From Illinois to Here

They first came to Lake Oconee to see if The Ritz-Carlton was that Ritz-Carlton. What they saw changed their lives.

Uh-oh, someone left the back door wide open at Scott and Lisa Mathes’ house. “No, that’s fine,” says Scott. “The door is usually open when we’re home.” Scott and Lisa take the whole concept of indoor-outdoor living literally. Who wouldn’t, given these views, this privacy, and those big cozy patio chairs under the towering shade trees?

“When we think back to how we wound up here,” says Scott, “we’re absolutely amazed.”

Scott and Lisa had been planning to drive from their home in Peoria, Illinois, to North Carolina, where they’d moved their youngest child, Molly, into a dorm at Davidson College. A friend told Scott he needed to take Lisa to a nice hotel so she could cry on sheets with high thread counts. Scott did some research along the eastern seaboard only to find what appeared to be a Ritz-Carlton tucked into this place called Reynolds Lake Oconee, and the amazement commenced.

[Scott] I called the hotel and started out with an uncomfortable question: Is this a real Ritz-Carlton? The lady on the other end laughed and said, “Yes.” Until then, we didn’t know there was a Greensboro in Georgia and had never heard of Lake Oconee.

[Lisa] We didn’t expect what we saw. On the road to the hotel, we slowed down to look at The Kingdom, Lake Oconee, and the beautiful golf fairways. For the first time in our travels, I said to Scott, “I think I could live here.”

[Scott] I was thinking the exact same thing. We felt it could be home even though we hadn’t even seen a house yet.

[Scott] Our lives had been very structured. As a pilot in the military, I learned to use checklists and had to live by a tight schedule. There was also a lot of structure when I worked in leadership for Merrill Lynch, and that kind of detail spilled into our daily life. But something began to happen at Reynolds.

[Lisa] We’d always been told where we had to live. Scott’s flight experience with the Air Force required extensive travel—to all seven continents and all 50 states. He’d sometimes have to leave in the middle of the night and be gone for a week or two. His corporate career involved more flying and a lot of moves. So it was exciting when we started thinking, “Where would we want to live when no one is telling us where we have to go?”

We have a family motto from when our kids were young: ‘Life is a great adventure.’ Back then, we used it as a positive spin whenever we had to move. Now we actually look forward to a new adventure every day.

[Scott] I had a clear vision of our home. Right down to where the windows would go. It turns out, I had some important lessons to learn during the building process.

[Lisa] There were some tense moments. I could sense the builder, Gary Pierotti, saw a way to improve some of Scott’s ideas. So he made some suggestions, like the FROG [fitness room over the garage] and the door we use so often to come outside. He thoughtfully reworked ideas for the great room into a design we wouldn’t have thought of.

[Scott] It was challenging for me. This was the only opportunity we’d ever have to build what we wanted. It took a little time for me to become flexible and trust someone else’s vision. But when I did, that’s when it became fun. I don’t know if we’d even be sitting in the shade of these trees with this fabulous view of the golf course if not for a village of experts. We had an idea when we started, but it turned out…we had no idea what our lifestyle could be.

The view from our house entices us to play, but then the view of the house from the course is a reminder of how much we enjoy our home.

[Lisa] I learned a valuable tip, too: Make cookies for your subcontractors. Trust me, it makes a difference.

[Scott] Spontaneity has become a way of life. Yesterday I played golf with a friend and two people I’d never met. As we were finishing up, I called Lisa to say the four of us would be coming home for wine, beer, and cheese on the patio. While we were sitting on the patio, a few more people showed up with hors d’oeuvres. We love the unplanned moments.

[Lisa] This place changes people. Molly is 27 now (we also have a son, Michael, who’s 30). She had a college reunion with 14 girlfriends and we took them to The Sporting Grounds. Most of the girls went to hang out, not to shoot. But the guides showed them how to handle guns safely and they saw how much fun it is to shoot clay targets. Every girl participated. It gave them a whole new perspective.

[Scott] I’m looking at the tee sheet at The Creek Club. There’s an opening at 2:48. We might head over there in 30 minutes and play 18…or we might call it a day when we get to our patio here at the 9th hole. We can do whatever sounds good in the moment.

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