Reynolds Plantation at a Glance
• Location: Greensboro, Ga.
• Opened: 1988
• Golf Courses: Five (Plantation, 1988; Great Waters, 1992; National, 1997; Oconee, 2002; Creek, 2007)
• Golf Holes: 99 (National course has 27 holes)
• Annual Golf Rounds: 145,000
• F&B Outlets: Four full-service restaurants, five snack bars, one cafe, one banquet ballroom (capacity 300)
• Senior Vice President of Operations: Gray Ferguson
• Vice President of Golf Operations: Bob Mauragas
• Executive Chef and Culinary Director: Gerald Schmidt
• Food & Beverage Director: Greg Dye
The location wasn’t a lot of help initially. Georgia already had plenty of well-known golfing and resort attractions—and this part of the state wasn’t really known yet for anything other than some quaint old mill towns you could stop to see on your way to and from Atlanta, Athens and Augusta.
The name didn’t do much on its own, either—most people associated it more with aluminum or tobacco than with golf, even leading some to assume the property was in North Carolina instead of Georgia.
But even without these ingredients, which are usually viewed as essential for creating a destination and establishing a brand, a family named Reynolds set out in 1988 to put a new resort community on the map and in the minds of golf-centric vacationers and homeowners.
Twenty years later, with the help of a partner a few people had heard of (Ritz-Carlton), a place that now boasts over 2,200 property-owning members, five distinctive golf courses, and a well-rounded variety of other recreational, dining and social attractions has moved up quite a few rungs on the recognition scale—to the point, in fact, where Reynolds Plantation earned 2008 Golf Course of the Year accolades from the National Golf Course Owners Association.
But the property’s operators aren’t finished yet; the strategy for the future, says Vice President of Golf Operations Bob Mauragus, is built around the lofty notion of establishing Reynolds Plantation as a living, thriving “museum of golf courses,” with “at least three more” equally distinctive layouts expected to be added in the next 10 years.
And in 50 years, says Mercer Reynolds III, Chairman/CEO of the family development company, Linger Longer Communities, the ultimate goal is no less ambitious than to have Reynolds Plantation mentioned in the same breath as “Carmel, California and The Hamptons in New York, as another community that’s stood the test of time and is a great example of what can be done to bring nature and man together in a harmonious way.”
In the absence of a well-known location or name, the formula for success at Reynolds Plantation called for an initial stroke of good fortune, great vision, and a well-executed plan to make the most of a sudden and unique opportunity.
In this case, the Reynolds family, who initially made their money in the early 20th century by way of a successful invention for solidifying cottonseed oil among other business ventures, found themselves holding 10,000 acres situated almost exactly halfway between Atlanta and Augusta. Until the late 1970s, the land was a nice place to hunt and fish (prompting the Reynolds family to build a retreat it called “Linger Longer”), but it otherwise held little commercial promise.
Then Georgia Power decided to build a dam in the county, to instantly create not only the state’s second-largest lake (Lake Oconee) but one that was especially fishing- and boating-friendly (the utility’s pumping operations would ensure that its level would never fluctuate more than 18 inches).
Suddenly, a recreational paradise with over 300 miles of shoreline was created—and the Reynolds land holdings already included the choicest parcels. With fishing and boating already well taken care of, the family’s focus turned to another activity that could help bring attention to the area, now that it had such tremendous development potential: golf.
The debut of the Plantation course in 1988 set in motion a master plan that has been adhered to steadfastly, despite the industry’s ups and downs: Roll out new layouts every five years or so, to develop a portfolio of courses offering a rich variety of design philosophies and playing challenges.
Today, Reynolds Plantation has five courses that already provide strong representation from the Who’s Who of course designers (Bob Cupp, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio and Rees Jones), as well as the work of some of the brightest new talent (Jim Engh, a Golf Digest Architect of the Year who was brought in to create the property’s first private course, The Creek Club, which opened in 2007).
“Each course offers something distinctively different,” says Mauragas. “Between them all, we can already accommodate pretty much any type of playing profile and preference: weekend trips, group play, an impressive place to bring guests, a place with a ‘pro feel,’ and now with Creek, a high-end, private-club feel.
“You can’t find a better collection of truly different types of courses to play in one place,” Mauragas says. “But we’re still planning ways to expand, so we can keep adding new ‘wings’ to our golf course ‘museum.’ ”
Putting in the Ritz
About halfway into executing its development plan for Reynolds Plantation, the family saw that injecting some brand recognition into the equation could greatly accelerate awareness and excitement about what it now had to offer. That led to the family’s relationship with Ritz-Carlton, which now operates a 251-room Lodge on the property that includes 15,000 square feet of meeting space and a 26,000-sq. ft. full-service spa and fitness center.
|Senior VP of Operations Gray Ferguson likes the numbers he sees for how much people are playing and staying.|
Developing the partnership posed challenges to both sides, and not only because the opening of the Lodge was timed unfortunately close to Sept. 11, 2001 (it finally opened in April 2002).
“It definitely represented a strategic departure for [Ritz-Carlton], and not just because of the unique [English-style hunting lodge] architecture that was involved,” says Steven Freund, the Lodge’s General Manager, who came from The Ritz-Carlton at Amelia Island (which he describes as “somewhat similar, but on a smaller scale”) to open the Lodge.
“Before we saw the property and met with the ownership, there were some initial internal questions about why we were doing this in the middle of Georgia,” Freund notes. “But everyone who came here quickly saw that it could work, especially as we gained full understanding of the vision.”
From his perspective, Freund feels it is “a great partnership,” with Ritz-Carlton more than holding up its end by creating awareness about the property to “an existing base of 4.5 million loyal customers who are predisposed to like any association with an iconic luxury brand and its recognized operating standards.”
Gray Ferguson, Reynolds Plantation’s Senior Vice President of Operations, cites statistics generated through the partnership that have given Ritz-Carlton good reason to like the association, too. “The ratio here of rounds of golf played to the occupancy rate is the strongest in the Ritz-Carlton system,” Ferguson says. “Considering the amount of group business that’s done here [60 to 65% of total Lodge occupancy], that’s very good, because it not only means people are staying longer to play more golf, but that they’re also staying on property more to eat, go to the spa, and use other amenities.”
Places to Call Home
As the rich variety of golf offers at Reynolds Plantation has been blended with the drawing power of Ritz-Carlton, awareness of all that the area now has to offer has stimulated over 2,200 property sales (about half of the owners live on site year-round). Membership is required of all property owners, in the form of a one-time initiation deposit (ranging from $20,000 to $95,000, depending on level) that is refundable if a property is sold.
The growth of this member base has led in turn to development of a wide-ranging and fast-growing mix of additional amenities and activities. An exclamation point was placed on this aspect of Reynolds Plantation’s growth with the recent unveiling of the Lake Club, billed as a $24 million “wellness campus” designed to be “the hub of members’ social activity.” The Lake Club’s features include a “family fun” pool with water slide (see photo, pg. 17), Heritage & Nature Center, fitness center, and tennis center with 16 courts, including two stadium-sized and six lighted championship-sized courts. “We’ve had a 100% increase in tennis participation over the last couple of years,” Ferguson reports.
Linger Longer Communities also recently acquired Reynolds Landing, an adjacent club with an additional golf course that has been renovated to help broaden the area’s appeal to families; the property now includes an elaborate family pool area.
And perhaps the most expansive area of all has become food and beverage, headed by Executive Chef and Culinary Director Gerald Schmidt and Food & Beverage Director Greg Dye. Now encompassing 11 outlets and 145,000 annual covers in just its four restaurants alone, F&B at Reynolds Plantation has grown into a $6 million operation that entails everything from special “fish cooking” classes for the Lake Oconee Anglers (a “club within a club” formed by members) to the property’s own chapter of the Chaine des Rotisseurs.
The goal is now to have each outlet be “similarly different,” Chef Schmidt says. “We have quality and service standards that must be met everywhere, but we encourage all of our chefs to find ways to differentiate what they offer in their particular restaurant and with their particular menus. That stimulates everyone, and keeps us all on our game.”
Schmidt’s philosophy extends beyond the kitchen, though. “Keeping everyone stimulated and on their game” is truly the essence of Reynolds Plantation.