Travel: Reynolds Lake Oconee’s Reinvention
The waterfront playground in central Georgia evolves for a new generation of golfers, hunters, and foodies
For decades, visitors have flocked to Reynolds Lake Oconee for its championship golf courses, sporting grounds, and postcard-worthy sunsets. But 11 years ago, MetLife purchased the resort property, spent $40 million on upgrades, and reimagined not just the resort but its associations with a racist heritage: It wasn’t called Reynolds Lake Oconee when the New York-based insurance giant bought it. It was Reynolds Plantation.
It’s one of several clubs in the South that have abandoned “plantation” references in their names. Wexford Plantation on Hilton Head Island is now known simply as Wexford. The Ford Plantation in Richmond Hill, Georgia, is now The Ford Field & River Club. After 2012, the new Reynolds team added tangible improvements as well: a golf village, wellness centers, and award-winning restaurants.
The gated community, 85 miles east of Atlanta, has maintained a connection to the less troublesome aspects of its history. In the 1920s, Mercer Reynolds Sr., the inventor of solidified cottonseed oil, bought 7,000 acres in the middle of Georgia and turned the property into a hunting and fishing retreat called Linger Longer. Mercer’s cousin James Madison Reynolds purchased more land nearby, and by the late 1930s, the family owned about 12,000 acres.
Georgia Power dammed the Oconee River in 1979, which created a 19,000-acre reservoir and 374 miles of shoreline. By the mid-1980s, the Reynolds grandchildren had begun to allow development on portions of the land.
In 2002, The Ritz-Carlton opened on a 30-acre plot along the water’s edge, but after the economic collapse of 2008, the resort community faced bankruptcy and foreclosure. The Reynolds family sold the entire property to MetLife four years later.
Today, Reynolds Lake Oconee has 11 on-site dining options, six award-winning golf courses, four full-service marinas, multiple swimming pools, a world-class fitness and tennis club, and miles of biking and walking trails. It’s a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Charlotte and an easy weekend getaway for anyone who loves the outdoors. Come here to unwind and dangle your feet off the dock, hit the backroads for a sporting adventure, or linger over a cocktail with family and friends and watch the sun set over Georgia’s lake country.
The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee has everything you’d expect from a Ritz—manicured gardens, marble bathrooms, and nightly turndown service. The hotel has a fitness center, infinity pool, and 26,000-square-foot spa, plus three full-service restaurants, a coffee shop, and a cocktail bar. If you’re on a family vacation or a golf weekend with a larger group, check out the vacation rentals. The National Club Cottages have four bedrooms, full kitchens, and porches with views of the National Golf Course. The Landing Cottages surround The Village at The Landing, an amenity complex with a restaurant, golf shop, and pickleball and tennis courts. The Village at Lake Club Pointe has two- and three-bedroom condominiums that give you access to a full-service marina, tennis facility, and 21 miles of walking trails.
Reynolds Lake Oconee has multiple on-site restaurants with a range of menus and cuisines created by Zouhair Bellout, aka Chef Z. The Moroccan-born culinarian is a chameleon in the kitchen, serving everything from Mediterranean feasts and street tacos to upscale steak dinners and casual barbecue buffets. Several Reynolds restaurants are members-only, but resort guests can dine at Eighty8 Kitchen + Cocktails for Sunday brunch and Southern comfort food, The Overlook at Great Waters for fresh seafood, The Landing for family-friendly fare and themed dinners, and The National Tavern for bar bites and drinks. If you stay at The Ritz, have a leisurely breakfast at Georgia’s and warm up by the stone fireplace. In the warmer months, grab a table on the patio at Gaby’s by the Lake and order their famous Lobster Grilled Cheese.
Reynolds is a golfer’s paradise with six championship golf courses. The Kingdom at Lake Oconee, one of only two facilities of its kind in the country, offers one-on-one consultations, swing analysis, club fitting, and pro-level instructors to help you perfect your game. The 100-acre Sandy Creek Sporting Grounds has a sporting clays course with 20 stations that wind through wooded trails and a century-old pecan orchard. Don’t worry if it’s your first time—international shooting champion Justin Jones talks you through everything, and, in his charming English accent, assures you that “sporting clays is just like golf with a shotgun.” Anglers can rent two-person fishing kayaks and explore the 19,000-acre lake, and tennis players have their choice of 16 hard and clay courts. When you need to unwind, book a facial or massage at The Ritz-Carlton Spa.
TAYLOR BOWLER is the lifestyle editor.
THE LAKE OCONEE FOOD & WINE FESTIVAL
The Lake Oconee Food & Wine Festival takes place March 17-19 at The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee. Taste hundreds of wines, spirits, and gourmet bites from Georgia’s top chefs; shop for art, clothing, and specialty food items at the Market Place; and enjoy live music at multiple parties during the three-day festival. Pick and choose which events you want to attend, or get the whole package and experience it all. Tickets are on sale now at lakeoconeefoodandwine.com.