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Reynolds Plantation, home to superb golf, lives up to reputation

Tim McDonaldBy Tim McDonald,
Reynolds Plantation - Lakeside Layout
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Great Waters has a beautiful, lakeside layout. (Tim McDonald/GolfPublisher.com)

With five excellent golf courses, all superbly maintained, and all sorts of fun things to do for the family, the sprawling Reynolds Plantation golf resort is one of the best communities in Georgia golf and, possibly, the U.S.

GREENSBORO, Ga. - Experts always mention the Reynolds Plantation when compiling lists of the best golf communities in the state and even the country.

It's a well-earned rep. First of all, it's a sprawling place, the size of some Georgia cities, the former personal retreat of millionaire Mercer Reynolds and his family. It has five golf courses and none of them is a dud, with big-name designers like Tom Fazio, Jack Nicklaus and Rees Jones.

The plantation is roughly halfway between Atlanta and Augusta, mostly surrounded by Lake Oconee, the second-largest lake in the state, on hilly and rolling terrain pock-marked by the hundreds of little finger-lakes that reach inland from the big one.

The Robb Report named it the "best of the best" golf communities' centerpiece of Linger Longer Communities, which also includes Reynolds Landing.

It's a golf-centric place. The Reynolds Golf Academy and TaylorMade performance lab, which does swing analyses and custom club-fitting, are on-site, next to the Oconee course.

If you're looking for something other than golf, there are 80 miles of shoreline along the lake, with bass fishing, boating and water skiing.

The plantation has two full-service marinas, a fitness club, recreation center and hard and soft tennis courts. It rents cottages, and a recent addition is the Ritz Carlton, with 251 rooms and a 26,000-square-foot spa.

The hotel has a restaurant to go with the three clubhouse venues, the best of which is the Linger Longer Bar and Grill at the Oconee clubhouse, which specializes in dry-aged beef and Maine lobster.

For the golf connoisseur, you can't go wrong with any Reynolds Plantation golf course.

The National

The National course's charms are more subtle and graceful than Great Waters, though there are more bunkers here - 115 - than on any of the plantation's other courses, this being a Fazio design.

The National is the plantation's only 27-hole facility; the Ridge and Bluffs nine opened in 1997 and the Cove nine was added in 2000.

The course has most of the same physical attributes of the other courses, winding up, down and around hilly, rolling terrain. It's surrounded by hardwood forests and views of the Oconee River Valley, and has up to 60 feet of elevation change.

It also has a lot of water; streams, ponds and the lake are all in play at various times. The National's fairways are lined with Georgia pines and thousands of local azaleas, and the large, undulating greens are bentgrass, probably the best putting surface known to man and golfer.

The greens aren't as wild as those on the Creek course, but there are more subtle breaks here; the greens on the Creek course may be radically undulating, but at least you know where they're going to break, for the most part.

The Oconee

The Oconee course is named after the big lake that jumps up into view every now and then, both threatening and enticing you.

The big lake envelops pretty much the entire plantation, and is much more foreboding here than at Great Waters, where it serves mainly as a gaudy yet stunning backdrop.

Oconee has a classic Rees Jones layout, with plenty of risk-reward options, where you're hitting over sections of the lake and over corners of tree-lined and bunker-lurking doglegs.

The course has fairways that roll and twist, and even though you're frequently enjoying teeing off downhill, you're just as frequently hitting approach shots uphill onto elevated greens.

"That makes some of those short par-4s more interesting," said Head Pro Mike Davenport.

The course, which has hosted NCAA tournaments, has numerous water hazards; the lake comes into play on five holes and is there as window dressing on four others. It also has interior creeks and ponds and extensive bunkering.

The Plantation

The Plantation golf course was the first to be built at Reynolds Plantation, in 1988, and set the standard for the excellent courses to come. It's similar to the other four layouts here, though with subtle differences that can loom large.

The Plantation is similar in that it is laid out over the same fine golf terrain as the others - the rolling, treed hills and valleys of northern Georgia.

It also has the banked fairways that give golfers the feeling they're the only ones on the course. It has the same, excellent conditioning the others have; the grass on the top of the few bunkers looks like $200 haircuts.

Like the others, it's a very picturesque course, with Lake Oconee as a frequently occurring backdrop; in this case, little inlets from the big lake prance into view frequently, with pontoons boats tied to docks.

But there are differences, especially after a $1 million renovation in 2004-05. For one thing, the course has far fewer bunkers than the other tracks - about 20.

During the renovation, some of those bunkers were installed where there were once difficult slopes. Mid- and high-handicappers will most likely enjoy this notable absence of sand.

"You can look around the golf course and see the bunkers that aren't there," architect Bob Cupp said in an earlier interview. "There are little swales and depressions that could be bunkers, but are not. The tendency has always been that it has a certain charm by itself without all that sand. I like that."

They also added thousands of ornamentals - azalea, crepe myrtle, willows and St. John's Wort - and improved the drainage.

The result, aside from the aesthetics, is a course that is more playable.

The greens are also smaller than the other Reynolds tracks, but flatter and a little slower. The challenge comes in their relative smallness and the fact they have quite a few drop-offs and false fronts that can fool you, especially the first few times you play it.

Water comes into play on more than half the holes.

Great Waters

The Great Waters course, a member-only track, is like a knock-out blonde who's so good-looking you can't see past her appearance to her other talents.

That's saying quite a bit since all are located on rolling earth with forested hills and great stands of trees that, in the fall, shed their leaves like they were being paid to put on a grand lollapalooza of blazing colors.

Add to that your classic Georgia pines and hardwoods, along with azaleas and pink dogwood, and you have a golf course so darn pretty it will make your head swim, which brings us to its best physical attribute.

All of the plantation's courses run intoLake Oconee and its many fingers at some point, but Great Waters treats the lake like a symphony.

The back-nine is really something to behold; all nine holes have expansive lake views, and if you're lucky you'll play them when the sun is shimmering off the water. The only other course that utilizes a lake to such great extent may be the Georgia State Park course at Lake Russell.

"There are so many holes on the back nine that are just gorgeous, one after another," said head pro Nate Middleton. "They're not only good golf holes, but the vistas are as good as anything you'll ever see aside from courses on the ocean."

The Creek

The Creek Club is a members-only club, the only course on the plantation not accessible to the public at least part of the year. Which is a shame, because it is can be a blast to play.

The Creek can be played as a sort of three-dimensional pinball machine. You can play normal golf and still have a ball here, but why not be Phil Mickelson-imaginative, and use all the contours, humps and bumps, swales, dips and slope - not to mention the wild undulation - to achieve the goal of getting the ball in the hole?

This is a strange course, in more ways than one. It can look very intimidating off the tee. The Creek has a plethora of deep, nasty pot bunkers which can seem prohibitive with your driver in hand. Creeks that splinter off Lake Oconee come into play on 14 holes with forced carries on eight of them, either off the tee or from the fairway.

But, the fairways and greens are mounded in very, player-friendly ways and the landing areas are much larger than they first appear.

More photos

Reynolds Plantation - 27-Hole CourseReynolds Plantation - No.18

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • private course

    jack wrote on: Nov 15, 2007

    why not mention that jim engh did the private course...he's won a ton of awards too, especially for his courses in colorado, michigan and idaho.
    and why not mention the great waters designer? why a fixation on fazio-nicklaus-rjones?