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Sunday, 21 August 2016 13:55

A Call for Dynamic Priced Green Fees

        The friendly young man behind the pro shop counter said he was happy to extend the hotel guest rate of $89 to 10 of us at the River Marsh golf course at the Hyatt Regency in Cambridge, MD, last Thursday. Although a bit pricey, I had read some nice reviews of the course, which was designed by Keith Foster and runs along the Choptank River on what is known as the Eastern Shore of Maryland. I figured the fee was relative to the layout and condition of the course.
        I was wrong. The green fee, apparently, was what the traffic would bear. I have no complaints about the River Marsh layout, which featured typically wide resort-course fairways but enough bunkering and marshland to keep things interesting and challenging. (It was reminiscent of a Tom Fazio or Rees Jones layout.) And the greens, though slow, were large, interestingly contoured and with smooth bent grass; more about the greens below.
RiverMarsh18behindgreenThe River Marsh course at the Hyatt Resort in Cambridge, MD, is not without a nice view of the Choptank River or some challenging holes. But conditions on much of the course are not consistent with the $89 green fee.
        At 9 a.m., the employees in the area where the bags of clubs were supposed to be loaded onto carts seemed totally confused, as if a rush of people had showed up 30 minutes before the club was to open for play. Our group wound up loading its own clubs onto the carts 10 minutes before our tee time, even though three red-shirted resort employees were standing around, apparently discussing how to handle the four or five foursomes in the area. The practice range was closed because of heavy rain the night before; the small practice putting green was a bit ragged, especially around the edges, which we hoped would not be the case out on the course.
        Wrong again. You don’t expect the collars of greens at the peak of grass-growing season to be intermittently bare or marked by different grasses, but most of the edges of the greens on the course made replacing your ball a couple of feet away mandatory for a clean chip or putting path. All the greens looked as if they had been bombed with tiny cannon balls, such were the depth of the divots made by spinning approach shots onto the soft greens. Many of these pockmarks appeared to be at least a week old.
RiverMarshpar4fromteeKeith Foster designed the River Marsh course in what could be described as the manner of Tom Fazio, or Rees Jones.
        Greens with unrepaired ball marks are the burden of any resort course; infrequent players don’t understand or care about golf etiquette since it is not their golf course, and they do not feel the need to make the repairs for the golfers who follow. Shame on them, but that’s the way it is. Those confused and under-utilized employees at the bag drop could certainly be trained to fix ball marks toward the end of the day. But apparently, even in the height of the vacation season, the destination that calls itself a “Hyatt Golf Resort” doesn’t see the need to make the investment to justify its four-to-five-star rating on some web sites or its fairly lofty green fees.
        At one point I had to chuckle as I spied two supervisory looking people surveying the course in a cart, stopping along the way to point out one needed improvement or another. They easily could have been out there all day given the number of blemishes our group encountered.
        Golf courses suffering from problems with temporary turf conditions should consider a program of “dynamic pricing.” Professional baseball teams have taken to doing this, lowering their prices when the home team hosts a lousy competitor and raising them a little when a pennant contender is in town. In that regard, a condition-challenged course like River Marsh at the Hyatt should reduce its rates while the golf course is in iffy shape and raise them when it is restored. If that young man in the pro shop had said to me, “We are pleased to offer your group a special rate today,” I might be planning a return visit in the future. How special a rate? Something like $39 would have done the trick.
RiverMarshwithhotelGuests of the Hyatt Hotel received a discount on green fees. It should be greater.

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Saturday, 13 August 2016 11:32

Daniel Island brings the hammers down

        A friend and former customer invited me to play the Ralston Creek course at Daniel Island this past week. After two inches of rain the night before, the course was in outstanding condition, and except for a few flecks of mud on the ball on a few drives, we could have played the ball from its place of rest. The greens were smooth if a little thin on grass in a few places; like many golf courses up and down the east coast, greens are still recovering from the extraordinarily heavy rains of last October which made many greens virtually unplayable early this spring. The Rees Jones designed greens on the Ralston Creek course are enormous and undulating; the undulations provide a sense that putts break much more than they do, and most of my misses -- there were many -- were on the high side.

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        What was most impressive about this latest visit to Daniel Island -- I try to at least drive through the "new urbanism" community once or twice a year -- were the number of homes under construction. After more than two decades, Daniel Island is now at the age that it can be described as "mature," but there seem to be a number of large undeveloped patches still available; along the golf course, homes were going up in between other established homes, a sure sign of a healthy market. Indeed, homes that were priced at around $300,000 when my wife and I started our drive throughs 15 years ago are now approaching list prices of $1 million.
        We noted on this year's drive through that three-story buildings were going up along the drive just before the entrance to Daniel Island Park, the upscale neighborhood of estate homes and the location of the Daniel Island Club (Tom Fazio designed the other 18 holes in the 36 hole complex.) We saw a sign for apartment leasing, stopped by the office and received a guided walkthrough of a few apartments in the community called Wharf Seven, which is being developed separately from the Daniel Island developer. The apartments were modern, well appointed and priced from $1,475 for one bedroom units, $2,065 for two bedrooms and $2,400 hundred for three bedrooms. Our guide did not know the answer to my question about whether there is a special arrangement for membership in the Daniel Island Club whose regular initiation fee is around $80,000. Yes, it is expensive, but I have always found the service in and around the clubhouse to be impeccable. One thing I had not seen before at any other club was a barber shop inside the men's locker room.
        If you can afford it, Daniel Island membership offers excellent golf, lots of sshopping and other services right on the island, and the great city of Charleston just 20 minutes away.

        You never hear Litchfield Country Club, one of the oldest layouts of the 100+ in the Myrtle Beach area, mentioned in the same sentence as Caledonia, True Blue, Pawleys Plantation, Heritage or most of its other neighbor courses on the south end of the Grand Strand. Willard Byrd, Litchfield's designer, was regarded well enough to be hired dozens of times to create layouts that were not too challenging to interrupt the relaxation vibe for those many players on vacation in the area. But Litchfield can be deceptively challenging, especially if you play the course from tee boxes that leave you a middle iron, rather than a short one, into the modestly sized and fairly well protected greens.
        Two reasons compelled me to play Litchfield this past Thursday. First, it had just been named Golf Course of the Year by Myrtle Beach's golf club owners association, a nod, it seems, to the club's 50th anniversary year but still putting it in company with the above noted layouts, most of them past winners of the award. Second, Litchfield is one of the 22 local courses owned by Founders Group International, a China-based company that owns Pawleys Plantation Country Club, where I have been a member for 16 years. My membership provides me with discounted play at all other Founders clubs, including Grande Dunes, TPC Myrtle Beach, Willbrook Plantation and the River Club. My round at Litchfield was priced at just $33, cart included. I hadn't played the course in more than 20 years and thought I might engage in a little nostalgia with one of the original five in the Myrtle Beach area.
Litchfield8
It isn't until the finishing hole at Litchfield Country Club that water is in play in front of a green.

        Perhaps on a high from the recent award or well trained in the arts of customer service, the greetings at the bag drop and in the pro shop on a slow day -- I was the first tee time of the afternoon -- could not have been friendlier, the gentleman at the bag drop walking swiftly to meet me at the trunk of my car and grab my clubs ("What a beautiful day it is," he chortled) and the young man in the pro shop seeming genuinely happy to see me. I referenced the Travelers Championship that was playing on the television in the shop and told him I was from the Hartford area, and that I thought the tournament site, TPC River Highlands, was one of the most fun golf courses I have played. He shared that a former girlfriend's father was a member of TPC, but "I broke up with her before I could get on," he laughed.
        The starter, sitting in his cart beside the practice green, didn't seem happy to see anybody, probably because of hours of heat and humidity, but he did invite me to head to the first tee 15 minutes before my scheduled time. For five holes, I flew around the front nine but I caught the foursome of ladies in front of me on the sixth hole. After they departed, I played the back nine in 1 1/2 hours, even with frequent picture taking; I finished the entire round in under 3 1/2 hours, a blessing in the steamy heat.
Litchfield6 from tee
The majority of par 4s at Litchfield are doglegs, including the 363 yard par 4 6th hole.

         Turf conditions were excellent, nice to see since Litchfield's reputation in recent years has been mediocre at best. I am sure the quality of the grass had something to do with its recent course of the year award, although the greens were almost painfully slow. The predominant features of the layout at Litchfield, though, are the almost universal doglegs on par 4s. It seems that designer Byrd was faced with a number of small lakes and ponds and, probably, instructions from the developers of the surrounding community not to make the course too penal. Therefore, in almost all cases but two, water is more ornamental than integrated into play. One exception is the par 4 18th, a finishing hole of modest length -- 386 yards from the white tees I played (total 6,300 yards) -- with water directly in front of the green. (Helpfully, especially for first timers at Litchfield, the edges of all ponds feature a checkered flag as a warning.). The only other instance of a true water hazard was at the sixth hole, where a pushed approach shot to the 363-yard par 4 can bound off a slope and into a pond right of the green. (I complied by pushing my approach shot off the bank and into the water.)
        Those lakes also may have forced Mr. Byrd to route all the longer holes, and a few short ones, around them. Four of the first six holes are doglegs, some of them severe. I thought I hit a nice drive down the right side on #2, bounding over a mogul at the corner. But the ball became stuck in the Bermuda rough, and when I attempted to hit a low hybrid shot below the live oak tree in front of me, I lofted the shot and it never came down out of the sprawling tree. Even one of the par three holes seemed to bend a little, necessitating the slight shaping of the tee shot.
        One thing I found a bit off-putting about Litchfield was the scorecard's handicap assignments to the holes. This classic course follows the classic, but outmoded, habit of assigning the toughest hole designations not by degree of difficulty but by length. Thus, the three toughest holes are all par 5s, all 500 yards or shorter, not the toughest holes on the course and, with two decent shots, leaving relatively easy birdie possibilities. Those designations belie the overall course rating -- 70.6 -- and slope of 128, making the Litchfield layout seem a bit out of line with what those numbers suggest.
        But, then again, Litchfield Country Club will not put you in a bad mood, whether you are on vacation in the area or one of the many members who live in the surrounding community.  Mission accomplished, for designer and player.
        Note: Founders Group International's 22 courses are located in some of the best known golf communities on the Grand Strand of Myrtle Beach, from Long Bay and Aberdeen Golf Clubs close to the North Carolina border to Founders Club in Pawleys Island. If you would like information on real estate in any of these communities or an overview of real estate opportunities in the Myrtle Beach area, please contact me. There is never a fee or obligation for my advice.

        From my perch at Pawleys Plantation in Pawleys Island, SC, site of my family's vacation home, it appears the entire Myrtle Beach market has (finally) begun to rise again. Whipsawed by the 2008 recession that has lasted more than seven years, the real estate market along the almost 90-mile stretch known as the Grand Strand is showing strong signs of life.
        First, close to home, the dozen or so condos inside Pawleys Plantation that were priced from $129,000 to $200,000 just a year ago are gone; the lowest priced condos stretched along the 12th hole on the Jack Nicklaus golf course now start at $219,000. They are pretty standard 2 bedroom, 2 bath units just a one-minute walk to the marsh that looks out toward the homes a 1/2 mile away on the island itself, and about a five minute walk to the clubhouse and first tee of the golf course. These were priced below $200,000 when I visited earlier this year.
TPC MBTPC of Myrtle Beach, designed by Tom Fazio, is one of the 22 courses available at deep discount via the Prime Times Signature Card.
        An increase of activity in the condo market at Pawleys Plantation is reflected in the overall market numbers for Myrtle Beach as reported recently by the Coastal Carolina Association of Realtors. The organization's June report showed that sales of condos in Myrtle Beach were up more than 22% over the last year, and that the number of days those condos were on the market was down more than 15%. However, prices in the Myrtle Beach area actually decreased by a little under 2% in the 2015 to 2016 time period which implies strength inside Pawleys Plantation (happy news for condo owners there like me). The south end of the Grand Strand, from Murrells Inlet down to Georgetown, does not have the traffic problems of the Myrtle and North Myrtle Beach areas but does have plenty of access to shopping, excellent restaurants and that wonderful city of Charleston, just an hour away. That, and arguably the best golf courses of the 100 in the Myrtle

The south end of the Grand Strand of Myrtle Beach is home to arguably the best of the 100 golf courses along the 90-mile stretch.

Beach area, accounts for the Pawleys Island area's popularity. Condos are a perfect investment for family vacations and provide a relatively inexpensive way to both have a good time and learn whether you might, at a later date, want to put down more permanent roots in the area. Pawleys Plantation, for example, is one of those golf communities with a balance of multi-unit condominiums (townhouses, some like to call them) and single-family homes, 900 dwellings in all. Only two holes -- the 11th and 15th -- are lined with condos and they are well enough beyond the field of play that one would have to try to hit them off the tees. Single-family homes are priced from around $300,000 for patio homes, typically 3 bedroom dwellings sited on a quarter acre or less.
PawleysIslandBeachThe beach on Pawleys Island, just three minutes from Highway 17, is clean and wide, a perfect place to wait for a family member to come back from some of the area's great golf courses.
        One other important feature about Pawleys Island and Myrtle Beach in general: A club membership is not necessary for a rich and happy golf life. There is still so much competition among the area's golf courses that prices are reasonable and many affinity memberships are available to those who like to play many different golf courses. For example, sign up for Prime Times Signature Card for $225 and you gain access to 22 golf courses in the Myrtle Beach area, with green fees discounted as much as 70% from the standard rates. If you play, say, just once a week throughout the year, you more than make your money back. The roster of courses, by the way, are among the best on the Strand and include Pawleys Plantation, Founders Club, TPC of Myrtle Beach, River Club and Litchfield Country Club, which was named this week Golf Course of the Year in Myrtle Beach by the area's golf club owners association.
        For those who are content playing repeatedly two of the best public golf courses in the east, let alone the Myrtle Beach area, the group that owns Caledonia Golf & Fish Club and True Blue Golf Club offer an annual membership with no initiation fees and dues of $1,900 per year. For courses that, in the high season, charge as much as $180 per round, the math (and savings) is easy.
        I am in Pawleys Island for the next couple of weeks and would be happy to answer any questions or check out any properties for those interested in a great place for a vacation or permanent home.  (Contact me here.)  And if you are planning a visit, I'd be pleased to make golf course and restaurant recommendations. There are plenty to choose. 

        Over the last four days, I played four excellent golf community courses in the Myrtle Beach area, all in South Carolina, that were fun to play and in nice condition.  And, like most golf courses along the Grand Strand, they are accessible to the public.  Homes beside the fairways of the four layouts are a mix of single-family and condominiums and, in general, they were priced at the low end of the local scale.  If you are okay sharing your golf course with traveling visiting golfers and locals, you will pay appreciably less for a home than in the half dozen or so private golf communities of Myrtle Beach.
        The four, in order of play, were Pawleys Plantation in Pawleys Island; Tidewater in Little River, SC; TPC of Myrtle Beach in Murrells Inlet; and Willbrook Plantation in LItchfield Beach. Pawleys Plantation features a Jack Nicklaus golf course with a split personality between its two nines: The front nine layout threads its way between large bunkers and live oak forests, whereas the back nine runs mostly along the marsh that separates the community from the island and Atlantic Ocean beach, one of the nicest on the east coast. Condominiums are currently selling as low as $184,900 and single-family homes from $265,000.
Pawleys 10 approachThe back nine at Pawleys Plantation begins with a short par 4 that features a large bunker and a pond up tight against a well-bunkered green.

        Tidewater was designed by the relatively unknown Ken Tomlinson, but don't think that it is in any way inferior as a layout. It is perennially one of the best reviewed and most popular courses on the Grand Strand. Located just below the North Carolina state line a couple of miles inland, it features impressive reviews of marsh, inlet and the beaches beyond. Single-family homes at Tidewater start at $230,000.
Tidewater.jpegThe Tidewater Plantation golf course features some dramatically designed holes, including a part three with bulkhead and interrupting tree.
        TPC of Myrtle Beach is part of the network of TPC courses throughout the nation, and members of the local course have access to many of the other clubs. The gentleman I was paired with at the TPC course was over the moon at what he said was the best bargain in golf in Myrtle Beach, just $1,500 per year in dues. The course is one of the more challenging by Tom Fazio but characterized, for the most part, by the designer's large, cloverleafed trademark bunkers. Although some areas of the fairways were a little thin, the greens were in nice shape, although not cut on a day where temperatures reached well into the 90s. TPC sits inside the community known as Prince Creek, which features a number of different neighborhoods. Condos are priced from $150,000 and single-family homes from $220,000.
TPCMyrtleBeach.jpegTPC Myrtle Beach was designed by Tom Fazio, noted for his imaginative bunkering in both fairways and around greens. He does not disappoint in Myrtle Beach.
        Willbrook Plantation is located along a two-mile road that is home to two other golf courses, including Tradition Club and the private Reserve at Litchfield. Surrounded by plenty of marsh, Willbrook can become a bit damp after typical Low Country downpours, but on the day I played it, it was dry as a bone, although the Bermuda rough was sticky and tough to emerge from. Willbrook is the only community in which no homes are for sale under the price of $449,000, but it is a nicely landscaped, mature and gated community with a fine golf course at its center.
imageSingle-family homes are at a premium in Willbrook Plantation in the golf-rich area of Litchfield Beach, SC.
        If you would like more information on any of these communities or on the many golf community options in the Myrtle Beach area, please contact us.

        Over the last four days, I played four excellent golf community courses in the Myrtle Beach area, all in South Carolina, that were fun to play and in nice condition. And, like most golf courses along the Grand Strand, they are accessible to the public. Homes beside the fairways of the four layouts are a mix of single-family and condominiums and, in general, they were priced at the low end of the local scale. If you are okay sharing your golf course with traveling visiting golfers and locals, you will pay appreciably less for a home than in the half dozen or so private golf communities of Myrtle Beach.
        The four, in order of play, were Pawleys Plantation in Pawleys Island; Tidewater in Little River, SC; TPC of Myrtle Beach in Murrells Inlet; and Willbrook Plantation in LItchfield Beach. Pawleys Plantation features a Jack Nicklaus golf course with a split personality between its two nines: The front nine layout threads its way between large bunkers and live oak forests, whereas the back nine runs mostly along the marsh that separates the community from the island and Atlantic Ocean beach, one of the nicest on the east coast. Condominiums are currently selling as low as $184,900 and single-family homes from $265,000.
        Tidewater was designed by the relatively unknown Ken Tomlinson, but don't think that it is in any way inferior as a layout. It is perennially one of the best reviewed and most popular courses on the Grand Strand. Located just below the North Carolina state line a couple of miles inland, it features impressive reviews of marsh, inlet and the beaches beyond. Single-family homes at Tidewater start at $230,000.
        TPC of Myrtle Beach is part of the network of TPC courses throughout the nation, and members of the local course have access to many of the other clubs. The gentleman I was paired with at the TPC course was over the moon at what he said was the best bargain in golf in Myrtle Beach, just $1,500 per year in dues. The course is one of the more challenging by Tom Fazio but characterized, for the most part, by the designer's large, cloverleafed trademark bunkers. Although some areas of the fairways were a little thin, the greens were in nice shape, although not cut on a day where temperatures reached well into the 90s. TPC sits inside the community known as Prince Creek, which features a number of different neighborhoods. Condos are priced from $150,000 and single-family homes from $220,000.
        Willbrook Plantation is located along a two-mile road that is home to two other golf courses, including Tradition Club and the private Reserve at Litchfield. Surrounded by plenty of marsh, Willbrook can become a bit damp after typical Low Country downpours, but on the day I played it, it was dry as a bone, although the Bermuda rough was sticky and tough to emerge from. Willbrook is the only community in which no homes are for sale under the price of $449,000, but it is a nicely landscaped, mature and gated community with a fine golf course at its center.
        If you would like more information on any of these communities or on the many golf community options in the Myrtle Beach area, please contact us.

        Zillow, the online real estate resource, has published a list of the best cities and towns to buy a vacation home with golf as a major activity. In order to qualify for the list, 15% of the area within five miles of a town must include golf oriented homes. (Zillow ranks the towns also by other activities, including large bodies of water, like oceans and lakes; amusement parks; historical sites; and national parks.)
        Zillow ranks vacation towns on a range of attributes, including price to rent ratio, median home value, median rent and a home value 12-month forecast, and rolls them all into one "Second Home Index" on a scale of 1 to 100. The coastal town of Calabash, NC, rates a perfect 100 on that scale.

Calabash, NC, tops the list
        I know Calabash for two things, its indigenous approach to frying sea creatures and the number of golf courses in the immediate area. The frying substitutes cornmeal for flour in coating the seafood. As for the golf, we count 135 holes of golf with a Calabash address, most of them located adjacent to real estate. All available for public play, they include 27 holes at Brunswick Plantation and 36 holes at The Pearl. The others include Meadowland and Farmstead, close to each other and part of the same group; Carolina Shores; and Crow Creek. The real estate in most of these communities is bargain-priced, with a mix of multi-unit buildings and single-family homes. Overall, Zillow indicates that the median home price in Calabash is just under $96,000.
        Brunswick Plantation, for example, is a sprawling 1,200 acres and includes 1,200 single-family homes and 800 multi-unit dwellings. Of the 60 homes currently listed for sale in Brunswick Plantation, condos begin under $60,000 and single-family homes from $181,000. Crow Creek condos begin at just $114,000; the least expensive single-family home currently for sale is 4 bedrooms, 3 baths priced at $340,000. A relative few number of lots are still available in these communities for those who would like to design their own homes.

Big Cats anchor Sunset Beach golf offerings
        Sunset Beach, NC, just north of Calabash, also rates highly on Zillow's index of vacation towns with a golf orientation, no doubt owing to the presence of a few golf communities with multiple courses. Ocean Ridge's collection of golf courses, known as the "Big Cats" because they are named Tiger's Eye, Leopard's Chase, Panther's Run and Lion's Paw, provide 72 holes of golf inside the gates of a popular golf community. Sea Trail, another local golf community, adds 54 holes, Sandpiper and Thistle Golf Club add another 27 each, and the unique Oyster Bay, which features oyster shell faces on some of its greens, kicks in another 18. If another complex, Angel Trace, had not closed for business recently, Sunset Beach would equal Calabash for golfing excess.
        Ocean Ridge features only single-family homes, with prices starting at $340,000. There are also more than 100 lots still available at prices starting around $16,000. Prices in Sandpiper and Sea Trail are generally lower, Thistle, which is a much smaller community than the others, generally higher.
        Other towns in Brunswick County, NC, show up on the Zillow list, as do plenty of towns in Florida. You will find the Zillow list of golf vacation home towns if you click here.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016 13:15

Bargain homes...in Connestee Falls

        From time to time, we will post current homes for sale that we deem bargains in golf communities we have visited. The following are courtesy of the Clay Team, Bob and Carol Clay, whom we work with in the mountains of western North Carolina. If you are interested in either of these properties or in learning about others in the 3,900-acre Connestee Falls and other fine golf communities in the Brevard, NC, area, please contact me for an introduction to Bob and Carol.

        The golf course at Connestee Falls, designed by George Cobb who designed the par 3 course at Augusta National, winds its way through tall pine forestation that is ubiquitous throughout the mountain regions of North Carolina. If you like doglegs and playing the slopes of fairways and greens, Connestee will be to your liking. Besides golf, the community features hiking trails, tennis and four lakes. The nearby Davidson River was recently celebrated in Garden & Gun magazine as one of the best waterways in the South, especially for its population of large rainbow trout. The charming town of Brevard is a mere six miles from Connestee’s front gate, and the prices for homes currently listed in the community (see below) will appeal to second-home buyers (especially those from Florida seeking to flee summer heat) and retirees from everywhere who appreciate the arts and crafts ethic of small-town mountain living.  For my review of Connestee Falls after I visited in 2008, please click here.
        Overall, homes in Connestee Falls range in price from the mid $100s to just under $1 million.  Two current properties for sale in Connestee Falls seem like especially good buys. One highlights outdoor living with wide, open decks for appreciation of forest and mountain views and a patio with a gas-fired pit. The 3,100 square feet inside contains three bedrooms, two and half baths and two fireplaces. The owners recently refurbished much of the home, with a coat of fresh paint, new carpet, new plumbing and other touches. The home is listed at just $259,000, which works out to an impressive $84 per square foot.
Connestee Home 1Plenty of nice views from this Connestee Falls home. Priced at $259,000.

        The other home the Clay Team is featuring is smaller but less expensive overall. It also features three bedrooms and two and a half baths but encompasses just under 2,000 square feet. It has been remodeled to include new hardwood floors, repainting and an updated kitchen. What has not changed are the year-round mountain views. The home is priced at just $250,000.
Connestee Home 2At 2,000 square feet, this home is more than manageable for a couple who would prefer spending time on the golf course or just sitting on the deck looking out at the mountains.

        Virtually everyone looking for a golf community home these days begins the search online. Golf community web sites are no different than any other consumer product and, therefore, expect from most of them a lot of hype and a less than thorough discussion of details, such as cost of golf membership and other fees. That said, you truly won’t get a feel for any golf community until you visit, and getting you on site should be the goal of every golf community web site. Some do that well, some not so well, and we present advice in the July issue of our free Home On The Course newsletter about how they can do better.
        If you are inclined to visit a golf community in the coming months, make sure to take advantage of the “discovery packages” that most offer. We provide a list of a few such packages in golf communities we can recommend, and we are pleased to assist in making arrangements for the many dozens of communities that attract potential customers for a few days of golf, on-site lodging, access to the clubhouse and other amenities and, of course, a guided tour of the community. (These are generally of 90-minutes to two hours duration and without any hard sell by your real estate agent guide.)
        If you are considering a search for a golf home or want more information on visiting golf communities, sign up today for our free monthly newsletter, Home On The Course.

        I brought the clubs with me on a visit to see our daughter in northern Vermont this past holiday weekend and was able to play 18 at the Champlain Country Club in Swanton, whose logo features a bright red-orange maple leaf (the course is just 15 minutes from the Canadian border). Champlain, designed by someone named Duer Irving Sewall in 1915, is a classic layout, and the club has the feel of a family run enterprise, which it is, and with a friendly and loyal group of members.
        On a crisp and breezy summer afternoon, which is to say about 70 degrees and alternately sunny and cloudy, I was stuck as a single behind a foursome and waited before every shot on the front nine; that was okay because I was taking pictures and trying to solve some chipping and putting issues. However, when the foursome stopped for lunch in the popular dining room at Champlain, I saw my chance to speed things up a bit and scooted to the 10th tee. I made it around the back nine in less than 90 minutes, without rushing, and the entire round clocked in at just 3 hours and 15 minutes.
Champlainapproach1The greens are small, and fast, at Champlain Country Club (#1 green pictured).        Although there were a few brown and bare spots near greens and in some of the fairways, the putting surfaces were nearly perfect and as fast as any publicly accessible greens I have played in recent memory. Clearly, the membership exerts influence on course conditions, and those non-members who pay the fairly modest green fees -- $40 on weekdays -- are beneficiaries. There are no initiation fees, and an annual membership for a single golfer is just $1,022; of course, the season that far north is short (April to October, in a good year), but if a retiree can get out on the course three times a week, the greens fee per round works out to about $13.
Champlain par3 with pondThe par 3s at Champlain offer the best opportunities to pick up strokes.        Vermont, especially in the Burlington area, is an underappreciated golf vacation destination. If you love consistently good food (heavy on the farm to table), a beautiful lake (Champlain), mountain views, and an almost endless variety of local craft beers, you won’t be disappointed. If you have a golf pro willing to intercede with a call to Vermont National Golf Club in Burlington or Country Club of Vermont a half-hour away in Waterbury, do it, although there are many interesting public course options in an hour radius of Waterbury, a small town with a selection of restaurants the equal of much larger cities, including Prohibition Pig, Arvads and Blue Stone Pizza. (I’ve eaten in all of them and can recommend.) Just across the interstate and located on a fast rushing stream, Hen of the Wood is arguably the best restaurant in the entire state. (The New York Times once said so.) Stay at nearby Stowe Village –- a couple of nice courses there too –- and if you must, take the tour of the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream factory. (Just make sure they are actually making ice cream as the tour is boring when the pints aren’t moving along the conveyor belts.) At least you get to sample the flavor of the day at the end of the tour.
        Most of all, if you like beer, all the local restaurants serve Vermont craft beers on tap and in bottles, more different brands and types than you could drink in a year; don’t be afraid to order the weird sounding ones like Folk Metal or Heady Topper. And when you fall in love with one, head for Waterbury’s Craft Beer Store where you just may become tipsy while contemplating the mind-numbing selection of beers on the shelves.

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