change to complement its own lakeside holes, which lend the course character along with Fazio's well-known eye-catching bunkering style. It's also the site of the community's newest culinary offering, the National Tavern, which opened as part of the National Golf Village - the restaurant, pro shop, snack bar, locker room and cart barn buildings - in 2015, as well as the stay-and-play National Cottages.
Designer: Rees Jones
This is the course most familiar to guests of the on-site Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee. Jones' distinctive bunkering gives the course plenty of character, and the phenomenal closing four holes on Lake Oconee make it particularly memorable. It is also home to the Reynolds Kingdom of Golf presented by TaylorMade, where visitors and members can work on their games and be fitted for the latest TaylorMade gear with a level of sophistication normally available only to Tour pros.
Opened: 1986 (as Port Armor Golf Club; bought by Reynolds in 2005)
Designer: Bob Cupp
The course mixes early lakeside holes with some hillier challenges on the back nine, before a lakeside finishing hole. Solid mix of uphill and downhill approaches makes The Landing a real ball-striking test.
The Creek Club
Designer: Jim Engh
Reserved for Platinum-level members and their guests, it is quite simply one of America's most distinctive and wonderful golf experiences. Its set of 18 greens might be America's most memorable, with all manner of massive undulations and side- and back-slopes designed to give players a chance to watch the ball roll toward the hole from up to 20 yards left, right or behind. Engh built three (!) separate green complexes on the par-5 18th hole; the club rotates hole locations among them every day.
The Reynolds Lake Oconee Community
At more than 12,000 acres (many of them yet to be developed), Reynolds Lake Oconee is one of the largest golf communities in the world. And despite its secluded feel, it is only an hour from the greater Atlanta area, with smaller cities like Augusta, Athens and Columbia and Greenville, South Carolina all less than three hours away.
The mix of forest, hills and lake provide ample natural scenery and a sense of being away from it all. Houses - particularly those with lake frontage - are not crammed close together, and strike a good balance between seclusion and neighborly feel.
Reynolds' size also means that it serves a broad range of budgets. Current real estate offerings vary greatly, with homesites ranging from inland parcels for under $75,000 to lakefront properties pushing past $2 million. Single-family homes are abundant at Reynolds Lake Oconee, but so are cottages, villas and condominium dwellings, some of them available for less than $300,000.
For standalone housing, the options range from a 10,000-square-foot six-bedroom, seven-bathroom lakefront mansion listed at nearly $4 million down to a couple currently available 3/3 houses for under $400,000, and many more in the $500,000 - $800,000 range. This diversity makes Reynolds Lake Oconee a place where retired or soon-to-retire professionals can maintain a modest second home, but might sometimes run into professional athletes and captains-of-industry who live within the community. Everyone mixes well, as everyone shares in the calming atmosphere.
(Note: Gated golf communities have a reputation as being a haven of retirees, but more and more younger families are moving to Reynolds Lake Oconee every year. The mix of young professionals and families with older residents is part of what makes the community special.)
Life at Reynolds Lake Oconee is very much guided by geography. The Atlantic Ocean is some 200 miles away and metropolitan Atlanta is more than an hour west by car. This means that the community's happiest residents (in about a 65/35 split of full-timers vs. part-timers) value the slower pace of life and are not concerned with the modesty of amenities outside community borders. There are some restaurants and some shopping opportunities in the nearby towns of Eatonton and Greensboro, but by and large the Reynolds Lake Oconee community is the hub of activity.
The newest amenity on property is the Sandy Creek Sporting Grounds, debuting in the coming weeks. This is a state-of-the-art 100-acre facility that will be the community's home for sport shooting (both clays and rifle stands) and archery. Sandy Creek also brings expanded hiking opportunities to members, along with a 40-acre, professionally managed lake.
Bottom line: If you desire a more relaxed pace of life in a community where there's nevertheless plenty to do (and not just on the golf front), Reynolds Lake Oconee is ideal.
A major boon to the area has been the development of St. Mary's Good Samaritan Hospital, a smart-sized, state-of-the-art facility that opened very close to Reynolds' entrance in 2013, allaying healthcare access concerns from prospective residents. The presence of Lake Oconee makes Reynolds a boater's paradise, and is great for swimming, fishing and generally enjoying the serenity of the water.
As many communities look to attract younger couples and families, Reynolds Lake Oconee benefits from the presence of Lake Oconee Academy, a charter school that serves Pre-K through 12th grade.
And learning opportunities are not only for the young. The Linger Longer Living Cultural Series brings experiences to the community such as traveling theater groups, art exhibitions and lectures from visiting academics on a wide range of topics.
For more information on visiting or living at Reynolds Lake Oconee, visit their easy-to-navigate, comprehensive website.