News of Tiger Woods’ back injury keeping him from playing in July’s U.S Open is a huge blow to the sport and the city of Pinehurst, NC. Don’t get us wrong: The throngs of fans who’ve dreamed of making the trek to one of golf’s biggest tournament will still come; there will just be a tinge of disappointment mixed in with scent of freshly manicured grass this time around.
A little more than 270 miles from Pinehurst Resort sits Reynolds Plantation, a 10,000-acre golf and lake community that probably offered its own gasp once news of Woods’ absence hit the wire. Much like other fine courses around the country, the Greensboro, Ga., escape feels a jolt in the energy around its greens whenever a major tournament is going on.
Still, even with the Tiger no-show, there’s far too much going well on the Plantation’s greens to keep its club head down for long. In fact, Reynolds’ six meticulous golf courses, stately residential community and Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star The Ritz-Carlton Lodge, Reynolds Plantation combine to make a golfer’s paradise that holds its own against anything you’ll find in Sea Island, Hilton Head or Palm Beach.
For starters, the 117 holes of playable golf—five 18-hole courses (one of them, The Creek Club, is private; the rest are public) and the 27-hole National—are some of the finest in the region. From the Jack Nicklaus-designed Great Waters to Scottish-style The Landing, there is something here for casual players as well as PGA legends such as Ian Woosnam or Greg Norman, two guys who’ve been known to walk the greens from time to time. The Oconee course is probably the layout with the most panache. That likely has as much to do with how close it sits to The Ritz as it does with the view from 18 that overlooks Lake Oconee.
While regulars may debate over which course stands tallest, there’s no arguing that the most fascinating aspect of any golf trip to Reynolds Plantation is The TaylorMade Kingdom, the property’s state-of-the-art club-fitting facility that lets everyday players into the same world as golf’s greatest pros. Big-box sporting goods stores and golf specialty shops can customize clubs, but the sophisticated steps taken at the Kingdom have no rival. Comparing the two is almost like putting Charles Barkley’s tragic golf swing next to eight-time PGA Tour winner Dustin Johnson’s textbook approach at the tee.
And speaking of Johnson, he’s just one of the many Tour pros who have used the Motion Analysis Technology by TaylorMade for club personalization. If you could imagine a Hollywood special effects studio, with high-speed cameras along the walls and motion-capturing sensors on the body, you’ll start to see the intricacies that go into the fittings. The Kingdom gathers vital details about hip bends, torso tilts and the tiniest twitches in your swing. Your movements are then placed on a monitor, where things are looked at through a 360-degree evaluation.
“We’ll put you on the screen in 3-D,” explains Robin English, director of Kingdom operations. “The brain will actually understand watching yourself better [this way] than a video camera. We can turn you upside down, or any angle we want, to show you what you’re doing well and what you’re not doing so well. There are normally a lot of things you’re not doing well. It’s extremely revealing, but there’s just one fitter and one guest.”
If you want to get even fancier during your one-on-one appointment, compare your swing with Johnson’s, Sergio Garcia’s or any of the other stars who’ve stopped by to fine-tune his game. Once you pick your jaw up from the floor, head outside to take some practice drives or go downstairs to the Putter Lab to try out one of the putter prototypes.
After you’ve been properly sized—fittings can be arranged for one particular club, woods, irons or a full set—English, or one of the other Kingdom staffers, walks you over to the TaylorMade Tour Trailer, the club-building truck that was used on the PGA Tour from 2003 to 2007. From head angles and grip textures to shaft colors, every aspect of your club is done to your specifications inside the stationary workshop. It’s Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory for wedges, a sight to make even the most seasoned golfer a little giddy.
The Kingdom, and Reynolds Plantation as a whole, is perfect for day-trippers making the hour-and-15-minute drive from Atlanta, but the place separates itself from the competition by also having a 251-room Ritz-Carlton Lodge onsite. And while the same elevated service and high-end amenities are on offer at the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star hotel, this particular outpost takes a more laid-back approach in its hospitality: Bellhops don uniforms reminiscent of golf caddies from the early 1900s; s’mores are prepped for guests every night by the water; even the décor in the lobby—stone fireplaces, vaulted wood ceilings and rustic-chic furnishing—has an upscale summer camp feel to it.
In 2013, much of the resort was given a facelift, which included a renovated fitness center and a brand-new coffee shop. Guest rooms were overhauled as well. Wood tables, soft green splashes on walls and chairs, and marble-trimmed baths now give the place a sense of informality and easiness without sacrificing elegance. If you need more privacy, The Lodge also presents seven separate units (five two-bedroom cottages, a three-bedroom one and an imposing 5,400-square-foot presidential house) that overlook The Oconee course.
When you aren’t thinking about your heavenly rest on the Frette-linen-covered pillowtop mattress (or reliving any triple-bogey nightmares), The Ritz-Carlton Lodge, Reynolds Plantation provides a host of other distractions. With exquisite dining (the buttoned-up Linger Longer Steakhouse and the come-as-you-are Gaby’s by the Lake), daily activities (tennis, kayaking, Segway tours) and world-class pampering (a Four-Star spa, The Ritz’s only barbecue butler), the property treats everyone like a PGA Tour pro—even if you couldn’t get par with a 20-foot pole.
So, Pinehurst, have your film crews and fancy trophies. For everyday folks who can only dream about having Tiger’s game, The Ritz-Carlton’s Adirondack chairs and organic green salads will work just fine. Besides, if we can play top courses and use the same 21st-century golf technology as the game’s top talents without having to deal with the media scrutiny, it kind of seems like we’ve won anyways.
Photo Courtesy of The Ritz Carlton Hotel Company LLC