We wrote a few days ago about Jack Nicklaus' new ice cream venture; the current global businessman and golf architect formerly known as the best professional golfer in the world is lending his name and visage to pint containers of ice cream. He proudly proclaimed during airing of the Honda Open this past weekend that each pint will cost only $1.98. Ben and Jerry be warned.
But in life, one hand giveth and the other taketh away; courtesy of Golf Dispute Resolution, a web site that shares interesting tidbits about legal cases related to golf, and Rob Harris, its publisher, we have learned that Nicklaus is being sued by a couple who claim that deceptive marketing caused them to waste $1.5 million on a membership in a golf course development whose course Nicklaus was to design. The development, located in the mountains of Utah, went bankrupt, Nicklaus never designed the layout and the couple was left a lot lighter in their bank account.
Jeffrey and Judee Donner claim that Nicklaus represented himself as also having purchased a charter membership in the Mt. Holly club. "I have been so impressed with the development and its management team that I became a founding charter member," Nicklaus was quoted in the marketing literature for the community, adding "I look forward to seeing you there." Unsurprisingly, Nicklaus did not actually pay for the membership at Mt. Holly and, really, what were the chances anyone might see him there in the future; at my Nicklaus-designed home course of Pawleys Plantation in South Carolina, the architect stayed in a sprawling house made available to him by the developer during construction of the course. When it opened, he played the 18 holes, uttered some flattering observations about the course, his scorecard for the round was encased in glass in the clubhouse, and he never returned again (well, maybe once) after the opening in 1989. Why should he? His name is on more than 300 courses worldwide.
But the Donners are out $1.5 million, not us, and they think Nicklaus is fit to be sued.
If Jack Nicklaus were an active member in every golf community that has gifted him membership, he'd never have time for a scoop of his favorite ice cream, let alone his many business ventures. We've read enough quotes in press releases and marketing brochures to know that pablum comments from golf designers are par for the course. ("A glorious piece of land I was given...Smart management team...A wonderful place to live.") Whoever wrote and edited the Nicklaus-attributed quote about "becoming" a member at Mt. Holly might have saved him a couple of million dollars. That comment doesn't indicate he had his own skin in the game, not even close. Once the court rules, the unhappy couple will almost surely be $1.5 million poorer...and wiser.
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It has been a slow few years in the golf design business, and former golf-playing architects have to do what they can to keep busy, especially after their competitive golf days are over. We recently learned that Jack Nicklaus, as competitive a golfer as ever there was, and equally successful as a golf course designer, has decided to go head to head with Dolly Madison, Ben & Jerry, and Haagen & Dazs. The now svelte Nicklaus, once lampooned by the sports press as "Fat Jack" in his early tour days, will be pitching a brand of high-calorie desserts with flavors like Coffee & Donuts, Strawberry
Lists of Top Places to Retire and similar rankings are published for the benefit of their publishers, not their readers. They help build traffic to web sites and sales of magazines. They are either utterly subjective, the fanciful notions of whoever is putting together the list (in the most egregious cases, advertisers tend to wind up suspiciously near the tops of many rankings); or they are a pure popularity poll, a battle worthy of Jerry Springer ("How many of you think St. Pete is the father, how many of you think Naples is the father?"). Folks who have plunked down a solid six-figures for a home are not going to fess up to the fact that their choice was anything but the best. On the contrary, if you eventually buy a home in their towns, that will help stabilize their own home values.
And so we come to the annual "Most Popular Places to Retire List for 2015" at TopRetirements.com, a web site I visit a few times a week for insights into what many people are saying about their searches and their choices for homes in retiree-friendly areas. I like Top Retirements Publisher John Brady's forthrightness about his list -– it is purely a popularity contest, he says. Take it, I say, with a lump of salt.
Still, the list itself, and others like it, are fodder for those of us who care about choices for retirement locations, and a good jumping off point for discussions comparing one town to another. (The Top Retirement poll does not include specific communities, but many of the comments are from residents who tout the communities where they have chosen to live.)
A few things stick out for this correspondent in the latest popularity contest. First is the diversity of the Top 10 choices, with seven of them located on a coast and two of them in reclaimed desert. And, yet, the overall #1 choice of those who visit the Top Retirement site is Asheville, NC, a mountain-oriented town often described as a "Little San Francisco," for better or worse (better, in my opinion, because it is the only such town east of the Mississippi). Asheville, for all its popularity, is a bit sparse when it comes to diversity of well-regarded golf communities, at least in the immediate Asheville area, where you will find Biltmore Forest and The Cliffs at Walnut Cove on the high end, and Reems Creek and High Vista at a level just below (the latter two golf courses are open to the public, the first two strictly private). But if you are willing to venture farther afield from Asheville, say 30+ minutes, Mountain Air to the north, at an elevation nearing one mile, and Champion Hills and Kenmure in the Hendersonville area on the south, are outstanding choices for those looking for mild summers and tolerable winters. (This winter has been a bit of an anomaly.) Side note to pilots: Mountain Air maintains a mountaintop airstrip that bisects the Scott Pool golf course.
If you were to draw a picture in your mind's eye of the ideal location for a golf community, you would likely conjure one that felt totally isolated from the rest of the world and yet, in reality, was an easy drive –- say 20 minutes -- to a functional, charming town with chain stores and boutiques, medical services and a choice group of restaurants. Oh, yes, and if you could get to an ocean beach within, say, 15 minutes, better yet.
You get all that at the 28-year-old Dataw Island Club and golf community, located within 20 minutes of the quintessential Low Country town of Beaufort, SC, and less than 15 minutes to the sparkling sands of Hunting Island State Park. Not that you might consider leaving too often the 870-acre Dataw and its 36 holes of excellent golf, dozens of social and physical activities and a recently refurbished clubhouse that seems to have as many dining and meeting rooms as a major conference center.
Alcoa Corporation developed Dataw Island in the mid 1980s; the aluminum manufacturer, like other large, land-owning corporations, believed a leisure residential development business could add to shareowner value. And, like International Paper, Weyerhauser and others, Alcoa eventually exited the business, although the company did not turn over Dataw to its residents until 2007, a handoff that community officials and residents agree went without a hitch. What the corporation left behind were two fine golf courses, one by Arthur Hills and the other by Tom Fazio, a beautifully and naturally landscaped community surrounded by wide expanses of marsh, and a master plan that put virtually every building lot within a good view of golf course, marsh, lagoon or, in many cases, a combination of all.
Alcoa did something else that is unprecedented in my visits to more than 100 golf communities over the last decade: The company insisted that every home built in Dataw be wired for an emergency connection to the community's security guard gate that is manned 24x7. Not that there is a crime problem or anything like that at Dataw; there decidedly is not, but Alcoa had the presence of mind to understand that the community would appeal to a somewhat older demographic with the potential for health emergencies, possible falls and other accidents, including fire. Having the equivalent of a panic button in each house means that Dataw's security personnel –- at least one car is typically patrolling -- can be on the scene within minutes.
No one searching for a home in Dataw will panic over its housing prices. They are among the most reasonable we have encountered in any multi-golf course community, especially when you consider the views involved. You will have to work hard at finding many million-dollar homes at Dataw, and those will be huge and have million-dollar views over a wide expanse of marshland. But at the other end of the spectrum, a two-bedroom, two-bath villa, of which there are just a relative few beside the 9th hole, are priced as low as $158,000; two units at even lower prices are currently under contract. (Couples visiting to inspect Dataw are housed in the villas, a smart move for the community's marketing efforts since views across the fairway also take in the wide marsh beyond.) Single-family homes start as low as $170,500 for a three-bedroom, two-bath residence of 1,865 square feet and a view of the golf course. The least expensive homes at Dataw tend to be those in need of some cosmetic updating; now that the community is nearing its third decade, there are a number of those available. But because of the way Dataw developed, with no deadline requirement to build a home on a purchased lot, owners of some resale lots purchased in the last few years have built new homes next door to others 20 years and older. The effect is not as discordant as it may seem, and it appears that the older homes have been updated to literally keep up with the Joneses next door.
Just before my wife Connie and I were about to get ready for a special Valentine's evening event at Pawleys Plantation in Pawleys Island, SC, she took a bag of garbage to the disposal area about 30 yards from our front door. As she deposited the bag in the receptacle, she heard a noise in the bushes just beyond and looked up to see a huge pelican staring back at her. She began the brisk walk back to our unit, turned around en route and found the pelican was waddling after her. She rushed into the house, closed the storm door behind her and watched in a combination of wonder and anxiety as the pelican began scratching at the door with his enormous bill. She snapped the accompanying photo. After the bird gave up trying to gain entry, he perched on the guardrail along our carport before going on his merry way.
The Valentine's Dinner turned out to be much less eventful but interesting nevertheless. About 80 couples from Pawleys and two other nearby golf communities were in attendance, and the crowd was almost exclusively baby boomers (and numerous couples on the other side of 70). Dinner service began shortly after seven, and by 7:30 the band -– whose members' ages reflected the audience's –- was in full swing. The playlist was virtually a what's what of 60s clichés, which is to say the most familiar and popular songs for my contemporaries and me. Here are a few samples: Dock of the Bay, Midnight Hour, Satisfaction (Can't Get No), Bad Moon Rising, Old Time Rock and Roll and others you might logically guess. I am not a dancer, although I indulged Connie on the slow ones, but I was impressed with the energy of my fellow club members who are well into their 60s and beyond. I was exhausted watching some of them but impressed that so many still remember how to "do the twist."
But beginning at 9, the crowd began to dwindle pretty quickly, and at 10, the band abruptly played one last tune "to take you home," and the night was over. As one of our tablemates observed, "this is pretty much past our bedtimes."
There are two ways to look at the sale of a golf community. One is to say, "Oops, they were in trouble, and the owner had to sell." The other way is to understand that, with an improving economy and a wealthy baby boomer cohort, well-organized and developed golf communities may just be a good buy. Follow the smart money and you will know the difference.
Smart-money investment companies have announced in the past week the purchase of two well known golf communities. In Florida, the venerable Pelican Point Golf & Country Club in Venice, about an hour south of Sarasota, was sold for nearly $17 million to a New York City based investment company. Pelican Point was developed 20 years ago and includes 27 holes of golf designed by Ted McAnlis. With 1,355 home sites and 800 single-family homes, Pelican Point is the quintessential mid-range Florida golf community with a mix of villas, condos and single-family residences. Villas are priced from the low $200s and single-family homes from the low $300s.
The new owner, Lex Pelican LP, is a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) that owns 13,000 hotel and resort rooms in the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean. The REIT is traded on the financial exchange.
At Nellysford, VA's Wintergreen Resort, residents, club members and potential residents have been waiting patiently for Jim Justice to snag a new owner for the residential resort, located about 45 minutes from Charlottesville. Justice bought the combination ski and golf community three years ago after breathing new life into the Greenbrier Resort in his native West Virginia. But after investing an estimated $12 million is infrastructure upgrades at Wintergreen, he either tired of his investment or thought better of what might be needed in the future and announced the community, its two golf courses and ski operations were up for sale. That, of course, made everyone with an interest in Wintergreen nervous.
After his initial investments, "Justice was not putting anything into improving the facilities going forward," says Steve Marianella, a Wintergreen real estate specialist. "Also, the uncertainty associated with a potential sale had affected real estate negatively."
The new buyers are the New York Stock Exchange traded EPR Properties, another REIT. A purchase price was not disclosed but the firm maintains a $3.9 billion portfolio that includes entertainment, education and recreation investments. Another company, Pacific Group Resorts, will lease Wintergreen and its facilities from EPR and will manage the community, something it has done successfully at three ski resorts and four golf courses.
"We now know who will own and operate [Wintergreen], and both parties have impressive track records and capital," Marianella added. "Time will tell but we are excited about the future prospects."
The announcement by the Justice organization that Wintergreen was for sale was surprising on two levels: First, why, after only a little more than a year had the gazillionaire decided on an about face? And second, why announce an obviously anxiety-inducing potential sale so publicly and erode the perceived value of Wintergreen, which has a lot going for it, including one of the better ski areas south of New England, two outstanding golf courses, and extremely reasonable real estate, priced to attract a second-home crowd from the Washington, D.C., area as well as retirees looking for clean mountain air, excellent golf and the occasional jaunt on the Blue Ridge Parkway, adjacent to the community. The golf is excellent, 45 holes of it by Rees Jones and Ellis Maples; I wrote about the golf courses some years ago after my first visit.
Steve Marianella is offering a number of outstanding properties for sale currently, including a 2 BR, 2 BA condo and breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge Mountains from one of the highest points in the community. The unit, which is a short walk to the Devil's Knob golf course and clubhouse, comes fully furnished and with a fireplace in the living room and a the potential for excellent rental income. Its list price is just $214,900. Please contact me and I will put you in touch with Steve, who can provide information on this home and dozens more for sale at Wintergreen, where everyone believes the future looks as bright as a sunrise over the Shenandoah Valley.
The major newspaper in Charleston, SC, The Post & Courier, is reporting that the upscale Briar's Creek, whose ownership and membership included such captains of industry as Jeffrey Immelt, chairman of General Electric Corporation, and professional football's Houston Texans owner Bob McNair, is filing for bankruptcy, citing $1.56 million in assets and $37 million in debts. Rees Jones designed the golf course that is surrounded by marshland on Johns Island, about midway between Charleston and Kiawah Island. So smitten were the original developers with the job Jones did that his large portrait hangs just inside the front door of the comfortably rustic clubhouse.
When I first visited Briar's Creek in 2009, I was treated royally, and I wrote the following: "Briar's Creek...does one thing much better than the rest -- it personalizes to the maximum the experience for all its visitors in a way that makes prospective buyers or even a golf community blogger feel as if they are Norm walking into the Cheers bar. Briar's Creek management makes sure that everybody knows your name." Yes, club membership was expensive, on the order of $100,000, but lived up to the cost.
Briar's Creek was the invention of local builder Steve Koenig, and its golf course opened in 2003 to a festival of awards, including "Best New Private Course" from Golf Digest and was among Golf Magazine's Top 100 in 2003. As late as 2007, the Golf Magazine "Living" issue named Briar's #11 of the "top 25 golf courses to live on." Koenig left Briar's Creek a few years ago to concentrate on his construction business and gave way to a national consortium of owners who will now seek to restructure the community.
The success of Briar's Creek hinged on the continuing interest of a wealthier class of potential residents and members, and once the economy went poof in 2008, so too did the community's market. Briar's Creek ran out of buyers and out of time. We will hope for a renaissance once things are restructured there.
You can read my original review of Briar's Creek here.
Our friends in Connecticut think my wife and I are lucky since we are spending January and some of February on the coast of South Carolina; today, our New England friends are preparing for another foot of snow after the first storm dumped 18 inches last weekend. We do feel lucky, as long as the high winds and freezing temperatures back home do not cause a power failure that leads to frozen and burst pipes. But our power company is pretty good about posting notices online regarding power outages and, worst comes to worse, we can call on friends to check on the house.
Second homes require such accommodations, no pun intended. And among those are how one dresses for golf. On the Carolina coast in the dead of winter, you can expect high daytime temperatures typically in the 50s. Last week, I played three rounds in what any New Englander, upper Midwesterner or Canadian would consider ideal, early-spring conditions –- sunny, temperatures between 55 and 60, no rain (except for our final two holes one of the days). I was perfectly comfortable in a long-sleeved mock turtleneck shirt and wind vest for all three days.
Sub-60 degree temperatures may be considered too cold by some golfers. After all, temperatures in parts of Florida were a good 20 degrees warmer at times this week. And that got me thinking that there is no perfect climate in the Southeast, certainly nothing like San Diego, say, where the four seasons almost seem to merge into one mild season.
My contention is that there are two annual seasons from about Wilmington, NC, to midway into Florida. But they are a different two seasons depending on the geography. From Wilmington to around Charleston, for example, I would describe the two seasons as cool to warm in winter and hot in summer. From Charleston south to about Jacksonville, FL, I'd characterize the seasons as warm and hot to very hot. And along the two coasts of Florida, I'd call the two seasons warm to very warm and very hot to stifling. In summer, a few Florida golf communities can seem like ghost towns because of the heat, and even the hardiest souls know to tee off by 8 a.m.
The nice thing for golfers interested in relocating south or purchasing a second home there is that all of these climates, with few exceptions, make it possible to play golf year round. From Wilmington down to around the Myrtle Beach area, you might lose 10 to 20 rounds of golf in winter due to cold temperatures or precipitation. From Myrtle Beach to around Hilton Head, count on maybe a week and a half's worth of temperatures cold enough to make you think twice about playing. In Florida, it will only be precipitation that derails your golf plans any time of the year.
Once you reconcile that there is no perfect climate on the east coast, golf in the 50s, especially if you spend a few minutes on the practice range before your round, can be more than tolerable.
I'm staying in the Myrtle Beach area for the next few weeks. Even if you aren't ready to commit to a golf home in the Carolinas, this is a good time to take advantage of low hotel and golf prices, easy-access to the 100 golf courses on the Grand Strand and to see if the mild winter temperatures are mild enough. During an idle drive beside the ocean in Myrtle Beach yesterday, my wife and I noted the many signs at oceanfront hotels for $49 rooms. Couple that with deeply discounted golf in the off-season and a few choice restaurants that remain open -– not to mention the outlet shopping malls, if you are into such things -– and you could create a pretty nice long weekend or week for yourself. And if during your visit you would like to look at golf communities and a few homes, let me know and I will help you build an effective itinerary of visits to golf communities. Contact me at Home On The Course.
I played golf yesterday at Pawleys Plantation Country Club with a man from Greenville, SC, who was making one of his frequent annual visits to the Myrtle Beach area. He told me he and friends in Greenville had purchased an inexpensive condo some years ago just up the road in Litchfield Beach, almost across the street from Willbrook Plantation Golf Club; together, they turned it into a kind of timeshare for themselves. His share was 13 weeks a year, which he used for solo golf trips as well as beach visits with his wife. I know the condo complex where he and his friends own, and I'd estimate they paid less than $100,000 for the unit six years ago, or about $25,000 each.
The Myrtle Beach golf condo market is still rife with bargains, although if the month of December is any indication, buyers are starting to notice. Of the 3,337 condos listed going into the month, 327, or nearly 10% were sold. (Single-family homes sold at an even more robust rate, 480 of 3,681.) Of the lowest priced condos, $100,000 to $150,000, 91 of 891 were sold, according to a report I received from Century 21's Harrelson Group in Myrtle Beach.
If you are interested in a second home golf condo in the Myrtle Beach area, please contact me for more information. In the meantime, here are a few current listings in some of the best known and golf communities in the area, all under $130,000.
Pawleys Plantation, Pawleys Island, SC....$129,900
2 BR, 2 ½ BA unit with views from screened porch of 9th fairway. Potential to rent to others and generate extra income or use to your heart's content. Jack Nicklaus golf course is one of the best in Myrtle Beach area (100 courses).
International Club, Murrells Inlet, SC...$112,000
2 BR, 2 ½ BA fully furnished townhouse just a couple of miles to beaches and much shorter distance to the community's pool. Private patio courtyard and golf course, designed by Willard Byrd, is reported to have some of best greens in the area.
Arrowhead Golf Club, Myrtle Beach, SC...$87,500
2 BR, 2 BA fully furnished end unit with nice views of the golf course, which was designed by Ray Floyd & Tom Jackson and spans 27 holes. Not far from the Myrtle Beach action but surrounded by mature trees.
Legends Resort, Myrtle Beach, SC...$88,500
2 BR, 2 BA townhouse with fairway views at one of the area's most favored golf complexes, including two courses designed by Tom Doak and one by P.B. Dye. Just off Highway 501 and almost across the road from huge outlet mall.
Barefoot Resort, North Myrtle Beach, SC...$108,900
2 BR, 2 BA fully furnished unit on the corner of the second floor in the Ironwood section, overlooking 13th fairway of Greg Norman golf course, one of four at Barefoot (Fazio, Dye and Love III are the others). Ironwood has its own pool, basketball and tennis courts. Short drive to the beach, shorter to shops and restaurants.
Tidewater Plantation, Little River, SC...$104,900
2 BR, 2 BA condo beside one of the highest rated and most popular golf courses in the Myrtle Beach area, designed by Ken Tomlinson. Close to North Carolina line and multiple seafood restaurants in Calabash.
The zip code 29585 comprises Pawleys Island and Litchfield Beach in South Carolina, two resort-oriented coastal towns rich in beaches and golf communities. The year-round population within the zip code is approximately 13,500, but that number can swell significantly during the peak beach and golf seasons that include spring and fall for golfers and summer for families looking for a week or more on some of the cleanest and most expansive beaches on the east coast.
Supermarket shopping during peak seasons at beach and golf resorts can be a chore, what with the crowded aisles and long checkout lines as well as prices considerably higher than back home. Neither of those conditions should nag visitors or residents in the Pawleys Island area.
In March, the Publix chain of supermarkets will open a large facility on Highway 17, the main north/south thoroughfare through town that stretches all the way south through Charleston and Savannah and north through Wilmington, NC, to Norfolk, VA. The Publix is rising literally across the highway from an established Food Lion supermarket and less than a mile north of a less-than-year-old Loewes supermarket. A half mile north of the Publix is a Fresh Market, a chain of more "boutique" type produce, meats and other products has done quite well since opening a couple of years ago. Less than four miles farther north, in Litchfield Beach, a BI-LO supermarket took over the space formerly occupied by the iconic southern chain with the funny name, Piggly Wiggly. (BI-LO's previous store was ¼ mile from the former Piggly Wiggly.)
For residents of Pawleys Island golf communities, as well as visiting golfers and families renting the many condos in the area, the glut of supermarkets is good news. The intense competition will keep prices down, and the sheer number of places to shop will ensure short or non-existent wait times to check out. Supermarkets also require a large number of employees, albeit mostly low-wage jobs, but the continuity of employment in off seasons or through tourism dry spells should be an economic boost to the area.
Pawleys Island and Myrtle Beach golf courses and beach resorts are preparing for a high level of traffic this spring and summer as prices at the gas pump continue to fall. At the gas station in front of the Pawleys Island Loewes supermarket, the advertised price for regular gas is $1.99 per gallon, the lowest I recall since my early visits to Myrtle Beach in the late 1960s. Myrtle Beach real estate officials, who experienced their best year of the decade in 2014, are also anticipating more sales traffic during the peak upcoming seasons. Condo prices still have not recovered substantially from the 2008 recession, and some prices remain low enough to make a vacation home within reach of many couples and families who might have thought such a purchase exceeded their grasp. For example, a 2 bedroom, 2 ½ bath unit in Pawleys Plantation, with a short walk to the first tee of the Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course, is currently listed at $124,900. (I played the golf course yesterday and it was in nice shape for the mid-winter; the greens were fast, the fairways only a little thin, and the dormant rough thick enough to prop up the ball a bit.) That unit can also be rented out to the almost constant flow of visiting golfers and families throughout the year.
I'll have more to say about the entire Myrtle Beach housing market in the coming days. In the meantime, if you would like more information about Pawleys Island, Myrtle Beach or any golf community rich area in the southeast, please contact me.