Google Maps will tell you the 90-mile drive to Greensboro, Ga., from the Atlanta airport should take an hour and 36 minutes. Perhaps this is so, if you keep to the speed limit. But nobody goes the speed limit on I-20 east of Atlanta. Even in the right lane, you can be doing 70 in a 55-mile-per-hour zone and other drivers will get right up against your rear bumper. "This is NASCAR country," a local explained.
Yet once you pull off the Interstate into Greensboro, everything seems to downshift. Which, of course, is a big part of the appeal. Harried city slickers have been seeking refuge in this sleepy, pine tree-lined territory for decades, with much of their activity focused on 19,000-acre Lake Oconee and the resort communities that have sprung up around it.
Reynolds Plantation is the toniest of these communities, with mansions lining many of its fairways, and a Ritz-Carlton Lodge that typically asks $299 a night and up.
Not long ago, only property owners and Ritz-Carlton guests could enjoy Reynolds' golf courses and other amenities. But there's a new way to experience it all for considerably less. The trick is to stay at Reynolds Landing, a golf community formerly known as Port Armor. Set less than a mile from the entrance to Reynolds Plantation, the Landing was bought by Reynolds' parent company in 2005 and became a full-fledged member of the Reynolds family, with complete access privileges, in 2009.
The Inn at Reynolds Landing has seven small but nice rooms. For $235 per room, double-occupancy, you can stay here and get unlimited golf for two on the Bob Cupp-designed Landing course right outside your window.
When you're ready to partake of the many activities available on the "other side of the road" at Reynolds Plantation, like fishing, boating, Charlie King's acclaimed golf academy or the four other courses, just drive on over. (Note: You'll have to pay green fees at these courses, as you would if staying at the Ritz-Carlton.)
Based on my unscientific poll, locals seem to like the Great Waters course best. Designed by Jack Nicklaus and opened in 1992, it has 10 holes that hug or otherwise overlook Lake Oconee. Keep an eye out for Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, who has a home on the course. Closed for renovation since Jan. 1, 2009, Great Waters reopens to members in March and guests in April.
The Oconee course, a Rees Jones design, features some pleasing elevation changes, and the back nine, especially, makes the most of its proximity to the lake. Oconee fans were stunned last summer when a fire burned their clubhouse to the ground, but luckily no one was hurt and, except for the big hole where the building used to be, the course is operating as if nothing ever happened.
The Tom Fazio-designed National course has three high-quality nines. Only a few of its holes skirt the lake, but you won't lack for great scenery. As at all of the Reynolds courses, most of the houses overlooking its fairways are discreetly tucked into the woods, hidden behind flowering dogwood trees and among tall pines.