Everything is bigger at Reynolds

Features - Spotlight

Turf and golf without end. One of the world’s biggest agronomic operations resides within the Georgia pines.

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November 5, 2018
Judd Spicer
photo courtesy of reynolds Lake Oconee

While the word “nestled” may not necessarily apply to a golf and lifestyle spread of over 10,000 acres, the sprawling adult playground and family retreat of Reynolds Lake Oconee in Greensboro, Georgia, does indeed present a wooded intimacy playing through the provincial pines.

Situated 70 miles west of Augusta and about 90 miles east of Atlanta, Reynolds’ rural lake country terrain hasn’t simply rested on better than a century’s worth of respites; rather, the golf, real estate and membership-driven resort continues to augment an active population which basically constitutes a city within itself.

With an array of water activities across nearly 400 miles of Lake Oconee shoreline, a bustling social scene, tennis, fitness and a new, state-of-the art Sporting Grounds complete with 20-station clay shooting course – one may think that the Gentleman’s Game could get lost in the calendar. But with six-and-a-half courses, 117 total holes, 1,000 acres of golf green space and an all-star cast of course designers, including Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio and Rees Jones, golf remains at Reynolds’ forefront for care, cost, staffing and maintenance. Of the approximately 625 employees at Reynolds, 150 staff members work in horticulture and golf course maintenance. Another 100 are in golf operations.
photos courtesy of Reynolds Lake Oconee

“It’s a big undertaking, and a process,” says general manager Lon Grundy, whose purview ranges from golf, agronomy, food and beverage, marinas, fitness and housekeeping. “But the department that has the richest tenue comes from our golf and golf course maintenance team, which is great, because that’s lighter lifting for me.”

Provided the vastness of the blueprint – with each course sporting its own respective clubhouse, golf and grounds staff – Grundy and his team work with a philosophy of both mobility and malleability when it comes to working Reynolds’ golf operations. “We’ve tried to develop a model where we don’t sit in an office and just have those people come to us, because we need an opportunity to see those different grounds,” Grundy says.

Sitting amid piles of spreadsheets does little to engage current golf memberships (at 3,600; some with two to a member) or enthuse prospective members.

“When you’re doing 140,000 rounds a year – and scaling up – the hardest challenge is balancing tradition with being progressive to be able to attract the newest golfer, with those still attracted to the game’s traditions,” director of golf Wes Forester says.

From the top down, visibility proves crucial to Reynolds’ success.

“Most of my time in the golf area is related to the members, going to member events, making sure I can have a relationship with 5,000 people,” Grundy says. “Knowing we’ve got a lot of runway in front of us as far as selling more real estate, the call to action is that somebody needs to walk in here and identify with our lifestyle. And that happens by connecting with our people.”

To ensure course quality and customer care, the Reynolds team has found success in a pyramidal style of responsibilities. While some courses have shared maintenance facilities, each of the six has its own clubhouse, own head golf professional and own head superintendent.

photos courtesy of Reynolds Lake Oconee

“It’s a big footprint,” says Lane Singleton, vice president of agronomy at Reynolds. “There aren’t too many properties like this in the country, in the world.”

Balancing the welcome pressures and privilege of maintaining a world-class golf facility, Singleton tilts his head at the former. “I’d kinda’ lean toward pressure, but we create that internally,” he says. “We’ve worked extremely hard to get to where we’re at, and it’s always about sustaining that high level and those high expectations on a daily basis. And it’s not just about staying on that level through the seasons and weather and long periods of time – it’s also about raising that bar. We created the bar, so how do you work to raise it? Because member expectations don’t go down.”

And though the Reynolds’ vibe has long embraced the laid-back lake country lifestyle, such ease finds no purchase in ensuring continual quality oversight of the grounds.

“I’ll see each course at least every couple of days. The majority of time is spent in my ‘truck office’ getting to a lot of face time with my guys,” says Singleton, noting that courses can be 20 minutes apart by car. “But it’s a great structure. With this many courses, this many golf holes, you need a guy on the ground at each course to see 100 percent of everything and not split time. In the past, we’ve tried (splitting superintendents at properties) for financials, but for expectations, for this quality of company, it’s best to have a person on the grounds for each course.”

And Singleton’s truck tires aren’t the only things rotating across Reynolds. While course conditions – green speeds and rough heights – remain consistent across daily play, Reynolds supports several different types of turfgrasses between the six golf properties.

“People appreciate the diversity in grasses,” Grundy says. “We have some bentgrass greens and some with bermuda greens. We overseed some courses in winter, and some we don’t. So, the courses don’t all have the same agronomy practices.”

Bermudagrass is predominant, but Reynolds also sports zoysiagrass fairways on one course, zoysiagrass tees across property (mixed in with Bermudagrass tees) and bentrgrass greens on two courses.

“Our geographic location allows to us grow turfgrasses for both cool and warm seasons,” Singleton says. “We have such distinct seasonal changes, so two of our courses have bentgrass greens and the other four have bermudagrass. Over the past five years, we’ve switched the ratio, whereas we used to have four bentgrass courses and two bermuda. That leant itself to a number of operational efficiencies based on aerification schedules and times of year, as far as which courses are really good and which courses are struggling to get there based on the seasons.”

photos courtesy of Reynolds Lake Oconee

Seasonal spikes in play have a relationship to seasonal grasses, as Reynolds is home to cool winters and humid summers.

“We’re a big spring and fall business, and bentgrass tends to be at its best in those seasons,” Singleton says. “Bermudagrass is fairly good 12 months a year. We have our struggles a bit in the spring, though it’s almost perfect in the fall. Wintertime can get pretty cold here, and we have to cover greens to protect Bermuda. But with the bentgrass, we don’t need to do that in winter. So, there’s your operational flexibility. And it’s the opposite in the summer, where the bent can struggle a bit with the thick humidity and we’re trying to keep it at elevated heights at cut and just trying to keep it alive. It’s more of a defensive mode of operation.”

Overseeding to ryegrasses in winter proves a rotational strategy. “It’s a challenge for us because we’re so busy in the fall, and we have to overseed in the fall,” Singleton says. “So, you essentially take a couple of courses off-line in one of our peak seasons. But I think it’s important from a rotation basis, agronomically, because overseeding year-after-year is just too detrimental to the turf.”

As for manning the massive spread, the team admits to empathy with industry challenges to both continually find and retain staffers. Given its bucolic bounty, the leadership at Reynolds relies on creativity and local loyalty to recruit and retain team members.

“The team here is phenomenal, but labor in golf is a huge problem right now,” Singleton says. “And throw in our rural location, it can magnify itself. It’s constantly challenging, and not just here, but in our industry worldwide.”

The training regimen for golf staff simply can’t be a guy standing before a whiteboard.

“There’s a lot of developing people so they can develop their people,” Forester adds. “And, hey, sometimes training can be dry, so it’s important to keep it fun and exciting with, say, videos or golf quizzes.”

Opportunities for advancement proves crucial for keeping employees on staff.

“The pool of resources can be a challenge, not being in a big city,” Grundy says. “But there are a lot of folks our here who are loyal to the region, and they develop a lot of careers out here at Reynolds – we’ve got every conceivable department one can think of for work experience. And I say this with a humble spirit, but when you’ve got a strong brand and a property this size, you do get a little better draw (of the work pool) than some of the other folks trying to hire in the community.”

Judd Spicer is a golf writer based in Palm Desert, Calif., and is a frequent GCI contributor.