Unless you crave the honky tonk and neon lights of an active beach resort, the place to be on South Carolina’s Grand Strand is in the area south of Myrtle Beach, between Surfside Beach and Georgetown, which comprises the towns of Murrells Inlet, Litchfield and Pawleys Island. Most of the best of the 100 golf courses on the Strand are down there, minutes from each other, including the famed Caledonia Golf & Fish Club, as well as True Blue and Pawleys Plantation. So too are some of the most highly rated of the gated golf communities near the coast, including The Reserve at Litchfield, DeBordieu Colony, Pawleys Plantation and Wachesaw Plantation.
One gated community, though, doesn’t get much love -– until you actually play its golf course and take a closer look at its real estate. Heritage Plantation, about two miles south of Caledonia and west of Pawleys Plantation, was developed in 1986. It is time it got noticed.
I play the Heritage golf course every year or two, and last Sunday, as in the past, I was impressed with the efficient way they process members and public players from bag drop to parking lot -– via golf cart shuttle since it is 300 yards down the road -– to first tee. Because of the brutal competition for green fees in Myrtle Beach, Legends Group, owners of Heritage, Oyster Bay and the three Legends golf courses, has seen fit to throw in breakfast, lunch and two beers with the price of a greens fee; the lunch included the run of the menu, not just a hot dog. For the $50 I spent, it was a great deal.
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In the wake of the recession, some private golf clubs are hanging on by a thread, quietly desperate for new members but unwilling –- or unable –- to initiate programs to attract them. Generally, private clubs don’t go out of business; they go public. The National Golf Foundation reports that since the recession began in 2008, 78 private clubs closed their doors but 400 opened those doors slightly or fully to outside play. For many members who joined a club for its exclusivity, though, going public is a fate worse than death of the club, literally.
Since the recession began, many private clubs have dropped or eliminated altogether their initiation fees, an act of desperation that is typically confined either to clubs already in a death spiral or those in highly competitive areas in which the other clubs are dropping or eliminating joining fees. Those clubs that have a bit more flexibility employ more creative approaches, the most popular among them the “trial” membership.
The Virginia golf community known as Viniterra, located in New Kent, midway between Richmond and Williamsburg, has run a successful trial membership campaign since 2008. It offers a one-year membership for just $1,800, with no additional payment of dues or any other fees except for golf cart rental when you play.
Viniterra was slated to be a private golf club but the recession and its effect on lot sales there forced the club into semi-privacy. The Rees Jones designed course, which passes by some of the on-site vineyards that give the community its name and supply some of the grapes for the on-site working winery, is an interesting, rolling layout and was in fine shape when I played it a couple of years ago. You can read my original review of the golf community and golf course by clicking here. Homes in Viniterra begin in the $500s; check out a few of their listings at GolfHomesListed.com.
When home prices drop in a town surrounded by other areas where prices have risen, sometimes dramatically, the natural inclination is to think something has gone awry in that town (taxes have risen sharply, a chemical spill, an ordinance to permit unlimited strip joints). But, try as we might, sometimes there is no discernible reason for the price drop; or, if there is a reason, it does not rise to the point that an otherwise interested purchaser should be deterred. On the contrary, those price drops may indicate a short-term buying opportunity for savvy buyers.
Consider the area immediately north of Myrtle Beach, SC, not surprisingly named North Myrtle Beach. Buddy golfers and families looking for a combined golf and beach vacation will be familiar with the golf community/resorts in the area, chief among them Barefoot Resort (four excellent golf courses) and, just below the town’s border, Grande Dunes, with two excellent courses, one private and one public). According to an article by Steve Jones, the real estate columnist for the Myrtle Beach Sun News, the median price of homes sold in North Myrtle Beach from January 2013 to January 2014 dropped 16%. A few miles south, the Myrtle Beach market enjoyed a 58% price increase for single-family homes; farther south, in the Georgetown area, which comprises the upscale community of DeBordieu Colony and its Pete Dye golf course, prices rose a robust 82%.
North Myrtle Beach’s price drop wasn’t at all a function of an inactive market; in fact, home sales rose in town by nearly 42% year over year. Although you can find a wide selection of properties in North Myrtle Beach priced under $100,000, the town’s average listing price over the last two years is the second highest in South Carolina, according to Steve Jones, at $372,000. A local broker told Jones that his firm had seen a large number of referrals from the web sites Zillow and Trulia, and those were generally at prices well under the median. That certainly could have depressed the one-year average of prices in North Myrtle Beach.
When it comes to golf, no one area east of the Mississippi offers more than Myrtle Beach, SC does. With 100-plus courses packed into a narrow spit of land about 90 miles long, a good golfing option is never much more than a drive and a seven iron from any one spot.
But what the area has in the way of links, it lacks in cultural diversions. The Burroughs-Chapin Museum in Myrtle Beach is good for an hour or so stroll whenever the small facility changes exhibits, but that is typically a few months apart. And although Coastal Carolina, the area’s largest (its only, really) university in nearby Conway is up and coming, it is its athletics programs that are getting the most investment and attention locally, not its deference to art works.
But there is one bastion of culture in the Myrtle Beach area that just might make up for all the local cultural shortcomings, and that is Brookgreen Gardens, a large swath of marshland that can overwhelm the unsuspecting first-time visitor with its collection of huge garden sculptures, its serene walking trails and its history.
Pegasus makes an appearance, in marble, at Brookgreen Gardens. (More photos; click Read More)
The property comprises 9,100 acres that include four former rice plantations and includes a beautiful beach inside the gates of Huntington State Park in Murrells Inlet. The land was bequeathed to the state by Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington, he the son of a wealthy philanthropist and she one of America’s foremost sculptresses. (Huntington’s Joan of Arc sculpture adorns the corner of 93rd St and Riverside Drive in New York City.) The Huntington’s former beachfront home, Atalaya, is a favorite site for weddings and other group events. Brookgreen was originally intended to be the couple’s coastal home, but after their purchase in 1929, Anna saw the property’s potential as one of the nation’s most important sculpture gardens. The online service TripAdvisor named Brookgreen one of the country’s top 10 public gardens last year.
Residents of the Wintergreen Resort in western Virginia can hardly be blamed for being confused about the motives of the ownership of their combination skiing and golf community. Jim Justice, the fabulously wealthy West Virginian who arguably saved the famed Greenbrier Resort and, in 2012, exerted similar magic by buying Wintergreen out of near bankruptcy, has announced that he will accept viable offers for Wintergreen.
"We would listen if somebody had a great plan for the resort,” Justice told the Associated Press, “if somebody came in from Vale and they had a great plan to really improve something. But we don't really do anything with partners." According to our sources in the community, the announcement came out of blue, especially after Justice invested $12 million in snowmaking equipment and the resort’s restaurants and transitioned to private membership Wintergreen’s Devil’s Knob Golf Club, which sits at the very top of the community’s mountain, steps from where skiers start their runs in winter. Wintergreen features another 27 holes by Rees Jones at the bottom of the mountain.
Justice’s reasons for considering a sale seem particularly odd.
"It's a heck of a property," Justice told the AP. "But in my world, if it's just being something that's making great money, that's not good enough for me. It needs to mean more to me."
One wonders what it meant to him when he plunked down $16.5 million for the property just two years ago and then the additional $12 million. Of course, if some development company comes by soon and makes Justice a tidy profit, we may rethink how odd his reasons appear to be. He does not appear to be in any specific hurry to sell at any price.
"If the right person fits, sure we'll sell it," he indicated to the AP. "If that doesn't happen, we'll still own it."
In the meantime, the residents of Wintergreen may seem as if they have stepped back in time a couple of years.
Condos, as well as single-family homes at Wintergreen are sharply priced, including a 3 BR, 3 BA unit listed currently for $128,000 that sits by the 18th tee of the Devil's Knob course. Go to GolfHomesListed to review a selection of properties for sale at Wintergreen.
Mature, well-established golf communities tend to lose their incentives to market themselves aggressively once the developer is gone, most of the property is sold and the residents take over operations of the community, if not the club. One example of such a golf community that does market itself like its existence depends on it is The Landings near Savannah, GA, but The Landings has an extra incentive because it maintains its own on-site real estate agency. And in a good year, Landings Realty produces in excess of $1 million in revenues for the homeowner’s association.
More typical are communities like the 40-year old Keowee Key, located on Lake Keowee, about 20 minutes from the town of Clemson, SC, and an hour from Greenville. Homes and properties inside Keowee Key are listed and sold primarily by three real estate agencies whose offices are strung out along the road that runs through the sprawling community. They attract customers through their web sites and via walk-in traffic, but when it comes to advertising aggressively in more traditional ways, forget about it. The nearby Cliffs Communities and The Reserve at Lake Keowee have traditionally spent a few million dollars each year on annual marketing; the more conservative spending Keowee Key –- its web site touts its $12 million in equity and low debt ratio -- is not top of mind for many baby boomers who might otherwise find it a fine alternative in the lake area.
All or nothing at all: The par 3 12th at Keowee Key features a creek that covers the left front of the green and a bank on the right. If you come up a little short, you are likely to get wet.
I toured the community recently and found it not atypical of a four-decade-old golf community that has aged well. As you might expect, it has neighborhoods whose homes are in need of some cosmetic updating, not unlike sections of the better-known Landings community. But both communities were built in phases, and therefore many neighborhoods are just 15 years old or even less; they look up-to-date and years from needing the dreaded roof replacements and other requirements of an aging, but otherwise functional, home.
Myrtle Beach is a grand buffet of golf. But as it is with most buffets, there are options that taste good and are good for you, and then there are the other kinds. And so it is with Myrtle Beach golf, despite the "equality" of choice the golf vacation marketeers tend to ascribe to all the local courses. If Caledonia Golf & FIsh Club is not the best of all 100 layouts between Georgetown, SC, and Southport, NC, I have not played the better one yet (and I estimate I've played 60% or more since 1970).
The green on the par 5 8th at Caledonia is two-tiered; don't be on the back when the pin is up front.
Caledonia is an old hunting and fishing preserve, and the fish club still persists at the end of the long, live-oak-draped drive into the property. Caledonia is not a golf community, as the only two or three homes that abut the course -- and they are mostly hidden behind trees -- are in the adjacent Ricefields neighborhood. But the club can boast an intimately sized clubhouse that serves outstanding lunches. Best of all, you can live within five minutes of Caledonia and join the club on an annual basis for $1,900 and play as much as you'd like there and at its almost-as-good companion across the road, True Blue Golf Club. For those who can arrange to play two or three times a week throughout the year, there are few better bargains in golf. (Note: During peak seasons, you'll have to plan your rounds in advance so as not to be shut out by the package players who flock to Caledonia and pay upwards of $200 for the privilege.)
The approach over the water at #18 can make or break a round...and cause a bit of embarrassment if the porch behind the green is crowded with spectators.
Florida golf communities have long been a major destination for retirees looking for a warm climate and lots to do. But perhaps because the weather makes most septuagenarians hermits in the long hot summers, and because the stereotyped activities of shuffleboard and sitting by the pool don’t exactly get the heart rate going, the Sunshine State hasn’t been associated with the notion of life longevity.
But a recent article in USNews & World Report indicated that you can live an especially long life in or around Naples, FL. According to the magazine’s online article titled “Retirement Places that Promote Longevity,” men live an average of 80 years in Collier County, which extends mostly east from the city of Naples, and women a robust 84.6 years. That gives Collier County the distinction of providing the third longest life expectancy for women in the nation, behind just Marin County, CA (85 years) and Montgomery County, MD (84.9). USN&WR indicates Marin County females report the highest rate of physical activity in the nation.
After golf at Mediterra, relax with a game of bocce and a libation at the adjoining bar.
There are plenty of opportunities for physical activity in the best golf communities in Naples. With very un-Naples like prices and a fine 27 holes of golf by Gordon Lewis, Heritage Bay makes sense for either year-round or seasonal residents. Two-bedroom, two-bath resale condos start well under $200,000, and the community’s respected national builder, Lennar, throws in golf membership with the purchase of any of their new units (but, of course, you are on the hook for monthly dues, which are not burdensome). For those who want something a bit more substantial, single-family homes that are larger than 3,000 square feet, are priced in the low $500s. One unique aspect of the golf course that takes a little getting used to is the “aqua” practice facility, where the fly-shorter golf balls are purposely hit into the water.
For the most part, the latest migration report from United Van Lines shows continuing emigration from high cost states in the northern half of the U.S. The moving company keeps track of its customers inflows and outflows from one state to another and publishes a report annually, just after the first of the year.
The results for 2013 are interesting, with a few surprises sprinkled in with the typical patterns of north to south. Oregon proved to be United Van Lines’ most popular destination last year, with 61 percent of Oregon’s moves being into the state. Not surprisingly, South Carolina, at 60 percent, and North Carolina, at 58 percent, followed closely at #2 and #3, respectively. Rounding out the top eight were, in order, District of Columbia, South Dakota, Nevada, Texas and Colorado.
New Jersey topped the list of states with the highest percentage of movers, 64 percent, the third year of the last four that the Garden State has led the pack. Illinois, New York, West Virginia and Connecticut followed, in that order.
In recent years, hundreds of golf clubs across the nation have felled thousands of trees mostly in the name of better air circulation and turf growth, but occasionally for aesthetics and golf course playability. At my home course of Pawleys Plantation, south of Myrtle Beach, you can imagine the handwringing when National Golf Management, which bought the course a couple of years ago, decided to eliminate two impressive live oaks just 80 yards in front of the par 5 11th green. Count me as one of those who hated the idea on paper…and one who was converted when I played the hole a couple of days after the work was done in mid January.
Pawleys Plantation is a challenging layout that Jack Nicklaus completed in 1988, a time when his designs substantially favored those players who hit high, fading shots. From the white tees at just over 6,100 yards, the course rating is 72.0 and the slope a robust 139. Virtually every hole has some element that can easily ruin a round, the par 5s included.
Immediately, at #1, a par five of modest length that fades to the right off the tee and continues in that direction down a fairway protected on the right side by an almost 200-yard-long waste bunker, the Golden Bear’s predisposition is clear...and it only becomes clearer the rest of the round. Although the par 5 4th hole favors a draw off the tee, the opening to the narrow green is along the far left edge, a yawning bunker protecting 90% of the putting surface on the right. A cut-shot short iron is about the only good option for the third shot there. Later in the round, at #14, the shape of the hole mimics #1, with marsh instead of the first hole’s trees, down the entire right side from 250 yards out to the green. The end of the marsh and a fairly deep bunker protect the right side of the green. The player who can move the ball left to right has a decided advantage on the 14th.