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        Yesterday, I played the private Rockrimmon Country Club course that straddles the border between Connecticut and New York. I don’t know any member there, nor did I talk my way onto the course by promising to publish a review of the Robert Trent Jones layout. (It would have been a strongly positive review.) I played the course with my fellow members of the Junior & Senior Golfing Society of Connecticut, whose members represent many of the more than 75 private clubs in the state. 
        Over the course of the summer, the Society’s members are invited to play five private golf courses, each round typically preceded by lunch and followed by a dinner at which awards are presented for the best gross and net scores of the day. Yesterday was the one round of the year in which you play your own ball; in the other competitions, you are paired with either your cart mate or your foursome to compete against the rest of the field.
rockrimmon approach par 4Most of Rockrimmon's holes are tree-lined and the turf was in fantastic condition. Robert Trent Jones designed the course with his characteristic bunkering and elevation changes.
        Rockrimmon was in almost perfect condition, the smooth greens receptive to well struck shots, a rarity in Connecticut during this fairly dry summer. Playing the course was a privilege and well worth the $230 each member paid (lunch and dinner, one drink and the chance at raffle prizes included). If you are a Connecticut private club member, you are eligible to join the Society; indeed, it is eager for new members.
        Other states offer similar opportunities for regular amateur golfers to play some of each state’s finer courses. Golf rating panels are one entry point. I know, for example, that both Carolinas have panels that welcome new members if they play enough of each state’s courses to make meaningful contributions to the annual rankings. Do a Google search using the terms “[Name of state] golf rating panel” to see if your state maintains such a group.
        One other way to gain access to the private courses in your area is to donate money to a charity hosting a fund-raising golf event. Many charities, in order to make their events appealing enough to attract $300 or more per donor, will host their events at a high-profile private course. In Connecticut, for example, the Village for Families & Children, a social welfare agency where I have been a board member for more than 12 years, held this year’s outing at TPC River Highlands, site of the annual Traveler’s Championship on the PGA Tour. In previous years, the annual event, which benefits the organization’s fatherhood program, was held at the Willie Park Jr designed Shuttle Meadow.
        One other note about these fund-raising events: Many of them use silent auctions as a tool to raise additional funds, and some donors contribute rounds for foursomes at private golf courses. Some years ago, I was able to successfully bid for a round for four at the terrific Yale Golf Club in New Haven, CT. I recall that the price was less than $100 per player, certainly a bargain to play a high-quality golf course I might not otherwise play.
Rockrimmon big greenThe quirkiest hole at the classic Rockrimmon was a short par 4 with a hard left turn in the fairway about 210 yards from the tee box. It forced a fairway wood first shot, leaving a long (175+ yard) approach shot to a severely elevated and well bunkered green. To mitigate the difficulty of the approach shot, the green was the largest on the course. I was happy to two-putt from 70 feet.

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Sunday, 18 August 2019 14:38

Pace of Play Debate: Here We Go Again

        I played two rounds of golf recently that put the Bryson Dechambeau pace of play debate in perspective for me. One round I played in 4 ½ hours, the other in just under 4 hours. Ironically, the slower round was better for my golf game.
        “How can that be?” I hear all the rabbits out there exclaiming. The answer is simple: It is about pace of play, not speed. (I was tempted to write “It’s the pace of play, stupid,” but I won’t). In my fast round, I played the first six holes with no one in front of me at an average speed per hole of less than 10 minutes. Extrapolate that over all 18 holes, and I would have been in the 19th hole in less than 3 hours. But on the 7th hole, I caught the twosome in front of me; they did not invite me to join them, and I started waiting a minute or two to make my approach shot to the next few greens.
        Then, toward the end of the first nine, the twosome caught up to the foursome in front of them. Another single caught up to me as I waited at the 9th tee, and I invited him to join me to play the 9th and the back nine.
        Overall, I wound up playing the 18 holes in 4 hours, certainly respectable speed for a mid-morning starting time in perfect weather. But I played at three separate paces – the fast pace of a single, the medium pace of a twosome, and then the slow pace of the foursome two groups ahead – and the erratic pace was not helpful for the pace of my swing which tends to be even more hurried when folks are waiting to hit behind me (which, of course they were because we were waiting for the twosome that was waiting for the foursome in front of them).
        Yes, I know, that twosome could have invited us to join them and leavened out the pace of play. But the fact remains that the entire 18 holes would have been played at two or three different paces. Much better was the round I played a few days later on a crowded municipal golf course where everyone in front of us played at a steady 4 ½ hour pace. I never felt rushed to keep up with the group in front or put-upon by the group behind. And I played better shots than I did during my round a few days earlier. 
        Coincidence? Maybe, but if 4 hours is acceptable to all the rabbits out there who celebrate their speed of play as much as they do their scores, then consider that a 4 ½ hour round is less than 2 minutes per hole longer. And in those 2 minutes, you can contemplate your shot, change your mind about going for a sucker pin position, and otherwise stop and smell the flowers.  It will be good for your game and your overall mental health.

Saturday, 10 August 2019 11:04

Pain and Gain

        I have been diagnosed with something called “trigger finger” in the middle digit of my right hand. I had never heard of it before, but when I started mentioning it to friends and fellow golfers, I discovered it is a fairly common malady. In fact, golfing friends in Scotland and here in the States have told me they had out-patient surgery to correct it.
        I will probably join them this winter, since a cortisone injection has had no effect and my orthopod warned that if the pain persisted, surgery was the only remedy. The pain has persisted for a couple of months and, according to what I have read, diabetics with trigger finger almost always require surgery. I meet that criteria as well (Type 2).
        Stenosing tenosynovitis is sometimes called “trigger thumb.” So-called "pulleys" in your fingers hold the tendons close to the bone and help the fingers slide when you bend them. Trigger finger occurs when the pulley becomes thick and prefents the tendon from gliding easily.
        The only thing that partially relieves the pain and permits me to grip a golf club is ibuprofen, such as Advil. Both my cardio and gastro docs have given me permission to take Advil before a round of golf, but advise against using it at other times. The finger still hurts during the swing, but it is tolerable.
        But here is the irony regarding the pain; it has actually helped my golf swing. I cannot grip the club with my right hand as firmly as I had before the problem, and I have discovered I was probably gripping it too tightly when my finger felt okay. Now, the only times I hit the ball to the right are when I stop the club before I get to a full follow through. I also sense that my takeaway is not quite as fast as my traditional lightning swing since I am conscious of putting too much stress on that middle finger. 
        I would rather be pain free, which I will be for next year’s golf season. But as pain goes, this event has added some gain to my golf game.

        Clients looking for a golf-oriented home for their retirement years come in two general categories: One comprises those who know it when they see it. The other includes those who, when they see it, always think there is something better over the horizon. The former group looks ahead to a fruitful and entertaining retirement; the latter group eventually will look back on missed opportunities. 
        There is no perfect golf retirement home. Such a thing would mean that you meet only friends for life inside the gates of your new community, that the golf course is always in perfect condition and you shoot your career rounds every time you play. The weather is always, say, 72 degrees and sunny, and the homeowner fees and golf dues are a bargain compared with the universe of golf community clubs. You get the drift.
CallawassiehomeandgreenA couple I worked with visited the Callawassie Island community earlier this year with one of the real estate professionals I recommended, and then returned to Connecticut to put their home on the market there. They sold it in a couple of days and bought a home in Callawassie, via a phone call with the agent, two days later.
        You should never settle for a home that doesn’t meet your requirements, but your requirements should be realistic. If you want to live near a beach but you insist that there be a zero chance of a hurricane hitting your area, forget about the coast. Search in the mountains or by a lake. If you choose to join a semi-private golf club but your requirement is that turf conditions be pristine, then build into your budget private country club membership because the public golfers who play your semi-private club will not fix their ball marks and replace (or sand) their divots. Sorry, I belong to a semi-private club and have played many others; those who have no vested interest in your club tend to treat it as such.
        Couples in Category 2, the Never Satisfieds, will help avoid an unfruitful search by defining clearly their requirements before they begin looking for a golf community home. Write them on a piece of paper or send an email to yourself, cc to your spouse –- obviously after you both agree on them. (Send them to me at editor@homeonthecourse.com, and I will be pleased to weigh in on whether they are realistic, and to make some suggestions about which golf communities meet your requirements.) I suggest keeping your list to three or four must haves and, of course, making them realistic (see above).
        To delay a decision to purchase a golf home that otherwise satisfies all your main requirements is to potentially harm yourself financially and, perhaps, psychologically. If you are mentally prepared to reward yourself after a career of hard work and child raising, the longer you wait the more disappointing your retirement will seem. And ever since the effects of the recession of 2008 ended, basically around 2012, real estate prices in the highest-quality golf communities have risen as much as 8% to 10% annually. For a couple with, say, a $400,000 budget for a home, waiting a year to buy a golf community home that, in virtually all regards, suits their lifestyle and golfing style could cost them as much as $40,000 when they finally decide to buy that home, or one like it, in the same community. In other words, they may only be able to afford a $360,000 home if they defer their decision.
        When a couple falls in love with a specific golf community, the hard work is essentially done. All that remains is to find the right home. That doesn’t always happen on the first visit, but if you engage with a professional real estate agent who listens well, visit a few sample homes and share your honest feedback, he or she will keep an eye out for homes that come on the market and appear to meet your requirements. I have developed an excellent network of golf community real estate professionals I can recommend. 
        But first, contact me and we can start the process of finding a golf community that meets your requirements. And, in case you are wondering, there is no charge for my services.

Saturday, 20 July 2019 15:21

A New England Golf Community Alternative

        The latest edition of Home On The Course, our free newsletter, will be sent to all subscribers on Tuesday. The newsletter is free of charge and includes reviews of golf communities, advice on how to search for a golf community, and observations about real estate that should appeal to anyone looking for a vacation or permanent property near great golf. 
        Although we typically feature golf communities in the Southeast U.S., in this month’s special combined July/August issue we review the Cape Cod, Massachusetts golf community known as New Seabury. If not for the winters, you could mistake New Seabury for a community on Hilton Head, such is its location beside the sea, its 36 holes of stellar golf and its collection of both multi-family and single-family dwellings that fit seamlessly into the gently rolling landscape. As a vacation home owner in South Carolina, a condo, and a primary single-family home owner in Connecticut, I have, in theory, the ability to play golf year-round, although life sometimes intrudes on golf plans and much of our winters are spent up north. Still, a community like New Seabury can provide half of the formula for year-round golf. Learn how in the July/August issue of Home On The Course.
NewSeaburyaerialNew Seabury Ocean Course.        Photo by Kent Earle
        My favorite golf course in Connecticut played host to the Junior Girls National PGA Championship a few weeks ago, and I caught the last nine holes on the last day. I came away impressed by how well these teenagers play but, more importantly, I learned a few things about my own game from the way they approached theirs. Is it a coincidence that, a week later, I shot my best round of the year? Maybe, maybe not. You decide by reading about the five lessons I learned from a group of teenagers.
        Subscribe now by clicking here.

        I have previously spilled my dreams onto these pages about a partial retirement in Scotland. No self-respecting golfer could dream otherwise. I am mindful that dreams, for many reasons, often exceed our grasp. A few years ago, I plunked down a couple hundred dollars and became an overseas member of the Crail Golfing Society, thereby almost forcing myself to make the trip across the Atlantic on an annual basis to play the eight rounds of golf on Crail’s 36 holes beside the North Sea to which I am entitled on an annual basis. For now, that is about as close as I can get to living in Scotland, at least part time.
        In an article the other day, the website Top Retirements.com pitched Scotland as a potential retirement location but added the appropriate caveats about moving to a foreign (non-American) land. I recommend the article to those fellow golfers who might be contemplating a Scottish relocation. The major obstacle to an American living in Scotland is that, except for a few of us –- those with Scottish ancestry or a couple million dollars to invest in a Scottish business –- residency is capped at six months per year.
Crail pot bunker and seaThe elements of seaside golf in Scotland in one photo at the Crail Golfing Society; pot bunker, sloping green, gorse and the ocean.
        No problem for those who might otherwise live seasonally in two homes, as friends of mine do in the States; six months and a day in Florida, to qualify for its non-existent state income tax, and the rest of the year in Connecticut, a high-tax state. Those with the means, inclination and love of golf could just substitute Scotland in summer for Connecticut or any other cold-winter state. I daresay that real estate in a small Scottish town near great golf will be more reasonably priced than comparable housing in most northern US states, and renting an apartment for five to six months annually is also a viable and cost-effective approach.
        Tax rules for foreign residents in Scotland and the rest of the UK became a bit complicated with a new tax law enacted a few years ago; it is best to consult an expert or at least do your research online before getting serious about a part-year retirement in Scotland. But the effort will be worth it for those who can imagine a relaxing and healthy lifestyle – most Scottish layouts require walking -- and cool summers on some of the greatest golf courses in the world.
        You can read the Top Retirements article here.
North Berwick bridgeNorth Berwick Golf Club is one of the coolest layouts on the planet, but also cool was that I rode the train from Edinburgh to North Berwick with my clubs in tow.

        This is the time of year that any of us who write about golf and golf communities receive press releases from golf communities touting their placement on Where to Retire magazine’s list of the “50 Best Master-Planned Communities in the U.S.” That sounds pretty good when you consider that there are thousands of master-planned communities in the United States.

Simply Not The Best
        The fact is that the universe for Where to Retire’s choices is probably a couple hundred communities at most, and a fairer title for the award would be “50 Best Master-Planned Communities that Advertise in Our Magazine.” For example, the only two ads on the Where to Retire website page that lists the Top 50 are from two of the winners.
        If you want to know which communities made the Top 50, you can access the list by clicking here.
        I am not going to disparage those communities in this space because I have visited some of them and they are of high quality, including Brunswick Forest, Carolina Colours and Compass Pointe; I have even helped clients purchase homes in a few. And according to some communities I spoke with – see below – they were assured advertising in the magazine did not necessarily mean they were going to make the list.

Customer Disservice
        Many retirees rely on Where to Retire for guidance, thinking the magazine makes a purely editorial judgment about the best communities in the land. If you choose to consider and visit only the communities on the Where to Retire list, you will be missing dozens of others that will meet your requirements and that, possibly, exceed the qualities of the relatively few on the magazine’s list.
        It is understandable that some communities choose to advertise in Where to Retire in order to get their names in front of the magazine’s 200,000 readers, many of whom are looking for a place to live. Such exposure is the purpose of good marketing. But Where to Retire, which bills itself as “The Authority on Retirement Relocation,” does its readers a disservice when it fails to make clear that its Top 50 are culled substantially from its advertisers.

No Quid Pro Quo Here
        To avoid any quid pro quo – “advertise and we will name you to our Top 50” – Where to Retire’s sales reps are coy about the connection between ad spend and the list.
        “My sales rep heavily encouraged my advertising,” one community’s marketing executive told me, “but made it clear that advertising would make no bearing on the decision to include [our community] in the list. [However] I [later] answered a very long questionnaire and did a telephone interview. I also had to give the names of three residents for an interview.” This marketing executive told me her community found out it was in the Top 50 the day the magazine published the list a couple of weeks ago.
        A general manager from another community that I know well and admire was not sure why his community made the list.
        “We do advertise in WTR but on a pretty limited basis, less than we did in the past,” he told me. “I suspect, but do not know, that the pool of the best is picked from among those communities that advertise, and perhaps those that have in the past advertised, and perhaps those they are hoping would advertise.”
        When you see a press release from a community touting its status as a Top 50 Where to Retire community, understand that they paid for the honor whether they knew it at the time or not. Caveat emptor, dear reader.

         The private Metacomet Country Club in East Providence, RI, was losing money and conditions had become iffy when former PGA Tour player Brad Faxon, a Rhode Island native, and other investors bought the club earlier this year for a couple million dollars and began the process of restoring it to its former glory. It is well worth the effort, especially the front nine.
        Metacomet was incorporated in 1901. The golf course was re-designed by Donald Ross in 1926, the Golden Age of classic golf course architecture in the U.S. The greens are vintage Ross with lots of crests and bowls that demand thoughtful approaches, literally and figuratively. Approach shots played to a “bad” spot on the putting surface can easily result in three strokes with the flat stick.
Metacomet industryOver almost 100 years, industrial structures have imposed themselves on some of the vistas at Metacomet.
         Of course, when you play a course like Metacomet for the first time, you have no clue where to put the ball, especially if you are flying blind without a member in tow. Blind is the operative word on a number of holes at Metacomet, with blind tee shots up steeply sloped fairways and blind approach shots where the bottom half of the flag stick is covered by false fronts.
        The front nine at Metacomet is a bit of a roller coaster, with dramatic changes in elevation and many of those aforementioned blind shots. The greens are exquisite, and will only get better as the weather -– and turf growth – improve. The second nine is a bit of a letdown, still classic in design but with only a few of the flourishes encountered on the way out. But it is still Ross, and only diminishes slightly the soaring shot values on the front and the overall experience.
        East Providence is quite the mecca of renowned private golf clubs. Agawam Hunt Club (1897) and Wannamoisett (1914), another Ross course, are just a few miles up the road from Metacomet and, like it, adopted the names of native American tribes from the area. But “progress” has not been kind to the area’s natural vistas, or membership stability. From Metacomet’s higher elevations, the view of the Providence River must have been breathtaking before the Industrial Revolution, but today you get a heavy dose of smokestacks and industrial structures along with the water view. Many former residential neighborhoods are gone, and as in other once-thriving urban centers, suburban golfers just won’t make the drive into the city more than occasionally to play golf. (The famed Agawam Hunt Club lost a few hundred members in the wake of the 2008 recession and was saved from bankruptcy a couple of years ago by the combined investments of wealthy members and a nature conservancy.)
MetacomettwogreensDonald Ross did an outstanding job of squeezing a terrific golf course into just 120 acres. From some points on the course you can see multiple greens.
        I look forward to a round at the still-private Wannamoisett in July, but the once extremely private Agawam Hunt now accepts outside play. (See tee times at GolfNow.com). And if you call Metacomet, as Brad Faxon and his partners seek to restore the golf course and its reputation, they will almost assuredly book a time for you. You could do a lot worse than a couple of days of golf and dining in the Providence area, and the famed Portuguese restaurants of Fall River, MA, are only a few miles away.
Metacomet par 3Given the sloping on the greens, the par 3s look easier than they play.

        There are two ways that a vacation golf home can pay you back –- and then some. One, of course, is if you choose the right market at the right time and your property increases in value until it comes time to sell. The other way is if you choose a vacation home in a location favored by other vacationers who are willing to pay a nice percentage of your carrying costs to rent it from you. You really hit the jackpot if you can accomplish both.
        Count me as a skeptic on the issue of whether a vacation home can ever really pay for itself on an annual basis. That is because you pay taxes, homeowner fees, insurance and maintenance costs on your property in order to make it rent-worthy, and those expenses bite into your net income. And if you are an absentee landlord, you will need to hire a local or on-site agency to clean up your home after each renter departs. Those agencies will typically charge anywhere from 25% to 40% of your rental fee, turning $1,000 per week in revenue into as little as $600.

Myrtle Beach tops list for return on investment from rental income
        Still, if you want to own a vacation for your own use a couple of weeks a year and defray the costs of a mortgage, then your best bet is to choose a market consistently favored by other vacationers, preferably during most months of the year. And for coastal-located golf homes, no market fits that description better than does Myrtle Beach, SC, according to a recent study by vacation rental property managers Vacasa that was published in last Sunday’s New York Times’ Real Estate section.
        The Times used capitalization rate, or cap rate, to determine which of the Vacasa markets was home to the most profitable rental properties. The higher the cap rate the more profitable the property. Ocean Shores, WA, more beach than golfing destination, and Myrtle Beach, a supermarket of golf courses with excellent beaches, tied for the top spot with cap rates of 7.4% each. The average rental property in Myrtle Beach sells for $249,000, which means that such a property –- I rounded off to $250,000 -- returns on average $18,500 per year in net rental income (what is left after expenses).
IMG 0402Condos like this one in Pawleys Plantation, south of Myrtle Beach, are popular among vacation renters, with golf on site and a beach just six minutes away.
        The cap rate does not factor in the cost of a mortgage; purchasers who can pay all cash for a property will make out better. Those who require financing will have to work the calculator a little harder, but can still count on at least paying for much of their carrying costs with rental income. Keep in mind, though, that some Myrtle Beach properties are located in designated flood zones, and Federal flood insurance –- which coincidentally covers up to $250,000 in structural damage -- can cost into the thousands of dollars each year. And you never know when the hot water heater might go and require an expensive replacement. On the other hand, if you maintain your vacation home as a business (see below), you can deduct certain expenses from your income taxes.
        Understand that if you intend to “profit” through the rental of your vacation property, you will be limited in terms of how often you and your family members and friends can use the home for “personal” (vacation) purposes. The business web site Kiplinger has a tight explanation that is worth reviewing: “If you limit your personal use to 14 days or 10% of the time the vacation home is rented, it is considered a business. You can deduct expenses and, depending on your income, you may be able to deduct up to $25,000 in losses each year. That's why many vacation homeowners hold down leisure use and spend lots of time "maintaining" the property; fix-up days don't count as personal use.”
        The almost $6,000 delta between what a $250,000 Myrtle Beach property can generate each year and the carrying costs on a mortgage is persuasive. (In theory, more expensive homes could return even more.)  So too is the ability to deduct necessary expenses. Other golf-friendly coastal areas worthy of consideration on a cap rate basis are Panama City, FL ($419,900, 6.1%), Gulf Shores, AL ($409,900, 5.8) Ocean City, MD ($285,000, 5.4) and Cocoa Beach, FL ($339,000, 4.7).

Tuesday, 21 May 2019 09:04

Dustin Johnson’s Brain

        The back nine at Bethpage Black on Sunday confirmed something about top golfers and rank amateurs as well: Half-glass full golfers win, and half-empty types come close, when the pressure is on. Brooks Koepka looks as if he is always going to win, even when he wobbles, as he did late on Sunday afternoon. Dustin Johnson never looks as if he is going to win, even when fate – and an opponent -- hand him an opportunity on a silver platter. Call it killer instinct or positive thinking or just plain confidence; Koepka has it, Johnson does not, in spite of his awesome golfing talent.

Six strokes...and then there was one
        Within just a few holes, Koepka’s seemingly invincible six-stroke lead over his only competitor, Johnson, nearly evaporated, leaving them separated by a mere stroke with a few holes to go for Johnson (and one more than that for Koepka). Make no mistake about it, Johnson played great golf, perhaps the best round of the day given the afternoon winds that seemed especially to bedevil Koepka off the tees. But almost from the moment Johnson learned he was a miraculous single-stroke away, the momentum shifted for him; he missed a makeable putt for par on 16, and one could not avoid the feeling that we had seen this movie before.

Choke holds in the majors 
        Indeed we had, most notably in 2010, 2011 and 2015. In 2010, Johnson entered the final round of the U.S. Open at Whistling Straights with a three-stroke lead. During that round, he grounded his club in a bunker that was not clearly marked, incurred a two-shot penalty and shot 82. 82! – going into the final round of a major championship with a sizable lead. At the 2011 Open Championship at Royal St. George’s, Johnson was in contention on the back nine, just two shots behind Darren Clarke, as the American stood on the par-5 14th hole. After a nice drive, Johnson pulled out a 2 iron in the fairway and pushed it so far right it sailed out of bounds to end his chances for the British title. (He double-bogeyed the holed, something big hitters should never come close to doing on a par 5.)
        But the most notorious collapse was that Sunday in 2015 at Chambers Bay in Oregon when a 12-foot putt to win the U.S. Open turned into a three-putt loss. Folks, this isn’t you or me on the 18th hole for the club championship at East Jabip Golf and Country Club. This is one of the best golfers in the world –- actually #1 in the world until Koepka jumped past him on Sunday afternoon -- three putting from 12 feet. “Choke” is neither an unkind nor unfair label for that and Johnson’s other mishaps under pressure. Golf is undeniably a mental game; Johnson has immense golfing ability, and a well-earned US Open victory at Oakmont, but something almost always seems to be going on north of that neck of his at the moments of greatest pressure, and it is not pretty.
        “Baseball,” as former Major League Baseball Commissioner Bart Giamatti once wrote, “will break your heart.” Golf will break your spirit if you let it. Brooks Koepka has demonstrated he does not let it. Dustin Johnson is another story.  

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