Myrtle Beach is currently getting a bit of a bump from the Golf Channel, whose weekly television series "Big Break" was filmed earlier this year at some of the area's top golf courses, including Pawleys Plantation in Pawleys Island. Pawleys Plantation is your editor's home-away-from-home course, and I watched the show last week with interest to see how the contestants would fare. The night's competition started from tee to green on the par 3 17th hole, which plays entirely over an expanse of marsh. The competitors had little trouble finding the green since their tee boxes were set at just 110 yards, compared with the 160 yards the men's tees typically demand. And it did not appear the players had to think twice about club selection, since the typical ocean winds were non-existent.
Later, the contestants moved to the 11th hole, a straightaway par 5 where they competed for the straightest drive. Oddly, a few of the shots did not go the required 230 yards for the men (maybe the wind kicked up); the women contestants had no trouble flying past their 200-yard minimum. Finally, the guy whose two drives were farthest from the center line was forced to choose a fellow competitor for a two-hole elimination playoff on holes 12 and 18, two decent par 4s but not exactly Pawleys' most dramatic holes. I was mystified the producers did not use the short par 3 13th and its tiny island green, what club members refer to as "the shortest par 5 in Myrtle Beach." Perhaps they didn't want to position their camera people on boats in the marsh to capture the best shots.
Both contestants made par at the 12th, but when one of them duck hooked his drive left into the marsh, took a drop and then almost yanked it into the lake at greenside, the match was virtually over. (He must have heard about the alligator that frequents the lake because needing to sink his fourth shot from about 25 yards, he did not take off his shoes and socks and play a proper stroke, instead opting to turn his back to the hole and hit the ball between his legs; it went about eight feet.)
Admittedly I am biased, but along with Caledonia Golf & Fish Club, Pawleys Plantation is one of the two or three best golf courses south of Myrtle Beach. Prices for single-family homes have been rising incrementally the last few months, but condos and townhomes inside the gated community are still near their lowest points in 10 years. One townhome in the Weehawka section that sits between the 10th and 11th holes –- an easy walk to the clubhouse and first tee -– is currently listed for just $106,000. A few others are listed in the $120s. For more information, contact me (click here). Better yet, fill out our Golf Home Questionnaire, tell us your requirements for a golf community home, and we will respond with some suggestions about which communities match up the best. No fees, no obligation. Click here for access to the online questionnaire.
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We suppose it is fitting that a mountain golf community with skiing at its top and golf at its base should suffer fortune's highs and lows. That is what pretty much what has happened in just a couple of years at the Wintergreen Resort in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of western Virginia.
After a couple of nearly snowless winters that dried up annual ski revenues for the owners of the community, Wintergreen Partners Inc, the financially strapped homeowners association put Wintergreen up for sale in 2012. No less a white knight than Jim Justice, savior of the famed Greenbrier Resort two hours through the mountains from Wintergreen stepped up and stepped in to save the day. Within a few months of his purchase of Wintergreen, which comprises 45 holes of golf and some of the best skiing east of the Mississippi and south of New England, Justice committed another $12 million and remade the entire snowmaking infrastructure of the ski operations. Club members did their part as well, most of them agreeing to pay a new initiation fee of $5,000 on top of the fee they had paid to join in the first place; new club members were assessed $10,000. The new infusion of cash, plus a couple of snow-filled winters, helped resort operations move from the red to black.
But for some reason that has not been communicated beyond the Justice inner circle, the white knight made the dark announcement earlier this year that he was putting Wintergreen up for sale after barely more than two years of ownership. That caught Wintergreen residents and those considering a home there by surprise, and communication from the West Virginia mega-millionaire has gone silent, creating a vacuum that has been filled with speculation and innuendo. The Justice organization accepted bids for the community and its infrastructure earlier this year, but only two emerged, one from a group led by a Wintergreen property owner. Reportedly, the bids were rejected without any attempt at negotiation by the Justice side. One local official told us that at least one of the bids was for slightly more than the $16 million Justice reportedly paid for the community's amenities and unsold properties. Since the West Virginian has well more than $16 million in the property already, and since the resort has been turning a profit since he bought it, he does not seem in a hurry to move it.
Nature abhors a vacuum, especially in the real estate market, and the lack of communication about Justice's plans or any tipoff to his strategy has caused angst among already anxious property owners and a precipitous drop in real estate values, good news only for those who might be in the market for a second or permanent home in a community with a unique duo of amenities. (Note: Your editor and his family have rented private homes at Wintergreen in the past, played the golf courses and used the other facilities and have always enjoyed our visits. Some of my observations are available by clicking here.) Although it is foolhardy to predict that a property owner can recoup all expenses from rental income, current listings at Wintergreen could bring that possibility close. More importantly, given that some properties are selling at 50% below their pre-recession prices, a buyer who holds on to a property at Wintergreen could very well see it appreciate in just a few years – especially when the ownership issue is resolved. After all, Wintergreen has location going for it; it is less than three hours from Washington, D.C., and less than two hours from Richmond, close enough to make it a potential four-season getaway for a large population of people.
Steve has been the consistent top producer out of the Wintergreen Resort real estate office over the last five years. A former Business Development Manager in the petroleum equipment industry, Steve and his wife Marjolaine bought a second home in Wintergreen in the late 1990s, when they were living in Richmond. A few years later they moved to the community full time and began to indulge in their passions for golf, skiing and hiking the slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains that surround Wintergreen. Today, they live in a home that faces the Devil’s Knob golf course. A member of the golf committee, Steve owns a club championship trophy from a few years ago. When he’s not selling real estate or playing golf, Steve volunteers with Special Olympics and coaches youth basketball in Nelson County. A native Connecticut “Nutmegger” and graduate of the state’s university, Steve is as passionate about customer service as he is about the Connecticut Huskies basketball teams. Which is saying a lot.
Are you following the controversy surrounding a dodgy bit of journalism by the respected golf journalist Dan Jenkins? The new Golf Digest includes an admittedly made-up interview Jenkins held with a faux Tiger Woods. Pitched as a parody, it comes off as so mean-spirited and vindictive that a conspiracy theorist might assume Tiger's handlers and Jenkins could be in cahoots to create a more sympathetic persona for the fallen star. But magazine editors are supposed to be the governors on journalistic excesses like this, and the fact Golf Digest's editorial gatekeepers thought this was worthy of publication shows that bad judgment can be epidemic. Indeed, the magazine displays its full complicity by attaching photos of a stand-in Tiger taking a selfie and stroking what looks like the damaged fender of a Cadillac SUV.
At a website called The Players Tribune, backed by recently retired Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees, Tiger fired back, not with one of those vicious drives whose effort could send any of us to the hospital but instead just sends Tiger to the sidelines, but rather with a few short irons. Claiming the invented Tiger Woods that Jenkins interviewed was
Tis the season for "Best of" lists, and even though we are weeks away from a new year, that doesn't prevent some media outlets from jumping the gun with their 2015 rankings. Most notable for those of us who follow golf communities is Golfweek magazine's "Best Residential Courses, 2015" list, which ranks the top 100 and then adds a supplemental list state by state.
Thirty-seven golf community courses from the Southeast made Golfweek's list of top 100 residential courses. (We include two courses in West Virginia and eastern Tennessee in that count.) Topping the list at #1 is Wade Hampton, the venerable and exclusive club and community in Cashiers, NC, named for the Confederate General who made the area his home. Its location tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountains and the 25-year old Tom Fazio gem of a layout have made Wade Hampton something of a Shangri-La among golf communities. Golfweek writer and golf architecture expert Bradley Klein wrote in 1995 that Wade Hampton "exudes the appeal of a modern classic." Twenty years later, it still does.
Fazio must be pretty good at shaping the land around and atop the Blue Ridge Mountains as his effort at Mountaintop, also in Cashiers, ranks 9th on the Golfweek list, up from 12th a year ago. We haven't seen any studies recently of how much real estate weight the top designers can throw around, but our bet is that Fazio and Nicklaus would vie for the top spot. Prices top the million-dollar mark for most homes in the Mountaintop community.
A half dozen terrific golf courses in seven days and more than 2,000 miles of driving has a way of sharpening the powers of observation. Because the courses we played were all challenging but different by design, concentration and focus were necessary. Capping those rounds with long drives of the vehicular type provided plenty of time to think about the golf courses, the surrounding real estate and other issues related to golf communities.
The result is our combined October/November issue of Home On The Course, which includes not only my random thoughts about golf courses and golf living but also some pretty nice photos of the courses we played: Bay Creek Resort in Cape Charles, VA; Caledonia Golf & Fish Club and Pawleys Plantation, both in Pawleys Island, SC; Florence Country Club in Florence, SC; and Ballyhack Golf Club in Roanoke, VA.
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It's a slow news day. I went hunting for some interesting news we can use, and the best I could come up with was an item about voting results from Tuesday's elections in a number of South Carolina towns. One of the issues on some local ballots was whether Sunday sales of adult beverages should be permitted. The town of Clemson, 21-year-old students at the local university will be glad to hear, voted 'Yes" on the issue; some residents of the golf communities Keowee Key and The Reserve at Lake Keowee, about 25 minutes from Clemson, may also cheer the news. In Greer, located between Greenville and Spartanburg and home to Thornblade, a fine family community with a Tom Fazio golf course at its heart, voters also accepted Sunday alcohol sales. Ditto for residents of Greenwood County, home to Grand Harbor and Stoney Point, and Oconee County, close to some of The Cliffs Communities in the Lake Keowee area.
Statewide, voters also approved the legalization of charity raffles. Before the vote, only the South Carolina state lottery was considered a legal raffle. Having been the recipient of a raffle prize or two at charity golf events (e.g. a sand wedge that helped my bunker play), I know that such charities support good causes.
Bravo, South Carolina.
My round at Pawleys Plantation on Halloween Day began at the bag drop, where the cart attendants were speaking with a female member of the club who was wearing a tall witch's hat. I might have taken that as something of a bad omen for my round of golf but I don't know the difference between the Bad Witch's hat and the Good Witch's hat, and I thought nothing of it.
But the bad omens piled up. The folks at Pawleys Plantation apparently take Halloween quite seriously. My playing partner and I passed a statue of a swinging golfer in someone's backyard that had been dressed up to scare the bejeesus out of anyone whose ball went left off the tee on the 16th hole. And another resident, perhaps sending a not-too-subtle message about retrieving errant golf balls from his backyard, scattered the presumed bones of someone who lingered there too long.
My guest and I lingered too long on the golf course, both of us taking more than 90 strokes to make it around. We agreed we made some swings that were truly frightening. I'll think twice about playing golf on Halloween next year.
Literally, the name of DeBordieu, a golf community about 50 minutes south of Myrtle Beach International Airport, translates as "near to God," the components being "dieu," meaning God, and "bord," meaning "edge." Coming up the 18th fairway on the community's Pete Dye golf course or standing at the sea's edge of DeBordieu's nominally private beach as the sun is setting, it is perfectly normal to feel an extra tug of spirituality.
In terms of golf communities, DeBordieu Colony, located just four miles from the old town of Georgetown, SC, has it all, unless you absolutely must have an elaborate fitness center inside the gates. (A large, fully equipped fitness center is less than 20 minutes away and includes indoor track and lap pool, steam rooms, and aerobics studio.) Of course, a morning run or brisk walk on the beach may be all the exercise many of us want. Some mornings, you may have the beach at DeBordieu virtually to yourself although, technically speaking, the three-mile stretch of sand is accessible to the public because all beaches in South Carolina are open to the public. But since DeBordieu is gated and guarded 24x7, the only way for a non-resident of the community to get to the beach is by boat, or to be dropped by helicopter (or the simplest way, to be invited by a DeBordieu homeowner). Since the stretch of sand from North Myrtle Beach to Georgetown, about 50 miles, is beautiful and almost entirely accessible by less exotic means –- car, bicycle, golf cart where permitted –- visits from non-residents to DeBordieu's beach are infrequent and "no big deal" even when they do arrive by boat, according to DeBordieu real estate sales executive Troi Kaz.
When I first bought a second home just north of DeBordieu nearly 15 years ago, some people I met in area golf communities referred DeBordieu residents as somewhat snobbish. My experience on the golf course at DeBordieu and in meeting a few of its residents has been the opposite; the folks I played golf with over the years, the pro shop employees, and the guys at the bag drop could not have been nicer or more outgoing.
"Debby Doo people meet on the golf course," says Ms. Kaz, "and it doesn't matter where they are from or what they did in their careers. No one cares about that." Everyone in the area, including DeBordieu residents, refer to the community as Debby Doo because it is easier to pronounce than the French name; and the stretch of land on which the golf community rests was formerly known as Debidue.
Indeed, some of those who might have looked at Debby Doo as "uppity" have since moved inside the gates themselves in the aftermath of the recession, when prices in the community dropped significantly. A few $800,000 houses quickly became $500,000 houses when the economy tanked, and some who had thought Debby Doo was beyond their reach quickly jumped on the bargains. Since the end of the recession, however, prices have begun a steady march back. Last week, I scanned DeBordieu's single-family homes for sale and only three were priced under $500,000; in total, 28 homes in the golf community were listed at less than $1 million. (Realtor Kaz took me past one that sold recently for $450,000, a cute Craftsman-style home about a four-minute cart ride from the ocean.)
In the 30+ years since I made my first visit to DeBordieu, things have matured nicely. During our first drive through the community in the '80s, when my wife and I both remarked at how "open" the homes were to the elements, it seemed as if the dense oak and scrub pine forests that characterize this part of the coast had been aggressively cleared to make way for home construction -– or, perhaps, had never been there in the first place. But since then, DeBordieu has grown, literally, and today very few homes are exposed except, as it should be, for those directly on DeBordieu's clean and attractive beach. Homes on the ocean sold for as much as $5 million pre-recession, but today the most expensive home on the beach, with 5 bedrooms and 5 1/2 baths, is listed at "just" $3.3 million. (Troi Kaz would be pleased to give any interested party a tour of this magnificent house.)
Of course, those with slightly more modest budgets can still live a beach experience if they purchase a home or villa an easy golf cart or bicycle ride from the ocean. Five villas, all with 3 bedrooms and all but one with 3 baths, are currently listed at under $500,000; the exception, a 2-bathroom unit, shares a 500 foot "private" beach with owners of surrounding units, as well as a private pool and tennis courts. For those who might be thinking about purchasing a home they can rent out much of the year, I noted that a 3 bedroom, 3 bath unit with ocean views and a golf membership was available for a week's rental at $2,400 next May. Count on up to 25% or so in management fees to handle the rentals (a reasonable rate, in our experience).
There is a lot to like about the Pete & P.B. Dye golf course at DeBordieu, unless you are a big fan of Dye trickery (e.g. fairway moguls and greens hidden behind mounds). DeBordieu is more straightforward than that, although many of the typical Dye touches, like railroad ties around some bunkers and wooden bulkheads separating lakes from greens are in strong evidence. But overall, DeBordieu is generous with the size of its fairways, and its greens are largely approachable, except for a few par 3s that are almost entirely water tee to green. Indeed, as one comes down the home stretch, the dominant feeling about the round is likely to be, "Well, this has been fun." That would be a big mistake before stepping to the 18th tee that juts out into a lake. The hole is a gargantuan par 5 made even longer by prevailing ocean winds that are almost always in the player's face. Water runs all along the right side, and its presence and the wind give pause as to how far down the fairway to aim. Try to cut off too much and you are in the water; play too conservatively to avoid the water, and the long par 5 can turn quickly into a par 6. At long last, when you approach the hole, a messy thatch of bunkers guard the front left of the green and the lake intrudes right up to greenside on the right. With justification, many Myrtle Beach veterans believe it is the toughest finishing hole of the 100 or so on the Grand Strand. I certainly do.
DeBordieu is a golf and beach community where you can kick back and not worry about much. Located behind a gate guarded around the clock and in one of the lowest density areas between Wilmington and Georgetown, the community presents a "quiet" lifestyle in all the best senses of the world. As I returned to my car after a taking a few photos on Debby Doo's long and immaculate beach, a small dog eyed me from the open window by the driver's seat of a car parked next to mine. He didn't make a sound as I approached. Nothing disturbs the peace at DeBordieu.
The Essentials at DeBordieu
In a recent issue of the AARP Bulletin, personal finance pundit Jane Bryant Quinn joins the debate about whether retirees should rent or buy a home (although she does not come down on one side of the argument or the other). It appears that those of us 65 and over still prefer to buy, but in ever increasing numbers, those up to a decade younger are deciding to rent. (Click here for the AARP article.)
The choice of whether to rent or buy is essentially one of whether you want your money tied up or not. If you have owned your primary home for 15 years or more, chances are the sale will generate a nice pot of cash (assuming no second mortgages need be paid off). That should provide enough to pay in full for a less expensive, smaller golf community home. (The kids are out of the nest, and you no longer need the extra space.) Alternately, you could stash the windfall in any variety of interest-bearing accounts and rent, mindful that the returns on your money may not be very high but that the interest rate is guaranteed, whereas your real estate investment is not.
Rents go up about 3% every year, according to Ms. Quinn, but so too do taxes and other expenses in an owned home. But for those who choose a stable market in which to buy a house, an increase in the home's value should more than cover the increase in expenses. An average increase of more than 3% in many retiree-friendly markets in the southeast is more than reasonable to expect in the coming years (barring any general economic catastrophe).
Renting should be the preferred path, at least initially, for those couples that cannot make up their minds where they want to live in retirement but sense one place may be better than others. In that case, rent until you are convinced you will be comfortable with your choice. Also, if you have to invest much of your net worth in a home, and that will put a damper on your lifestyle expenses, you may be a good candidate for renting.
But if you want control over your living environment, with the freedom to change your living conditions (new kitchen or bath, for example), and you have enough money in reserve to live the way you want to both inside and outside your new golf home, then seriously consider buying.
In the end, the financial argument for buying versus renting may come down to whether the bought home appreciates more than 3% annually. But the overarching argument is not strictly financial, but rather whether you want the freedom to make changes to your living space and the security that a landlord won't sell out from under you the home in which you have become comfortable. Freedom does have its price.
Below are a few current comparable houses for sale and rent in golf communities we can recommend. If you would like information specific to your requirements for a golf home, please fill out our Golf Home Survey and we will be pleased to offer you a few initial recommendations.
The Landings, Savannah, GA
For Rent: 3 bedroom, 2 bath, 2,400 sq. ft., $2,100 per month
For Sale: 3 bedroom, 2 bath, 2 ½ baths, 2,600 sq. ft., $299,999*
• $60,000 down, 30-yr. fixed loan, $1,095 per month
Governors Club, Chapel Hill, NC
For Rent: 4 bedroom, 3 ½ bath, 3,184 sq. ft., $3,200 per month
For Sale: 4 bedroom, 3 ½ bath, 3,280 sq. ft., $495,000
Landfall, Wilmington, NC
For Rent: 4 bedroom, 3 ½ bath, 3,175 sq. ft., $4,000 per month
For Sale: 4 bedroom, 3 ½ bath, 3,104 sq. ft., $739,900
Cliffs Valley, Travelers Rest, SC
For Rent: 5 bedroom, 4 ½ bath, sq. ft. unknown, $3,600 per month
For Sale: Home above, $750,000
Thumb through any magazine aimed at retirees, including golfers, and you are apt to see a dozen or more ads for golf communities. And for those who have ever asked for information about golf communities from one of the web sites that promotes them, your inbox probably fills up day after day with updates about real estate, the golf course and the latest community event. Some golf communities have the budgets to bombard their potential customers with messages, but most others –- many of them perfectly fine places to retire -- lie in the weeds (metaphorically speaking).
I stumbled across one of these recently in Huntersville, NC, in a location that should be attractive to retirees looking for proximity to a major city without feeling they live in a densely populated area. The community of Skybrook is not huge, at 1,100 acres and 1,300 homes when fully built out; it is just about a half hour from Charlotte, NC, one of the major cities of the exploding southeastern U.S., and about the same distance to Lake Norman, also located north of the city. I stopped at Skybrook on my way to Greenville, SC, because of the community's John LaFoy designed golf course, which I hoped would be as much fun to play as two of the architect's layouts I had played previously -- Glenmore, just west of Charlottesville, VA, and The Neuse, in Clayton, NC. I wasn't disappointed (more below).
The most impressive aspects of Skybrook are the price points on the mostly large and well-designed homes, many of those for sale listed at around $100 per square foot, land included, and some below that level. Every once in a while in a golf community you may run into the odd house –- and sometimes they are "odd" in terms of their details –- priced below $100 per square foot, but you don't typically have a decent selection of those inside the boundaries of a well-landscaped, well-organized golf community. At Skybrook, you do.
"Skybrook is only 14 years old," says local Realtor Kevin Martin, "and it grew fast."