As if hosting the U.S. Open and U.S. Women's Open this June in back-to-back weeks was not enough "news" for the famed Pinehurst Resort, the organization recently announced it was purchasing the nearby National Golf Club course, designed by Jack Nicklaus.  National's original developers, the Robbinette family, will retain the real estate.  The deal is expected to close between now and the U.S. Open.  Members of the National will now have access, as members, to Pinehurst's eight golf clubs.  Discussions are underway as to whether to rename National Pinehurst #9...
Wednesday, 16 April 2014 08:24

A week ahead with A. W. Tillinghast

     Small growing cities in the southeast can offer almost as much in the way of golf and lifestyle options as some of the more notable areas, such as Savannah, Charleston and Asheville. One of my personal favorites among these "mid-major" cities is Roanoke, VA, located in the Blue Ridge Mountains and featuring all the attributes of larger urban areas without many of the problems, except for crime rates, which are higher than the national average in a few of Roanoke's inner-city areas.
     I am heading to Smith Mountain Lake, in the southwest region of Virginia, to meet up with a friend for a few days of golf. My friend's home at the lake is about 45 minutes from Roanoke, although Smith Mountain Lake is so irregularly shaped that you can be an additional half hour away at the other end of the lake; the roads leading to and from the lake do not roll out in anything resembling a straight line.
Lester George's layout at Ballyhack, on the edge of Roanoke, is one of the
toughest in the east.

     To date, the only golf course I have played in the Roanoke area is Ballyhack, a Lester George monster of a layout that dips and dives around some of the most treacherous looking bunkers you will find anywhere other than Kinloch, near Richmond, another Lester George layout. I can't wait to play it again next week, although it is probably a bad choice for a first round of the spring. You have to be fully prepared for Ballyhack, and I plan to find at least a driving range on my trip South from Connecticut to warm up the right muscles.

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        Many mature golf communities aren't getting older; they're getting better. And, relatively speaking, cheaper, for a number of reasons. In the April edition of Home On The Course, our free monthly newsletter which we will email to subscribers in the coming hours, we explore the glories of the "Grey Ladies" golf communities in the southeast and what makes them worth scrutiny as places to live out your retirement years. We also list a nice sample of golf communities that opened prior to 1990, including the lowest prices for all types of properties currently for sale.

        And as a bonus for those nearing the time they will launch a search for a golf home, we list the five essential steps to finding that dream home. (Spoiler Alert: Our free customer questionnaire is part of the process.)
        Don't miss the new issue of Home On The Course. Click here and take 30 seconds to sign up.  If you need a little convincing, check out our archives of past newsletters.

        Some years ago, I was touring the excellent links course on Bald Head Island, SC, with a local real estate agent. As we passed a row of nice beach style homes along one of the fairways, the agent pointed to two houses side by side and told me that the husband in one had run off with the wife in the other. He said it wasn't the only time divorce had occurred in that little bit of paradise. 
        I've heard similar stories repeated elsewhere. At one upscale Bluffton, SC, golf community, a man from upstate NY visited his under-construction golf home. The next-door neighbors were away during his visit, and when they returned and heard he had been there, they asked the golf community office for his home phone number in order to welcome him to the community. His wife answered the phone and confessed no knowledge of the new golf home. They were divorced shortly thereafter and, presumably, the man moved into the house with the mistress for whom he had built it.
        Relocation is filled with enough angst that no couple should worry about whether there is much chance of marital disharmony in the new home. Men's Health magazine recently published an article that, for better or worse, for the rich and the poor, purports to identify marital safe havens across the country. The top 3 are not exactly retirement destinations – Madison, WI, (maybe it's the cheese), Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia (must be those glorious cheesesteaks). But firmly in place at #4 is the only city in the Southeast that made Men's Health's Top 20 for low divorce rates, Columbia, SC.


The 27 holes by P.B. Dye for Cobblestone Park show many of the distinctions of a
modern golf course.  D.R. Horton is now in charge of most of the community.


        We think we know why. First of all, it is the state capital and home to the large University of South Carolina, which offers top flight sporting events, academic courses for baby boomers, and instills in the surrounding area a diversity of thought and debate in short supply in the rests of the state (yup, blame it on those liberal professors). But Columbia also boasts a variety of golf communities to suit every taste and playing ability. Among the best is Woodcreek Farms, which hosts an annual professional golf tournament on the NGA Tour (some may remember it as the Hooters Tour) on its highly rated Tom Fazio golf course. Initiation fees and dues are reasonable for this quality of golf and its other country club amenities, the more so because membership buys you privileges at the nearby WildeWood Country Club, set in another nice golf community with equally stately and reasonably priced homes. Both Woodcreek and WildeWood homes currently for sale start in the $300s. 

         Savvy diners know that when you order off the a la carte menu in a restaurant, you spend more and the restaurant makes more, generally speaking.  The complete meal, or prix fixe, is a better deal –- if you like what’s on that menu.

         The standard in most high-end golf communities we visit is to offer resident and non-resident club memberships, each with the payment of an initiation fee. (Some offer just the resident memberships, whether you are a non-resident property owner waiting to build your home or not; and some make some form of membership, often just a social plan, mandatory.) Non-resident dues can run to a few hundred dollars per month; for a couple not ready to use the facilities for a few years, this can be off-putting enough to look elsewhere for a golf community home.


 Photo courtesy of Big Canoe

Most golf community clubs would do well to take a page from a restaurant menu and offer an a la carte option to those members who don’t play enough golf to justify paying dues for a full-golf plan.  The break even point on such full golf plans can be as much as three or four days of play per week, 52 weeks per year.  Even serious golfers don’t play those 150 to 200 rounds a year, and if they chance it, some could very well be headed for divorce court, which would only add to the expense.

         Active Rain is a web site frequented mostly by real estate agents but also by those interested in real estate issues.  Occasionally, the site will publish an article targeted to those looking to purchase a home.  One recent such article shared the results of a survey of real estate professionals about what “hidden gems” often go unadvertised and are not included in the listed prices of homes for sale.

         The most valuable hidden gem is “Hardwood floors under the carpet”; more than 82% of agents said this was a moderately to extremely valuable hidden feature.  It recalled for me the time in the early 1980s when my wife and I purchased a colonial home in Simsbury, CT, that was way underpriced.  When we visited

It was yellow from chain smoking where the walls and ceiling met. But under the cat stained shag carpeting was a "hidden gem."

it with our real estate agent, we quickly learned why:  All the areas where the walls met the ceilings were a pale yellow, the result of chain-smoking by the sellers.  And the heavy shag carpet with signs of pet stains had me looking toward the front door.  But Mrs. G wisely asked our Realtor about what was under the carpet, and he went to a corner of the living room, pulled up an edge and there was perfect hardwood flooring.  We bought the house for $129,000 and sold it two years later for $199,000 after about $10,000 worth of cosmetic investments that did not include any work on the perfect floors.  In short, count me as one real estate who believes wood floors hidden under carpet are indeed a gem.  

         You typically pay a premium for a lot and home directly on a golf course.  Sometimes you pay in blood, as one resident of Austin, TX’s Grey Rock golf community found out recently.

         We first learned about the incident from one of our favorite web sites,, where Attorney Rob Harris airs some interesting news stories about golf, all with a legal bent to them.  You can read all about this latest case of an errant tee shot by clicking here, but the part of it we like best -– although it is not funny -- is that after the errant golf ball hit Maureen Percenti in the head, her son directed golfer Craig Rooker to his ball “which was covered in blood.”  Rooker, the complaint indicates, “wiped plaintiff’s blood off of his ball and continued playing his golf game.”  Now that’s funny –- to a dedicated golfer.

         Attorney Harris does not believe Percenti’s suit against Rooker will hold up, but her complaint against the golf course might.  It seems that the tee box from which Rooker struck his drive had been relocated because of some adjacent construction activities.  Still, when will golf community home owners learn that a lot at mid fairway is an invitation to broken windows or a conk on the head?


At Pebble Creek Golf Club in Greenville, SC, one of the most intimidating "hazards" is a sign beside the 9th tee box.

, a web site sponsored by the Public Broadcasting System (PBS), provides lots of helpful information for retirees and those contemplating their post-career lives.  Helpful or not, the site publishers couldn’t resist falling into the common Trap of the Lists.  (You know, Best Of This or That Lists.) 

         NextAvenue has just published a list of the Fastest Growing Places to Retire, first developed at, a site dedicated to financial advice.  Crunching selected data from the U.S. Census Bureau, NerdWallet compared the population growth of 65+ residents in cities across America to determine which had the fastest growing older population.

Many golf architecture afficionados believe Lester George's design at Kinloch, 
outside Richmond, is the best in the state of Virginia.

         The list includes a number of surprises, in addition to the surprise at why NextAvenue thought old person population growth would be an attraction to old persons.  In almost a decade of assisting people to find a golf home in the South, most of them retirees, I have never been asked by anyone to identify a city with a vast number of folks 65 and older.  A few customers have requested age-restricted communities (55 and older) in order to live among people their own age, but they don’t care if the surrounding county is old.  And the vast majority of retirees want to be among a diverse demographic composed of families, near retirees and others.  No God’s Waiting Room for them.

         Those considering a golf home often eliminate Naples, FL, from contention even before they check out the market because of the notion that homes there are stratospherically priced.  They aren’t, although as in most markets, there are a number of million dollar properties for those who can afford them.  The reality is that two-thirds of Naples homes for sale are priced lower than $300,000, and yet they haven’t been selling as well in the last year as the higher priced models.  This could spell opportunity, especially for those folks looking for a reasonably priced golf vacation home in one of the South’s most popular warm winter environments.

         The Naples Area Board of Realtors recently reported that sales increased five percent in the surrounding Collier County market over the prior 12-month period but decreased five percent in the $300K and under segment.  For homes priced at $300K and over, sales increased a robust 20 percent.  Interestingly, inventory in the $300K and under group dropped 20 percent, possibly the result of increasing prices that are pushing home prices in the lower segment above the $300K mark.  Then too, according to local officials, Naples’ prior short sale and foreclosure properties, the result of a previously overheated market being savaged by the recession -– prices dropped 50% in some Naples golf communities -- are pretty much evaporating.  Naples is returning to normalcy, but prices still are well behind pre-2008 levels.

The 20 percent drop in properties for sale in the $300,000 and under segment cannot all be explained by reclassification of those homes (i.e. moving into the $300K+ territory).  Real estate pricing operates on the simple principle of supply and demand, and if supply is down, and Naples continues to attract homebuyers above the $300,000 mark, there is a good chance prices will begin to rise in the lower-priced segment.  In other words, this could be a good time to put away notions that Naples is too expensive and consider a vacation or permanent golf home there.  For a wide range of current properties for sale in the Naples here, check out

Heritage Bay, just outside Naples, is a "bundled" community, meaning golf membership is included with the purchase of a property.  Homes are priced from the mid $100s, making Heritage Bay a good choice for those in search of a golf vacation home.



         Everybody loves a bargain, and when it is a bargain on a six-figure item like a home, the sense of achievement in landing that bargain is sooooo much more satisfying.

         But how does one sniff out value when searching for a golf community home, especially when there are so many golf communities to choose among and you may have so little time for research and visits. The March edition of our free newsletter, Home On The Course, offers a few hints. One of those is somewhat obvious, and that is to compare the cost per square foot of the homes you are considering once you have narrowed your choice of golf communities down to a precious few. We go a step farther in the March issue and offer some examples of extreme bargains at prices under $120 per square foot –- land included.

         Talk about value plays, a subscription to Home On The Course is $0 per square inch. To sign up today and be included on the mailing list for the March issue, just click here and fill out the simple form. And if you want a customized list of golf communities that match your requirements, including your price range, please fill out our online Golf Homes Questionnaire by clicking here. There is no cost or obligation and we never share your personal information without your permission.



The 3,700 square foot home at Lake Greenwood's Grand Harbor (top)
looks out to the 11th fairway of the Davis Love III golf course.  The view
of other areas of the golf course (bottom) are downright "Revolutionary." 
The price on the home has just been dropped by more than $32,000 to
$357,700, making its cost per square foot, land included, under $100.
For homes currently for sale at Grand Harbor, click here.



         Unless you crave the honky tonk and neon lights of an active beach resort, the place to be on South Carolina’s Grand Strand is in the area south of Myrtle Beach, between Surfside Beach and Georgetown, which comprises the towns of Murrells Inlet, Litchfield and Pawleys Island. Most of the best of the 100 golf courses on the Strand are down there, minutes from each other, including the famed Caledonia Golf & Fish Club, as well as True Blue and Pawleys Plantation. So too are some of the most highly rated of the gated golf communities near the coast, including The Reserve at Litchfield, DeBordieu Colony, Pawleys Plantation and Wachesaw Plantation.

HeritageClubhouseThe clubhouse at Heritage Plantation

         One gated community, though, doesn’t get much love -– until you actually play its golf course and take a closer look at its real estate. Heritage Plantation, about two miles south of Caledonia and west of Pawleys Plantation, was developed in 1986. It is time it got noticed.

         I play the Heritage golf course every year or two, and last Sunday, as in the past, I was impressed with the efficient way they process members and public players from bag drop to parking lot -– via golf cart shuttle since it is 300 yards down the road -– to first tee. Because of the brutal competition for green fees in Myrtle Beach, Legends Group, owners of Heritage, Oyster Bay and the three Legends golf courses, has seen fit to throw in breakfast, lunch and two beers with the price of a greens fee; the lunch included the run of the menu, not just a hot dog. For the $50 I spent, it was a great deal.

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Home of the Week

  • KeoweeKeyHOTWview

    Keowee Key

    Seneca, SC

  •    You won't find homes in a stable lake and golf community more sharply priced than those in South Carolina's Keowee Key, located just 20 minutes from Clemson, home to the university of the same name. This 5-bedroom, 3-bath home on ½ acre and with a long view of the George Cobb golf course (see above) is Exhibit A. Priced at just $274,000, its 2,800 square feet comprise a screened porch overlooking the golf course, a sun room that adjoins the living room, hardwood floors on the main level, and totally remodeled kitchen and master bath. Lake Keowee, one of the most pristine bodies of water east of the Mississippi, is host to such fine communities as The Cliffs and The Reserve, but comparably sized homes there are two and three times the cost of this one. (Note: Water view homes at Keowee Key start at just $260,000 for 3 BRs and 3 BAs. Contact us for more information and more examples of homes currently for sale in Keowee Key.)


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