GREENSBORO, GEORGIA | When the LPGA needed more playing opportunities – its Asia-based tournaments were canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic – Reynolds Lake Oconee stepped up as emergency replacement for this week’s Drive On Championship. The tournament not only brings the spotlight to the renovations of the Jack Nicklaus-designed Great Waters course, but the full range of what Reynolds Lake Oconee has to offer.
María Fassi, a second-year LPGA pro, has found at least one reason to come back to Georgia in her first return trip since finishing runner-up in the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur in 2019. The TaylorMade-staff player now has a more convenient place to get the equipment support she needs.
Fassi visited the Kingdom-Reynolds Lake Oconee on Tuesday to add some loft to her driver, and immediately put it to work in the event. She left impressed with a facility much closer to her Florida home than TaylorMade’s West Coast Kingdom in Carlsbad, California.
“It was perfect being 20 minutes away to check the lofts and lie of my clubs and make sure everything was in check for this week,” Fassi said. “It was my first time to that Kingdom. I was impressed by how they run the Kingdom here. What’s pretty cool is that they build everything on site, so you can get it right away and make sure that you’re leaving with what you want and what you need.”
The Kingdom has been around at the back end of the practice range at Reynolds’ Oconee Course since first opening in 2007 as the East Coast version of TaylorMade’s original facility north of San Diego. However, the Georgia resort took over operations about a year after MetLife purchased the property then called Reynolds Plantation in 2012.
“When a golfer comes in here, no matter what their handicap is, they have the same access that a tour player has to getting their clubs built.” – Sean Cain
In 2020, the facility formerly known as the Reynolds Kingdom of Golf followed suit with the entire rebranding of the resort lake community and became the Kingdom-Reynolds Lake Oconee. The overall property renaming served twin purposes of losing the stigma that the word Plantation holds in the South while better defining the property as a lakefront destination.
But more than just a name change, the new Kingdom developed a new process that makes it unique in the realm of golf club retail. It has become a one-stop TaylorMade club-fitting and instruction facility with the capacity to build custom-fit clubs and send them immediately home with clients.
It’s the only operation of its kind available to the general public. “It’s accessible for anybody who would like to have that professional experience,” Fassi said.
“When a golfer comes in here, no matter what their handicap is, they have the same access that a tour player has to getting their clubs built,” said Sean Cain, the director of the Kingdom as well as director of instruction at Reynolds Lake Oconee. “Our ultimate goal is you come for a fitting and literally walk away with your clubs that day. Really the reason we wanted to change that to give that instant-gratification experience.”
To do that, the Kingdom-RLC now has two former tour-traveling equipment trailers, the most recent one retired and refitted after TaylorMade introduced its new double-decker tour trailer after the 2019 Masters. The second trailer can build custom irons, wedges and putters while the original trailer handles metal woods.
“There are 40 different weights in there for every head we have, so the capacity of our builds – there’s really nothing we can’t do,” said Cain. “That’s what sets us apart more than anything else. This is the tour on a permanent site. It’s like going to a tour event every single day here with what we have at our disposal.”
The tour-experience concept is obviously working. Once the Kingdom reopened this summer after the COVID-19 shutdown, it recorded its highest July as well as the third-largest sales month in its 13-year history. Those sales were exceeded again in August and likely would have been surpassed again in September had there not been some pandemic-related shortage of stock.
“I don’t think it will stay like that every month, but it’s probably a trend that’s not going to fall off very much,” said Cain. “We knew that being able to build (full sets) was going to facilitate a higher percentage of merchandise spent per client, and it has skyrocketed. That’s what we were looking for, so it worked.”
What further differentiates the Kingdom-Reynolds Lake Oconee is the ability to mesh its fitting with instruction from trained fitters who all have previous tour experience.
“If you’re truly being club-fit, the mechanics of the swing come into play,” Cain said. “So, there is a delicate balance of what you correct and what you fit to. We have a really thorough interview process with clients to determine if you want to stay where you’re at or do you want to evolve.
“We’re building a relationship with the person to get it right and not just sell them clubs.”
Considering 40 percent of the Kingdom’s business is either local-member related or from member referrals, it’s easy to establish those relationships. “If you live here, it’s a pretty bright shiny object to show off in your backyard,” Cain said.
Yet for business travelers as well as TaylorMade staff and clients across the country, access to Lake Oconee is relatively easy with Atlanta’s airport within 90 minutes and a fully renovated Ritz-Carlton just a par-5 away.
The Kingdom is just part of what Reynolds Lake Oconee has been reworking to expand the appeal for its six golf courses. The Preserve (formerly Plantation course) was converted into a walking-only course and created a “Quick Six” loop within the course – using a variety of tee box options to existing greens for holes 1, 2, 3, 7, 8 and 9 with no hole playing longer than 135 yards – designed to take no more than an hour to play in available afternoon windows.
Of course, Great Waters, the property’s marquee course, got to show off its renovated lakefront layout. LPGA commissioner Mike Whan, who owns a home at Reynolds Lake Oconee, even served as on-course commentator during the event. Some of his players hope his connections can turn Reynolds Lake Oconee into more than just a one-off contingency destination.
“This might be one of my favorite courses we’ve played,” said Fassi, who rented a house on the eighth hole and took advantage of the location to do a little fishing in the evenings. “Hopefully we can come back here and make it happen again.”
Top photo: An aerial view of the Kingdom. Photo: Kelly Kline
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