With two of the community’s six courses to his credit, the late golf architect helped shaped the experience here
GREENSBORO, Georgia (May 19, 2019) – When people think of Georgia, the first thought that comes to mind is either peaches, Ray Charles’s iconic song about the state, Sherman’s march to the Atlantic in the Civil War or, for golfers, Augusta National Golf Club, the home of the Masters Tournament.
But after a trip to the bustling town of Greensboro (about a 75-minute drive from Atlanta), Reynolds Lake Oconee and its six golf courses move to the forefront when I think about the South’s Empire State and teeing it up near Hot-lanta.
Reynolds Lake Oconee boasts 117 holes designed by some of the most respected architects in the game – Tom Fazio, Rees Jones, Jack Nicklaus, Jim Engh and Bob Cupp. The acreage that makes up the community is part of what was once known as “Cracker’s Neck,” a highly favored section of Greene County that was named for Revolutionary War hero General Nathaniel Green.
Nearly 7,000 acres of Cracker’s Neck was taken over by Mercer Reynolds, Sr., who built a hunting retreat on the site named “Linger Longer.” A Greene County native, Reynolds was a highly successful businessman and inventor, earning a patent for his process of solidifying cottonseed oil.
During this same period, James Madison Reynolds, Sr., Mercer’s cousin, was assembling land in the area for timber production. By the late 1930s the combined holdings of the Reynolds family totaled more than 10,000 acres, which were placed in a trust. In 1985, that trust was released to his grandchildren, who began trying to determine the best use of the land that the family had owned for so many years.
The Reynolds grandchildren decided that golf would be a huge part of one of Georgia’s largest housing projects, and set about developing a community where residents would never need to leave the neighborhood to play some of the best courses anywhere.
It helped that in 1979, Georgia Power dammed the Oconee River near Greensboro and created Lake Oconee, now the second largest lake in the state. The new lake borders much of Reynolds Lake Oconee, drawing residents and guests from Atlanta and beyond for its cool waters and recreational opportunities.
The community’s six-pack of golf courses run the gamut from waterfront tracks (the aptly titled Great Waters, The Landing and the 27-hole National), to a wooded, hilly course with huge greens (Preserve), to resort-friendly yet challenging Oconee (which skirts the community’s plush Ritz-Carlton Hotel), to the member-only Creeks Club.
Let’s take a look at two of Reynolds Plantation’s offerings, with a special eye toward Cupp’s architectural handiwork.
The Landing set the table for golf in the area
Cupp, an Atlanta resident, set the pace for golf at Lake Oconee when he fashioned Port Armor Golf Club in 1986, the first course built on the lake. Eventually the course was renamed Reynolds Landing and then The Landing at Reynolds Lake Oconee when the Linger Longer Communities merged the layout into its family in 2005.
The Landing is a true gem, with a variety of holes that wind through naturally wooded areas and rolling hills. Three holes wrap dramatically along the lake’s shoreline and the green complexes, differing challenges and constant shot values make this one of the area’s premium tests.
“The Landing was the pioneer that spawned an entirely new region in the golf world,” Cupp said effusively. “The land for this golf course was – and is – spectacular. The problem was not finding 18 holes, it was deciding which of the thousands of possible holes were the best.”
Playing to a par of 72 and 6,991 yards from its back set of five tees, The Landing carries a rating of 74.5 and slope of 138 from the tips. Called one of Georgia’s best golf courses after its debut – second only to Augusta National – it features a variety of holes that result in a fun outing for all players.
Cupp’s layout is a lot tougher than it seems at first glance. The 458-yard, par-4 fourth climbs uphill over a creek and past forestry on either side before ending at a deep but narrow putting surface beside the lake. No. 5, a 379-yard two-shotter, has the lake on its entire starboard side; a sliver of water must be carried to reach the green.
The Landing then turns inland as the front nine concludes with the rolling and uphill 444-yard par-4 ninth; be aware of the small pond right-front of the green that can kick shots hit on the wrong plateau into the water.
Nos. 10, 11 and 12 comprise the toughest stretch of holes at The Landing. The 10th plays 446 yards, but with an all-uphill approach even good players will likely need a long-iron, hybrid or fairway wood to get home. The 203-yard, par-3 11th is another uphill test and has a putting surface with three distinct levels. No. 12, a 439-yard, dogleg-right par-4 heads back down the hill and sports two bunkers at the bend. There are three more traps short and left of the green, which is the shallowest on the course.
The par-5 14th, at 576 yards, presents little problem to reach in regulation for a single-digit player, but don’t approach it with anything more than a short iron or the pond that surrounds the front and right side of the green will pose trouble. And No. 16, a manageable 542-yard three-shotter, sports a narrow green that’s tough to hit, even with a short iron.
The Landing looks refreshed after a full renovation in 2012-13 upgraded the bunkers, added front tees on eight holes, planted decorative grasses to better define fairways and redesigned the 15th hole.
Players will walk off The Landings thinking they should have scored better, but that’s the genius of Cupp’s routing. Of all the tracks at Reynolds Plantation, this one gets the least respect but perhaps should get the most as it’s a true challenge and a wonder to play.
Plantation is friendly, just not too friendly
When the Reynolds grandchildren decided to build their first golf course, they already had a blueprint for success just down the road and across the street. So they hired Cupp to craft The Preserve, which opened in 1988 and was originally called “The Plantation.” His work here set the standard for the excellent tracks to come.
The Preserve utilizes swales, mounds and elevation changes to keep players on their toes. The layout doesn’t rely on sand to be punitive, but demands accuracy from tee to green and some confident putting.
The course involves the rolling, treed hills and valleys of northern Georgia, with the elevated tees at some of the higher holes offering nice views of the relatively rural countryside. It has mounded fairways that provide a sense of isolation, while Lake Oconee enters view (and play) as inlets on a handful of holes.
Cupp renovated The Preserve course in 2005 and left it with just 20 bunkers while placing others where there were once difficult slopes. “You can look around the golf course and see the bunkers that aren’t there,” Cupp said. “There are little swales and depressions that could be bunkers, but are not. There’s a certain charm to this layout without all that sand. I like that.”
The $1 million redo also added thousands of azaleas, crepe myrtles, willows and St. John’s Wort, which improved drainage. With the renovation, Cupp made the course a little kinder, especially for women. The greens are more acceptable, though a little more undulating. The putting surfaces have drop-offs and false fronts that can fool players, especially during the first few rounds.
The 6,674-yard, par-72 track – where it has a 72.2 rating and 133 slope – takes full advantage of the topography, with wavy fairways lined with Georgia pines and dogwood. Its quirky configuration (a par-37 front nine with an extra par-5, and a par-35 back with three par-3s) is actually very resort-friendly, despite the fact that water enters play on over half the holes.
The Plantation clings to the hills around the lake, but descends down to water on the 559-yard par-5 fifth, which is one of the top tests on the front nine. Other challenges are found at the 379-yard par 4 fourth, a demanding uphiller with a green surrounded by swales and mounds, and the 400-yard sixth, which winds rightward off the tee through trees to an elevated putting surface fronted left by a deep bunker.
Nos. 8, 9 and 10 may be The Preserve’s most daunting stretch. The green at the eighth, a 177-yard par 3, is on a spit of land in the lake and is flanked by two large bunkers. The par-5 ninth runs downhill, then winds back uphill to one of the course’s trickier greens, and No. 10 is a 472-yard par-4 with an uphill tee shot.
The Preserve’s signature hole is the 12th, a 413-yard two-shotter with swales, rocks and a narrow throat through which to thread the approach. The green has a nasty bunker left with a high-bank at green-side, and the lake looms behind.
Fuzzy Zoeller and Hubert Green served as consultants with Cupp on his Preserve design, and Golf Digest named it one of the best new resort courses soon after it opened.
The Preserve is also home to “The Quick Six,” a six-hole loop of a course within a course where each hole is less than 130 yards and can be played in about an hour.
Plenty to get excited about off the course
Beyond golf, Reynolds Lake Oconee offers an array of recreation outlets. More than 80 miles of Lake Oconee shoreline are ideal for bass fishing, boating and water skiing, and the community has four full-service marinas. The Lake Club Wellness Center and Tennis Center present options for fitness activities or a relaxing escape at the pools, while tennis is available on both clay and hard courts.
And then there’s the resort’s peerless Sporting Grounds. An adventure for all ages, this luxurious 100-acre facility features a 20-station sporting clays course, a five-stand shooting range, a sporting clays instructional and games area, an air rifle range and an archery range.
If you are not a shooter, no problem. There is an endless list of exciting outdoor activities, including fishing, kayaking, canoeing and hiking. You will be provided with everything you need for the perfect adventure.
Reynolds Lake Oconee has been named the “Best of the Best” Golf Community by Robb Report and the community with the “Best Golf” in America by the editors of Golf magazine.