By stepping up emphasis on its non-golfing amenities, the new ownership of Reynolds Plantation, with a big assist from Ritz-Carlton, seeks to broaden its appeal as a popular resort destination.
When Reynolds Plantation, located between Atlanta and Augusta in east-central Georgia, opened in 1988, it put itself on the club and resort—and real estate—maps primarily through its ambitious plan to become a golf destination and haven. With a portfolio that included six distinctive golf courses designed by notables such as Rees Jones, Tom Fazio, Jack Nicklaus, Jim Engh and Bob Cupp, Reynolds received deserved acclaim in its first 20 years. The opening of a 251-room Ritz-Carlton Lodge on the site in 2002 only added to the property’s appeal (“Growing a Rich Variety of Attractions at Reynolds Plantation,” C&RB, July 2008).
Plans to build more golf courses by other designers, including Pete Dye, were in the works, but then things came to a screeching halt with the collapse of the real estate market. The resort’s parent company, Linger Longer Development Co., went into receivership under a $105 million debt burden, and Reynolds Plantation, a 10,000-acre golf and lakefront community, was put up for sale.
This led to the property’s purchase earlier this year by MetLife Inc., and an immediate revival in the marketing of Reynolds Plantation. This time, however, the resort is placing a heightened emphasis on the broad range of activities available to homeowners and guests throughout the vast acreage and more than 80 miles of shoreline along Lake Oconee, the state’s second-largest lake that was created by a Georgia Power dam project.
Ritz-Carlton is continuing to run the hotel under its long-term management agreement, but Daniel Corporation, a real estate services company based in Birmingham, Ala., with a regional office in Atlanta, now oversees day-to-day operations of Reynolds Plantation. The company’s portfolio includes high-end golf and resort communities, and other recreational amenities at Reynolds Plantation include swimming pools, pedestrian trails, marinas, a tennis center and a wellness center.
“The team at Daniel is looking forward to working with MetLife to enhance Reynolds Plantation and position it for future generations,” says Charlie Tickle, Daniel Corporation’s Chairman and CEO. “We will bring a business approach to the operations to enhance [Reynolds’] economic viability and sustainability, which is key to preserving and improving property values and attracting new residents and members.”
Fireworks and Ice
While Reynolds Plantation still has a deserved reputation as a golfing mecca, members of the new management team are brainstorming about additional recreational opportunities to bring to the resort as part of the long-term investment strategy.
“They’ve been very accommodating, and they want to know what we think,” says Shona Blair Yaws, Reynolds Plantation’s Recreation Director. “They’ve been receptive to hearing some of our ideas.”
Expanding recreational offerings for guests and Reynolds Plantation members, who must own property in the resort, has actually been an ongoing endeavor. Last year, the resort started a Sunday night concert series from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The concerts, featuring regional bands, are followed by a fireworks show over Lake Oconee.
“It gives our guests a reason to stay an additional night, and the membership can come over with their lawn chairs. A lot of the members also come over on their boats,” reports Ralph Vick, the Ritz-Carlton General Manager.
To attract guests during the winter, the property has added a 5,500-sq. ft. ice skating rink that operates from late November until mid-February.
“It has driven occupancy, and the membership loves it. Their kids and grandkids just have a ball,” notes Vick.
Appealing to multiple generations is another key element in the property’s marketing strategy. “We’re trying to expand the resort with more family amenities. Most are water-related,” Vick says.
No wonder. With its 19,000 acres and 374 total miles of shoreline, Lake Oconee offers a vast pool of recreational activities for Reynolds Plantation members and guests to enjoy.
With four full-service marinas, Reynolds Plantation provides lake access to members and cottage guests throughout the community. Adventurers can dive into a number of water activities, including swimming, canoeing, kayaking, waterskiing, wakeboarding, kneeboarding, paddleboarding and pontoon rentals.
In a partnership with Lake Oconee Outfitters, Reynolds Plantation members or guests can book a private day of waterskiing, tubing or wakeboarding with certified instructors on competition ski boats. Lessons are also available for the inexperienced to learn these skills.
Lake Oconee, one of the best locations in the state for largemouth bass, is also a paradise for novice or avid anglers. With an estimated 433 pounds of fish per acre, the lake holds nearly double the weight typically found in other central-Georgia bodies of water. The volume of largemouth bass is estimated at 36 pounds per acre in Lake Oconee, compared to 12 to 15 pounds in other local lakes.
Other fish populations include white bass, bream, crappie and catfish. Guides can help fishermen find the hot spots on the lake, and all of the necessary equipment for anglers of all skill levels is available at the marinas. Reynolds Plantation is also the site of several fishing tournaments, including the bi-annual Member/Guest Bass Tournament.
To Infinity and Beyond
For those who prefer to swim without the fishes, the resort features an indoor lap pool, which is open daily, and a heated infinity waterfront pool.
“When you’re standing on the side of the infinity pool closest to the hotel, it looks like the pool is running off into the lake,” says Vick. “It makes a dramatic visual impression.”
Other clubhouses on the property feature a variety of swimming pools as well. The members-only Lake Club includes a heated indoor pool that accommodates the Reynolds Plantation’s swim team and master swimming programs; an outdoor family pool with a water slide; and an adults-only infinity pool that overlooks Lake Oconee.
The Great Waters swimming complex boasts a 60-foot lap pool, children’s wading pool and Jacuzzi-type spa. The Plantation, the community’s first clubhouse, offers a junior Olympic-size pool, children’s wading pool, and whirlpool spa.
The Reynolds staff can also arrange plenty of activities for those who prefer to get their entertainment on dry land, including camping, picnicking, making s’mores at a lakeside campfire, nature hikes, bike riding, Segway tours, horseback riding, and skeet, trap and clay shooting at a gun club.
Raising a Racquet
Members and guests can also have a ball at Reynolds Plantation’s tennis facilities, which are run by Peter Burwash International. Dave Neuhart, who has served as Reynolds Plantation’s Director of Tennis for eight years, says the property has seen steady growth in tennis activity over his tenure. With the invaluable help of Tennis Concierge Barbara Voyles, Neuhart now oversees an active, nearly year-round program that attracts players of all ages (nearly 30% juniors) and abilities, and extends beyond the property’s boundaries to include regular trips to tennis-centric venues such as Hilton Head, Amelia Island and the U.S. Open in New York.
Neuhart is excited about the possibilities he sees under the new ownership for stepping up the marketing of tennis as a reason to make Reynolds a destination in its own right. “We don’t feel you’ve really experienced all that Reynolds has to offer if you haven’t had a racquet in your hand while here,” he says. “I think there’s going to be a bigger push to include [tennis] as a major part of future promotion of the property.”
Treating guests like residents, and vice versa, is a hallmark of Reynolds Plantation, and as part of its mutually beneficial relationship with the community, the Ritz-Carlton offers its guests access to the tennis facilities.
Rabun Neal, President of Reynolds Plantation, says the addition of the Ritz-Carlton Lodge, with its six dining venues and other amenities, was a major factor in putting the resort on the map. (For the hotel company, the lodge represented its first foray into such a rural, outdoors-oriented operation.)
Neal says Ritz-Carlton didn’t miss a beat when taking on the challenge of such a new type of location. “It’s been great to have a resort here that has been managed so well,” he says. “They work well with our members, so they are engaged with the property.”
As part of that connection, Reynolds Plantation members have access to hotel amenities such as its 26,000-sq. ft. spa, which consistently is ranked in the Top 10 of the Condé Nast Traveler Annual Readers Poll. Through a full complement of facilities, the spa also offers more than 90 health and wellness treatments, many featuring indigenous ingredients such as rosemary, pine, fir and geranium, as well as extracts from gemstones such as smithsonite and malachite.
About 50 percent of the hotel’s business is made up of corporate groups, Vick says, while the other half consists of leisure guests. Families make up about 40 to 50 percent of the leisure group, and “that amount is growing all the time,” he adds.
Peeks of Nature
Outdoor entertainment is one of the resort’s chief objectives, and the Heritage & Nature Center, which opened in 2006, features educational programs that highlight the local history, culture and wildlife. The Center features many exhibits and displays and is home to live animals such as fish, frogs, turtles and snakes. “We have a lot of wildlife that is native to Georgia that has been preserved there,” says Neal.
Some 15 miles of trails wind through forests and along the lake, and the staff leads nature walks and stargazing events.
While the Center sponsors outings for young and old alike, Reynolds Plantation places a premium on fun for its littlest members and guests. The hotel’s Ritz Kids Camp offers supervised activities for children ages 5 to 12. Spending the day with camp counselors, they can participate in ventures such as nature hikes, scavenger hunts, canoeing and craft making. The themed Ritz “Kids Night Out” program, held Friday and Saturday evenings, includes dinner and refreshments. Other offerings for the younger set include a jungle gym, horseshoe pits, swings, hammocks and lawn games.
Reynolds Plantation also offers summer and winter Kids’ Vacation Camps and Junior Golf Camp, as well as participation on the Reynolds Rapids Swim Team and other special seasonal programming.
The opening of Lake Oconee Academy, a public charter school, has changed the Reynolds Plantation demographics. “We’ve seen a greater influx of younger families,” Yaws notes.
As a result, she has ramped up activities for the younger set through programs such as Reynolds Adventurers, a summer day camp for members’ children ages 5 to 12, and Kids’ Night Out, held one Saturday a month from 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.
“We might do it more often; it’s been very well-received,” Yaws says. She’s also seen a greater interest in Lake Club fitness and wellness classes, such as tai chi and Zumba, and hopes to create more programs for young adults who have found Reynolds Plantation to be a good place to raise their families. “It’s a great lifestyle experience,” Vick confirms.