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        I revisited Copake Country Club yesterday, a classic short layout -– just 6,200 yards from the tips -– beside a lake in New York State 20 minutes from the Massachusetts state line. It cost me all of $27 to play, cart included, courtesy of one of those online tee-time consolidators.
        As I wrote a few years ago, Copake is a hidden gem in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains. It is a 1½ hour drive from my Connecticut home, and I don’t mind the trip at all, especially since the Blackberry River Bakery in Canaan, CT, halfway to the golf course, serves a killer breakfast.  Although I haven’t tested the kitchen at Copake Country Club beyond a tasty, made-to-order hot dog, the Copake restaurant is well reviewed and typically crowded at lunchtime.
Copake10thfromteeThe lawnmowers at Copake Country Club provide the fairways with a major league baseball field effect.  This is the par 4 10th which plays from an elevated tee beside the clubhouse uphill to a smallish green fronted by a bunker about 30 yards before the putting surface.
        Copake is not a golf community. Indeed the only homes on the course are a few above and right of the 10th fairway and those beside the 17th and 18th holes along a road that separates the golf course from Lake Copake, a mostly summer playground for folks from New York City and elsewhere.  A round of golf at Copake and courses like it remind me that a planned development is not the only way for serious golfers to live and play out their days pleasurably. And you can save plenty of money by separating the golf from the real estate.  You likely will not pay homeowner association dues, and private and semi-private clubs are begging for members these days; and the more remotely located the golf club -– Copake qualifies as remotely located – the lower the prices generally for both golf fees and real estate (see below). At Copake, for example, a single membership that provides golf any day of the week runs just $1,450 for the abbreviated season, generally from April to early November. A couple’s membership is $2,000. (Senior single is $1,250 and senior couple $1,800, for ages 60 and older.) Weekday golf is a great bargain; for example, a senior single will pay just $950 for the season if willing to play Monday through Friday only. Cart membership is just $650 for the entire season.
        The golf course, which was designed by Devereux Emmet in 1935, changes elevation multiple times and is surrounded by mountains as well as the placid Lake Copake. Turf on fairways and greens is excellent, and putting on beautifully tended bent grass greens after a weekend listening to headache-inducing complaints about poa annua and fescue greens at the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay was a blessed relief; so too were greens that actually held shots a day after substantial rains in the area.
Copake1greenbunkerThe bunkers at Copake are probably much like architect Devereaux Emmet designed them in 1935.
        From the tips, the golf course measures just over 6,200 yards, with a rating of 70.3 and a slope of 131. That comparatively lofty slope rating is a consequence of some blind shots, fairly lengthy par 3s (two of them almost blind shots) and greens that are very difficult to read (and medium fast). For the first timer at Copake, bunkers that appear to be fronting greens actually turn out to be as much as 50 yards short of the putting surfaces. And the back edges of the bunkers at Copake are fringed with tall fescue grass; a ball in the sand is preferable.
        Homes around Lake Copake and within a short drive of the golf course are mostly modest, set up more for seasonal living than year round. Prices start in the high $100s for square footage under 1,000. Of course, for folks who winter in some warm place like Florida, a summer cottage mere minutes from a classic, wonderfully managed and manicured golf course that costs little to play might be just the ticket.
CopakegreenandlakeLake Copake is in view, if not in play, from the finishing holes.

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Saturday, 20 June 2015 13:52

On the Waterfront...for less than $200K

        A new customer filled out one of our questionnaires yesterday, and my silent first reaction to her criteria was “No way!” She was looking for a golf community waterfront home on a lake for less than $200,000. As we all know, location drives price, and a home with a few of a lake is typically priced at a 20% to 30% premium over comparable homes in the community.
        To make things even more challenging, this customer has three dogs and needs enough land around the house to fence off for the dogs. She and her husband also, obviously, need a community that permits three dogs. I decided to spend a few minutes searching some of the most reasonably priced lake golf communities we know.To my surprise, there is a good selection of homes on lakes priced below $200,000.
        The first one I found was in Keowee Key, located in Salem, SC, about 15 minutes from the university town of Clemson. Keowee Key is a mature community, 40 years old and well-established although not especially well marketed (this happens in older communities in which the developer has long since departed and it is left to a homeowner’s association to agree on marketing budgets and approaches). The home sits on nearly 1½ acres, plenty of room for the dogs (I have not yet confirmed regulations on dogs at Keowee Key), and is large enough at 3,170 square feet to accommodate four bedrooms and 3 baths. The view from the back deck and the rooms on the back of the house is through the trees to a cove on Lake Keowee. At a list price of $210,000, it is the lowest priced home on the lake at Keowee Key.
        I found another, even lower priced home on Lake Thurmond, in the Savannah Lakes Village community in McCormick, SC. Savannah Lakes, another long-established community, features two outstanding golf courses for which there is no initiation fee for residents, and the dues are reasonable (and provide access to a full range of other amenities). This home is a more modest 1,700 square feet with three bedrooms and two baths. The views from the expansive back deck are through the trees to a broader vista of the lake. The owners of the home are apparently serious about selling; they not only have priced it at a more than reasonable $194,900, but they also recently added new hardwood flooring to the great room, new ceramic tile in the bathrooms, new tile and granite counters in the kitchen, all new carpeting in the bedroom and refinished cabinets. That deck that spans the back of the house and wraps around a screened in porch is brand new.
        Let me know if you would like more information on these lake and golf homes and the communities of Keowee Key and Savannah Lakes Village.  If you would like some recommendations and which communities best match your search criteria, please fill out our Golf Homes Questionnaire.
SLVCharlotteDrH4SThis 3 bedroom, 2 bath home in the Savannah Lakes Village community in McCormick, SC, is currently listed for $194,900 and features an expansive lake view from the brand new back deck.

        Whether you look at it as money saved or money earned, moving from a high-cost place to a low-cost place will put a pile of dough back in your budget or your bank account. How much depends on your lifestyle and how much you spend on an annual basis.
        In conducting research for an article in this month’s Home On The Course newsletter -– click here to subscribe, it’s free! –- we found savings as high as almost 60% if a couple were to relocate from an expensive metro area like San Francisco or New York to a nice golf community in a remote and pleasant low-cost area of the Carolinas or Tennessee. For a couple that spends a total of, say, $100,000 annually -– not hard to do in some of the highest cost metro markets in the nation -– the savings could pay for pricey annual club dues, a complete kitchen makeover and a European vacation.
        In our latest issue of Home On The Course, we pick a few city pairs and show specific examples of savings, along with our recommendations of golf communities in the destination towns. We also make the case for why anyone searching for a golf community home should insist on copies of all documents relevant to the development of the community, including covenants and restrictions. One South Carolina community’s residents are suing its club (and other residents) for enforcing a new mandatory membership plan. If only they had read the documents carefully (or at all).
        Home On The Course will be sent to our thousand email subscribers in the next couple of days. Sign up now so you don’t miss it.
WoodsideReserve3rdholeIf you were to move from, say, Stamford, CT to this community in Aiken, SC, you would save about 50% per year on your total expenses.

        The Gillette Ridge Golf Club was dogged by miscalculation and mismanagement from the moment it opened in 2004. The original owners of the Bloomfield, CT, public facility laid out in the middle of a major office park had the bright idea to task the Arnold Palmer design group with building one of the toughest layouts in the area. What they produced was a golf course that wasn't so much tough as it was unfair. The greens, at opening, were rock hard, and the combination of concrete greens and a bunch of forced carries gave the layout a quick reputation for unfriendliness, especially among women and junior golfers. No one would want to learn to play on a course that difficult. I recall following my son and his high school golf team around the course during a competition, and mid 90s was the median score for kids who typically shot in the mid 80s. Fun and the Gillette Ridge golf course were never mentioned in the same breath by anyone who played it.
GilletteRidgeclosuresignGillette Ridge Golf Club in Bloomfield, CT, closed without warning a few weeks ago, although warning signs were there last September when the troubled owners filed for bankruptcy.
        Those who ran the club, especially the latest owners, were also uncreative in the extreme. Thousands of office workers stroll through the grounds at lunchtime every day, and many of them stopped at the club's competently run restaurant for a meal and drink after work. Whenever I played the golf course in good weather, I noted that the restaurant was nearly filled, the patio included. With that kind of captive audience, all wage earners, you would think any marketing program could have reeled in a good number of them to play the course after work and on the weekends (virtually all of them live in the area).
        The club should also have been able to count on the surrounding group of homes that were developed in concert with the opening of the club. With hundreds of residents within an easy stroll of the first tee, one wonders why they could not be engaged to form a core membership in the club. After all, we know that about half of those who live in a golf community do play the game, at least occasionally.
GilletteRidge4approachEven after the layout was softened, many golfers found the approaches too severe, such as at the par four 4th hole, with all carry to a small green that tilted hard right to left toward a menacing pond.
        Within a few years of opening, the owners of the club softened the golf course's severe layout somewhat, making the approaches to the greens a little easier and doing what they could to make the greens a bit more receptive. But despite a few wonderful holes –- the almost drivable par 4 10th is one of them –- and unusual landscaping touches, such as the massive sculptures beside the 17th fairway, perceptions of the course had already been cemented. Given a choice between Gillette Ridge and nearby Wintonbury Hills, the Bloomfield municipal course designed by Pete Dye and opened within a couple of years of Gillette Ridge's debut, virtually everyone I know would choose Wintonbury.
        Gillette Ridge closed a few weeks ago after its owners filed for bankruptcy last September. MDM Golf, run by a former golf pro, had been kicked out of two other golf courses it manages for unpaid bills and mismanagement. At the time of the Gillette Ridge closing, MDM owed its creditors well over $6 million.
        I stopped by Gillette Ridge the other day to see if there were any signs of life. One gardener with a weed whacker was attending to the lawns surrounding the parking lot. The course, from the vantage point of the clubhouse patio, was overgrown and the greens I could see appeared to be burned out. The shuttering of Gillette Ridge just as the Connecticut revenue-generating golf season began was sadly ironic for a club whose management never had its timing or organization quite right.
GilletteRidgedead18thgreenOne of the saddest sights for a golfer, a dead green, in this case #18 at Gillette Ridge.

Tuesday, 09 June 2015 14:07

Winning Never Gets Old

        At age 67, there are not many more athletic achievements ahead for me. But golf handicaps are the great equalizer in terms of competition, and if you have a good day against your own standards, you might win a dollar or two, or even a trophy. But in order to win an event at a gross score, you pretty much need to be playing on a team of good players.
        Yesterday, at Shuttle Meadow Country Club in Berlin, CT, a classic Willie Park layout, our ragtag foursome started well, sagged in the middle of the round, and regained a little momentum by the end. Yet even when my son Tim sunk a 12-foot birdie putt on the last hole we played in the shotgun charity event, we never imagined our -1 score of 70 would get a sniff of even third place in the gross competition.
ShuttleMeadow1The 1st hole at Shuttle Meadow Country Club in Berlin, CT
        For sure, we had no chance in the net competition. Our 'D' player had an awful day and only on two holes was he still in play by the time he made it to the green. (In neither case did he contribute to the net score.) Our 'C' player sculled his tee shot on the first hole, a par three, through tall grass and rough and up onto the green, 15 feet short of the hole. From there he made his putt for a birdie 2 and a net 1. That seemed like a good omen...for two more holes, after which we all sprayed our tee shots into the wind on a par 4 named "Bottle" and posted a gross and net 5, a deadly score when you are competing against 26 other foursomes. (After his initial birdie, our 'C' player had said, in jest, "OK, I'm retiring now..." and he pretty much did the rest of the way.) It only got worse on the 18th hole, the tenth one we played, when the pin position at the very back right of a green that rises a good 10 feet from front to back, gave us fits and led to a gross/net bogey 6.
        Tim was our "ringer," a last-minute substitution for a friend who tore a ligament in his thumb three weeks before the event. Tim contributed four birdies against his 1 handicap -– the event was played at 90% of full handicap -- and I pitched in a few pars. Still, the only thing we thought we might win was longest drive; Tim's drive on the 10th hole was 270 into a stiff wind. But at awards time, the announced winner was someone else who, as the emcee shared, "once held the U.S. record for the fastest golf swing." I saw him later and he told me his drive was measured at over 300 yards.
        When they announced third place for team gross at par 71, we knew we were in the money. On a match of cards –- we parred at gross the five toughest holes -- we were announced the winners; our prizes were $100 pro shop credit each. I spent mine on a shirt and hat. I would have been happy with just the recognition.


        The charity golf event, which is held within a couple of weeks of Fathers Day each year, benefits the Fatherworks program at The Village for Families and Children in Hartford, CT, where I have served as a board member for the last 12 years. In a nutshell, Fatherworks encourages young men who have fathered a child to step up to the responsibility of fatherhood and provides them with the tools to be a supportive, nurturing parent. Each year at dinner after the golf, a father The Village has worked with shares his story about how The Village has helped him define his role in relation to his children and, in so doing, has redefined his role as a man. The stories are both riveting and elevating. Fatherworks is a good cause, and if you get anything of value from this blog, I would be grateful if you considered a small donation to a great cause at The Village for Families and Children. [Click here] Thank you.

Tuesday, 02 June 2015 13:59

Golf homes for...$400,000

        This is the first in an ongoing series of articles about golf homes in excellent golf communities currently on the market at specific price levels. If you are interested in more information about any of these homes or have your own price range in mind, please contact Larry Gavrich, founder and editor of Home On The Course, LLC, and I will be pleased to provide a selection of current homes for sale in some of the Southeast's finest golf communities.


Cobblestone Park
Blythewood, SC

5 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, 4,045 square feet
Cobblestone Park, now dominated by national builder D.R. Horton, features a 27-hole golf course good enough to lure the University of South Carolina golf teams as their practice site. Located just off the Interstate, less than 20 minutes to capital city of Columbia. Positive: Large home priced at $100 per square foot and with views of golf course. Negative: Community had legacy of financial issues; D.R. Horton has stabilized things, but they are building smaller homes than earlier homes, and at lower price points.

Wachesaw400K home

Wachesaw Plantation
Murrells Inlet, SC

4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, 3,700 square feet
Wachesaw Plantation features a sporty Tom Fazio Low Country designed golf course that finishes along the Waccamaw River (part of the Intracoastal Waterway system). All-brick custom home sits on corner lot just over .56 acres in gated/guarded community. Positives: Inexpensive private club membership; short drive to shopping, hospital, beaches, famed Restaurant Row. Negatives: West of Highway 17 location makes it seem farther from ocean than it is.


The Landings at Skidaway Island
Savannah, GA

3 bedroom, 3 bathrooms, 3,319 square feet
The Landings is one of the best-situated golf communities anywhere, totally secluded but within 20 minutes of downtown Savannah, one of the nation's most interesting cities. The community's six golf courses are impeccably maintained, despite much use by its adoring members. This home is beside hole #4 on the Plantation course and includes a bonus room and one-month old roof. Positives: Golf courses for every taste and skill level; close to major city with all possible services. Negative: 40 minutes to nearest beach at Tybee Island.


Brunswick Forest
Leland, NC

3 bedroom, 3 bathroom, 2,500 square feet
Brunswick Forest is one of the most successful golf communities of the last two decades on the east coast, having skated through the recession of 2008 without any impact on the community. Prices are among the most reasonable anywhere, and the Tim Cate golf course is rated as one of the best to be built in the last 10 years. Positives: 10 minutes to Wilmington, NC; convenient services just outside the entrance to the community. Negatives: No gate, if you care about such things; about 25 minutes to the beach.


Keswick, VA

2 bedrooms, 2 baths, 1,555 square foot brick cottage

Located in the rolling Virginia hills just east of Charlottesville, Glenmore is just a few miles from Thomas Jefferson's Monticello and within easy distance of the University of Virginia, the university the third President built. John LaFoy's 18-hole-golf course is filled with Scottish influences. Positive: Proximity to Charlottesville and events at University of Virginia. Negatives: Real estate a bit pricey, but everything's relative.


Bayside Resort
Shelbyville, DE

4 bedrooms, 3 ½ bathrooms end-unit townhouse

The Bayside Resort is a full service residential resort close to the beach at Ocean City, MD and sporting a well-regarded Jack Nicklaus Signature course, the first in the state. This home sits on a pond and is within a few yards of the Maryland state line. Positives: Access to beaches, proximity the northeast; community is owned by the active local Freeman family. Negative: You will share the golf course with non-residents.


Haig Point
Daufuskie Island, SC

3 bedrooms, 3½ bathroom cottage, 2,520 square feet

For those who want the ultimate in serenity, quiet and zero pollution -- no cars allowed – Haig Point is the place, with a 27-hole Rees Jones Low Country layout that looks out across the Calibogue Sound to the lighthouse on Hilton Head Island. Because it is remote and serviced by ferry only, real estate prices are extremely reasonable. Positive: Looks great, smells great (no car pollution) and you are likely to have little competition for tee times. Negatives: The ferry is expensive to run continuously, and overall carrying costs reflect it; supermarket visits (on Hilton Head) require a bit of planning.


Venice Country Club
Venice, FL

4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, 2,581 square feet

Located just 20 minutes on the Interstate below Sarasota, Venice Country Club sits on Florida's famed Gulf Coast and offers plenty of house and property for the price, especially given its proximity to the area's famed beaches. Close to the convenience of downtown Venice and to the laid-back ambience of Venice Beach, this home is both spacious and practical and set on a nice lot overlooking a lake. Enjoy the view while basking in a pool with southeast exposure; step out of the pool and flip the burgers on the outdoor summer kitchen stove. Or flip a sand wedge out on the Ted McAnlis golf course.


        The sprawling community of Fairfield Glade, located on the Cumberland Plateau almost midway between Nashville and Knoxville, TN, has been on my list for a visit for some years now. On a drive from Memphis to our vacation home in Pawleys Island, SC, I couldn't avoid a stop, since the community is just a few miles off the major east/west Interstate 40. It was a short visit, just enough to take advantage of Stonehenge Golf Club professional Jeff Houston's kind invitation to play what most local golfers believe is the best of Fairfield Glades' five courses.
Stonehenge14fromteeThe biggest challenge at the par 3 14th hole at Stonehenge is club selection from 10 stories or so above the green.
Bent grass greens, a golfer's favorite
        A site of the state's Women's and Senior Opens, Stonehenge is both challenging and in fine condition as befits a tournament-ready layout. The greens were medium fast and smooth, with plenty of contours. (Stonehenge is far enough north to maintain bent grass greens, most every player's favorite putting surface.) One otherwise routine par 5 featured a long green that ran front left to rear right up a severe slope that I failed to get over after hitting the green in regulation. My second putt, still up the hill, was about 30 feet which I misread, leading to my first four-putt in 10 years. Indeed most of the challenge at the rather short layout – 6,549 yards from the tips – was around and on the greens.

Saturday, 23 May 2015 11:07

The Hills Are Alive...With Floridians

        I finally made a long anticipated stop at Fairfield Glade, the sprawling multi-course golf community on the Cumberland Plateau, midway between Nashville and Knoxville, TN. I'll have more to say about the community in the coming days. During our round at The Glade's Stonehenge golf course, my wife and I were matched up with another couple. Dave and Judy live in Clearwater, FL, but now spend their summers at Fairfield Glade, as of about two weeks ago. Their newly purchased home faces the Stonehenge golf course, but the round they played with me was their first on the Stonehenge layout (they have played the four other other courses).
        Of course, I asked why they had chosen this particular community in which to spend a quarter of their year.
        "The temperatures and the home prices," Dave replied without hesitation, as if he had explained this to friends and family a hundred times before. He and Judy elaborated that they had had it with the heat in Florida from June through the end of the summer and were looking for a reasonable place to enjoy their retirement summers. Although they had checked out a number of mountain communities in the southeast, there was always something just a little off with the others. For example, one nice northern Georgia community high in the mountains had roads that twisted so much that even the simplest grocery run, they said, would have been a long and arduous journey. Then they found Fairfield Glade, located on the Cumberland Plateau, a flattish region in Tennessee between Nashville and Knoxville that reaches 2,000 feet in elevation and averages 10 degrees cooler than either of the two aforementioned cities (and up to 20 degrees cooler than the hottest days in Clearwater).
        Home prices in Fairfield Glade begin in the $100s for condos, and many single-family residences price out at less than $100 per square foot. (More on this in the coming days.) I asked the couple why they hadn't chosen Asheville as a potential area for their home. 
        "Too expensive," they said almost in unison.
FairieldGladefromteeThe Stonehenge course is one of five inside the sprawling community of Fairfield Glade, near Crossville, TN.

        On our two-hour drive from Fairfield Glade to Asheville, we encountered a surprisingly large number of cars with Florida license plates. Dave and Judy aren't the only residents of the Sunshine State looking for a little summer respite at higher elevations. North Carolina and the upstate regions of South Carolina are attractive lures for those seeking cooler summers. And should a couple from Florida feel the need for a beach in summer, both Carolinas have those in spades, just a few hours from the mountains in both states.  On the other hand, Tennessee has no state income tax and treats military and other pensions as well as most states do.  There are some cool reasons to consider all three states as retirement venues.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015 21:01

The Case for Mandatory Club Fees

        The May issue of our free monthly newsletter, Home On The Course, will be emailed in the next few days. Some of the best golf communities in the Southeast require that when you buy a property inside the gates, you join the club. It's an obligation that, when times are good, can go down as easy as a mai tai on the back deck. But at other times, such as the housing recession that lasted from 2008 to 2012, such fees caused a lot of heartache -- and some surprising bargains for those willing to take on the obligation today. (You will read about $1 lots for sale in top Low Country golf communities.)
        In the May issue, we also offer a selection of North Carolina semi-private golf clubs inside the gates of nice golf communities. Some do not even charge an initiation fee. We offer a selection on the coast and inland in the Tarheel State.
        Just hit the "Subscribe" button on the top of the page and follow the simple instructions to ensure you don't miss an issue.  (All we need is name and email address.)  Or click here to subscribe to Home On The Course.

Thursday, 07 May 2015 08:11

A Kinder, Gentler Cliffs Golf Membership

        In the years that preceded the recession of 2008, ownership of a home in The Cliffs Communities, whose properties extend from the Asheville, NC, and Greenville, SC, areas to Lake Keowee, was beyond the grasp of any but the well-to-do. Prices for homes started around the $1 million mark. If you wanted to dip your toe in the water with the more modest purchase of a lot, you faced a personal tipping point within 30 days of closing: Join the club or not. If you decided on membership, you ponied up as much as $125,000. If you decided not to join, then your piece of property forever would wear the golf community equivalent of the Scarlet letter: Neither you nor anyone you sold your home to would ever be able to join the club at The Cliffs. Of course, once the new property owners determined that they had essentially ostracized themselves from the key activities in the community, they were free to buy a second property and attach membership to that piece of land. (Some people actually did that.)
        Of course, the recession and a lack of customers changed that particular membership scheme, probably forever; The Cliffs, under its latest owners, today maintains a hybrid of that original plan which provides a bit more flexibility to its resident owners and at a price for full-golf membership that is $75,000 lower than the former peak price. At $50,000, it is a good deal for those who can afford it.
CliffsKeoweeVinpar3The Cliffs at Keowee Vineyard course, designed by Tom Fazio, is consistently ranked among the top layouts in South Carolina. It is one of seven courses available to Cliffs golf club members.
        Prices for homes in The Cliffs Communities are moving back toward their pre-recession levels; developer lots begin at $169,000. However, anyone considering the purchase of a resale property at The Cliffs had better make sure to ask their buyer agent if a membership is attached because, in that regard, the new Cliffs owners are adhering to the old scheme.
        "If a resale lot does not have an active membership," The Cliffs membership office indicates, "its owner or purchaser cannot obtain one in the future."
        Instead, they will need to opt for a developer-owned property -- there are a good choice of those -- and choose from a menu of membership plans within 30 days of closing. If, for example, the buyer selects a "Wellness Membership," she can upgrade to another plan later but will only be able to downgrade the membership upon the death of a spouse or upon demonstration of "hardship."
        The Cliffs' full-golf membership for $50,000 provides reciprocal privileges at all seven golf courses and full access to wellness centers, clubhouses, dining and marina facilities, as well as outdoor activity areas, including hiking and walking trails, private parks and pavilions. Monthly dues in 2013 were $892 for play at all courses without the assessment of a green fee; and $802 per month for no-fee play at the member's chosen "home" course and modest green fees when playing any other Cliffs course.
        Other Cliffs memberships include a Sports Membership at $35,000 ($453 per month dues) and limited play on Cliffs golf courses; a Wellness Membership ($20,000/$319); and Social Membership ($20,000/$160).


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