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Thursday, 17 March 2016 22:27

Restaurant reviews from the road

        I am on the road this week with my wife but without my golf clubs, traveling to New Orleans from Pawleys Island, SC, for a week of good eating and music. I may stumble upon a golf community or two, but so as not to go completely dark here at Golf Community Reviews in the coming days, I will post some short restaurant reviews from our trip.

Antonio's, Andrews, SC
        Our first stop today was in Andrews, SC, a town that has seen better days (given the empty storefronts downtown). But Antonio's restaurant, which extols subs, pizza and "menu items" on its Main Street facing window, was anything but quiet at lunchtime. All tables were filled, almost all of them by healthy looking men in their 30s, some bearing the uniforms of construction workers. They were eagerly digging into fried popcorn shrimp, sandwiches (including the popcorn shrimp po'boy) and burgers and fries. Although the menu indicated the restaurant served a half dozen salad combinations, lettuce was in short supply on the dining room tables. My wife ordered a chicken Parmesan sub and I ordered one of the day's blackboard specials, a quarter pound cheeseburger. Although the tomato sauce on her sandwich was a bit commercial -- I know that taste from a can of my youth -- the sandwich was crispy, the chicken just on the moist side of dry and the melted provolone bland but perfect for the combination. Nice sandwich.
        My hamburger was about as good as it gets for a simple burger buttressed with a perfect medley of lettuce, tomato, pickles and secret sauce, which in this case was mayonnaise on the bottom half of the standard hamburger bun and ketchup on the top half. The meat was crispy on the outside, and that crunch against the mushier additives was a perfect contrast. I added French fries, well cooked if previously frozen, for just a dollar, making the cost/value equation as good as it gets...$4.25 for the entire plate. Take that, Wendy!

Aubri Lane's, Milledgeville, GA
        After a seven-hour drive, we arrived in Milledgeville, GA, a bit out of our way on the New Orleans route. But encouraged by our former English Major son to visit the home of author Flannery O'Connor, which we will do in the morning, and having heard that Milledgeville was an interesting college town, and having never failed to find a good restaurant in a college town, we decided to give it a try. Trip Advisor's top-rated restaurant in town is Aubri Lane's whose name apparently conflates the two first names of the owners' children.
        Located in the downtown area, three blocks from the campus of Georgia College, Aubri Lane's is a sleek two-level restaurant at the high end of eateries in the neighborhood, which is to say entrees in the $18 to $32 range (steaks). Service was a bit choppy as it took my beer 10 minutes longer to be poured out of a bottle than it did for my wife's iced tea to be delivered; and the bread basket arrived just as we finished our salads (although no faulting the rolls which were warm and pleasantly doughy).
        My house salad was excellent; I ordered blue cheese dressing but had to look closely to see if the salad was dressed. It was...exquisitely, with an intensity that was unexpected, given that there was no evidence of blue cheese or, for that matter, anything white. My wife's caprese salad, on the other hand, was a huge disappointment, though attractively layered with alternating tomato and mozzarella slices. When ingredients are not cooked or otherwise fussed with by a chef, they had better be fresh and able to stand out on their own. Neither the mushy tasteless tomato nor the equally bland mozzarella stood out as anything but over-refrigerated and poorly chosen in the first place.
        Dinner entrees were much better, my wife's rack of lamb perfectly cooked at medium rare and my short rib atop a bed of cheesey grits intensely flavored from a long braise in a dark wine sauce. I'm not a carrot fan but the thin slices had soaked up all the sauce and didn't taste like carrots, a good thing for this diner. The meat was fork tender yet had that slightly stringy short rib consistency.
        All in all, I give Aubri Lane's a rating of "Good." The entrees turned out to be fine choices, but the appetizer list, especially the salads, should be approached with a bit more caution. If I am ever in Milledgeville again, and I eat at Aubri Lane's, I will certainly order the crispy pork belly to go with my salad and make a meal of it.

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Saturday, 12 March 2016 13:55

Politically Correct Golf Communities

        Our free monthly newsletter, Home On The Course, is ready to launch, and I don’t know if we have ever produced a more packed issue. The main features include a look at how a $75,000 golf membership in Florida is actually a $10,000 membership; a new feature in which we rank an area popular with golfer retirees (we start with the area south of Myrtle Beach); and a recap of the South Carolina Golf Rating Panel’s choices for the Top 50 golf courses in the state for 2016.
        In our sidebar section, we join the mainstream media’s obsession with the political season -- but with a helpful twist; we identify those golf-rich areas in which conservatives, progressives and independents might feel most comfortable. We even name a few golf communities that could be politically correct, depending on your politics.
        A subscription to the newsletter is complimentary and costs only your name and email address (which we will never share with anybody). We think that is a vote worth casting.  Sign up here.
Wild Dunes par 3 from teeThe SC Golf Rating Panel held its 2016 annual outing at Wild Dunes, whose links course (above) was renovated by Tom Fazio Design last year. At the annual banquet, the Panel revealed its choices for Top 50 golf courses in the state. Read all about it in our free monthly newsletter, Home On The Course.

        The South Carolina Golf Course Rating Panel members have, once again, anointed Pete Dye's Ocean Course at Kiawah Island the best golf course in the state. The 2016 list of the top 50 golf courses in South Carolina was announced at the Panel's annual meeting and outing at Wild Dunes Resort on the Isle of Palms this past weekend. In even numbered years, the panel judges all golf courses in the state; in the odd-numbered years, panel members choose the top public courses in the state.
        Finishing in order in the top 5 behind the Ocean Course, which is open to the public, were: Habour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head Island, which moved up three spots from its 2014 ranking; Tom Fazio's Sage Valley Golf Club in Graniteville; Jack Nicklaus' May River layout in Bluffton; and Greenville Country Club's Chanticleer Course by Robert Trent Jones.
        The second five included, in order: Yeaman's Hall in Hanrahan, The Dunes Golf Club in Myrtle Beach, Secession Golf Club near Beaufort, Long Cove on Hilton Head and Caledonia Golf & Fish Club in Pawleys Island. Caledonia and its sister club True Blue Plantation also earned a special award for the "best value in public golf clubs." Director of Golf Bob Seganti, in accepting the award, referenced the two clubs' annual package membership of $1,895. True Blue which, like Caledonia, was designed by the late Mike Strantz, was ranked by the panel as 42nd best golf course in South Carolina.
WildDunesLinks18thAfter the green at the 18th hole at Wild Dunes' Links course fell onto the beach on Isle of Palms -- for the second time -- the Fazio Design group shortened the par 5 to a par 3, bringing the green 100 yards in from the beach.
        Also earning special awards at this year's banquet were Orangeburg Country Club and its classic Ellis Maples design for "best private club value"; The Legends Golf resort in Myrtle Beach for "best public golf group value"; and the McConnell Golf Group for "best private golf group value." As reported here over the last six years, McConnell has stitched together a high-profile group of private golf clubs in the Carolinas, giving members of any of its clubs access to the others. Recently, the company acquired its third Donald Ross designed course, Holston Hills, near Knoxville, TN.
        Panel members attending the annual meeting played the Wild Dunes Links and Harbor Courses over two days and, at the annual banquet, listened as Brian Bowers, an executive with the Fazio organization, provided a detailed summary of the work done last summer to improve the Links course. I had played the course five years ago, and although the layout was imaginative and fun to play, the greens were too small for a course that is played often in windy conditions, the grasses around the greens were inconsistent and the green on the 18th hole, a par 5 at the time, was close to collapsing onto the adjacent beach and was buttressed by huge and ugly white sandbags. Among the changes Fazio Design made were to reshape and re-contour the greens and to pull the 18th green away from the ocean, turning it into a par 3 for now. Wild Dunes officials, including our host for the weekend, Director of Golf Jeff Minton, are counting on a sandbar just offshore being pushed toward the beach in the coming few years, providing hope that the par 5 might be restored. Every panel member I spoke with was impressed with the Links course layout except for the firm greens which, Fazio Design Group's Mr. Bowers indicated, should soften in the coming few years.
        The 2016 golf course rankings are available at SCGolfPanel.org.
GreenvilleCC sweeping fairway 2Greenville Country Club's Chanticleer course was rated 5th best in the state by the South Carolina Golf Rating Panel.

Monday, 29 February 2016 13:00

Is It Logical to Rent Before Buying?

        I responded to a query today at TopRetirements.com about renting a home in an area before buying one there. Here was my response:
        “On the surface, renting before committing to a purchase makes sense. You get to kick the tires in your new neighborhood and area before making a large investment. However, at a time of rapidly appreciating prices, a one-year rental — even a six-month rental — could cost you a significant amount of money.
        In many of the golf communities I have researched, prices in the last few years have increased between 5% and 10% annually. If you were to have a $300,000 home in mind, whether in a golf community or not, and choose to rent, then your $300K home (or those like it) could be priced at $330,000 just a year later. You might have to settle for a lesser house. And of course you would have ‘wasted’ one year’s worth of rent when you could have been building equity in your home (and, eventually, pocketing that potential $30,000 in price appreciation).
        There are arguments on both sides, but the course I would choose is to visit the area for a week, go everywhere you can, and ask a whole bunch of tough questions of everyone you meet. You should be able to build a clear impression of what life will be like in your new home.”
        I might add the obvious, that the opportunity cost of renting rather than buying a home more expensive than $300,000 is appreciably greater. If you have a particular geographic area or a specific golf community in mind, contact us and we will be pleased to share the latest price trends with you.

        One common mistake some couples make, thanks largely to the Internet, is to look at listings of homes for sale in golf communities. When they find a home whose size, number of rooms and site location impress them, they tend to move on to that golf community’s web site.
        To be blunt, that approach is bass ackward.
        First, any golf community of some size will include homes of all descriptions, which is to say most people will find a home they like in most communities. Or if they want a home exactly to their specs, lots tend to be comparatively inexpensive; they can build the home of their dreams.
        The pivotal question is whether the community will suit them. Since you won’t know the answer until you visit, I suggest to couples I work with that they not even bother looking at houses, online or in person, until they have personally kicked the tires in the community. That includes a tour of the clubhouse, a round of golf on the community’s course, a meeting with the club’s general manager or some other community official, a drive through the entire community, a tour of the area just outside the community and some tough questions about life in the community, including the club’s financials and those of the homeowners association. (Oh yes, if possible, have a meal in the clubhouse to test the kitchen’s ability, especially if the club has a mandatory quarterly dining minimum.) All that should take one full day at least.
        Only after you are satisfied that the community is right for you, then, and only then, should you look at homes. In short, when you visit a golf community, allocate at least two days; the first to check out the community itself, and the second to look at homes or lots if the community makes it past your scrutiny.
Callawassie House and GreenDon't Even Think About It: When you are looking for a golf community home, make sure you love the community before you even bother looking at homes, in person or on the Internet. [Photo taken at Callawassie Island community, near Beaufort, SC]

Saturday, 20 February 2016 20:53

Gone Golfin

        You don't see this very often on a golf course: A player who putts for eagle on a par four AND catches a five-pound bass during the round. Jake Bailey, a Palm City, FL, real estate manager for a local brokerage, may not be ready for the PGA Tour, despite making birdie on the aforementioned par 4, but the boy can fish. Carrying his fishing pole atop the golf cart, he made his first cast beside the 3rd hole at Harbour Ridge Golf and Yacht Club in Palm City, and pulled out three bass within two minutes or so. He would go on to catch a dozen more during the round, sitting out some shots on a few of the holes.
       Jake, whose business card reads "Coach," is a former college baseball player (College of Charleston) who manages a local high school baseball team and is also responsible for training and guiding a staff of 200 real estate agents for a local branch of Keller Williams. If I ever take up fishing in a serious way, I know who to call.
Jake Bailey, with one of a dozen bass he caught during a casual round of golf at Harbour Ridge in Palm City, FL.

Saturday, 13 February 2016 16:31

Potential Golfer in Chief

        There are two politicians running for the highest office in the land whom we can be sure will play golf as President. One is evident: Donald J. Trump, who owns some of the most lavish country clubs around the world. The other is a quieter, more modest sort –- who isn’t, compared to Trump? –- who loves the game, tinkers constantly with grips and equipment and advice, and has pledged to continue to play if he becomes President –- even in the face of the drubbing the current President has taken whenever he steals out for a round at Congressional or on vacation.
        John Kasich is the candidate, and it was clear from an appearance on the Golf Channel last year that he has a regular-guy passion for the game. And when you watch the lesson he takes from Charlie Rymer at the end of the interview, you understand that he is also a quick learner, a trait we all should look for when we vet our potential Commander in Chief.  (In just a couple of swings, Kasich went from a hard left pull to a straight ball.)
        President is a complicated job, and no series of motions are more complicated in sports than the golf swing. John Kasich seems to know what he is doing with a golf club in his hands.
        Video interview of John Kasich on Golf Channel [click here].
Kasich in PawleysRepublican Presidential candidate John Kasich addresses a few hundred residents in Pawleys Island last week.

        Many of us have the idealistic notion that, in retirement, we will be able to leave our automobile in the carport and, instead, rely for most local trips on an environmentally friendly and convenient golf cart.
        But, as Doug Terhune points out, this is more a dream than reality in many communities. Doug is our real estate broker for Brunswick County, one of the fastest growing areas in the nation and home to more than a dozen golf communities, including the popular Ocean Ridge Plantation and Brunswick Forest. Doug publishes a monthly newsletter for his clients and, in his February edition, he explains why golf carts are verboten in many communities. He points out that any communities lacking a guarded or gated entrance are unlikely to permit golf carts on their streets. The streets in such communities are maintained by the local municipalities and require a minimum speed limit, typically 20 mph. But such speeds are beyond the legal limit for open vehicles like golf carts; in our experience, the average cart speed is a doddering 14 mph.
        Some developers installed golf-cart-only paths years ago, but today, as Doug explains, such extra lanes are expensive to build, and today’s post-recession developers are more conservative about extra expenses. And, Doug argues, by the time a golf cart is outfitted with required lights, seatbelts and extra horsepower to reach a required 20 mph or so, the cost will approach that of a VW Beetle, Prius or one of those Smart Cars that, to us, don’t look much safer than a golf cart, except for the extra bit of metal.
        If a golf cart is a must, though, Doug can help. Brunswick County golf communities, like the recently opened Compass Pointe and the more mature Rivers Edge, accommodate the use of golf carts beyond their gated entrances. Contact us and we will introduce you to Doug, who will be happy to help you get into a beautiful golf cart and community.
100 5944This "smart" car seen on the streets of London some years ago would blend in on any golf course.

        Our free monthly newsletter, Home On The Course, is just about ready to launch, and it is packed with information any couple searching for a golf home will not want to miss.  In our main feature, we tackle the idea that size matters in the home you choose in a golf community, especially for your retirement years. Based on conversations with customers who purchased a golf community home with our help, we’ve put together a few of the best lifestyle reasons to go large or more compact in the home you choose.
        In our second feature, we re-tackle a subject important enough to repeat every few months -- the wide assortment of golf memberships available to those choosing to live within the gates of a golf community. As the industry consolidates, it is a buyer’s (i.e. new member’s) market, with an exciting but confusing array of membership offers in the Southeast region’s communities.  We scope out some of the most attractive.
        Finally, our sidebar article this month is something of a cautionary notice that our faithful readers may be tired of hearing from us –- the silliness of those “best of” rankings that are the meat and potatoes of publications both online and in print. We found one list this month that may be the silliest of all, the 2016 ranking of “Best and Worst States to Retire.” Spoiler alert: Florida ranks number one, but the second choice will surprise, if not shock, you. (Think large state not named Alaska, with majestic mountains and a population that rivals Luxembourg. Its 70 golf courses cover 98,000 square miles, the 10th largest state in the U.S., and its winters are almost unbearably brutal.)
        We wish there were an independent ranking for most valuable free newsletter about golf communities. We’re confident we would finish near or at the top. You be the judge; subscribe today by clicking here.

        My wife and I arrived in Pawleys Island, SC, at dinnertime last night (Sunday), and settled into our condo beside Jack Nicklaus’ Pawleys Plantation golf course. And what was the first thing, after breakfast, that I did the next morning in sunny 65-degree weather? You got it: I went for a walk on the beach with my wife.
        When it comes to choosing a golf community, compromise can certainly be a beach. That is how it was when Connie and I chose Pawleys Plantation 15 years ago. I loved the two diverse nine holes on the golf course, the first nine more of a parkland layout with muscular holes and lots of sand in play. The second nine explodes onto the marsh that separates our community from the Atlantic Ocean, its dramatic views and shot requirements typified by the signature 13th hole, just 120 yards long but with an island green smaller than the famed tiny disc at Pete Dye’s Sawgrass at Ponte Vedra south of Jacksonville, FL. (Nicklaus cut his design teeth in the 1980s in the Dye architecture shop.)
        Connie believed that seven minutes by car from the condo to one of the best beaches on the Carolinas coasts was close enough. Our choice of a vacation home had something for everyone, which is the essence of compromise. (I actually enjoy the strolls on the beach, although not quite as much as the golf.)
        We didn’t have the beach to ourselves on this first day of February, but it was quiet enough, save for the burbling of the waves at middle tide and the occasional caws of the seagulls. It gave me pause to consider what other golf communities in the Carolinas are within about 10 minutes of beaches. Here are a few good ones.  (Please contact me if you would like more information on any golf community.)


DeBordieu Colony, Georgetown, SC
        Although your ears and nose tell you how close the ocean is when you play the private Pete-Dye-designed DeBordieu Colony golf course, the original developers had a few million (dollar) reasons for giving the oceanfront area over to the homebuilders. From nowhere on the course is the ocean in sight. All beaches in South Carolina are nominally public, but DeBordieu’s three-mile long stretch lies beyond the community’s guarded gate and, for that reason, members of the public need to row in to use the DeBordieu beach. For those lucky enough to live inside the gates, all it takes is a bicycle or two good legs to get to the beach from home. Single-family house prices start around $500,000 at DeBordieu.
DeBordieutreeinbunkerYou may not be able to see the ocean at DeBordieu Colony's Pete Dye course, but there are plenty of other sights to please the eye.


The Surf Club, North Myrtle Beach, SC
        Farther north, in North Myrtle Beach, the Surf Club is just a couple of blocks from the ocean but, again, no holes play along the seawater. It is a classic golf course, one of the early ones built in Myrtle Beach. Designed by George Cobb in 1960 and renovated by John LaFoy in the 1990s, the Surf Club pre-dates the explosion of golf communities. Built just as a golf course, a community has since grown up around it, but the country club offers just about everything you would expect from a purposely developed golf community (pool, tennis, dining), and for reasonable membership fees. The Surf Club is also one of the rare courses on the coast south of North Carolina that features bent-grass greens. Condos located between the Surf Club and the ocean are priced from the $300s.

Dunes Golf & Beach Club, Myrtle Beach, SC

        The Dunes Golf & Beach Club, whose first nine holes opened in 1949, is another of those nominally private golf clubs in the Myrtle Beach area; but if you are a member of the Dunes Club, one of the best golf courses of the 100-plus in the area, you will share your fairways with players staying at a few local hotels for which The Dunes provides privileges. But those relatively few interlopers are not enough to dull the joy of playing a fine Robert Trent Jones layout that barely bumps up against the beach, although those living in Dunes Estates and the other surrounding neighborhoods will have to take the long way around the 18 holes to get to the sand. Single-family homes adjacent to the Dunes Club are offered beginning in the mid $300s.

St. James Plantation, Southport, NC

        St. James Plantation is separated from the ocean by the Intracoastal Waterway and about a half dozen roads packed with beach houses. Conveniently, the community, which is located 15 minutes from Southport, NC, maintains a private beach club for its residents just 10 minutes out the back gate. When not on the beach, St. James golf club members can enjoy 81 holes of excellent golf designed by architects with names like Dye, Nicklaus and Tim Cate, a local designer whose coastal layouts have received rave reviews over the last two decades. St. James homes start in the $120s for condos and $270,000 for single-family homes.

Landfall, Wilmington, NC
        You won’t find a better combination of 45 golf holes near the ocean than you will at Landfall, which is snuggled between the vibrant city of Wilmington and the popular Wrightsville Beach, just 10 minutes out the back gate. Landfall features 27 challenging holes by Jack Nicklaus and another 18 by Pete Dye, as well as a wide range of homes to fit most budgets and lifestyles, although the golf community is inarguably the most upscale in the Wilmington area. Fewer than a half-dozen townhouses are currently listed, starting at $422,000. Single-family homes are listed from $360,000.

Bald Head Island, NC
        If the idea of living, beach-going and playing golf in splendid isolation appeals to you, with the only four-wheel vehicles permitted in your island paradise non-polluting electric golf carts, two locations off the Carolinas coast should get your attention. First is Bald Head Island, a ferry ride from Southport, NC, and heavily beach oriented, but with a fun links-style golf course at its heart. The layout, designed by George Cobb in 1974 and renovated a few years ago by Tim Cate, plays among the dunes and above the ocean waters and, of course, is subject to fickle winds that can change the degree of difficulty from day to day, and sometimes from hour to hour. The golf course is open to the public, but the public must ride a ferry to get there and either stay on the island or endure a long day of golf and ferry-riding. Add to that green fee rates as high as $125 in peak season, and members do not have to worry about the hoi polloi overrunning their club. Golf memberships are a bit pricey too, with a full-golf initiation fee at $34,000 and annual dues of around $5,800, but lovers of links golf and sandy beaches should find it worth the price. One way to go at Bald Head is fractional ownership in which you “own” (by deed) one week of vacation per season, four weeks a year. The lowest price we see for a fraction of a home is $27,000 and includes a golf club membership.

Haig Point, Daufuskie Island, SC

        In most cases, you won’t pay an initiation fee for a full golf membership at Haig Point on Daufuskie Island, SC, because membership is attached to virtually every home. No personally owned cars are permitted on the island, just a few maintenance vehicles. The ferry, which is maintained by residents and paid for by their club dues and HOA fees, runs frequently to and from Hilton Head Island, and Haig Point employees are always available at both ends to help residents load and unload groceries and other packages. There isn’t much to do on the island other than golf on the 27-hole Rees Jones layout or sunning at the beach club, but isn’t that the point of island living? A half-dozen lots at Haig Point are currently listed for sale at $1 –- that’s not a typo -– but more typical are home sites that are priced from the $30,000s, some with water views. (Note: Since materials and labor must be shipped in to the island, home construction costs are higher than on the mainland.) Although dues are high because of the cost of maintaining the ferry schedules, home prices are appreciably lower than on the mainland for similar properties. A few condos are currently available from the low $100s; single-family homes begin around $250,000.

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