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Monday, 13 August 2018 20:31

When Tiger Wins

        I grew up in the 1950s and learned to play golf in the 1960s. The first article I ever read about golf was in Sports Illustrated, circa mid ‘60s, in which Arnold Palmer was quoted saying, “Golf is 80 percent mental.” (I know, Jack Nicklaus said it too. My favorite is golf coach Jim Flick’s “Golf is 90 percent mental, and the other 10 percent is mental too.”) Since then, I considered that every bad shot I made on the golf course was the result of a blip in concentration, a misjudgment of conditions, laziness or over-aggressiveness; in other words, nothing physical, just momentary mental lapses that creep into your mind at the top of your backswing or as you are stroking a putt.

The Wee Ice Man Cometh Back
        I also recall reading as a youngster the inspiring story of Ben Hogan and how he won the 1950 U.S. Open at Merion just 18 months after his car collided with a Greyhound bus, breaking virtually all the bones in his body that were necessary to strike a golf ball properly. No one ever questioned Hogan’s mental toughness, which translated, often enough, as a taciturn and unfriendly nature. The discipline to come back from those physical injuries was beyond impressive. (The Brits called him “The Wee Ice Man.”)
        If I were older than 2 in 1950, I might have been rooting for Hogan, although I am an admittedly contrary fan; I don’t like to root for the guy (or team) that most everyone else is gaga about. When I was young, my favorite baseball team was the Brooklyn Dodgers -– “The Bums” -- and my least favorite, the one I rooted against, was the ever-successful New York Yankees. I was gleeful when the Yankees hit that multi-year bad patch as the ‘80s turned into the ‘90s, yet I almost started feeling sorry for them after a few years, when they became the second most popular team in New York City. Almost.

Tiger Burning Bright
        Which brings me around to Tiger Woods and his play over this last weekend at the PGA Championship and, indeed, his play over the last two months at the major tournaments. I think there is a case to be made that his comeback, which will almost certainly result in a win in one of the majors next year, might rank as nearly the most impressive of all time. In that prediction I am ignoring his terrible back problems, which are bad enough and worthy of a comeback award alone; more impressive, because golf is a mental game, is his comeback from the public fall from grace of that Thanksgiving eve crash into the tree, the smashing of the back window by his club-wielding wife, the agony of being separated from his kids, at least for a while, and the overall public humiliation and reckoning with his reputation.
        Golf is indeed a mental game, and it takes an enormous discipline to retrain the mind to shut out the residue of public and private humiliations for 72 holes of high-pressure golf. It is a different type of discipline than coming back from the debilitating injuries of a head-on car crash. Yet on a golf course, the mental comeback may be tougher. 
        Although I am not a Tiger Woods fan, I will be pulling for him to win a major next year and complete what will be one of the greatest comebacks ever in golf or any sport. Once that happens, I will go back to rooting for the underdogs, or at least for those who will be getting much less attention than Tiger.

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Sunday, 29 July 2018 20:28

Caledonia Beats Mother Nature...and Me

        The turf on Pawleys Island, SC, golf courses took a beating this winter. Bermuda grass and its variants do not like to sit for more than a few hours under a sheet of ice, but that is precisely what happened during one of the harshest winter seasons in memory. As of the beginning of July, most of the area’s courses were not yet back to normal and, indeed, a few greens looked more suitable for a lunar landing than for putting, with patches of new sod that, unfortunately, had not survived a recent drought. Although the grass on the greens at my own course, Pawleys Plantation, had grown back in, the course superintendent was clearly nervous about the dry days and hot nights. They were as slow in July as at any time in the last 10 years.
        As usual, the management at the Mike Strantz-designed Caledonia Golf & Fish Club and, to a similar degree its companion course across the road, True Blue, recovered more quickly thanks to the loving care of its turf managers and a general management willing to spend what it has to in order to justify its green fees which skew toward the higher end of the nearly 100 courses on the Grand Strand of Myrtle Beach.  (You get what you pay for...)
Caledonia approach 3Caledonia Golf & Fish Club justifies its green fees with great attention to condition, no matter how rough the weather.
        I played Caledonia twice on my July visit, 10 days apart, and was impressed as always at the things that should matter most to golfers –- the ability to stroke a putt that holds its line without bumps and wiggles; and the pleasure of not having to roll your ball over on the course’s well mown fairways. It took some getting used to the greens on my first round after playing the much slower local courses, but I was prepared for the second round at Caledonia, where I played and scored my best in the last two years. But golf, as we know, can be cruel when you stop thinking it is, and I made a common amateur mistake; I believed I was playing so well that I couldn’t make a bad stroke. Indeed, I stood on the 15th tee –- the 6th hole, a par three since we played the nines in reverse order –- thinking that if I birdied that hole and the rest, I would shoot my age of 70 for the first time. I made a good stroke with a seven-iron and wound up 15 feet above the hole. And then the inevitable: I tried to make the downhill putt, knocked it five feet past, got too aggressive coming back uphill and knocked it three feet past, and then missed the comebacker.
        I finished with a 75, my only sub-80 round of the year, along with my only four-putt in the last five years. Golf giveth, and golf taketh away, even –- or more accurately, especially -– on the best courses.

        Bankrate.com is one of those online services that ranks states by their suitability for retiree living. Within the last week, the organization has published its list of the best and worst states for retirement, including all 50 states, and the results are a bit mystifying, to say the least. Although “weather” is one of the categories Bankrate assesses, few of the states we think of being most retiree friendly for climate do well in the overall rankings.
        Bankrate assesses the states based on seven categories, including cost of living, crime, culture, health care quality, taxes, weather and well being. Florida ranks 2nd in terms of its climate but 5th overall. On the other end of the spectrum, New Hampshire ranks a paltry 43rd for weather but comes in at #4 overall based on outstanding marks for crime (the least of any state), health care quality, taxes (no state income tax) and well being. It even ranks highly (#9) in the culture category, which is a bit mystifying. North Carolina gets dinged on culture (40th) and may not get its due in terms of weather (#12). South Carolina (#41) and Georgia (#37) are savaged in the overall rankings, Georgia ranking 49th in the culture category and South Carolina 46th in crime.
        South Dakota overcomes its 38th place finish in the weather category with #1 and #2 rankings in well being and taxes, respectively. The well being mark argues that whatever research Bankrate conducted in South Dakota was not done in January. You can see the full results of the Bankrate rankings here.
        Almost simultaneous with the publication of the Bankrate rankings, TopRetirements.com published its own list of most popular states for retirement, informed by 750 of its readers. Not surprisingly, those readers listed climate as their top reason for relocation, and chose, in order, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, Virginia and Texas as the top 14 retirement destinations. South Dakota, Utah and Idaho did not make the list.
        Rankings like Bankrate's should be taken with a huge grain of salt.  First of all, when it comes to such categories as crime, culture, health care quality and even cost of living, results will vary significantly across a single state.  Savannah, GA, for example, is home to Savannah College of Art & Design, or SCAD, which has helped establish the citiy's art museums and street by street architecture as among the most impressive in the nation.  Charleston, SC's crime rate, according to an FBI report, was 35 percentage points below the national average in 2016.  To take the full measure of a place you are targeting for retirement or a vacation home, ignore the rankings and do your own research.  Or ask me.

        I love watching the World Cup. I don’t even care that scoring can be separated by an hour or more. (We Americans, I am told, love scoring too much.) If you like strategy, team effort, and the pure geometry of a sporting contest, there is nothing like a high-level football match. 
        But for pure, unadulterated and un-interfered-with action, and the triumph and heartbreak of individual effort, there is nothing like watching golf, seriously, with baseball a close second. (The major difference with baseball is that an umpire can still make a difference in the outcome of the contest, but video replay is starting to eliminate much of the guesswork in the national pastime. I’ve been watching baseball seriously for more than 60 years, and I won’t have a major issue when balls and strikes are called by a robot.)
        It is the pushing and shoving and grabbing of jerseys in these World Cup matches, and dubious writhing on the ground after a bump from an opponent, that besmirches the beauty of soccer. Compare the obvious attempts by soccer players to generate a penalty call and a potential yellow card for their opponent –- some of those attempts so audacious as to attract a yellow card from the referee –- with the penalties golfers call on themselves. Or compare the tugging on a jersey or an elbow to the head in soccer with the “nice putt” and “great shot there” one golfing competitor shares with another.  Referees in soccer make a call every few seconds, it seems, yet officials are only called to a golf match on the rare occasion that golfers in a group cannot agree on a ruling or if they don’t understand the rule.  Golf may seem slower, but the interruptions to a soccer match, a football game or a professional basketball game make those sports far less than elegant.
        Those who don’t play golf consider watching it boring and pointless –- in the way a Philistine considers a visit to a museum a waste of time.  Yet talent in sport is best revealed absent the collision of bodies, constantly faked injuries, life-debilitating concussions or the judgment of fallible human beings known as referees or umpires. In that regard, golf on TV could not be more exciting. 
        Now if Fox can only get the camerawork right.

Monday, 25 June 2018 11:43

Golf is Dead? Not in Connecticut

        Check out the first photo below. It was taken just after my son and I finished 18 holes of golf last week at Gillette Ridge Golf Club in Bloomfield, CT. The practice putting green was also buzzing. Nothing remarkable about a full practice area before a round of golf, but this was at 6:15 pm…on a Tuesday...on a layout that was jammed with players right through the afternoon. (As we headed for the parking lot after the round, I overheard one employee say to another that the last booked tee time was 6:45!)
Gillette Ridge practice range 1Practice range at 6:15 pm on a weekday at Gillette Ridge Golf Club in Bloomfield, CT.

        Gillette Ridge is not even the best golf course in town; that distinction is held by the town’s own course, Wintonbury Hills, a Pete Dye routing about three miles away that is more fun and typically in better condition than Gillette Ridge, whose reputation was sullied in the mid 200s after it opened; it was way too firm and with mostly impossible approach shots that would give Bethpage Black a run for its money. No one went out of their way to play a layout that demanded full carries to the concrete greens, with the expected results of finding hazards and rough beyond. If there is anything we golfers, pros and amateurs alike, loathe it is a golf course that penalizes good shots. 
        Gillette Ridge paid the price for its difficulty as golfers shied away, especially when the recession hit. It closed a few years ago and reverted to its original owners, CIGNA, the giant financial services company whose offices abut some of the fairways and whose dining patio overlooks the practice areas and 10th tee. CIGNA reopened it last year, put Arnold Palmer Management in charge, and it is in much better shape, softened slightly but still as much of a challenge as you will find on any public layout. Rounds of 4 ½ hours are not uncommon.
Gillette Ridge sculptures 1Built inside an office park, where many workers take strolls during their lunch breaks, Gillette Ridge sports some unique accessories.
        There is enough in a round at Gillette Ridge to rope golfers back in, especially those who admire quirky golf design. The par 5 11th hole –- formerly #2 before the club switched the nines a month ago –- starts off as a relaxer, with as wide a downhill fairway as you will find on any two- or three-shot hole. Blast one down the middle or right side, making sure to avoid huge bunker well to the right, and you will catch a 40-yard slope that can put the low double-digit handicapper –- that would be me -– within striking distance of the green. Playing from the executive tees, I was just 175 yards from the center of the green, but all carry over a menacing large pond; the bailout area to the front and left of the green was actually smaller than the green. I chose my 3 wood, which I have been hitting about 185 on the fly lately. I felt that if I hit it solid I might get a little spin and wind up at the back of the green. I certainly wasn’t going to be short, and I wasn’t going to lay up with a half wedge. I hit the fairway metal a little fat; it just cleared the water and bounded to the left rear of the green, in the fringe, leaving me a rare eagle putt. For an aging boomer, any putt for eagle is cause for celebration. (I made birdie, by the way.)
        Another par 5 at Gillette is equally unusual yet offers no opportunity for an eagle putt, even for excellent ball strikers. That is #8, where you must avoid menacing fairway bunkers on the left side almost 200 yards away for a senior golfer like me, and then hit a routine layup to wedge distance. But the green is a thin strip running front left to back right, firm and pretty fast and with a steep falloff to a stream bed below right. A shot that finds the fringe is a major achievement given how hard it is to hit and stay. I hit my best drive of the day just over the bunkers, caught the downslope behind them and wound up with a five-iron layup. But the pin on this day was up front on the narrowest part of the narrow green, making even a lob wedge tough to hold. I skittered to the back fringe with my lob wedge and was happy with par.
        Gillette Ridge visitors will either love or hate #13, a drivable par 4 (242 yards from my senior white tees, 273 from the more burly blue tees) with a series of menacing bunkers surrounded by deep rough protecting more than half the green on the left, and trees guarding the right side of the green, ready to gobble up slightly pushed drives. Helpfully, the Palmer designers placed a big mogul short and to the right of the green. If your drive finds the left side of the mogul, it could very well kick onto the green. I wound up in the rough just short and right of the green from my tees but was able to make par from there.
        I find that the realistic possibility of putting for eagle on a par 5 and driving the green on a par 4 is fair compensation for Gillette Ridge’s idiosyncrasies. In a future post, I will state the case that Gillette Ridge and its local counterparts could make for an interesting golf trip in the Greater Hartford Connecticut area. Seriously, Hartford.

        If I had a choice of Florida towns in which to live, my first choice would be Sarasota. It has a lively downtown area, some of the finest beaches in America nearby, is not far from major league sports teams and provides a variety of excellent golf courses for year-round play. 
        A friend from Connecticut and his wife, both with excellent taste, have a beautiful home for sale inside the gates of University Park, which straddles the boundary between Sarasota and Manatee Counties, just a few miles from Sarasota. It is a former builder’s model and, therefore, has all the top design features necessary to attract discriminating couples. It was totally renovated a few years ago and, at 3 bedrooms and 3 baths, it is the perfect size for a couple looking for an easily maintained home with just enough space for family members and friends who will enjoy the occasional visit. (Careful, they may want to stay.)
        The house is fully ready to welcome its new owners, with a 50-inch built in television and sound system with ceiling speakers in the spacious yet comfortable Great Room; and a gas heated swimming pool and natural gas 3 burner Weber Grill are all set for workouts and cookouts. Noted architect Ron Garl designed the 27-hole University Park golf course. For those looking to supplement their golf play, University Park offers 11 lighted Har-Tru tennis courts and a fully equipped and modern fitness center. We understand the food in the clubhouse is pretty darn good too.
        There is much more to share, but rather than me prattle on, check out the photos below and then contact real estate professional Dennis Boyle, who knows the golf community scene in the Sarasota/Venice area better than anyone I have met. You can contact Dennis at (941) 400-5584‬ or by email at dennis_boyle@topproducer.com. His website, which does an excellent job of describing golf communities in the Sarasota area and publishing current listings of properties for sale, can be found at: http://www.suncoastgolfhomes.com/
        The house in University Park is listed at $610,000.
University Park 9 preview1

RussellPool 

RussellPoolfrominside

RussellDR

 

RussellLivRm

 

Russell Kitchen

Russell hourse

Tuesday, 12 June 2018 11:35

Test Your Assumptions Before Retirement

        A special section of the Wall Street Journal on Monday has me thinking about assumptions I made about my retirement just a few years before I actually retired. The "Journal Report on Wealth Management" contains an article about “testing” your financial life; the article runs through five contrary scenarios – e.g. “Spending on the Usual vs. New Experiences” -- making the good point that sometimes what you assume is not related to what you will really want in retirement. 
        Suffice to say that if you are in retirement or even pre-retirement mode, you might want to test your assumptions about your future interests by simulating two opposite scenarios.
        Here’s two personal examples of how I might have benefited by testing my own assumptions back in 2000: 1) That I would play golf at least four times a week in retirement and 2) That my wife and I would use our vacation condo at least four months per year. The two scenarios are inextricably tied. My wild miscalculation turned out to be expensive.
        Eighteen years ago, my wife and I decided to purchase a condo in Pawleys Island, SC, and took the developer up on an offer to pay for half the initiation fee for golf membership. That “saved” us $7,500. I figured at the time we would spend a few months at Pawleys Plantation and I would play golf there four times a week. As it turned out, we have spent an average 10 weeks per year in our condo, and I have played at most two rounds per week, more often than not just one. Dues have ranged from $200 per month to $275 over our 18-year ownership. Quick back-of-the-napkin math indicates I played 15 rounds per year at a cost of more than $2,500, or $167 per round. I would have been better off not joining and paying the going rate to play, which averages less than $100 throughout the year.
Pawleys12frombehindFrom behind the par 4 12th hole at Pawleys Plantation in Pawleys Island, SC
        I have the usual excuses about my miscalculation.  Our home in Connecticut required more attention, our kids were not quite out of the nest yet (they are now), doctor's appointments and even a dog who was medically challenged.  Life has a tendency to intrude on the best laid plans. 
        I never tire of playing the Pawleys Plantation golf course, a terrific Jack Nicklaus layout. But our condo is within 10 minutes of a dozen other excellent courses and within an hour of nearly 100 others. If I had turned down the developer’s offer of membership and, instead, tested my assumption that I would play dozens of rounds each year at Pawleys Plantation, I could have saved myself a lot of money over the years and enjoyed many more of the golf courses in the Myrtle Beach area. As it turns out, I would have saved on initiation fee too if I had waited; last year, the semi-private Pawleys Plantation reduced its overall initiation fee to $2,500, a bargain for those who can play a couple of rounds per week there throughout the year. 
        In short, don’t assume you will play as much golf in retirement as you think you will, and if you buy a vacation home, don’t think you will spend as much time there as you plan. Figure out a way to test your assumptions to make sure that real life doesn’t intrude on your dream life or, if it does, that you won’t pay too dearly for the lesson.

        Residents of the more than 1,100 homes in The Fairways in Lakewood, NJ, had every reason to believe they were buying into a golf community in perpetuity when they began buying lots and homes there in the late 1990s. In marketing, sales representations and more formal declarations, The Fairways met the strict definition of a golf community, with the 27-hole Eagle Ridge course at its heart. And since 50% of the community’s total property was, by municipal ordinance, designated open and green, there was little reason to think that the Kokes family, which developed The Fairways, would or could repurpose the golf course.
        But last year the Kokes family sold the course to another firm clearly not interested in maintaining a golf course. As has happened in so many communities across the nation, new owners GDMS holdings had a more profitable plan in mind –- to turn the fairways and greens into home sites and, eventually, homes. According to a story at app.com, a USA Today online magazine, GDMS has proposed an additional 1,000 homes to be built on the golf course.
        A lawsuit with many of The Fairways’ residents as plaintiffs has been filed against the new owners and the old ones, and although the state’s EPA regulators have given the green light for construction, local planning officials have not rendered any decision. Hearings and deliberations are likely to drag on for months, with plenty of noise from The Fairways sexa- and septagenarians. 
        Retired persons have plenty of time on their hands.
        See the app.com article here.

        Residents of the more than 1,100 homes in The Fairways in Lakewood, NJ, had every reason to believe they were buying into a golf community in perpetuity when they began buying lots and homes there in the late 1990s. In marketing, sales representations and more formal declarations, The Fairways met the strict definition of a golf community, with the 27-hole Eagle Ridge course at its heart. And since 50% of the community’s total property was, by municipal ordinance, designated open and green, there was little reason to think that the Kokes family, which developed The Fairways, would or could repurpose the golf course.
        But last year the Kokes family sold the course to another firm clearly not interested in maintaining a golf course. As has happened in so many communities across the nation, new owners GDMS holdings had a more profitable plan in mind –- to turn the fairways and greens into home sites and, eventually, homes. According to a story at app.com, a USA Today online magazine, GDMS has proposed an additional 1,000 homes to be built on the golf course.
        A lawsuit with many of The Fairways’ residents as plaintiffs has been filed against the new owners and the old ones, and although the state’s EPA regulators have given the green light for construction, local planning officials have not rendered any decision. Hearings and deliberations are likely to drag on for months, with plenty of noise from The Fairways sexa- and septa-genarians. 
        Retired persons have plenty of time on their hands.
        See the app.com article here.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018 10:37

Where North Carolinians come from

        When we think of the typical migrant to the Southeast states, especially the Carolinas, the tendency is to envision a shivering Yankee fed up with New England winters and eager for essentially one year-round wardrobe. 
        Well, think again. It turns out that the majority of those moving to the Carolinas do so from right next door.
        According to a recent study published by the University of North Carolina Population Center, four of the top five states contributing new residents to the Tarheel State are from other Southeast states: Virginia, Florida, South Carolina and Georgia, in that order. Only New York State (#4) gets in the way of a clean sweep for the southern locations. In a further slam at conventional wisdom, the state of California (#6) contributed more migrants to North Carolina than did Pennsylvania (#7), New Jersey (#9) and the other northeast states. (Connecticut was #14 and Massachusetts #16.)
        Until a few years ago, Northerners moving south had the luxury of low housing prices, as well as an overall lower cost of living than they were used to – in some cases much lower. But the heavy influx into the Southeastern states is starting to put pressure on prices, and it is only a matter of time before the increases in population start to put stress on the provision of services at the state and local levels. And that can only mean an increase in taxes, as well as some of the other realities of life in the urban and suburban North, such as traffic, pollution and the other issues we associate with dense population. 
        Those of us in our retirement years still have a decade or two to enjoy the comparably low costs of living in the South. But our children and their children may live a different reality in their own retirement years.
        Thanks, as always, to our faithful data hound, Keith Spivey, for sending us the UNC study.

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