What’s the hardest part of going on vacation? For many people, it’s leaving their dog behind.
The pet-friendly folks at The Ritz-Carlton Lodge at Reynolds Plantation understand this. So they welcome your doggie with open arms.
That’s all we (my wife, Michelle, and dog, Wolfie) needed to hear. So last week, we took a two-day trip to The Ritz-Carlton Lodge to investigate the resort’s golf scene for GolfConversations.com.
I interviewed several interesting human beings plus one chocolate Labrador retriever by the name of Dooley. Dooley is the resort’s official mascot. Those in-depth interviews will follow in the coming weeks. For now, this brief travelogue will give you the lay of the land dubbed “Linger Longer.”
Reynolds Plantation & History 101
Reynolds Plantation is not related to Reynolds Aluminum, Reynolds Tobacco, or any of the principals from those companies.
Two Reynolds cousins, Mercer Reynolds, Sr. and James Madison Reynolds – and their descendants – started buying land in the Greensboro, Georgia area in the late 1800s. A fishing and hunting lodge was built on land that they called “Linger Longer,” because of their desire to remain at the lodge for as long as possible.
In 1979, Georgia Power completed construction of the Wallace Dam, creating the 20 mile-long Lake Oconee. And in 1985, James Madison Reynolds’ grandchildren began to develop the land that was left in trust to them.
Five golf courses were built by Bob Cupp, Tom Fazio, Rees Jones, and Jack Nicklaus. Thousands of retirees and vacation-home seekers flocked to the area, bought lots, and built houses. It was a great place to play golf, fish, go boating, play tennis, and enjoy the good life. The Ritz-Carlton took notice of all the area had to offer and in 2002 opened The Ritz-Carlton Lodge to the public.
The Ritz-Carlton Lodge
Don’t let the “Lodge” in “The Ritz-Carlton Lodge” fool you. This is a luxurious hotel that has all of the amenities you’d expect from a 2012 AAA Five-Diamond Lodging and a 2011 Forbes Four-Star resort:
- 251 beautifully-appointed guest rooms and hotel suites, with views of the resort and Lake Oconee
- A one, a three-bedroom, and five two-bedroom golf cottages
- A 5,400 square-feet Presidential House
- 30 acres of picturesque shoreline property on Lake Oconee
- More than 18,000 square-feet of meeting space, including 17 meeting rooms
- 5 championship golf courses designed by the game’s greatest architects
- A 26,000 square-feet, full-service spa and fitness center
- A Golf Digest Top-75 “Best Golf Resort” in North America
- Boating, fishing, swimming, tennis, and much more.
5 Golf Courses
How many top-tier resorts can boast five – yes, five championship courses designed by some of our country’s best golf course architects? Not many, I can assure you.
As a guest of The Ritz-Carlton Lodge, you have your choice of playing any and all of these gems:
The Landing. Designer Bob Cupp lent his masterful eye to this 1986 creation, the first golf course built on Lake Oconee. This Scottish-style championship layout was routed on hilly terrain with water features coming into play on three holes.
Lane Singleton, The Landing’s golf course superintendent, sat down with me for a fun golf conversation during my visit. Lane’s interview will be published in the coming weeks.
The Plantation. Using only the rolling Appalachian foothills as a canvas, Bob Cupp, along with Hubert Green and Fuzzy Zoeller, designed the Plantation Course. Featuring wide fairways and careful bunker placement, the Plantation Course provides golfers a more relaxing — and forgiving — layout that can be enjoyed by golfers of all experience levels.
The National. Architect Tom Fazio created three nines – the Ridge, Bluff, and Cove – the only layout at Reynolds Plantation to feature 27 holes. The course’s trademark is its dramatic elevation changes, some as much as 60 feet. The Ridge and Bluff nines were the original 18 holes when the National debuted in 1997. The Cove nine was added in 2000.
The Oconee. This Rees Jones course opened in 2002 and is aptly named, as much of the layout plays around beautiful Lake Oconee. It’s also located next to The Ritz-Carlton Lodge. The Oconee is the course I played during my stay at the resort. It was a LOT of fun! More on that later.
Great Waters. Jack Nicklaus designed this course that opened in 1992. The greens and bunkering underwent a restoration program in 2009 to return them to Nicklaus’s original specifications. With nine holes lining the shores of Lake Oconee, Great Waters offers some of the most beautiful views to be found at any golf course anywhere.
The Reynolds Golf Academy
Located at the opposite end of the Oconee Course’s practice range, The Reynolds Golf Academy is run by Charlie King, who also serves as Director of Instruction for Reynolds Plantation.
I had the great fortune to spend some time with Charlie and discuss his theories of the golf swing and of golf instruction. Our golf conversation will be published in a few weeks.
Speaking of “published,” Charlie has written several innovative instruction books that I am in the process of devouring, including “You’re NOT Lifting Your Head” and “Golf’s Red Zone Challenge” (co-authored with Rob Akins).
Charlie’s honors include being ranked among Golf Magazine’s Top 100 Teachers, a Golf Digest Top Instructor in State, the 2011 Georgia PGA Teacher of the Year, as well as appearing on Golf Channel’s “Academy Live” show.
The practice/instruction facilities at The Reynolds Golf Academy are first-rate. It’s a beautiful and peaceful place to improve your game. I wish I could have stayed there for a few weeks!
Playing The Oconee Course
As I was staying at The Ritz-Carlton Lodge for 2 days, I only had time to play one course, The Oconee. And it’s a beaut! Rees Jones has created a fun and playable golf course … IF you play from the proper set of tees.
I got off to a really good start: par, par, par, bogie, birdie. Thus, I approached the 6th hole with delusions of grandeur: Finally, you’ve got it!; I love Rees’s to pieces!; The Oconee is as sweet as spumoni!; If I just play par golf from this hole forward…
I stood on the elevated tee box and looked down the fairway that curved to the right. For the first five holes, I had hit straight tee shots. Now that I was contemplating going to the Champions Tour Q School, the following thought popped into my head: You know, a little fade would really fit my eye here. Just a baby cut – nothing fancy.
So I opened my stance, aimed the club face at my target, and swung along my toe line. Perhaps Charlie King can explain to me how my ball went immediately to the right and ended up on some pine needles under a strand of pine trees.
My only escape route was to punch out between two trees and over a fairway bunker. My punch lacked punch and my ball plopped into the sand. Two explosion shots later, I was on the fairway, at least 200 yards from the green. The next shot was topped, then advanced 180 yards, then dumped into a greenside bunker. A few strokes later, I holed out and drew the “infinity” symbol on my scorecard for the 6th hole.
After that, it was my usual game. A few bogeys mixed in with pars and the occasional birdie. No matter. The course was just beautiful to view and play. And I was entertained by my playing companion, lead assistant professional, Gary Miller.
Gary was playing from the tips, putting on a ball-striking show that was a joy to watch. Gary can flat-out pound that golf ball. He’ll be competing in the 2012 PGA Professional National Championship June 24-27 at the Bayonet and Black Horse Courses in Monterey, CA.
I used our round together to help prepare him for the tournament, admonishing him on several occasions “not to get too high or too low” and to “stay in the moment.” I also complimented Gary on the many wonderful angles he had into the greens on his approach shots. At first, I think Gary thought I was out of my mind as I went through my “TV Golf Announcer” routine. But by the time we made the turn, he knew that I wasn’t playing with a full deck!
We finished our round by playing the beautiful 18th hole that hugs the shore of Lake Oconee. I hit a good drive, and my approach shot landed 10 feet from the green. A chip and two putts later concluded a wonderful day on a splendid Rees Jones design.
Gary, I’ll be pulling for you in the PGA Professional National Championship! And remember – whatever you do – don’t short side yourself!
Linger Longer Steakhouse
After golf, I ambled into the Oconee clubhouse to meet Mike Davenport, the head professional. I had been scheduled to play with Mike but some back problems flared up and Mike deputized Gary to fill in for him.
A few steps from the pro shop and I found myself in the “Linger Longer Steakhouse,” where I had lunch with Mark Lammi, the Vice President of Golf Operations. Mark is a PGA Master Professional and a graduate of the Professional Golf Management program at Penn State University.
Mark gave me an overview of the resort’s extensive golf operation. He also encouraged me to sample some of his fries. Now that’s my kind of golf pro! Our golf conversation will be published in the near future.
As noted (dare I say, “Dooley noted”?) at the beginning of this travelogue, Dooley is The Ritz-Carlton Lodge’s official mascot. The property’s General Manager, Ralph Vick, decided over a year ago that the right dog would be a wonderful addition to the resort.
So he and his Executive Assistant, Rhonda Butterworth, began a search for the RCL’s Canine-in-Residence. Did they go to a breeder and buy a dog? No. They decided to rescue a dog. For that reason alone, you’ve got to love the folks at The Ritz-Carlton Lodge!
When they found Dooley, this lovely dog was afflicted with heartworm disease. But they were so taken with his sweet disposition that they decided to try to nurse him back to health.
No small task. The drugs administered to kill heartworms contain arsenic … and they can cause a variety of horrible toxic reactions.
Dooley was cared for by Rhonda in her home and after several months of treatment, he was restored to good health and “put to work” at The Ritz-Carlton Lodge.
Dooley loves to greet arriving guests and their dogs … he enjoys going for walks with guests and their children … he likes riding on the luggage trolleys … hanging out with the kids by the campfire (no ‘Smores for Dooley!) … and, as Ralph Vick describes in the following video, a few other fun activities:
As dogs aren’t permitted in the resort’s restaurants – and because my wife and I didn’t want to leave Wolfie in the room by himself – we partook of room service. We also had access to the resort’s exclusive Club on the 5th floor. And I quote from the RCL’s web site:
“This oasis is often referred to as a hotel within a hotel, where a dedicated concierge attends to individual needs in a well-appointed, relaxed lounge environment. With continuous culinary offerings throughout the day (breakfast, light snacks, hors d’ oeuvres, beverages and sweets) and access to a computer station.”
Our beautiful room featured a patio door that opened to ground level, making it convenient to let Wolfie out for walks … and to relax on the patio, taking in the lovely views of the resort and Lake Oconee.
We all had a great time at The Ritz-Carlton Lodge at Reynolds Plantation but it was too brief a visit. Wolfie would like to return for a longer stay … and join Dooley in the lobby of a truly people-friendly, kid-friendly, and animal-friendly luxury resort.
Thus, I hereby bestow upon The Ritz-Carlton Lodge GolfConversations.com’s highest rating of 5 Balatas!