By Roger Cox, Editor
Just over 20 tennis players turned out for the Tuesday Tailgate Tennis round robin on the afternoon I arrived at Reynolds Lake Oconee. Although no actual tailgating took place, many of the participants brought snacks to share once the two-hour event ended.
The action took place at the Lake Club Tennis Center, a spaciously laid out complex of eight courts (four clay, four hard) honored as the USTA Tennis Facility of the Year in 2009. Most of the participants were unsurprisingly members, though guests like me, staying in one of the cottages, and Rob, whose family had taken rooms at the nearby Ritz-Carlton Lodge, were made to feel very welcome.
"It's a real family atmosphere," tennis director Eric Gessner said of the approach they've adopted. "We make guests feel like members. We get them games with locals."
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Prior to my visit, I'd had difficulty getting a clear mental picture of this 10,000-acre resort/residential development, and it turns out there was a good reason. Rather than being a single cohesive property, Reynolds Lake Oconee, about an hour's drive east of the Atlanta airport, is a collection of gated communities, some contiguous, others separated from the rest by public lands or even water.
The development borders Lake Oconee—a reservoir, actually, formed when Georgia Power Company built Wallace Dam in 1980 in order to generate hydroelectric power. As the waters backed up into river channels and creeks, they formed a meandering, multi-branched watercourse with a highly irregular outline, so much so that the 20-mile-long lake has some 374 miles of shoreline. That affords a vast amount of lakefront or lakeview property—no small asset if you're a developer—but it also means that part of the resort, Great Waters, is actually on the opposite shore of one of those branches.
If you take a cocktail cruise or guided kayak excursion, as I did, you'll pass grand houses—many with boat docks—deep inlets, undeveloped tracts forested with oaks and pines, and the 251-room Ritz-Carlton Lodge, the last perched behind a narrow beach and rimless swimming pool. En route we saw waterskiers (the lake waters were quite warm in June) and boats with fishermen angling for catfish and several types of bass. The lake and the recreation it affords plays a big role in residents' decision to move here, and so do the 117 holes of designer golf.
As a resort guest, your first and most obvious choice of a place to bed down is The Ritz-Carlton Lodge. That way you have several dining options, an indoor and outdoor swimming pool, a handsome spa and fitness center, a children's program, and the lake all at your doorstep, and it's an easy 10-minute walk to Lake Club tennis courts. The alternative is to book a condo or multi-bedroom cottage and take up temporary residence in one of the quiet neighborhoods. Either way, you'll want your own transportation, not only to get around the sprawling resort (there are bike paths but no bike rentals and no on-property shuttle) but also perhaps to visit nearby towns like historic Greensboro, whose jail—or "gaol" as it was then known—is one of the oldest structures in the state (have buttermilk pie at Yesterday's Cafe or formal tea at the Potted Geranium in a restored 1840's antebellum home) or Eatonton, whose courthouse played a starring role in the movie My Cousin Vinny.
Pro Shop: 706-467-1298
Given that context, tennis could easily have faded into the background if the Peter Burwash International (PBI) staff, who have long managed this facility, hadn't carpentered together a broad range of programs designed to lure members and guests alike to the courts. The strategic location of the Lake Club Tennis Center helps, adjacent to a members-only gathering place with a fitness center, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, and cafe and a 10-minute walk from The Ritz-Carlton Lodge. Eric Gessner now heads that staff, having previously been posted at Caneel Bay Resort in the U.S. Virgin Island. Originally from outside Detroit, where he was a ranked junior, he went on to play No. 1 singles and doubles for Eastern Michigan University. He joined PBI in 1996 and taught in California, Texas, and Arizona before eventually becoming the director of tennis at Caneel Bay Resort in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Arriving at Reynolds in the fall of 2017, he took over an already solidly run program at the Lake Club, where the organized action takes place (there are two other four-court facilities in other parts of the plantation).
The handsome terraced complex consists of six Hydrogrid courts (clay with an underground watering system) and four hard courts, generously laid out in pairs on three sides of the verandaed pro shop and bordered by pines, hedges, and lawns. Gessner's weekly roster includes a mix of adult drill-and-play clinics (for different levels on different days from Monday through Saturday) and junior clinics by age level. There is also programming and events for members only, though guests may be offered the chance to fill in on a space-available basis.
Spa & Fitness
Golf Courses. Although I have focused on the tennis, it is the 6½ golf courses that figure heavily into many peoples' decision to vacation or move here. Variously designed by Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio, Rees Jones, Bob Cupp, and Jim Engh, the courses afford a variety of layouts and challenges for guests and members alike (although the Creek Club, designed by Jim Engh, is members only). The Plantation also has a golf academy, a TaylorMade Performance Lab, and a custom club-fitting facility dubbed The Kingdom.
Spa & Fitness Center. The Spa at The Ritz-Carlton Lodge stands out for two reasons: the quality of its staff and services and its unusual policy of offering complimentary use of its steam room, sauna, plunge pool, Jacuzzi, indoor swimming pool and fitness center, whether or not you've booked a spa service. As usual, I arranged for a Sports Therapy Massage, though something more appropriate to the region would have been the Oconee Rain (in the Vichy room) or Native Herbal Facial. Afterwards, I wandered downstairs to check out the indoor pool (I could have had it all to myself that afternoon) and the well-equipped fitness center, with abundant cardio options (treadmills, bikes, elliptical trainers) with personal flatscreen televisions and Nautilus stations.
And ... There are four marinas.
The Ritz-Carlton Lodge runs full- and half-day Ritz Kids' camps for those ages 5 to 12.
There are two options: book a room at the 251-room Ritz-Carlton Lodge or check out the condo and cottage rentals available through the Plantation
Dining options are varied. The largest concentration can be found in The Ritz-Carlton Lodge, where you'll find the Linger Longer Steak House, Georgia's Bistro (which features local cuisine and locally sourced ingredients), and Gaby's by the Lake, a casual sports bar with pizzas, salads, sandwiches, and grilled items. Otherwise, your dinner options are The Landing, Plantation Grille, and Water View Room.
There are numerous resort/residential developments amenities and with recreational facilities similar to Reynolds Lake Oconee, though the lake sets it apart from many of those. Still, for comparison's sake, take a look at the following, all of which are serious about golf:
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General Tourist Information. Visit the Georgia Department of Tourism website or contact them at 285 Peachtree Center Avenue, NE, Marquis Two Tower, Suite 1000, Atlanta, GA 30303-1230 or phone them at 1-800-VISITGA (1-800-847-4842).