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Way Beyond the Buddy Trip

Reynolds Plantation, on the leafy shore of Lake Oconee in central Georgia, has ninety-nine holes of golf designed by the likes of Tom Fazio, Rees Jones and Jack Nicklaus. Each course is beautifully groomed. Each has a fine practice facility. Each plays along the blue waters of the lake or on the hillsides sloping toward it. But the golf courses are not what make Reynolds Plantation one of the places blazing the trail into the future for American golf destinations.

On the second floor of the clubhouse at the resort's Oconee course, beyond a very imposing, vault-like steel door, Reynolds Plantation hosts one of the country's first two TaylorMade Performance Lab franchises. Inside, guests can have a club fitting similar to a Tour pro's. The client dons a hat, vest, knee pads, belt and gaiters, all black and all fitted with special reflective nodes. Fully suited up, he looks like a cross between a ninja warrior and a Christmas tree. He gets a special club, also studded with nodes. The lights go down. He hits a golf ball into a screen. Nine cameras and a launch monitor record some forty thousand data points for each swing. In seconds, a computer analyzes things like how the clubhead's center of gravity might respond to different shaft profiles, given the golfer's typical swing. Then it spits out a recommended set of specifications for new clubs, tailored to the client just as scientifically as Retief Goosen or Sergio Garcia's sticks are custom-fit for them.

To further see where golf destinations are headed, walk a few hundred yards along the lakeshore to the Ritz-Carlton Lodge. Next door is a low-slung building with cedar siding. Inside it's light, airy and soothing, with earth-tone tiles, blond wood and stacked stone accents, and the faint scent of eucalyptus. This is the Ritz-Carlton Spa, Reynolds Plantation. It's got an indoor lap pool, a gym, steam and sauna, and massage rooms. Golfers can get an herbal massage featuring arnica, which is said to soothe irritated joints. If they've forgotten to apply sunscreen before playing, they can even get a special facial treatment. And, of course, pedicures and manicures are available.

That's not because the typical male golf patron has developed a sudden yen to have his toenails buffed; it's because American golf destinations no longer think they can cater primarily to men. These days, women are highly prized customers. So are children. And newer resorts are being built around services that attract them. The spa is just one of the things that make Reynolds Plantation a fully modern golf mecca.

The Ritz-Carlton Lodge itself epitomizes the new model. Its design is rustic luxury, without the brass and glass that characterize a city hotel. With 251 rooms, it's small for a resort with access to five and a half golf courses and another (a private layout by architect Jim Engh) under construction. That's because the hotel is not the center of Reynolds Plantation's business model. The community was founded twenty years ago as a second-home development, and that is still its core business.

From the Lodge & Spa at Cordillera in Colorado to the Inn at Palmetto Bluff in South Carolina, small, intimate, luxurious hostelries in second-home golf resorts are increasingly the norm, and this figures to become even more so as the baby boom generation moves toward retirement. Second-home sales generate the bulk of the profits at these resorts. Their hotels, though they may be quite successful, exist in part to give prospective home buyers a taste of the community experience. They also provide the existing residents with a spa and a fine-dining option, without attracting so many guests that residents feel crowded on the golf courses.

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