Trending Younger in Real Estate: Reynolds Lake Oconee Sees Influx of Fresh Buyers

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Real Estate
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Written by Jason Lusk

In those bygone eras before technology found its way into everybody’s pocket or backpack in the form of smartphones and laptops, promising executives could count on spending 30 or 40 years working their way up the ranks at a corporate headquarters in or near a major metropolis.

Then came a golden watch and the golden years, with nothing but open tee times for all of retirement. For the particularly successful, there might be a second home on a golf course, maybe at a choice destination.

The only problem was those decades spent in cube farms and offices without a view. Sure, there were weekends and maybe a few golf vacations or afternoons spent at the boss’s exclusive country club. But clear expectations required that aspiring executives spend most of their waking lives attached to their office desks, surrounded by other likeminded professionals trying to climb a ladder that eventually might top out with a fairway view.

Enter technology, and things have changed. Many working stiffs have realized that instead of churning in an office all those years to eventually live where they want and enjoy some of the finer things in life, why wait?

With the advent of videoconferencing and VPNs, and the relaxing of expectations by many companies that staffers spend all their time in a corporate office, lucky 40- and 50-somethings can live just about anywhere. This trend has taken off in the past five years or so, said Dave Short, senior vice president of marketing, sales and strategic planning at the expansive Reynolds Lake Oconee community about an hour southeast of Atlanta.

“There’s a lot of people now that are buying a second home first, if you will,” Short said. “That’s a significant shift over the last few years. … They’re on whatever technology, and they work out of a home office, and they can walk nine holes in the afternoon or walk down the hill and dive into the lake at the end of the day. It’s just a different lifestyle.”

The trend has changed the market at Reynolds Lake Oconee, a sprawling lakeshore development of upper-level and top-tier homes that includes an on-property Ritz-Carlton hotel and covers about 14,000 acres – “We’re about 1,000 acres smaller than Manhattan Island,” Short said with a laugh.

Lake Oconee, built in 1979 to generate power, offers about 400 miles of shoreline, and about a quarter of those are part of Reynolds. The resort community features six golf courses, four of them ranked in Golfweek’s Best Courses You Can Play in Georgia. It is one of just three properties in the country, along with Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon and Destination Kohler in Wisconsin, to have four courses on that list.

“Ten years ago it would have been, let me pension off from General Motors and let me play golf six days a week for the rest of my life,” Short said. “And that’s just not who the only customer is today. It’s still a really important part of our existing membership, and certainly we have people who come here for that sole reason, but it’s really broadened out in the last several years. There are three families on my street (at Reynolds) in their early 50s that still work, but they work out of here.”

Short said Reynolds Lake Oconee has built out to about 3,000 rooftops and has another 26 miles of shoreline to offer as premium homesites. Atlanta provides the majority of prospective clients, and Short has seen a significant uptick in buyers from Florida and coastal Georgia in recent years as people tire of hurricanes and increasing congestion.

The relative affordability to build at Reynolds is a major draw, with what Short called an “ornate” home available for about $230 a square foot. Much more expensive and expansive multi-structure properties are available – call them what they are: lakefront mansions with additional buildings – but research shows that all in all the cost of a new luxury home is better priced at Reynolds than at many destinations offering comparable living experiences and golf.

But it’s the new class of mid-career homebuyers who have changed the community most, bringing in children instead of occasional visits from grandchildren.

“In the last 10 years, it’s sort of migrated away from being just a golf retirement community to one that now where there’s a lot of vibrancy, a lot of music, a lot of culinary rhythms that didn’t exist here 10 years ago,” Short said. “Part of what has fed into that is there is a whole class of people that are professionally liberated enough from having to live inside the beltway, whether you define that as Atlanta or D.C. or some of the larger cities. They have enough gravitas with their companies to say I want to live where I want to live.”

On Top of its Golf Game

With the membership growing younger, one thing that never gets old at Reynolds Lake Oconee is the golf. MetLife, which purchased the property in 2012, sees to that with a continuous flow of capital improvements to the six courses as well as the hotel, the 10 restaurants and the four full-service marinas.

For golfers, the largest of the recent undertakings was a renovation of the community’s featured course, Great Waters, which ranks No. 2 in the state on Golfweek’s Best Courses You Can Play list. The Jack Nicklaus design originally opened in 1992, and after 18 months of work that ended in October, it’s a familiar experience down the same wide playing corridors, but with a few new twists.

“The golf course wasn’t broken to start with,” Nicklaus said during a reopening ceremony on the 18th tee next to the lake. “It was just the plumbing was broken, and we had to fix the plumbing. When you fix the plumbing, you get a chance to put a little lipstick on the outside of it.”

All the greens were rebuilt with TifEagle Bermuda grass, the entire course was re-grassed and a new irrigation system was installed. The fairways are now Zeon zoysia, and the rough is TifTuf Bermuda. All the bunkers were reworked.

The back tees were stretched to 7,436 yards, but perhaps more importantly, Nicklaus said, a new set of forward tees were built at about 4,500 yards to encourage older members and new players to take their shot.

With the setting, especially on the back nine’s eight water holes, there wasn’t any need to improve what was out there in view, just to open those views with fewer trees. Several greens and hills were reconfigured to take even better advantage of the views and water.

It’s rare for golf course architects to be given so much prime real estate on waterfront parcels, but Reynolds had a lot of lakeshore with which to work.

“This was a wonderful opportunity to do a pretty spectacular golf course on a pretty spectacular piece of property,” Nicklaus said of the original design. “The Reynolds people saw the vision and had the vision to understand that with 90 miles of waterfront, a little bit of that waterfront could go to golf to really create a golf course and situation that would be well worth the investment.”

Short said it’s all part of a theme of having room to enjoy the amenities, with housing set fairly far back from the playing corridors on ridges that offer long views.

“A golf course lot has a great golf course view, but they’re not encroaching,” Short said. “It doesn’t feel claustrophobic, with every single lot pushed up as close to the golf course as it can be. We do, by design, push the houses back.”

It goes hand-in-hand with those executives trying to escape the hustle and bustle of city living. Even with so many luxury lifestyle amenities on hand, this is still rural Georgia, and there’s plenty of room to grow. It’s small-town to the point that several locals and employees mentioned that a new Chick-fil-A had just opened nearby. But along with traffic and congestion, there’s one thing missing that Short enjoys pointing out.

“We’re 40 minutes from a Walmart and only five minutes away from a Ritz-Carlton,” he said with a laugh, not taking credit for a line he has heard from several residents. “That’s a pretty good selling point.”

Golf at Reynolds Lake Oconee

Great Waters: The Jack Nicklaus design was built in 1992 and renovated in 2019. The course is No. 2 in Georgia on Golfweek’s Best Courses You Can Play list. It is 7,436 yards from the back with nine holes on the lakefront, including the final eight holes.

The Oconee: This 7,158-yard Rees Jones design opened in 2002 and features rambling elevation changes and a handful of holes on the lake. It ranks No. 4 in the state among Best Courses You Can Play.

The National: Designed by Tom Fazio and opened in 1997, these 27 holes (Ridge, Bluff and Cove nines) feature significant elevation changes, with several holes on the lake. It ranks No. 8 in the state among Best Courses You Can Play.

The Landing: This original course at Reynolds was built by Bob Cupp and opened in 1986 among wooded areas and rolling hills. Stretching to 6,991 yards, it ranks No. 10 in the state among Best Courses You Can Play.

The Preserve: Built in 1988 by Cupp with Fuzzy Zoeller and Hubert Green as consultants, this 6,674-yard course features a six-hole loop named the Quick Six. Each of the six is less than 130 yards and can be played in about an hour.

Creek Club: This members-only track was designed by
Jim Engh and opened in 2007. With a mandate to build something “outside the box,” Engh built distinctive mounding and bunkers as well as three greens on the 18th hole of the 7,079-yard course.

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