Pick Your Pleasures at Reynolds Lake Oconee
There’s something downright compelling about a place where you can play a different golf course each day for six days in a row, then spend the seventh day at “rest”—boating, fishing, swimming, waterskiing or whatever else on Georgia’s second-largest lake. But that’s what life is like at Reynolds Lake Oconee. The 4,000-home luxury golf community (formerly known as Reynolds Plantation) covers 10,000 acres along 80 miles of shoreline on 19,000-acre Lake Oconee and attracts a diverse mix of year-round and second-home residents intent on getting the best out of life.
Reynolds got a new owner (MetLife) in 2012 and $40 million worth of enhancements in the years since. The golf courses have received major facelifts, everything from the pedestrian trails to the wellness campus was updated, and even the logo was redesigned to reflect a new, modern community lifestyle.
All of which makes Reynolds an increasingly popular place to live. There are a few condo buildings (although no high-rise buildings or timeshares), but most residents opt for single-family homes that start as low as $200,000. Over 90 percent of the planned 4,200 lots have been sold, but only 60 percent of the homes have been built, so you have ample opportunity to get exactly what you want. You can choose from over 20 models available from approved builders or design your own. For less than $1 million, you can move into a 5,000-square-foot, 4-bedroom, 4.5-bath beauty, complete with elevator, top-grade appliances and finishes, and an additional 2,800 square feet of roofed outdoor-living space—not to mention a dramatic golf course view.
Speaking of golf, it is so good and so plentiful at Reynolds that it’s almost embarrassing. There are six championship courses, designed by leading architects like Jack Nicklaus, Bob Cupp, Tom Fazio, and Rees Jones—each unique and each with its own fully staffed and stocked pro shop and practice facility. You may have seen one of them, the Great Waters Course, when it was featured on the Golf Channel as the home course of Big Break in 2014. With nine holes along the water and some of the most breathtaking views in the area, Great Waters is hard to forget. The National Course, a Tom Fazio design, includes three nines routed through dense hardwood forests, as well as along the lakeshore.
The Creek Club, which opened in 2007, is strictly private, but the other five are also open to guests of the Ritz Carlton, the 251-room lakefront resort and spa at Reynolds. The Landing also allows some daily-fee play. There are three available membership packages, with initiations starting at $20,000, according to Reynolds VP Laurie Cicco. The $35,000 Gold membership gives you unlimited play on five of the courses, and you can add The Creek Club for $30,000 more. Cicco adds, “All memberships include tennis, indoor- and outdoor-pool privileges, the fitness centers, lectures and classes, and access to the Lake Club.”
For golfers serious about improving their scores (and who isn’t?) there is the Reynolds Golf Academy, a state-of-the-art golf learning center on a 16-acre campus adjacent to the Oconee Course. It’s under the direction of well-known instructor Charlie King, director of golf at Reynolds, and offers a wonderfully expansive range, enclosed hitting bays for off-weather days, video technology, short-game areas, classrooms, and dining facilities. You can also take advantage of custom club-fitting and swing analysis at a level generally available only to PGA Tour pros at the Kingdom, the TaylorMade shop on site.
But before there was golf there was the lake, of course, and it gives residents and visitors to Reynolds an immense number of recreational opportunities. There are four full-service marinas, where you can rent everything from kayaks to boats and jet skis if you don’t have your own watercraft or just want to try something different. Reynolds is a fisherman’s heaven, too, with an estimated 433 pounds of fish per acre—double that normally found in other lakes in mid-Georgia. Largemouth bass are the big attraction, but you can haul in bream, crappie, and catfish, too.
Life Ever-Changing at Belfair
Enter the magnificent oak-lined drive to Belfair, and you’re tempted to think you’re driving back to a time when genteel golfers retired to the library-quiet clubhouse for a convivial toddy after their rounds. That would be wrong. Belfair today is a vibrant, lively community where members are just as likely to belong to a photography, travel, meditation, or political discussion club as to swing a golf club every day. Lifestyles have changed since Belfair was founded a little over 20 years ago, and so has the community.
Belfair, about five miles from Hilton Head Island, is home to historic sites, dramatic marsh and river views, secluded wetlands, and a 42-acre freshwater chain of lakes including one of the most important wading bird rookeries in the state. It’s also home to two Tom Fazio-designed golf courses, a 9,300-square-foot fitness center, two pools, tennis, a spa, and even a dog park. There are about 730 property owners who are automatically members with full access to all the amenities and services.
The two golf courses are as different as night and day. The East Course is a links-style layout that’s very walkable and features an imaginative use of lakes and ponds to challenge the player. The West Course is a parkland design that plays a bit harder, with bunkers framing nearly every green and hazards lining most fairways. Belfair’s Jim Ferree Learning Center, named for the club’s original director of golf and PGA Tour member, offers a huge range, a short-game facility with multiple greens and bunkers, and an indoor hitting room with all the latest electronic gadgetry to help you groove a better swing.
Belfair is a single home community, with 4-bedroom, 4-bath homes as low as $400,000. A recent listing of a 7,700-square-foot home with spectacular views of the Colleton River was priced at $1,795,000. Realtor Debra Lowman points out, “Our tides swing up to nearly twelve feet at their highest – the most extreme on the East Coast south of Maine. That means the views are ever-changing.” Just like life at Belfair Plantation.
Five-Star Living at Sea Island
For numerous reasons, fourteen PGA Tour pros including major championship winners Davis Love III and Zach Johnson live on Sea Island and adjacent St. Simons Island. Topping the list are three excellent golf courses with an unbeatable practice facility and four seasons including a short, gentle winter. Then there are the world-class amenities that made Sea Island and the award-winning Cloister an upscale vacation destination since the 1920s: five miles of private beach with a year-round beach club, nonstop water sports, a 5,800-acre sporting club for quail and pheasant hunting, freshwater fishing, even falconry! It’s no wonder Sea Island is the only resort in the world to receive four Forbes Five-Star awards for seven consecutive years.
You don’t have to be a tour pro to get the most out of Sea Island. Homeowners can enjoy membership in Sea Island Club, which, along with all the other amenities, includes golf privileges on the three resort courses on St. Simons Island. The best-known is the Seaside Course, a windswept links-style track that’s the home of the PGA Tour’s RSM Classic. A different challenge is its sister, the Plantation Course, which is a bunker-bedeviled parkland course with ocean views. Rounding out the rota is the Retreat Course, which is the most popular of the three with local members. Director of Golf Brannen Veal points out, “We try to be a place where a golfer can get everything they need—good courses, instruction, fitness, even a golf psychologist.”
Like the amenities, there are numerous home-ownership options on Sea Island, one of the few completely private islands in America. The cottage colony was the original development and today reflects that history in a variety of architectural styles ranging from quaint small weekend getaway places (starting around $2 million) to estate-size oceanfront compounds with prices topping $12 million. There are a variety of tasteful, flexible townhouse and single-family neighborhoods dotted around the island, too.
The Cloister Ocean Residences presents one of the most intriguing options: deeded one-quarter ownership of elegant two- and three-bedroom furnished residences just steps from the beach. A share, which gives the owner access for 13 weeks during the year, are priced from $375,000 to $1.1 million. “It’s a smart way to own and enjoy the best of Sea Island, with all the amenities and benefits of a five-star resort and none of the worries of maintaining a vacation home,” says Project Director Randy Burgess, “all at a fraction of the initial and ongoing costs.”