We love Bowden's Market Barometer, and not only because the comprehensive golf industry follower gives us a shout out every once in a while, but also because we learn something every time the bi-monthly digital issue arrives in our inbox.
Bowden's editor Judith Shè actually threw two bouquets our way in her latest issue. She called your editor a "golf communities guru" -– I'm still blushing –- in announcing our new Golf Homes for Sale section and its links to the full listings of properties for sale in some of the Southeast's premier golf communities. And she also referred to a recent "Rant" I published in defense of golf and its future. (I'm still waiting for it to go viral, hint hint). That opinion piece was first published in our own monthly newsletter, Home On The Course, and later reprinted here.
Those with a casual interest in the golf industry, golf real estate, golf resorts and golf marketing should consider a subscription to Bowden's Market Barometer. Here are just a few of the topics covered by the issue that was published earlier this week:
• A comprehensive overview of the "Healthiest Housing Market in Years."
• A forecast for the second-home market with an in-depth look at sports tourism and its effect on the vacation real estate market and the "fractional," or shared-ownership, industry.
• A five-page detailed market overview of the Grand Strand of Myrtle Beach that is as comprehensive as you will find anywhere.
• Updates on new golf courses and resorts; multiple initiatives to "grow" the game of golf, especially in the junior age group; updates on golf communities (some things we learned about in reading the publication); and enough other good material to fill 27 informative pages.
Don't take my word for how insightful and provocative Bowden's Market Barometer is; just send me a note and ask for a copy of this latest issue. I'll email it to you right away (well, at least if it is not the middle of the night). I'll even sign you up for our own Home On The Course free monthly newsletter. (Please make note if you do not want to subscribe.)
Thanks.....Larry Gavrich, Founder & Editor, Home On the Course
Click here to sign up for our Free monthly newsletter, loaded with helpful information and observations about golf communities and their golf courses.
CarolinaLiving.com recently posted an article I wrote for its Compass eNewsletter about golf communities near universities. Large universities and even more modestly sized colleges are magnets for all kinds of cultural events, including concerts, museum shows, lectures by famous and should-be famous people and, of course, sporting contests. Those who like what cities offer in the way of entertainment but loathe the traffic, extreme pace and pollution will find most of the good stuff near a university in the Southeast.
In the CarolinaLiving.com article, I provided capsules of the best golf communities near universities in North and South Carolina. These include Governors Club near University of North Carolina (UNC), Chapel Hill; Landfall, just 10 minutes from UNC-Wilmington; Reems Creek, a few miles north of UNC-Asheville; Green Valley Country Club in Greenville, SC, near Furman University; Wildewood Country Club and the University of South Carolina (USC) in Columbia; Woodside Plantation in Aiken, near that city's branch of USC; and Wild Wing Plantation, virtually across Highway 501 from Coastal Carolina University in Conway, SC, a few miles from Myrtle Beach.
Of course, many more choices abound throughout the region. We have toured and played the golf courses at most of the following communities. For more information, please contact us.
• Glenmore in Keswick, VA, home to a number of University of Virginia (UVA) professors and athletics team coaches. The entire community, including the John LaFoy golf course, has a Scottish tinge to it.
• Wintergreen Resort, 45 minutes from Charlottesville and UVA but worth the trip given its lofty Blue Ridge Mountains location, 45 holes of excellent golf and reasonably priced real estate
• Kinloch, whose golf course is perennially ranked in the top 3 in the state of Virginia and only a few miles from University of Richmond. Lester George, who designed another top 5 course at Ballyhack in Roanoke, partnered with longtime amateur golfing luminary Vinny Giles to develop the Kinloch layout.
• Viniterra is an unusual combination of Rees Jones golf and a working winery within an easy drive of colonial Williamsburg and one of the nation's oldest schools, William & Mary. Located halfway between Richmond and Williamsburg, Viniterra has the best of both worlds, even if life inside the gates is calming.
• The 4,800-acre Landings at Skidaway Island, with six golf courses, tons of activities and just 20 minutes from Savannah and its highly regarded College of Art & Design, which has helped transform the city and is a magnet for art and culture.
• Athens is the quintessential college town, a vibrant center of creativity. (The rock band R.E.M. formed there while its members were attending University of Georgia.) The Georgia Club offers 27 holes of golf and reasonably priced real estate (homes from the low $300s).
• Champions Retreat, just outside Augusta, is unique; its 27-hole golf course was designed by Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Arnold Palmer (one nine each). The community of mostly upscale homes lies along the Savannah River, just a few miles from another golf course you may have heard of with "Augusta" in its name. Augusta State University merged a couple of years ago with Georgia Health Sciences University to form the nearby Georgia Regents University.
• The Tampa Bay area in Florida offers just about everything in the way of entertainment, services, transportation (great airport!) and dozens of golf communities. Just 45 minutes south of the University of South Florida in Tampa is River Strand at Heritage Harbour, a "bundled" golf community, which means that golf membership in its fine [who] golf club is included in the price of the house. Another five minutes down the interstate, Lakewood Ranch is a city unto itself, as well as a sprawling golf community.
• If you are a college basketball fan, you will remember the terrific March madness run a few years ago by unknown Florida Gulf Coast University in Ft. Myers. Between Ft. Myers and nearby Naples, those looking for a golf community have literally scores of them to consider. For those looking for a 55+ community, we have heard good things about Pelican Preserve in Ft. Myers. In Naples, we loved the golf course at Audubon Country Club, whose surrounding homes are as close to the Gulf of Mexico as golf communities get in Naples.
• In a few weeks, golf fans will turn their attention to the TPC Sawgrass "Stadium" course, just south of Jacksonville where the best PGA golfers will compete in the Players Championship, sometimes called the "fifth major." Divided into more than a dozen small communities, the Sawgrass community offers not only three golf courses but a wide array of real estate choices. Jacksonville University is a half hour away. (The ocean resort Amelia Island and its fine seaside layouts is just 45 minutes from the university.)
If you would like more education on any of these fine college town communities, please contact us.
The Founders Group International, whose roots and parent company are located in China, has become the largest owner of golf courses in the Myrtle Beach area after an announcement yesterday that the firm had purchased 12 golf clubs owned and operated by National Golf Management (NGM). (Full disclosure: Your editor has been a member for the past 15 years of one of those clubs, Pawleys Plantation.) The purchase brings to 27 the number of publicly accessible golf courses that Founders Group and other China-based companies own between Southport, NC, about 45 minutes south of Wilmington, and Georgetown, SC, 45 minutes south of Myrtle Beach International Airport.
Yesterday's purchase included some of the most popular and best reviewed golf courses along Myrtle Beach's Grand Strand, nicknamed for the virtually uninterrupted stretch of beach that runs from well above the border between North and South Carolina to a couple of miles south of the private DeBordieu Colony in Georgetown. They include Pawleys Plantation, the Grande Dunes Resort, Long Bay, Kings North and Pine Lakes International, the first golf course opened in the area (1927) and the birthplace of Sports Illustrated magazine. The other courses are River Club, Litchfield Country Club, Willbrook Plantation, the two golf courses at Myrtlewood, and the other two besides Kings North that are located inside the Myrtle Beach National complex.
Prices for these most recently purchased golf courses were not announced, but based on what Founders Group paid for the earlier clubs, we are guessing this latest group will have fetched as much as $100 million. Pawleys Plantation, the Grande Dunes Resort club and Kings North especially are among the highest-trafficked golf courses in the area and command more than average green fees. Pine Lakes International maintains the cachet of the oldest club in the area.
Founders Group and two other China-based firms now employ more than 1,000 Myrtle Beach area residents at their 27 golf courses. Under a longstanding U.S. Visa program, foreign nationals who make sizable investments in American companies employing 10 or more people can gain temporary residency for themselves and family members. Along with the clubs it and the other companies purchased last year, Founders Group also bought 100 homes in the Myrtle Beach area, as well as undeveloped land adjacent to the Grande Dunes Resort, a signal they intend to take advantage of the Visa program. But there may be other reasons for the big investment in Myrtle Beach golf:
• The Chinese government has cracked down on construction of golf courses in the country and recently closed 66 courses it said had been illegally built.
• Wealth in China is exploding, and there are limited opportunities to invest in businesses there. The rapidly emerging Chinese upper class has been spending its newly earned billions around the world.
• Chinese families with money want to see their children educated in premier institutions of higher learning, such as those in the U.S. (There is talk in the Myrtle Beach area that Founders Group may build a school locally.)
• China's current leadership may be a bit too authoritarian for those with the resources to now live anywhere in the world.
• A China-born real estate agent in Myrtle Beach has been instrumental in generating interest from the Chinese company.
What this all means, if anything, for current members of the now-Chinese-owned clubs and the residents who live adjacent to the clubs, remains to be seen. Founders Group has retained virtually all of the operations employees at the golf courses, and there are no signs at the clubs they purchased last year of anything but business as usual. If anything, the new ownership is providing some modest benefits already. In a letter sent yesterday to members of National Golf Management's Prime Time Honors Club program, which had been providing deep-discount access to the company's owned and managed clubs, NGM announced that although five of its golf courses will be removed from the program by the end of June, eight of the courses Founders Group purchased earlier, including the excellent TPC of Myrtle Beach and International World Tour, whose hole designs mimic some of the most iconic golf holes in the world, will be added.
Golf community real estate prices tend to follow the old saw about location, location, location. Those communities that set out to distinguish themselves in terms of amenities, such as The Cliffs Communities in the nether regions of South Carolina, might defy the conventional wisdom but, generally speaking, golf communities in remote locations do not command anything approaching top prices for homes and land.
One of our favorite "out there" golf communities is Savannah Lakes Village in rural McCormick, SC. The nearest town of consequential size is Greenwood, S.C., about a half hour away; Aiken and Augusta, GA, lie a solid hour to the south. It is about eight minutes from the front entrance of Savannah Lakes -– no guarded gate needed out in these parts –- to the only supermarket in the area, McCormick's Food Lion. But at 4,000 acres, 2,000 residents and with two clubhouses and dozens of activities, the community has plenty to offer without having to stray too far. And prices are about as remote from "expensive" as you can get.
That includes one of the most reasonable golf memberships anywhere. Every property owner in Savannah Lakes Village becomes a member of the club at no extra initiation fee and can pick and choose which of the communities many amenities they want to use. For example, golfers can either pay to play for modest green fee rates ($36 with cart) or $3,000 per couple for unlimited play throughout the year. If you own your own cart, the combined rate for 18 holes is just $32 if you choose to pay as you go. Homeowner association dues are just $101 per month; if you combine full-membership of $3,000 and HOA fees of $1,200 per year, the total monthly carrying charges are just $350. That leaves plenty of room for those who might want to use Savannah Lakes' Activities Center with its indoor and outdoor pools, fitness facilities, bowling alley ($3 per game) and bocce court. For those who play tennis, that is an extra fee but comparably modest.
We recently predicted that Chinese businesspeople would soon add as many as 20 golf courses to their portfolio of 13 clubs already purchased in the Myrtle Beach, SC, area. We speculated that a U.S. visa program that rewards foreign interests who invest in U.S. businesses that employ more than 10 people was the driver (pardon the pun). Not for nothing, those same Chinese businesses that purchased the original 13 golf courses also bought 100 homes in the Myrtle Beach area.
Now, according to a recent New York Times feature, the interest in Myrtle Beach could have a different root reason –- a Chinese government crackdown on the operation of golf courses. As part of an ongoing campaign against systemic corruption among China's government officials, Premier Xi Jinping and his government have shuttered 66 golf clubs that had been built illegally. Since 2004, according to the Times report, golf course construction in China has been banned for environmental reasons related to "unrestrained development." Developers and local municipalities essentially ignored the ban for much the same reasons, money; the developers tied the golf to adjacent high-rise luxury buildings they sold to China's new millionaires, and the municipalities found the tax revenues were just too lush to ignore.
But now more than 15 officials are under investigation for accepting bribes and other crimes and misdemeanors related to business done on the golf course, and any developer who undertakes to build a new layout will find it hard to identify investors. Those Chinese millionaires who have become infected by the bourgeois game of golf are now left to invest in other places where they can play. Welcome to Myrtle Beach.
In the excitement of an exploratory visit to a golf community, those of us searching for a golf home may ask all the right questions about financial stability, membership dues, homeowner association activities, and pace of play on the golf course; and we may kick the tires on the golf course, the fitness center, the walking and bike trails –- and forget to check one necessity for most of us, whether our cell phone will work in the community.
Cell phone coverage maps mislead. There may actually be coverage by my cell phone company, for example, in Pawleys Island, where I own a vacation home, but the signal is so weak at times that I have to leave the condo and find a good spot in the driveway in order to be able to talk and be heard. At the best of times, I have to almost press myself against the sliding glass doors in the back of the condo in order to pick up any signal. Forget the pub at Pawleys Plantation, where checking emails over a beer after a round of golf is impossible (unless the wait staff recalls the wi-fi password).
I have visited golf communities, especially those that are at high elevations in rural locations, where the dreaded "No Service" notification pops up on my phone once I am through the gate. I remember one salesperson many years ago pointing out the cell tower on a mountain top at The Cliffs at Glassy and proudly declaring that developer at the time, Jim Anthony, had dedicated a prime patch of real estate in the community to make cell phone service available to his residents. Sales offices know cell coverage is an important issue for most of us, but they won't typically bring it up unless you do, or unless they can say that coverage is strong for all the major carriers.
When you visit a golf community, make sure you check your phone at different locations within the community. If you cannot raise a signal, make sure to ask the salesperson what plans there are for better service and what carriers generate the best signal. Some golf communities advertise how you can "disconnect" from the world when you live there. But that should be up to you, not up to lousy cell phone coverage.
The following screed by your editor ran in our Home On The Course monthly newsletter last month. If you would like to subscribe to our free publication, please click here.
Judith Shé, the editor of Bowden's Market Barometer, a fine industry publication chock full of information and observations about the golf industry, circulated a recent Washington Post article to a group of friends in golf-related businesses, including yours truly. The piece by Drew Harwell (click here to view) greatly exaggerated the imminent death of the game most of us love, and for all the typical reasons –- the sport is elite, it takes too long to play, it's too expensive, blah blah blah.
We've heard it all before. Although the golf industry does have its problems, most of them are a consequence of a lack of creativity. When times get tough, most golf directors and golf professionals rush to lower prices because, heck, that's easier than brainstorming. Just an hour before Judith sent me a copy of the article, one of my readers in Arizona wrote me about a conversation he had with a concerned pro who was smart enough to get people around a table and think about how to attract and retain customers. Two ideas he decided to implement: Cart girls drive ice cold towels out to golfers in sweltering heat, totally complimentary; and the pro himself makes an appearance at the practice range before a foursome heads to the first tee to offer customized tips on how to play the course. I can't tell you how many pros I have met who spend all day in their offices, except for the trip to the snack bar or clubhouse dining room. (These are mostly public golf course professionals; most private club members wouldn't stand for such behavior.)
I also wonder why the nattering nabobs of golf's doom never compare golf with skiing. An estimated 20 million people made an appearance at a ski, snowboard or cross country venue last year. An estimated 24 million people played a round of golf. Skiing is more expensive than golf, is difficult to access because slopes are typically far from home, which means you have to pay for lodging, and you spend more "waiting" time prior to action than you do in golf.
And yet no one ever seems to write the end of days articles about skiing. Golf gets especially beat up because those who don't play the game perceive it as elitist when, in reality, more Joe Lunchbuckets play golf than do hedge fund managers. How often do we read articles about "elite" demographics of the skiing crowd?
We do have too many golf courses in the U.S. for the number of players, and that has been the case since before the recession of 2008 and before young people allegedly traded in their golf clubs for iPads. The explosive building of golf communities in the 1980s and 1990s contributed to the over-production of golf courses, but there is no reason to assume that the huge baby boomer cohort will turn away from golf as a retirement pastime. That group has another 20 years or so to play out. Overall, we do need to lose a few more golf courses the way J.C. Penney needed to lose a few stores, the way Kirstie Alley needed to lose a few pounds, and the way a forest occasionally needs to burn down -– all in order to promote health and stability.
The game of golf itself is in great shape. Call me a chicken but, given a choice, Pete Dye's fairway moguls seem a lot more appealing -– and safer –- than the snow covered ones.
We don't rely on rumors, but some are too strong to ignore. This morning on the golf course at Pawleys Plantation in Pawleys Island, SC, my playing partner stated decisively that Chinese investors had made a successful bid for the multiple golf courses owned by National Golf Management (NGM), including my own club, Pawleys Plantation. The source she mentioned seemed reliable enough that I sent a couple of text messages from the golf cart to people intimate with the Myrtle Beach area golf scene. A long-time and well-connected member of one of the NGM clubs indicated he understood that due diligence was under way between NGM management and the Chinese investors, and that an announcement of a sale could be just days away. Others were more circumspect about what they knew, but no one denied a sale was imminent. As one Pawleys Plantation employee replied, perhaps a bit too quickly, when I asked if he had been informed of the purchase, "I don't know, but why wouldn't they [the Chinese] buy the courses? They have plenty of money."
Indeed they do, and they have spent it aggressively in recent months to acquire 13 Myrtle Beach area golf courses for more than $40 million, a mix of well respected layouts and some not considered especially top quality. One of the clubs they purchased, TPC of Myrtle Beach, was previously managed by NGM. Other courses among those purchased by the Chinese include International World Tour, with 18 holes that mimic some of the most recognizable in the world of golf; and three courses in the Classic Group of clubs – Indian Wells, Founders Club and Burning Ridge.
Should the rumors be true and the Chinese investors purchase the 19 courses currently owned or managed by NGM, the Chinese portfolio will reach a total of 32 clubs, about one-third of all current clubs between Shallotte, NC, and Georgetown, SC; and they will boast some of the Grand Strand's most iconic courses, including Pawleys Plantation, Grande Dunes Resort, Kings North, Long Bay and the "Grandaddy" of them all, Pine Lakes International, opened in 1927 and the site of the founding of Sports Illustrated magazine.
At the Pawleys Plantation Golf Club's annual meeting in February, NGM President Robert Maraugas was asked by a club member if there was any truth to the rumors about NGM selling its courses, including Pawleys Plantation, to a Chinese company. Maraugas indicated there were no active negotiations at the time, but added the oft-repeated catchall that everything is for sale at the right price.
If the rumors are true, and we believe they are, that price has been met. Given what the Chinese have paid previously for the 13 golf courses in the area, and if the negotiations include all of the 19 affiliated NGM courses, we are betting the over/under for all will be $120 million.
The 6th green at Jack Nicklaus' Pawleys Plantation golf course is among the most difficult to hit, which is saying a lot on the tough layout. The green is about 30 yards front to back, pinched in at the middle by a bunker on the left and another on the right. To make matters more challenging, the approach shot, typically with a mid iron, is over an alligator occupied pond that slopes down from the front of the green. There is typically not much to look forward to in crossing the bridge over the edge of the pond to get to the green -- except to see how the owner of the home just to the left of the cart path at greenside has adorned the back of his house. As my foursome approached last Friday, we noticed the occupant was flying the flags of each of the Final Four teams in the NCAA National Championship basketball tournament. I played again on Monday afternoon and, sure enough, only the flags of Duke and Wisconsin remained. One of my playing partners who lives year-round in Pawleys Plantation remarked that the owner of the house owns something like 250 different flags. I'm just sorry I didn't drive past his house the day after the field of 64 was announced in mid-March.
Congratulations to the Duke Blue Devils. It was a terrific game.
A week ago, a fifth supermarket opened in the Pawleys Island, SC, area. The sprawling Publix joins Food Lion, Lowes, Fresh Market and Bi-Lo within a five-mile stretch of Highway 17. From the gate at Pawleys Plantation, for example, it takes less than a minute to reach the one-year-old Lowes, 15 seconds more to enter the Food Lion parking lot, another minute or two to arrive at Publix and another three minutes to Fresh Market. Bi-Lo, where prices tend to be a smidgen lower than at the competitors, is way out there at an additional four minutes, if there isn't any traffic. (See photos of all below)
That densely packed collection of supermarkets befits a thriving metropolis, not seasonal, lightly populated towns like Pawleys Island and the adjacent Litchfield Beach. Although the summer finds thousands of Carolinians heading for the four-mile strip of ocean sand, and the spring and fall seasons attract thousands of northern golfers to some of the best golf courses on the east coast, it is hard to imagine that the incursion of supermarkets is anything but strategic...the same approach that drug chains and gas stations appear to take. (e.g. If a CVS pharmacy opens on one corner, look for a Walgreens and/or Rite Aid to open at the same intersection to thwart any monopoly on business.)
The most modern of the supermarkets, opened just in the last two years, are Lowes, Publix and Fresh Market. Food Lion and Bi-Lo, more traditional supermarkets, have slightly less elaborate choices but generally lower prices. With a year-round population of 12,000 and a seasonal population that probably doesn't pass 20,000, something will eventually give in terms of the area's supermarkets. Until then, visitors to Pawleys Island and especially those who choose to live in one of the area's golf communities, (DeBordieu Colony, Pawleys Plantation, Heritage Plantation and the string of communities less than two minutes from the Bi-Lo, Tradition, Willbrook and River Club, and the private Reserve at Litchfield) will never run out of food sources and will enjoy the extra benefit of price competition and a vast selection of things to cook and eat. For those who like to cook and play golf, we know of no better place on the east coast.