Destination: The lovely, lakefront Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee, promising a respite in nature, a welcoming spa, multiple, top-level golf courses plus several venues offering fine cuisine.
Pre-departure prediction: Non-stop rain.
Hmm. This jolt of reality brought to mind advice from the owner of the Hermitage Plantation Inn in Nevis, who, on our second honeymoon, assured us such is best viewed as “married people weather.”
Weather doesn’t dampen sporting experience
With that readjusted mindset and full of expectation, we set out for Reynolds Lake Oconee with renewed enthusiasm. It didn’t take much adjusting, actually, as this was our second time exploring this Georgia jewel about halfway between Atlanta and Augusta. While we knew the lay of the land, there was an exciting addition to explore this time: Sandy Creek Sporting Grounds.
It turned out that rainy weather couldn’t contain the excitement of shooting clay pigeons and our first time trying out a compound bow during a private archery lesson.
But first, the arrival: Yes, it was cloudy, but not yet raining, so after check-in, we donned swimsuits and the resort-provided robes and slippers and headed to the pool/hot tub area overlooking massive Lake Oconee. We floated carelessly in the infinity pool and took in the late-day sun casting its glow over the lake beside us. Although the nippy temperature enveloped the area, the heated pool and nature’s brilliance kept us warm.
This particular Ritz-Carlton surprises many visitors because of its pastoral setting along 80-plus miles of shoreline on Georgia’s second largest lake.
Lake Oconee stretches over 19,000 acres with a whopping 374 total miles of shoreline.
The 251-room Ritz-Carlton dates from 2002 and has a distinctive lodge retreat feel, with understated, inviting décor. Our expansive accommodations were perfect, with an upper-floor balcony where, morning coffee in hand, we surveyed the manicured grounds and the lake beyond.
On our last visit, a narrated boat tour provided a glimpse of what summer families and multi-generational travelers enjoy most: lots of recreational opportunities, especially around the lake. There are 21 miles of hiking and biking trails to explore, plus tennis, pools, a wellness campus and full-service marinas. But the setting also encourages together time, such as an evening fire pit experience, s’mores optional.
One of our favorite spots is the Ritz-Carlton Spa. We spent a blissful five-hour spa day there, while others opted for golf.
Tee off at the Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee
Founded in 1988 and originally known as Reynolds Plantation, the golf resort community, with privately owned cottages and homes plus the hotel, is now known as Reynolds Lake Oconee.
Among the destination’s six standout golf courses (117 total holes) is Great Waters, a Jack Nicklaus-designed 18-hole, par-72 course. As the name suggests, it has fantastic water views and idyllic greens. Other courses are Creek Club, National, Oconee, The Preserve (the first in the lineup) and The Landing, ranked as one of Georgia’s best at its debut, second only to Augusta National.
Avid golfers, including tour pros, frequent The Kingdom at Reynolds, one of only two TaylorMade club-fitting experiences in the country and the only East Coast location. This state-of-the-art facility is any serious golfer’s dream, offering the latest technology for analyzing swing, equipment and game. The on-site TaylorMade tour trailer is where a set of clubs or a single driver or anything in between can be custom made for same or next-day delivery.
While the resort has 10 different dining venues — many at the various golf courses — those on-site at the Ritz-Carlton include Georgia’s, Linger Longer Steakhouse, Gaby’s by the Lake, Chiminea Dining, Lobby Lounge and The Coffee Shop.
Among the surprises we found at Linger Longer was a tableside, torched-bacon appetizer that had everyone’s Instagram accounts blowing up. The presentation was propane flaming of “clothespinned” lean strips suspended on a wire. However, the post-meal cotton candy service vied for equal attention.
Hone shooting skills
If you’re interested in handling expensive shotguns, taking aim and testing your skills at dropping some clay pigeons, than Sandy Creek Sporting Grounds is a must. Unveiled in Fall 2017, the exceptional facility was designed by Justin Jones, an acclaimed international shooting champion from Great Britain who has served an advisor to the royal family. He and his team make this a fun outing.
The destination, with impressive Sandy Creek Barn as its centerpiece, is woven amid 100 acres of beautiful countryside. It offers a 20-station sporting-clays course, a five-stand shooting range, air rifle and archery ranges, plus catch-and-release fishing on a 40-acre lake, as well as kayaking, canoeing and hiking.
We tried our hand at both clays and archery and quickly adapted on the archery range to the facility’s Genesis compound bows – a very different experience from our last outing with regular bow and arrow. We were hooked and so appreciative of our instructor’s expert guidance.
The Grounds Director was just as encouraging as we geared up for clay target shooting in a five-stand cabin. We were provided with Beretta shotguns, shooting vests, eye and hearing protection, along with low-noise and low-recoil cartridges. The clay targets are non-toxic and biodegradable. Guests can try either sky targets or the more difficult clays that skim the water (mimicking a scurrying rabbit for example). It was a blast, pun intended.
The trap machines, camouflaged within the natural surroundings, can launch both singles and pairs of clay targets. There are options for serious shooters or a quicker course for those short on time. Singles, couples, small-to-large groups and even team building events all can be accommodated.
The Sandy Creek Barn, with swooping interior and roaring fireplace, was welcoming as we returned in damp attire, but with broad smiles. The Barn, relocated from Pennsylvania, dates from the 1820s. It was restored here in 2005 and is a popular special events venue.
During our stay, we enjoyed watching the variety of travelers Reynolds Lake Oconee attracts and learning more about how there’s something for everyone in every season. Locals, homeowners and visitors all mingle at the various venues, and yes, one happy couple suggested we join them as residents.
“You’d love it here,” they promised. Enticing idea.
What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?
- The resort offers Ritz-Carlton luxury in a casual, out-of-the-way environment.
- A wide range of activities are offered in a serene setting, including many on Lake Oconee.
- It’s a golfing heaven with six courses, two of which GOLF magazine ranks in America’s Top 100 that the public can play, and four that it ranks in the top 10 in Georgia
- Shooting enthusiasts will be impressed with how Sandy Creek Sporting Grounds carries on the British tradition. Archers and bowhunters will welcome practice on various sites offering different challenges and habitats.
- Multiple dining venues
- Indoor and outdoor pools plus a standout spa
- Many well-traveled retirees vacation, live or own second homes here, so expect a friendly atmosphere including interesting, lively conversations.
- A $53 resort fee per room, per night, includes a variety of perks such as valet parking, Internet, daily fitness classes, non-motorized watercraft (e.g. kayaks and stand-up paddleboards) plus driving range/putting green access with the use of TaylorMade clubs and balls.
- Reynolds Lake Oconee is a widespread community, so allow time to get from hotel to golf courses, dining venues and sporting grounds. The Ritz-Carlton provides guests free shuttles to closer-by venues. There is a fee, however, for transportation to the sporting grounds.
- Walking on property involves some up-and-down inclines and long walkways, but resort bikes, included in the resort fee, are available until 5 p.m.
- Some may still refer to The Ritz-Carlton as The Lodge, a former name, so don’t be confused.
IF YOU GO
The writers’ wine tasting was hosted by Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee.
Photo credits: All photos courtesy of Reynolds Lake Oconee
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