Reynolds Lake Oconee Became Last-Minute LPGA Tournament Site Thanks To Commissioner’s Family Ties

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Written by Erik Matuszewski

This article originally appeared on Forbes.com - you can read it here.

With the LPGA Tour facing the prospect that its four events in Asia would be canceled due to the pandemic, Commissioner Mike Whan was certain about one thing – he didn’t want his players to have to take an entire month off.

So, the LPGA’s contingency plans began two months ago by considering not only the logistics of an alternative tournament, but more importantly what facility could host the tour on such short notice and whether it would have a golf course in good enough condition to challenge the world’s best female golfers.

“I said to the gang, before anybody calls anyone else, I’m going to make a couple of phone calls,” Whan said in an interview. “I obviously had Reynolds on my mind.”

Whan was referring to Reynolds Lake Oconee, the golf destination community midway between Atlanta and Augusta, Georgia, that boasts more than 350 miles of shoreline along with six championship courses. For the past five years, Whan and his family have owned a house in Reynolds and made the trip from Florida to Lake Oconee multiple times a year.

“Being a member and a resident out here, I believe we could play an LPGA event on any of the six golf courses that are a part of Reynolds,” Whan said. “When I called and they asked which golf course, I actually said, ‘You tell me.’ The question for them was what do they want to be televised around the world for four days.”

The answer is Great Waters, which will host the LPGA Tour Drive On Championship this week after recently undergoing an extensive renovation by its designer, Jack Nicklaus. Opened in 1992 along the Lake Oconee shoreline, Great Waters was re-opened last year after being completely rebuilt, modernized and reconditioned.

“We checked our lodging envelope, our volunteers, and our golf courses are great right now, so we said, 'Let’s see if we can help out the game of golf and one of our members,’” said Dave Short, the Senior Vice President of Marketing, Sales and Strategic Planning at Reynolds Lake Oconee. “It’s a really short leash to put something like this on. We don’t have gates and concessions because there are no spectators, and that’s unfortunate, but on short notice it does make the logistics a little simpler. We’re just excited to be able to show the place off and help out Mike and the LPGA.”

Great Waters #14 at Reynolds Lake Oconee
Great Waters #14 at Reynolds Lake Oconee


Being a member and a resident out here, I believe we could play an LPGA event on any of the six golf courses that are a part of Reynolds Mike Whan, former LPGA Commissioner

Whan and his family first came up to Reynolds for a vacation while his three boys were in high school or junior high, renting a cottage and a boat for the week. One morning before breakfast, Whan suggested to his wife that they let the kids sleep in, only to learn they’d left an hour earlier to go tubing on the lake.

“I’m thinking, ‘I’ve found a place where my kids are awake earlier than I am. We could be on to something here,’” Whan said. “We started looking for a place while on vacation.”

When his boys were younger, the family would occasionally come up to Reynolds for three weeks at a time, with Whan flying to and from LPGA events from nearby Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. During the pandemic, the Reynolds community has become a popular escape for many part-time residents like Whan, but the commissioner kept working from Florida — at least until this past week ahead of the tournament.

“I think of this place as my retreat, my getaway,” says Whan. “From March to July, taking everything down a notch wasn’t an option, so it didn’t seem like something we wanted to do. Now that we have a bit of a plan – we’re working on figuring out the ‘21 and ‘22 LPGA schedules – it was a great time to come up here.”

There won’t be significant tournament changes for Great Waters, which will play at 6,664 yards, although the daily maintenance staff has gone from 20 to 50. The course has welcomed notable events before, as it was a past site of the Andersen Consulting World Championship of Golf (now the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship) on the PGA TOUR from 1995-97, and in 2014 hosted the first-ever Big Break Invitational.

“The course setup and speed may be a little different than what our members would typically experience, but not that much since we keep all of our courses in top condition throughout the year,” says Reynolds Vice President of Agronomy Lane Singleton.

Indeed, the passion for golf runs deep throughout the Reynolds Lake Oconee community, which is another added benefit for the LPGA when it comes to tournament volunteers.

“We just have an army of outstanding members here,” said Short. “Every time we do an event, like the Big Break or the Linger Longer Invitational, it’s just an energetic, involved and engaged membership here, and even more so now.”

Great Waters #11 at Reynolds Lake Oconee
Great Waters #11 at Reynolds Lake Oconee

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