We recently shared some observations about deeply discounted public golf course memberships in the Myrtle Beach area. Along the entire 90-mile stretch of the Grand Strand, there are only four strictly private golf clubs. (Two of them, The Reserve at Litchfield and The Members Club at Grande Dunes, are managed by the same organization and, therefore, accessible to members of each.)
Here is a brief rundown on private golf club memberships in the Myrtle Beach area.
Wachesaw Plantation is ideally sited a couple of miles west of Highway 17, the coastal route that runs through Brunswick County, NC, down through Myrtle Beach and Pawleys Island and, eventually, to Charleston and beyond. The Wachesaw golf course was designed by Tom Fazio in 1985, and its layout hits enough high notes to appeal to double- and single-digit players alike, with some narrow well-bunkered fairways framed by live oaks and tall pines. (According to local golf historians, Mike Strantz, the designer of the heralded Caledonia and True Blue layouts a few miles away, did much of the shaping of the golf course for Fazio.) Greens are generally large and undulating, protected by both bunkers and false fronts. Fazio shows his mischievous side with a split fairway on a par 5 and a par 3 green wedged between a dune and a lake.
Wachesaw’s non-equity member joining fees and monthly dues programs are pegged to the ages of its members. Dues rise gently in five-year increments from the age of 30 to 46 where they top out at a reasonable $444 per month for a single member and $549 for a couple. Joining fees for a married couple living outside the gates of Wachesaw are just $1,250; property owners are required to purchase an equity membership at $5,000, which gives them voting rights on club issues.
I’ve written often about the McConnell Golf Group’s string of private golf courses throughout the Carolinas, but its membership plan warrants mention here. One of the group’s dozen courses is The Reserve Golf Club in Pawleys Island. McConnell also manages the Grande Dunes Members Club about 35 minutes north of The Reserve, which gives members of The Reserve a strong second option nearby. (Note: Members’ rounds are limited to a maximum of three per year at any McConnell course not their own, and a total of 12 rounds combined.) Greg Norman designed The Reserve course to accommodate the sandy soil beneath the fairways and the forests of scrub pines beside the fairways, all just a mile from the Atlantic Ocean. It is one of the rare area golf courses that forces you to consider putting from as far as 15 yards off many of the greens.
Best of all, members enjoy full access to all the other McConnell courses, including the famed Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, designed by Donald Ross and the site of the annual PGA Tour’s Wyndham Championship; Arnold Palmer’s Musgrove Mill in rural upstate South Carolina, perhaps one of the five toughest golf courses in the state; and the Country Club of Asheville, another Donald Ross classic layout opened in 1894. The Reserve initiation fee and dues levels are impressively reasonable for all the golf available, as well as for the impeccable service standards John McConnell imposes. Currently, the joining fee at The Reserve is just $5,000, payable over a few years but discounted to $4,000 if you pay up front. Dues are just $345 per month for an individual and $500 for a family.
Only Wedgewood, a well-worn public track just outside of Georgetown, is farther south among Myrtle Beach’s golf courses than is DeBordieu Colony, which stretches behind its front gate on Highway 17 to the Atlantic Ocean. DeBordieu –- locals refer to it as Debby Doo -– is the most upscale golf community on the Grand Strand, its homes ranging from around $500,000 a half-mile from the beach to nearly $4 million on the oceanfront. It is the only gated golf community from Wilmington to Georgetown in which residents have access to a beach without leaving their community. One of only two Pete Dye designed courses of the Myrtle Beach 100, this one shows all the familiar flourishes we recognize about Dye, including pot bunkers, railroad ties and fairway moguls. The first 16 holes are an enjoyable but not brutalizing experience, but the final two holes, typically played into a stiff breeze off the ocean just 100 yards away, might be the most challenging finishers on the Grand Strand. They are long, with water along the right sides of both, and the bunkers at front left of the 18th green at its narrow entrance are magnets for those seeking to avoid the water at greenside right.
Befitting a golf course and club of this quality, and with a beach club as part of the membership, initiation fees at DeBordieu are the highest on the Grand Strand at $34,000 for an equity membership and a “capital contribution” of $21,000. (Most of the equity is returned to the members when they resell the membership.) Dues are $454 per couple, which certainly meets our definition of “reasonable.” Other sports and tennis memberships are available at lower joining fees and with a few rounds of golf per year available. Creative golfers who crave easy access to an Atlantic Ocean beach could combine a lower cost DeBordieu membership (Sports or Tennis) with one of those public option memberships we wrote about in an earlier article and develop a nice hybrid private and public golfing lifestyle.
For more information on golf real estate and golf memberships in the Myrtle Beach area or anywhere in the Southern U.S., don’t hesitate to contact me, Larry Gavrich, founder and editor of Home On The Course.
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Honest competition is always good for the consumer. And nowhere is the competition among golf courses greater than it is on the Grand Strand of Myrtle Beach, an area that runs about 90 miles from mid Brunswick County in North Carolina to Georgetown, SC. Filling that space are more than 100 golf courses, down from a peak of 120 a decade before the economic meltdown of 2008 but still as densely packed with golf clubs as any comparable area in the world.
Most couples used to the perquisites of private country club membership decide to replicate that experience in their retirement. In the Myrtle Beach area, just four clubs, all in South Carolina, offer a strictly private experience: DeBordieu Colony in Georgetown; The Reserve at Litchfield, Litchfield Beach; Wachesaw Plantation, Murrells Inlet; and Members Club at Grande Dunes, North Myrtle Beach. (Nominally private clubs like The Dunes Club and Surf Club claim to be private but permit some golf package play in association with nearby hotels.)
The following will help those on the fence about which type of golf club membership works the best based on frequency of play and costs. We cover the public courses today and the Private Options in the next posting.
Although in recent years the buddy and family golf tourists that Myrtle Beach depends upon have returned to almost pre-recession levels, 100 golf courses are still at least a few too many for the volume of traffic. Since the recession, some companies have purchased clusters of area golf courses and are offering memberships that provide access to all the courses in the group. A Chinese-based company, for example, formed the Founders Group International after purchasing 22 area courses, including the Jack Nicklaus designed Pawleys Plantation, TPC Myrtle Beach, Long Bay and Grande Dunes. Members who join the Founders Group Prime Time Signature program for just $225 gain access to all 22 courses at deeply discounted prices, up to 70% off. Other companies own smaller groupings of courses in the area and offer similar annual memberships.
As a member of the semi-private Pawleys Plantation –- my Prime Time membership is free with my Pawleys membership -– it makes little sense for me to sign up for an additional membership. But if I did, my choice could very well be the combined annual membership for Caledonia Golf & Fish Club and True Blue Golf Club (formerly True Blue Plantation). Caledonia, located in Pawleys Island, is arguably the best golf course of the Myrtle Beach 100. Designed by the late Mike Strantz (Tobacco Road, Royal New Kent and 10 others), the Caledonia layout is rare among area golf courses in that houses are virtually nowhere to be seen (a few behind the trees along the first fairway, one or two at the back areas of the course). Strantz, who is known for dramatic visual touches that include acres of waste areas and large and multi-leveled greens, restrained himself a bit at Caledonia, but the green complexes are still rife with eye-popping surprises, such as a rollercoaster green on the par 3 3rd hole, a severe two-level green on the par 5 8th, and the intimidating 60-yard long Redan-style green at the finishing hole, which forces an approach over water or a bailout to the front of the green that could leave a putt as long as 150 feet to a back pin position. To add even more drama, the porch of the clubhouse restaurant and bar virtually hangs over the green, providing the unsuspecting golfer an audience that only adds to the hole’s intimidation factor.
True Blue is across the street from Caledonia, which makes it possible for more hearty and enthusiastic members to, in the words of the immortal Ernie Banks of the Chicago Cubs, offer to “let’s play two” easily in one day. Sand dominates True Blue, with wide fairways surrounded and interrupted by hazards. You are likely to never drive a cart through as many waste bunkers as at True Blue, where a ball on the compacted sand can often have the feel of a fairway lie (and, of course, you can ground your club behind the ball). Greens are huge and well protected by sand and, in some dramatic cases, water. At the par 3 3rd, for example, water from tee to the wide but not deep green laps up onto the sand directly in front.
Annual membership for a single player at the two courses is $1,895 and for a couple $2,695. However, members pay a $25 fee to play each time, cart included. As good as the courses are –- both rank comfortably in the Top 5 in the Myrtle Beach area -– such a membership only makes sense for those who can play the courses two or three times per week. Some quick math indicates that playing Caledonia and True Blue twice per week annually would cost around $4,400 for the year, or about $366 per month, still a better deal than at virtually all private clubs. And although the tee sheets at Caledonia and True Blue in peak season are jammed from early morning to mid afternoon, pace of play rivals that of a private course on most days. For more information, see the Caledonia and True Blue website.
The Myrtle Beach Passport is among the oldest of the “affinity” memberships in the area. For just a $49 membership annually, Passport holders who show proof of residence in one of 15 counties in North and South Carolina can play more than 70 of the area courses at deep discounts and bring along up to 3 friends who will play for just a little bit more than their hosts. All the best public golf clubs are represented, including Caledonia, True Blue, Pawleys Plantation, TPC Myrtle Beach, Grande Dunes Resort Course, Kings North and all four Barefoot Resort courses. The annual fee is typically paid for in savings after just one or two rounds. For the gourmand golfer who wants to sample virtually everything on the Myrtle Beach golfing buffet table, it is as good a deal as a conceded putt to close out a match.
Next: Private Club Golf Options in Myrtle Beach
In this most contentious of Presidential elections, one might be inclined to think that the clubhouse bars, dining rooms and golf courses in Southern golf communities are the scenes of pitched battles between donkeys and elephants. The reality, however, is a little different based on discussions we had with developers, real estate agents and residents in some of our favorite golf communities. That is the main feature of our Home On The Course newsletter, just released to nearly 1,000 subscribers. Join them by subscribing here.
We also take a look at voting results from 2008 and 2012 in selected Florida, Georgia and Carolinas counties. Are they predictors of what will happen in just few weeks? We provide the numbers, you be the judge.
Once upon a time, mandatory golf memberships were popular for some of the higher end golf communities in the Southeast, especially in the area between Bluffton and Beaufort, SC. But one community’s experience with the obligation of paying dues for a club you don’t use has pitted resident against resident and resulted in a lawsuit. For conservative buyers it could serve as a lesson; but for contrarian investors, perhaps an opportunity. (How does a nice lot for $1 sound?)
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For most of the 50+ years I have been playing golf, I’ve known about and wanted to play at least one of the three golf courses at Saucon Valley Country Club in Bethlehem, PA. I attended college an hour away and my wife and sister attended Cedar Crest College in Allentown, mere minutes from the golf courses. But Saucon Valley is private, and I never made the acquaintance of a member of the club. Yesterday, however, courtesy of a friend whose wife and he are active in the affairs of Cedar Crest, I finally made it Saucon Valley via a fundraiser event for the college.
Saucon Valley is not located in a golf community, although I could see a few homes through the woods during our round. Turf conditions were impeccable, the greens fast and nearly spotless, although firm. We played the Grace Course, the members’ least favorite according to our forecaddie. I suspect the others are more challenging with narrower fairways and slightly more changes in elevation. On our drive back to the clubhouse, we passed the finishing hole on one of the nines, and it was much more elevated than any we played on the Grace layout, with surrounding bunkers that were clearly there for more than eye appeal.
I hope that Cedar Crest repeats the fund raiser next year and moves to one of the other two courses...although I found no fault with Grace layout. I snapped off a few photos with my iPhone. Enjoy.
Cleanup from the destruction wrought by Hurricane Matthew last week is well under way. Water and tree damage to golf communities from Miami, FL, to New Bern, NC remain, but golf courses are beginning to reopen up and down the coast. In Myrtle Beach, most of the area’s 100 golf courses reopened on Wednesday, although a few big names, like the venerable Dunes Club and Surf Club, were not ready for play. My own Pawleys Plantation in Pawleys Island, SC, plans to open on Friday.
Matthew was a unique storm event in terms of the coastal cities where it landed. Chief among them was Savannah, which frequent readers of this site and my free monthly newsletter will know is almost hurricane proof because of its location well to the west of the Gulfstream; for the last 100 years, any serious Atlantic storms were whisked northward, about 75 miles east of the city. Not this time around, however, as the stubborn Matthew hugged the coastline along the full lengths of Florida and Georgia. Hilton Head Island, which is just to the northeast of Savannah, was directly in the storm’s path. But aside from broken docks, plenty of downed trees and concrete chunks from the dock at the marina that were tossed up and around the 18th green at the famed Harbourtown Links course, the surrounding Sea Pines Plantation fared pretty well. (And for those worried about the famous Lighthouse behind the green, it did not suffer a scratch, according to a video I watched.)
Savannah, according to the well-regarded book “Hurricane Watch,” should suffer a major hurricane no more often than 1.3 times per 100 years. For those looking for a golf community along the southeast coast and especially worried about major storms like Matthew, the odds are with you at a place like The Landings on Skidaway Island, just 20 minutes from downtown Savannah. They have just endured their 100-year storm, and probability indicates it should be another 75 years or so before the next one (although please don’t blame me if the next storm beats the odds). Other coastal cities with lots of golf communities and good odds when it comes to major hurricanes (according to “Hurricane Watch”) -– those packing winds of more than 111 mph –- include St. Marks, FL (due south of Tallahassee and on the Gulf of Mexico; 1.4 major hurricanes per 100 years), Daytona Beach (2.6), Jacksonville (1.9), Charleston (2.2), Myrtle Beach (2.6), Wilmington (2.1) and Virginia Beach (1.3).
Although the popular image of major hurricanes is of broken piers and sand covered roadways, a storm like Matthew can cause serious damage to inland locations. Greenville, NC, has been in the news the last few days for the threat of severe flooding from the Tar River. As I write this (noon Wednesday), military trucks are rumbling through some neighborhoods in Greenville, their loudspeakers warning residents in high risk neighborhoods to evacuate immediately. Branches of the Tar run through Brook Valley Country Club, one of the dozen McConnell Group golf courses in the Carolinas; and a few holes at Greenville’s Ironwood Country Club are a hundred yards or so from the river itself.
“Ironwood was scheduled to host a home tournament for ECU (East Carolina University) this Sunday through Tuesday,” says Brook Valley Head Golf Professional Riley Kinlaw. “However, they are going have some flooding on their course. Brook Valley is stepping in to help out the University and providing those teams a place to play their event.”
If you would like more information about hurricane probabilities along the Southeast coast or about any of the golf communities in the region, please contact me.
To build a golf course and surrounding community anytime after the 2008 recession, a developer either had to be dumb or very organized. Put Compass Pointe developer Bobby Harrleson in the “organized” camp.
At a time when virtually everyone not invested in a golf course or golf community is preaching gloom and doom for the golf industry, it takes guts and confidence to build a golf course, let alone an entire community with golf as its central amenity. The 79-year-old Mr. Harrelson has plenty of both and something that counts for even more –- experience. Over a five-decades-long career, he has built and/or managed 100 communities of varying sizes in the Wilmington area, including Leland, NC’s Magnolia Greens, with 27 holes of golf. Magnolia Greens is located just across Highway 17 from the much more aggressively marketed and successful Brunswick Forest.
Compass Pointe brochures quote Mr. Harrelson as saying, “Everybody deserves a nice place to call home.” That is not just good ad copy; when you meet the developer, as I had the opportunity during a recent visit, he emphasizes that his first priority in pricing the real estate and building the amenities and golf course in Compass Pointe is not to generate the most profit the traffic will bear. I didn’t have my notepad out but, as I recall, he told me, “We did it this way because everybody deserves a nice place to call home.” (Certain politicians could learn a thing from Bobby Harrelson about staying on message.)
Location –- and location and location -- of course, counts for most of the value in any home, and Compass Pointe has the benefit of proximity to one of the South’s most interesting and full-service cities, Wilmington. High speed NC State Road 140 and US 74 link up just a few hundred yards from the community’s front gate; Highway 74 makes the trip into Wilmington just 10 minutes and to the popular Wrightsville Beach less than 25 minutes. Brunswick Forest is located closer to the city, but traffic outside its entrance can make the trip into Wilmington a stop and go affair. Compass Pointe has no commercial area just outside its gates. Pick your poison: Brunswick Forest, across the highway from excellent shopping and other services but with the traffic that goes with it; or Compass Pointe’s rural setting 10 minutes from all that shopping. (Note: Plans at Compass Pointe call for a small group of Village Shoppes that will add convenience shopping and a few restaurants at the community’s edge. Also, an independent company plans to break ground on an assisted care center just inside the boundaries of the community, making it possible for residents to live out their days on site.)
Although Compass Pointe is open to people of all ages, except for an area of more than 100 single-family homes restricted to persons 55 years and older, just a handful of families with children live inside the gates; and more than 90% of residents are year-rounders. The community’s amenities seem geared mostly to the retired residents, especially at the Grand Lanai beside Cardinal Lake. The amenities there include a Wellness Center with a constant rotation of classes for the body and mind (yoga, aerobics, painting), rows of fitness machines, a spa, and a massage therapist available on an appointment basis. (During my visit, I noted that a couple of dozen people were taking a painting class.) The Grand Lanai, which also features cooking stations and a huge screen TV for major sporting and other events, opens onto a large pool area and a canoe and kayak launch beyond. Mr. Harrelson’s plan has been to roll out one big new amenity annually, and he has been true to his commitment since opening; this year’s big amenity was the golf course, which opened in June (see below). An indoor pool is scheduled for next year, along with a “lazy river” that will appeal to children from 9 to 90.
Golf course designer Rick Robbins, who has chosen to build a home at Compass Pointe, has fashioned a layout to enjoy at virtually any age. The fairways are extremely generous, 40 yards or so wide in some places, with fairway bunkers positioned to catch only the most reckless of drives. You won’t find any bunkering directly in front of the greens, although there were plenty of traps to catch wayward approach shots to the sides. And any “junk” in front of tee boxes –- marshy areas, streams, heavy rough -– is easily flown if the correct tee boxes are chosen. But the
Someday, soon I hope, I will activate a web site I have owned for a few years called “Off The Beaten Cart Path.” Although it sounds representative of golf courses at significant distance from major cities, I really intend it to be those courses that take at least a little effort to reach.
The Golf Course at Glen Mills in Thornbury, PA, would certainly make the grade. Ranked recently as the fourth best public course in all of Pennsylvania and located about a 40 minute drive from the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, Glen Mills, nevertheless, feels as if it is in East Podunk. You pass family farms on the way there and, just before you reach the turnoff to the course, a beautiful school set on a rolling 800 acre campus. The Glen Mills Schools opened in 1826 as the Philadelphia House of Refuge for Boys, and today serves boys ages 15 to 18 identified as “juvenile delinquents,” many of them gang members. In fact, the school recruits some gang members and uses elements of gang social structure to exert peer pressure and structure rewards. No one is permitted to make physical contact with their fellow students. Most interesting, perhaps, is that the young man at the golf course bag drop who greets you or the person who takes your order for a hot dog at the snack bar is more than likely to be.a student at Glen Mills. Indeed, one of the golf course’s reasons for being is to provide opportunity to Glen Mills students for work while they straighten out their lives. Graduates of the golf course’s extension program have gone on to careers as golf club superintendents and turf management instructors.
The Glen Mills Schools just beyond the Golf Course at Glen Mills.
Straightening out your drives is not the biggest challenge on the golf course at Glen Mills where the fairways are extremely generous. I did not play well but still managed to hit all but one par 5 and par 4 fairway. The trouble is generally on and around the large and undulating greens where Robert “Bobby” Weed exhibits a bit of the sly fox of his mentor, Pete Dye. Glen Mills is one of those golf courses where pin positions can mean the difference between a pleasant walk and a spoiled one. We found a few positions atop ridges, or close enough to give extra pause on approach shots and a few where it was tough to identify the right spot without driving all the way up to the green. A few pins were tucked just beyond bunkers at the bottom of slopes, necessitating a play away from the bunker and to the middle of the large greens (never a bad play but where’s the fun in that?). But all in all, even with a few blind shots, Glen Mills is a fun experience.
If you ever find yourself off the beaten cart path southwest of Philadelphia, make sure you devote four hours to a round at the unique Glen Mills.
A downhill par 3 at the Golf Course at Glen Mills.
While doing a search for a customer today, I happened to check through the listings at Colleton River Plantation, an upscale golf community in Bluffton, SC, that suffered a crash in home and land prices during the recession. Overzealous purchasing of lots that sold for as much as $400,000 just before the recession left some residents looking to dump those extra lots at ridiculous prices from 2009. The definition of “ridiculous” was $1.
The reason for the crazy pricing is that golf membership is mandatory at Colleton River, as it is at its fine neighboring golf communities of Berkeley Hall and Belfair Plantation. Even if you own a home in these communities and purchase a lot, you must commit to a second golf membership with an annual dues obligation approaching $20,000 (including the homeowner association dues and other assessments). The 45 holes of Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus golf are about as good as you will find inside the gates of any golf community, but there are no mulligans for that extra obligation. Once you commit, it is like the Roach Motel: You can check in (for membership) but you can’t check out until someone buys your lot.
My customer is looking for a home priced up to $500,000, and I figured that, post recession, there still might be a selection of homes in that range. Boy, was I wrong; there are no homes currently for sale below $539,000 in Colleton River. That caused me to assume that the Colleton market has risen dramatically overall, and that those $1 lots were long gone. But when I scanned the list of current lots for sale, there were 11 priced at $1, and some of them were beautifully sited. Here’s a description of one that is over a half-acre in size: “Long panoramic golf views of the 2nd fairway of the fabulous Dye Course...Seller will pay the Colleton River Initiation Fee and balance of 2016 Dues.” In other words, the seller is giving you something like $20,000 (in value) to take his nice piece of property off his hands.
About $200 per square foot in construction costs should get you a nicely outfitted brand new home, or a total of $500,000 for a 2,500 square foot house. Sorry: Make that $500,001.
At first blush, August real estate sales in the Wilmington, NC, area, seem like an anomaly, but the numbers imply this may be a good time to buy a home inside or outside a golf community in the area.
Year over year sales for the month of August leaped by 30% in New Hanover, Pender and northern Brunswick Counties, which surround Wilmington. But –- and it is a big but -– median prices decreased more than 5% according to the area’s MLS (multiple listing service). Average sales price of a home in the region reached $260,000 in August, although the median price dropped to $206,000. The conclusion one can draw from those two numbers is that a disproportionate number of expensive homes sold during the month.
The increase in homes sold, from 683 to 889, implies that inventory could begin to dry up in Wilmington, assuming most of those who purchased homes intend to live in them for at least a few years or use them as vacation homes (as opposed to buying them as investments). Those who planned to sell their homes beginning in 2008 but held off when the recession sent
I am resigned to the fact that I will never hit a 90 mph rising fastball, sink 10 free throws in a row, or kick a 40-yard field goal –- with or without a line of 300-pounders rushing at me. But at age 68, I fully expect in the coming years to conquer one of sport’s enduring challenges for rank amateurs –- to shoot my age in golf. That will happen only if I play from tee boxes appropriate to a game that no longer includes 230-yard drives (unless a rare solid strike comes while I am pointed downhill and with a strong wind at my back).
Most modern courses play from around 7,000 yards at the tips, roughly 6,600 yards at the tees one level closer (typically blue in color) and anywhere from 6,000 to 6,300 from the white tees at all but the most compact courses. That 300-yard difference can be larger than it appears, with most of the added degree of difficulty found in the par 4s. For example, at the redesigned Keney Park course in Hartford, CT, my new favorite layout in Connecticut, the back tees play to a modest 6,449 yards and the blue tees to just 6,046 yards, which at first blush seems short enough. But on closer inspection, three par 4s of the six on the front nine exceed 400 yards –- including a hole called Biarritz, which celebrates a design that features