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        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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Monday, 25 January 2016 10:49

St. James Plantation loses enviro tax case

        I write this from my office in my home in Connecticut which looks out on our backyard and to the neighbor’s house about 60 yards away. Between our house and theirs is a wooded area that could probably accommodate another four homes comfortably but will forever be left as is. From my office I have watched deer and the occasional fox emerge. The bear that attacked our garbage can one evening dragged some of its contents in that direction. The other day I took a photo from my office of a red tailed hawk perched in a high branch in the woods.
        An argument could certainly be made that our little wooded patch is an animal sanctuary, but I have never thought of it as worthy of a conservation easement and the tax savings that come with such status; that is, not until I read that St. James Plantation near Southport, NC, had claimed $8 million in conservation easement tax savings for a couple of its golf courses, a claim that was denied.
        Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal reported that the IRS prevailed in its dispute with the club. After testimony by a Duke University environmental expert, a court in North Carolina turned down the club’s claim that “patches of native vegetation and wildlife,” according to the judge who made the ruling, did not warrant multi-million dollar tax breaks. The conservation professor found that St. James was claiming all parts of its golf courses, including mowed fairways and greens and even paved cart paths. That, he thought, was an easement too far.
        The law permits the claim of a charitable deduction if someone or some entity (like a golf club) gives away the right to develop land that otherwise could be developed or used in some other way. The rule has helped protect and preserve millions of acres of pristine land in the U.S. Since I never owned that patch of woods behind my house and since St. James already uses most of the land for which it tried to get a non-use exemption, it appears we both have a similar claim to nothing.

Friday, 22 January 2016 12:53

In Your Mind Are You Going to Carolina?

        The latest weather up north has many of us thinking about warmer climates. And although the interior areas of the Carolinas are about to be whacked by this latest snowstorm, count on the snow melting away there by the middle of next week. 
        The state of Florida is hot, in the market sense, as baby boomers have picked up a renewed migration fever for the Sunshine State. But if you look at migration figures over the last five years, you will see both Carolina states ranked in the top 5 for popularity.
        For the last two years, I have been contributing golf-related articles to CarolinaLiving.com. By virtue of the web site's target and my assignment, most of the articles have a decidedly Carolina theme. What is especially noteworthy about the two Carolina states is that you have your choices of a golf home in the mountains or on the coast, or somewhere in between. Overall, most of the customers we have helped relocate over the last six years have found their homes on the course in one of the two Carolina states.
        If you have any thoughts of relocating to either North or South Carolina, check out my articles in Carolina Living's golf lifestyle section. While you are on the site, I encourage you to browse the many features Pat & Leyla Mason, the co-founders, have posted there, including: A directory of day trips in the two states; articles on Carolinas cuisine and recipes that capture the indigenous tastes of coast and mountains; and literally dozens of other articles that appeal to a wide range of interests (birding in the Carolinas, anyone?)
        Of course, if you are thinking of moving to the Carolinas or anywhere in the Southeast, please contact me and I will be pleased to offer suggestions about which areas and specific golf communities will best match your requirements. And if you aren’t quite sure yet what your requirements are, I’m happy to help you figure that out in order that you might find that dream home on the course.

Callawassie Bridge to par 3As we write this, it is 63 degrees and raining in Okatie, SC, home to the golf community of Callawassie Island. No snow is in the forecast.

        I haven’t trusted the National Association of REALTORS since the sunshine they pumped into the real estate market just prior to the 2008 meltdown caused some folks to be grievously surprised when housing prices plummeted (those who had just purchased homes and those who could have sold theirs before they went under water). It was definitely a low point for the trade group.
        But the NAR has been slowly reestablishing its credibility and providing more sanguine opinions and analysis much more appropriate to the data it provides. When the group’s web site, Realtor.com, recently published its “Hottest Beach Towns” list, I was willing to take note...and share those results with you.
        To create their list of most currently attractive beach towns, the editors at Realtor.com looked how many people accessed listings in each beach towns, and then they eliminated all those with populations above 100,000 to assess those towns with “a small town vibe.” That filtering process left about 1,100 beach towns to consider.
TrueBlue18byElliotCondominiums beside the iconic Mike Strantz design at True Blue Plantation in Pawleys Island, SC, are listed well below the area's median prices for homes. True Blue condos are offered as low as $110,000.  Photo courtesy of Elliot deBear
        All but one of the top 10 hottest beach towns is located in Florida. Myrtle Beach, SC, known as much for its buffet of golf courses as for its sparkling barely interrupted 90-mile strand of beach, ranks 3rd on the list which adds, for each town, the latest median list prices for homes. In Myrtle Beach’s case, that is $168,950. (Much of the market comprises condominiums.) Topping the list are Sarasota ($339,000) and Naples ($479,000), two towns we know well and where we have established great working relationships with real estate professionals who understand the golf community markets in those hot towns. (See below for what those median prices will buy you in each of the top markets.)
        At #5 on the list is Vero Beach where we recently established a working relationship with Suzanne Leffew of the Dale Sorensen Agency, one of the most successful real estate firms in the Vero area. We have been impressed in Vero with how much home one can still find in an area a short drive to the beach and in communities –- we are featuring Grand Harbor and Pointe West –- with excellent golf and other amenities. The median price of home in the area is $309,000. We might also note that Vero is not in the most densely populated section the Sunshine State’s east coast; if you don’t want to spend a good chunk of your retirement or winter vacation fighting traffic, Vero Beach is worth a look.
        Rounding out the top 5 is #4 Delray Beach ($248,950). For Realtor.com’s full list of top beach locations and the accompanying article, click here.

Current homes for sale at median price in top beach towns

  • In Sarasota’s Palmer Ranch, $344,000 will buy you a 2-bedroom, 2-bath condominium adjacent to the Stoneybrook Golf & Country Club, featuring 1,684 square feet, a heated pool and spa and a maintenance free lifestyle (or exterior maintenance handled by homeowner’s association). The underrated Arthur Hills designed the golf course, which is open to the public but offers memberships to residents only.

    ImperialGolfapproachoverwaterBecause it is a mature community, the Imperial Estates & Golf community doesn't get the attention it deserves. Its single-family homes are among the most reasonably priced in the upscale market of Naples. The community also features 36 holes of golf.
  • In Naples’ well-established and gated Imperial Estates & Golf community, $469,000 is being asked for a 3 bedroom, 3 bath single-family home of 2,451 square feet. Single-car garages at both ends of the house, accessed from a circular drive, add to the unique cachet of the home. A generously sized lanai looks directly out on the private 15 x 30-foot pool, which can be accessed through glass sliding doors from a few points in the house. With 36 holes of golf, 18 by Arthur Hills, Imperial is a royal experience for its residents and club members.
  • In Myrtle Beach, homes available at the median price of $168,950 are almost always condominiums. Some are ideal for part-time ownership and spur of the moment family vacations or buddy golf trips. The condos adjacent to the unique True Blue golf course certainly could fit that description. They aren’t all that much to look at but, hey, you’re there to play golf, and the golf at True Blue and its companion course, Caledonia, provide the best tandem on the Grand Strand. One True Blue condo that looks out on the golf course is priced at $155,000 and provides 3 bedrooms, 3 baths, and around 1,350 square feet of space. Other smaller True Blue condos are priced all the way down to $110,000.
  • The private enclave in Vero Beach known as the Indian River Club is gated and features a championship layout by Ron Garl. Course access is for members only and their guests. Those members are from 29 U.S. states and Canada, and they appreciate not only the challenging and fun layout but also the swim and fitness centers and active clubhouse. For $309,000 in Indian River, you will find a 3-bedroom, 2-bath golf villa sited on the 10th hole with a short walk to the clubhouse, pool and practice area.

        For an overview of a number of the best golf communities in these and other areas along the coast, please visit our Golf Homes for Sale pages.

        Because my beloved Brooklyn Dodgers conducted spring training there, I grew up loving Vero Beach without ever having set foot in the place. Dodgertown was perennially regaled as the most fully outfitted spring training facility in all of baseball and, perhaps, in all of sports. Players’ wives and families especially liked Vero for its balmy winter climate, wide and beautiful beaches and congenial atmosphere. It must have been tough to return to Brooklyn and its 40 to 50 degree April temperatures for the beginning of the regular season after a winter mostly in the 70s.
        The Dodgers, sadly, left for dryer spring pastures in Arizona, closer to the Los Angeles they moved to in 1958 (this is where a 67-year-old man starts to tear up). The good news is that all the surrounding elements that made Dodgertown great –- its nine hole golf course at the time was much praised -– still make Vero Beach strongly worthy of consideration by those looking for a home in one of the area’s top-notch but reasonably priced golf communities.
Pool at Grand Harbor Vero BeachOne of the pools at Grand Harbor, Vero Beach
        This is why we are pleased to announce that Vero Beach golf home listings are now posted in our Golf Homes for Sale section, along with more than five-dozen other high-quality golf communities throughout the Southeast. Our real estate professional in Vero Beach is Suzanne Leffew who, like your editor, was New Jersey born and raised -– please don’t hold that against us –- and is one of the most successful agents on the Treasure Coast. Suzanne suggested Grand Harbor as a golf community in the area that appeals across a broad spectrum of interests and price ranges. Click on the blue button on the Grand Harbor page, send Suzanne a note with your price range included, and she will provide you with a customized list of current homes for sale at Grand Harbor that fall in your price range. She can also provide sample listings from other golf communities in the Vero Beach area that fit your requirements and budget.
        Speaking of other top golf communities in the Vero Beach area, we have also posted information at Golf Homes for Sale about Pointe West, another Vero Beach golf community with a unique twist -– shops, medical offices, restaurants and more just a short walk from within most areas of the community. Adjacent to this “Town Center” are tree-lined sidewalks in Heritage Park which lead to exhibition and entertainment venues that host festivals, craft fairs and art shows. The golf course, by John Sanford, was clearly inspired by trips to Scotland; and because the golf club is managed by the Arnold Palmer group, club members have access to the dozens of great Palmer-managed clubs around the world.
        Florida is hot again, and prices are rising to pre-recession levels, which means “relatively expensive.” Because it is far from the maddening crowds of Boca Raton and cities farther down the coast, Vero Beach golf communities are still reasonably priced. For example, I noted today a cute 3-bedroom, 2-bath home of about 2,500 square feet in Pointe West that is currently listed for just $315,000 and includes views out to the golf course from the home’s screened porch. As a home cook, I especially appreciate the gas stove in the expansive kitchen. You will too.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015 08:40

The Trouble with Cost-of-Living Calculators

        If you are looking to move from a high cost-of-living location to a lower one, the best tool you can use during your search is one of the cost of living calculators on the Internet that compare one city to the next. The sites I reference for my clients access census and other "official" data to make their comparisons. The numbers are essential guidance because they determine how much a couple might be able to spend on a home and, more to the point, on the carrying costs, such as club dues, homeowner association fees and other living expenses, their budgets will have to accommodate. A mistake in the calculation can seriously impede a happy retirement.
        It is fundamental, therefore, to know what you are looking at on the cost-comparison web sites. A look at two of the most popular demonstrates that the results for the same comparisons can yield significantly different results.

The price of steak in Asheville
        The two sites are BestPlaces.net and BankRate.com. BankRate does a brilliant job of lining up a long list of comparisons in spending categories that get down to the most granular level; if you eat a lot of meat, for example, you will appreciate how much more or less a T-bone steak costs in the South than in the North. Comparisons of pharmaceutical costs are more relevant, especially as we age, and those are available as well for selected drugs. BestPlaces provides some of these comparisons, although not down to the level of a T-bone, but you have to jump from section to section of their web site to find the specific costs. But in one important area, BestPlaces is more functional and less prone to cause a misinterpretation of the results, and that is in the specific towns it provides for comparison, whereas BankRate uses "metro" areas that, in some cases, comprise towns with entirely different cost profiles, especially in terms of housing costs.
        I found this out during test comparisons of Hartford, CT, with Asheville, NC. I chose Hartford because it is 10 miles from my Connecticut home and I probably know the city as well as any other. On BankRate.com, the Hartford "metro" area includes the towns of East Hartford and West Hartford, as well as the larger city. You really won't find two towns much more different than East and West Hartford, the former a blue collar burg of hard working folks, many of them attracted to the area by East Hartford’s Pratt & Whitney jet engine plant which has been central to the local economy for six decades. West Hartford is home to many more upscale homes and a few multi-million dollar mansions, and its town center is a hub for thriving retail and restaurant activity.

One metro area, two different cost profiles
        Mindful that most moves from North to South will lower annual expenses, sometimes dramatically so, I was not surprised that BankRate.com yielded a 22% cost of living reduction comparing a move from the Hartford metro to Asheville, NC. And it made sense that when I checked the comparison of upscale West Hartford’s annual costs against Asheville, the drop was similar at 23%. What I was not prepared for was the much smaller reductions for East Hartford and the city of Hartford itself when compared with Asheville, 5% and 6% respectively. In short, a couple moving from Hartford to Asheville and using the BankRate number of 22% could be in for a shock when they find out that their real expenses don’t change that much. Of course, the Hartford metro area comprises many other towns, some of them with cost levels similar to West Hartford’s, but the upshot is that the BankRate number, though based on reliable data provided by ACCRA’s CostofLiving.org, is too broad in its geography. BestPlaces lists a couple dozen sources for the data it uses across its entire web site, but doesn’t indicate the specific source(s) for its cost-of-living data.  (Note:  The CostofLiving.org site charges a fee for cost of living comparisons.)
        I checked a half dozen other cost comparison sites and found that they all produced fairly similar results for a Hartford to Asheville relocation. Some provide a long list of cities the way BestPlaces does. The U.S. Department of State web site helpfully lists more than a dozen sites with cost of living comparison calculators. You will find them here. Some of the sites include multiple cities to compare in each state, others just a few (e.g. just three, at some sites, for all of Connecticut). I suggest you take a few of them for a test drive to see which ones provide the best data for you. But for our money, BestPlaces.net still provides the most helpful comparisons.

        A Harris poll that asks Americans the state where they would choose to live if they didn’t live in their own state indicates that Florida is the most popular state of all. But Florida also ranked 7th as the state least likely to attract survey respondents.
        This is Florida’s plight as a place to live: It is attractive for its wonderful winter climate, its wide range of golf communities, a choice of coast or lake-oriented living and, for many, no state income tax; and it is a turnoff for its dense population (especially on the east coast), traffic problems and a perception as “God’s Waiting Room,” overpopulated with old people.
        In a way, Florida is laughing all the way to the bank as its raw net migration in the past couple of years has exploded after a hiccup just before and during the early years of the recession. Population in the Sunshine State grows by more than 700 new residents every day, and there are strong signs that young people are being drawn by hip coastal locations, like Miami’s South Beach area. Millennials and Gen Xers who, combined, cover the 18 to 50 age group, put Florida #2 on their lists, after California.
Laurel Oak Sandhill CranesWater and sand aren't the only obstacles to shotmaking at Laurel Oak Country Club in Sarasota, FL. Sandhill cranes share space with Laurel Oak's members.
        "[There are] a lot of young professionals and a buzz starting to happen down here," a 23-year-old transplant from Seattle to Fort Lauderdale told South Florida’s Sun Sentinel.
        Baby boomers put Florida at #1 on their list and Hawaii #2 on the Harris poll. (Of course, the poll did not add an “if you could afford it” caveat to the “where would you live” question; if money is no object, few wouldn’t want to live in Hawaii.) Among all age groups, women and men put Florida at the top of their lists (the men in a tie for #1 with California).
        The Carolinas did well in the survey, with North Carolina landing as the 7th most desired state and its southern neighbor holding down the 12th spot. Neither Carolina state appears on the Top 15 list of states least likely to attract residents, although other southern states like Mississippi (#4) and Alabama (#6) did make the least likely list (neither appears on the Top 15 “most likely” list). Texas, like Florida, is liked and disliked, landing at #6 and #5 respectively.
        Speaking of Florida, I don’t think it is a coincidence that, in the last few weeks, I’ve run into people who have touted Sarasota for its urbane culture characterized by the Ringling Museum and other highlights, its lively downtown entertainment and restaurant scene and the nearby beaches, some of which have been ranked at the top of lists published by travel magazines. Our real estate professional in the area, Dennis Boyle, knows well all the area’s golf communities, among them Concession, Lakewood Ranch, Longboat Key and River Strand at Heritage Harbour, where 2 bedroom condos start as low as $145,000. Check out all of Dennis’ current homes for sale in Sarasota/Bradenton golf communities at our Golf Homes for Sale pages.  (Thanks to Golf Community Reviews reader Keith Spivey for calling our attention to the Harris Poll.)

        There’s good news and bad news for Southeast golf communities in the latest rankings of residential golf courses from Golfweek magazine. Wade Hampton, the Tom Fazio layout opened in 1988 in Cashiers, NC, once again earned the top spot nationwide. But there isn’t another Southeast golf course in the top 10. Indeed, it isn’t until the #12 position that another regional entry, the classic Seth Raynor layout for Mountain Lake in central Florida, makes the Top 100 list. After that, though, courses from Delaware south to Florida are well represented; 36 layouts from Virginia south to Florida made the Top 100 list.
        In the 13th position is Mountaintop, the Fazio layout not far from Wade Hampton in Cashiers (pronounced “cashers”). Rounding out the top 20 are John’s Island West in Vero Beach, FL (#18) and the Pete Dye layout for Long Cove on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina (#19). A common theme in all these top 20 communities is the lofty prices for real estate, averaging seven figures for a home in most of the communities.
        Things become a little more down to earth with the choice at the #21 position, the Ben Crenshaw/Bill Coore modern classic at Cuscowilla in Eatonton, GA, just down Lake Oconee from Reynolds Plantation whose own Great Waters layout by Jack Nicklaus squeaked inside the top 100 at position #89. At Cuscowilla, condos are priced from around $250,000, and we noted a cute-looking single-family home currently offered for $289,000. A 2 bedroom, 2 bath cottage overlooking the practice range of the Great Waters course is listed for less than $200,000 (might need some work), but single-family homes around priced in the $500,000 range are more the norm at Reynolds, which is now owned by Metropolitan Life Insurance Company.
        Other courses in communities we have visited and can recommend include Old Tabby Links at Spring Island in Okatie, SC, whose recent renovations helped it bump up a couple of spaces from last year’s ranking to #26 this year. Spring Island is another one of those upscale communities that emphasizes low density. Surrounded by Lowcountry forestation and the wildlife that inhabits it, Spring Island’s natural setting is its calling card, although its Arnold Palmer/Ed Seay original design takes a back seat to none. There was nothing unnatural about Jack Nicklaus conceding a Ryder Cup ending putt to Tony Jacklin in 1969, but it did spawn a community called Concession (#27) in Bradenton, FL, that memorializes the extreme gesture of sportsmanship. Concession hosted the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Championships this past year.
FordPar3RailroadTiesThe $7 million renovation at Ford Plantation solved myriad drainage issues on the golf course but also made substantial changes to the layout. For example, Pete Dye removed his signature railroad ties from all but this par 3, perhaps a signal that he is getting softer as he approaches his 10th decade.
        I had the pleasure a month ago of playing the totally redone Ford Plantation course in Richmond Hill, GA, south of Savannah, the 28th rated course on the Golfweek list, a strong endorsement of the work Pete Dye did there on his own original invention. I had played the course some years before the nearly $7 million rework and, although I loved it then, some of the rough edges have been sanded off and all of the drainage issues solved by the erstwhile Mr. Dye. Gary Player’s effort for the Cliffs at Mountain Park in Travelers Rest, SC, just keeps getting better in the eyes of those who rate it. The course opened for play in late 2013, and some may have been shocked to see it enter the list last year at #43; but those of us who have played it, including members of the South Carolina Golf Rating Panel, of which I am a proud member, were not surprised at all. It is fun, challenging and its few oddities –- much too short par 3 from raised tee box, V-shaped tree dead center in a par 5 fairway –- add to its charm. Mountain Park improved to #36 this year.
        The Jim Fazio layout at Toccoa, GA’s Currahee Club improved its position last year by 23 spots to #40 before falling back a bit this year to #50. Perhaps some of Golfweek’s less accomplished ball strikers who played it this last year were frustrated by forced carries over canyons and approach shots to raised greens that are totally hit or miss. Although we wished for more views of Lake Hartwell, the fewer distractions the better when taking on the Currahee challenge.
MountainParksurroundedbysandAt times Gary Player's Mountain Park course for The Cliffs Communities effects a Scottish links-style attitude, and at others a parkland valley course. But it is never mundane.
        Before Mountain Park, the best Cliffs Communities course -– there are seven -– was widely acknowledged to be Tom Fazio’s layout at Keowee Vineyards, which plays alongside Lake Keowee. It held steady at #56 on the list. Vineyards’ 17th hole may be the most photographed par 3 in all of South Carolina, and with good reason. One big thrill of my golfing life was to go to the elevated back tee 235 yards from the hole and attempt to rip a tee shot with driver over a greenside bunker and onto the putting surface and stop it before it could roll off the back into the surrounding lake. Alas, I pulled my tee shot safely a bit left and short of the green. (Any par, which I made, is a proud score on that hole.)
        The community of Briar’s Creek on Johns Island, just outside of Charleston, SC, was bedeviled by startup challenges and the recession, and only recently have its high-priced home sites started to move. But there has never been any question about the Rees Jones golf course that awaits members at the marsh-surrounded layout. The Club at Briar’s Creek weighs in at #64 on the Golfweek list. Bright’s Creek in Mill Spring, NC, has struggled with similar financial and marketing issues since it opened in 2006. Its Tom Fazio layout feels as if it is located in the western part of the country, sitting in a bowl of a valley surrounded by mountains. Bright’s Creek is ranked #70 this year.
        The fastest greens I’ve putted on in the last five years were at Colleton River’s Jack Nicklaus golf course; paired with a Pete Dye course (ranked #88), the two offer a somewhat schizophrenic tandem of golfing experiences. The superintendent of the course told us after the round the stimpmeter readings for the greens were at 13 and if, like me, Golfweek raters like ‘em fast, maybe that explains the comfortable #75 ranking.
Wexfordpar4Along with Ford Plantation's Pete Dye course, Wexford Plantation on Hilton Head was the best course we played in 2015. Like Ford, the layout at Wexford was totally redone, by Brandon Johnson, a senior designer in Arnold Palmer's shop.
        I’m a bit disappointed in the #83 position that Hilton Head’s Wexford Plantation was assigned. I played it a few months ago for the first time, after what looked to be a brilliant total rehab job by Brandon Johnson of Arnold Palmer’s shop. (Wexford’s prior layout had come in for almost universal bashing.) Smart and challenging and everything you want a Lowcountry course to be (the marsh provides a backdrop but also comes into play frequently), Wexford surpassed in quality and playability virtually all courses I have played in the last 10 years and was the equal of the higher rated Ford Plantation, which I played the day before.
        Big name designers and some great layouts populate the last 10 positions in the Top 100 list. Jack Nicklaus’ Cliffs at Walnut Cove layout (#92) may be the best in the Asheville, NC, area. Tom Fazio’s Belfair Plantation West layout, at #93, is one of two the architect produced for Belfair and one of four of his designs within just a couple of miles of each other in Bluffton, SC. (The others for Berkeley Hall Plantation made the second 100 list.) Fazio did not score on the list for his 18 holes at Daniel Island, just outside Charleston, but Rees Jones did for his Ralston Creek layout there (#98), the site for a few years of the season-ending Web.com tour event. And rounding out the Top 100, and new to the list, is Creighton Farms in Aldie, VA, one of our favorites of the last 10 years for its impeccable service and clever Nicklaus layout that puts a premium on precise approach shots. It’s a good thing that on the practice range, yardages to flags are posted with the utmost precision. You absolutely need to know how far you are hitting the ball to the yard or two before you take on Creighton’s layout.
        To see other Southeast layouts that made the list, as well as all the courses rated in the Top 200, check out Golfweek.com

Wednesday, 16 December 2015 11:39

North Carolina Mountain Bargains at High End

        Our real estate contacts in the Brevard, NC, area, The Clay Team (Carol & Bob Clay), just published their newsletter for December, and hiding amidst the market data seems an opportunity for those looking for a mountain home that is lofty in more ways than one.
        The Clays shared a chart showing November sales in their neck of the woods, and in terms of homes on the market, the most available are in the $600,000 and up range, where 137 homes and condos are listed for sale. The second most robust category is from $150,000 to $249,999 where 126 homes are currently listed. Allowing for the fact that the $600,000+ category extends to infinity, nevertheless 137 homes in an area where only 53 are on the market in the $450,000 to $600,000 range is still a lot.
        When there is too much of a good thing, in this case luxury mountain homes, that breeds price competition and a buyer’s market on the high end, a fact that seems borne out by a quick scan of homes currently listed for sale at The Clay Team’s web site. Below is an idea of the view from the rear deck of a home called The Trace just 15 minutes from Brevard and 45 minutes from Asheville. The Tuscan-style home sits on 27 acres of property and features long-range mountain and pasture views; as an extra bonus, the property includes 500 feet along the French Broad River. The home and property are priced just under $1 million.
        If you would like more information on this property or any others in the Brevard area, please contact me and I will put you in touch with the Clays.
Photo courtesy of The Clay Team, Brevard, NC

        The December issue of Home On The Course, our free monthly newsletter, is on the launch pad and ready to be emailed to our 1,000 subscribers. This month’s feature story is all wet. We compare the price ratios of water view home sites in golf communities with golf course and interior lots. (Spoiler Alert: They are much more expensive.) And we suggest a few golf communities where prices are low enough that “taking the plunge” on a waterfront lot or home won’t drown you in debt.
        Our special sidebar feature this month looks at the fastest growing counties in the Southeast, and we identify condominium oriented golf communities in those rapidly improving. Those of you looking for a vacation home in a warm weather area –- many of the fast-growing communities are in Florida –- should find the information especially timely and helpful.
        It happens every year. As cold weather (and snow) start to burden those of us who live in the northern U.S., our thoughts turn South and the urge to consider looking for a vacation or permanent home in a warmer climate becomes stronger. If you are contemplating a move in the next year or two, we have a few spots open for couples who have targeted the Southeast. Our services are free and without obligation. To get things rolling, please fill out our Golf Home Questionnaire. We will get back to you with some initial ideas within a few days.

weehawka cathyCondo prices are rising faster than single-family home prices across the U.S., and especially in resort areas like Myrtle Beach. Yet bargains still abound, like the 2 BR, 2 BA unit Pawleys Plantation (Pawleys Island, SC) that can used for rental income or spur-of-the-moment vacation visits. It is priced at just $125,000, fully furnished and facing the 10th hole of the Jack Nicklaus golf course.

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