I am a member of a group called the Junior/Senior Golfing Society of Connecticut. The organization has a couple hundred members, almost all representing private clubs in the state, and every summer we play four private courses from the shoreline to the western hills of the Nutmeg State. The first “outing” of 2016 this past Tuesday was Madison Country Club, within a driver and wedge of the coastline along the Long Island Sound. Madison is a great example of how a traditional golf course can be renovated to look even more “classic.”
The Junior/Senior group had played Madison a couple of years ago. The course, originally designed by the accomplished British golfer and designer Willie Park, Jr. in 1909, was looking a bit long in the tooth when we first played it, but it still had many of the classic Park touches familiar to those who have played Gullane in Scotland and Sunningdale outside London, and New Haven Country Club and Shuttle Meadow in our own state of Connecticut. Those included landing areas that appeared narrower than they actually were, some severely bunkered greens, and holes with distances that clearly were designed to accommodate wind patterns (shorter into the wind, longer with).
Last year, Brian Silva undertook a respectful redesign of the course, improving it by adding more contour to the bunkers, additional sloping in the fairways and a cleaner overall look, without transforming a Park course into a Silva course. The hybrid black and gold tees we played were just 6,275 yards, and the wind was only blowing modestly off the nearby Sound, but with handicaps of no higher than 12 in our group, no one broke 90. A classic golf course is one that plays harder than it looks -– think Donald Ross –- and Madison surely meets the definition.
Enjoy the photos. For a list of courses designed by Willie Park, Jr., click here.
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Tonight I start working on my wife Connie about my purchasing a “Non-Resident National Membership” for the McConnell Group of golf courses in the Carolinas and Tennessee. (McConnell added its first club outside the Carolinas with the recent purchase of Holston Hills in the Knoxville area.) The National Membership, which is available to anyone who lives at least 50 miles from a McConnell-owned club, provides access to the group’s dozen outstanding private courses.
There are two levels of National membership. If, for example, your primary residence is in one of the three states in which McConnell operates clubs but outside the 50-mile zone, then your initiation fee would be $10,000 to join and your annual dues would be $3,875, or $323 per month. But if you live most of the year in a state other than North and South Carolina and Tennessee, and can prove it with a driver’s license and state tax return, your initiation fee is just $2,500 and dues $2,500 annually.
We say “just” $2,500 because the McConnell courses are all private, they are exquisitely tended, and the layouts are among the best in the South; they include designs by the likes of Donald Ross, Tom Fazio, Pete Dye and other titans of golf architecture. They are good enough to host PGA and LPGA tour events; the Ross gem at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, NC, for example, is the site of the annual Wyndham Championship.
Most of the McConnell courses are located in golf communities, including at Treyburn in Durham, NC, TPC Wakefield Plantation in Raleigh, and The Reserve at Litchfield just south of Myrtle Beach, SC. My wife and I own a vacation condo about 10 minutes from The Reserve, where McConnell dramatically improved the Greg Norman layout a few years ago, and I can envision playing the golf course a couple of times a week during our visits to the area.
If you would like information on these and other communities adjacent to McConnell courses, or if you would like an introduction to Lauri Stephens, the McConnell vice president of membership, please contact me.
During the winter, two or three customers per week ask us for help in identifying a golf community that might suit them. (They fill out our free Golf Home Questionnaire.) But like clockwork in April, when sunshine and warmer temperatures assert themselves up North and golf courses there begin to open for play, dreams of warm winter golf fade. Typically only one customer per week contacts us in the spring.
We understand. We are golfers too, and as I write this, I am looking forward to a few rounds in the coming two weeks at excellent golf courses in Connecticut. I expect those golf courses will be almost at midseason form, with evenings still cool enough that if green superintendents want to cut the putting surfaces down, we should have some slick greens to putt on. Springs and summers, of course, are generally a lot cooler in New England than those in the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida, except for the higher elevations of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
In short, there is no good reason to leave the upper regions of the nation for a vacation in the South during the summer –- unless you are considering a home where the weather is warmer in the winter. In that case, there may be no better time to go South to look for your future home than in the heat of the summer.
First, you will want to understand just how hot your potential new area gets in the summer. Florida summers scare a lot of people off, but if you can’t tell the difference between an average high of 92 degrees in Florida and a high of 89 in South Carolina or Georgia -– and you can tolerate that kind of heat -- then your choices open up wide. Second, depending on the community, you might find yourself a tad lonely in the summer if that community comprises many second-home owners who head North during the hot months. Sure, the golf courses in the hot South will be easy to access, and local restaurants will have plenty of open tables; but if you are the sociable kind, you could be put off by the isolation. On the other hand, you may look on it as a reprieve.
The Kids are all right...or not
Some couples, having focused their prior 25-plus years on raising children, may look forward to a community comprising mostly retirees. But we have visited a number of such communities in the summer and found them to resemble summer camps for children; indeed, some of those communities actually organize summer camps for the grandchildren of their residents. If you plan to have visiting grandchildren of your own during summers and don’t mind a couple of months of squeals and splashing in your community’s pools, a visit in the summer will set you straight on what to expect.
The summer heat in the South can play havoc with turf conditions; it is a good idea to check out how courses in your target communities weather the heat. If you are used to sleeping in and playing golf in the late morning, plan to amend your starting time in summer in the South; or make sure to stuff multiple bottles of cold water into your golf cart (you won’t be walking!). There is a reason why green fee rates drop precipitously in summer and why some private golf courses, in Florida especially, drop their restrictions and welcome public play for July and August. During an exploratory visit in the summer, test your mettle by playing during the heat of the day. You likely will do it only once.
We have established excellent working relationships with dozens of top golf communities in the South and would be pleased to help arrange for you to visit on a Discovery Package that typically includes lodging, golf, temporary club membership and, often, a meal or two for deeply discounted prices. I’d also be happy to provide some complimentary advice on which golf communities in the South best suit your lifestyle. Simply fill out our free Golf Home Questionnaire and we will get back to you quickly with some initial recommendations. To date, I have visited nearly 200 golf communities and played their golf courses, a few times in temperatures bumping up against 100 degrees. In more ways than one, I know which golf communities in the South are hot.
Richy Werenski won the BMW Charity Pro-Am yesterday on the Thornblade Country Club course in Greer, SC, located between Greenville and Spartanburg. The BMW is unique in that it is played over four days on three area golf courses. Each competitor plays a round at Thornblade, The Reserve at Lake Keowee and The Preserve at Verdae Greens, before those who qualify play the final 18 at Thornblade. Watching on television Werenski and his fellow competitors play the last few holes at Thornblade reminded me how much I enjoyed the Tom Fazio golf course and what a well organized and run club Thornblade is (the food in the dining room was excellent as well). Thornblade is a family-oriented club, but for those looking for a vibrant atmosphere in a well-established community -– large homes begin around $489,000 -- and economically sound area – BMW of North America headquarters is nearby in Spartanburg –- Thornblade is a great choice.
A golf community isn’t always the best choice for golfers, including those whose major activity is golf. On a visit to Beaufort, SC, last week, and at the invitation of developer J. C. Taylor, I stopped by for a tour of Celadon, a small but charming community characterized by live oaks arching over the roads, front porches on every home (it’s mandatory) and intermittent pocket parks on most streets. If a community can have neighborliness built in, Celadon is it. Plus the community center, featuring a fitness center, pool and activities rooms provides just about everything a golf community can, at a much lower cost. Golf memberships are available nearby at such established clubs as Dataw Island (10 minutes) and Callawassie Island (20 minutes). In short, for those looking to save some money on homeowner association dues but to live the same kind of lifestyle you would in a typical golf community, Celadon and the growing number of these “new urbanism” communities are worth a serious look. Contact me if you would like an introduction to J.C. Taylor and Celadon.
I stumbled across a website run by Smart Asset, an online information service aimed at retirees. The operators of Smart Asset looked at 2014 census data and came up with a list of those states and cities to which most people over the age of 60 are moving. By a wide margin, Florida topped the state list, followed by Arizona, South Carolina, Georgia and North Carolina. Three cities in Florida –- Cape Coral, Jacksonville and Port St. Lucie -– ranked #2, 5 and 7 on the top 10 list -– and Charlotte, NC, placed 8th. Two of our favorite areas for golf communities made the top 15 list, including St. Petersburg, FL (12), and Savannah, GA (14). Curiously, the third most popular state for retirees, South Carolina, placed no cities in the top 25; not Charleston, Myrtle Beach or Greenville, which would all be on our list. You will find the Smart Asset article here.
Myrtle Beach’s golfers and local club members are nervous these days, yours truly included, because of a video out of China that recently surfaced. If you have read these pages over the last year, you know that Chinese business interests have purchased nearly one-third of all the 100-plus golf courses along the Grand Strand. My own Pawleys Plantation is part of a group of 22 clubs owned by Founders International. Its leader, Dan Liu, indicated in the video aimed at Chinese investors in Asia that recent non-golf related financial issues in China could be covered by the “sale of properties” in the U.S. Many of those properties include the Myrtle Beach area golf courses which the financial group behind Founders has owned for less than two years. Reports are that conditions at Pawleys Plantation have deteriorated since the soaking rains of last October, including the collapse of a small portion of the dike that holds the tee boxes for the par 3 13th and 17th holes; as of last week, not much repair work had been done. Anyone interested in Myrtle Beach as a destination for a primary or second home –- some excellent buys still available -– or for a golf vacation, please contact me for the latest on the China issue.
Dick McAuliffe, who died earlier this week in Farmington, CT, was a tough baseball player who had a zero tolerance policy for pitchers who threw fastballs near his head. Tommy John learned that during the 1968 season when McAuliffe charged the mound and separated John's shoulder. The shortstop was suspended for five games, all of which the Tigers lost. The pitcher missed the rest of the season. Those who weren't his teammates thought McAuliffe was mean, as well as tough. His nickname was "Mad Dog."
The meanness part wasn't deserved, at least by the Dick McAuliffe with whom I played a competitive round of golf in 1986. More than a decade past his retirement from baseball and now in the dry cleaning business near his native Hartford, CT, McAuliffe maintained a handicap of three, and had a reputation for competitive toughness at our club, Hop Meadow Country Club in Simsbury. He was inventive as well. Long before top PGA tour professionals started using the cross-handed putting grip, McAuliffe used it -- for all his shots, including drives off the tee box. If you recall his batting stance -- wide open in the extreme -- you know he wasn't afraid of bucking convention in the name of competitiveness.
In 1986, during a three-day member/member tournament at Hop Meadow, my partner and I were in third place; McAuliffe and his partner were in first, and we faced them in the pivotal seventh match of the weekend event. Our match with them was tied going to the final hole, the
The Ten Commandments of Real Estate could very well have the same word written from top to bottom –- Location. The closer a home is located to a popular urban area with plenty of services, the higher the price on a comparative basis. The proposition reaches its most absurd levels in cities like San Francisco and New York, where both sales and rentals routinely command more than $1,000 per square foot for even the most modest spaces.
The formula is generally true of golf communities as well. The closer a high-quality golf community is located within an easy drive of a popular major urban area, the higher the prices that golf community will command. Thus you will be hard pressed in many communities near Charleston, SC, or the Triad of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill to find homes priced at much under $200 per square foot. One unsurprising reason for this is that urban areas tend to feature high-paying jobs; therefore, well-paid working people are vying for the same golf real estate that retirees are looking for, and if supply is steady –- which it is in most golf communities today –- then demand pushes prices up. Proximity to services appeals across all demographics.
That isn’t to say some high-end, high-price golf communities can’t flourish in out-of-the-way locations, far from urban sprawl. No one will ever accuse The Reserve at Lake Keowee or the nearby Cliffs group of communities of appealing to the bargain-oriented crowd; home prices in those communities start around $500,000 and a full-golf membership commands $50,000 and more. But, in general, the more rural a golf community, the lower the prices. (We know of a few communities where homes facing a lake are priced at $100 per square foot and less; but more about that later.)
Of course, a couple who has spent their married lives living just outside New York or Chicago or inside the city itself are going to have a period of adjustment living out in the country, if indeed they ever adjust. It took me three or four years to “learn” how to sleep in suburban Connecticut in the 1980s after living in New York City for five. In New York, I had gotten used to ambulance sirens and truck exhaust backfires in the middle of the night, but in Connecticut, at first, every cricket chirp sounded like a shotgun blast to me. But I eventually adjusted because, well, I had to.
In this month’s Home On The Course newsletter, we interview a couple who have lived for the last decade at Savannah Lakes Village in McCormick, SC. You don’t find many golf communities in a more rural location than Savannah Lakes; but those who do their golf community shopping via a Google map may be missing out on the real estate bargain of their lives, whether at Savannah Lakes or another of the many remotely located golf communities in the Southeast. With some homes priced at less than $100 per square foot, a few of them with views of beautiful Lake Thurmond, and a cost of living as much as 50% less than what many of us are used to, it is a good idea to listen to how one couple has both managed and thrived in a rural setting.
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The National Association of Realtors (NAR) has published its list of the zip codes that are poised for the greatest growth in the nation, and one zip code in Myrtle Beach made the list at #18. The NAR calls zip code 29579 one of 2016’s “Boom Towns.”
Zip code 29579 comprises an area that spills across Highway 501, the major east-west route into and out of Myrtle Beach proper and runs about 15 miles along the western side of Highway 17, the major north-south route along the coast. The zip code area includes the golf communities of Grande Dunes, the homes surrounding International World Tour Golf Links, River Oaks Golf Club, and part of the Myrtle Beach National golf complex. A small square of land south of Highway 501 includes some of the Legends Golf complex and parts of its three golf courses.
Just outside the boundaries of the zip code area are enough attractions to explain the popularity of this irregularly shaped swath of Myrtle Beach. They include the Coastal Grande Mall, the largest shopping center in town; the huge Tanger Outlets mall on 501; Coastal Carolina University, the only institute of higher learning in the immediate Myrtle Beach area; Broadway at the Beach, a combination shopping and entertainment complex that is a magnet for visitors and locals alike, especially at night; Myrtle Beach International Airport; the Common Market, which has become a popular “new urban” area with co-located shops, homes and office; and, of course, the beach itself, one of the most popular on the east coast.
March property sales results in Brunswick County, NC, one of the most popular destinations for retirees on the east coast, show that prices remain a bit soft. But other results imply an eventual inventory shrinkage which signals the potential for significant price increases as the strong spring selling season continues.
The good news for buyers is that the average selling price of a home in Brunswick county was down nearly 6% to $237,000 from $252,000. But that statistic was in the face of data that showed a 14% jump in total home sales over the prior year and 47% over the number of sales the month before (February). Total number of listings increased by nearly 26%. These latter numbers signal that inventory could shrink significantly in the coming months. If demand remains steady in the popular Brunswick County area, then the result will be increasing prices.
Some of our favorite golf communities are located in Brunswick County, among them Brunswick Forest just outside Wilmington; St. James Plantation near Southport; and Ocean Ridge Plantation in Sunset Beach. (Those only begin to scratch the surface of the list of golf communities strung out along and near Highway 17 through the county.)
Brunswick Forest has reached its 10th year of operation and it remains one of the fastest selling golf communities on the east coast. Much of that is for developer Lord Baltimore Capital’s reputation for deep pockets and its strong guidance of the community. The semi-private golf course, Cape Fear National, is a delight to play, especially for those who enjoy a links style golf course in which sand is the commanding visual design element. Brunswick Forest’s wellness center is second to none in terms of its modern equipment, well-trained staff and schedule of classes. The community is currently featuring a mix of re-sales and new construction, with townhomes from $235,000 and single-family homes from just under $300,000. Lots are priced from $70,000. Contact us for more information or for an introduction to our real estate professional for Brunswick Forest.
St. James Plantation will satisfy those couples split between love of golf and love of beach. The community’s 81 holes of golf by the likes of Nicklaus Design, P.B. Dye and Tim Cate provide different layouts but similarly excellent conditions. And just a few minutes outside the gates, St. James Plantation’s private beach club on Oak Island provides a relaxing setting that is no hassle to get to. Condos in St. James start at $130,000, with single-family homes from $225,000. Lots begin at just $27,000. Our real estate professional for St. James will be happy to share much more information and arrange a visit. Contact us.
Ocean Ridge Plantation shares many of the features of St. James, including multiple golf courses –- four in this case – and its own club located on Sunset Beach, a 10-minute drive away. Ocean Ridge, however, is a little closer to Myrtle Beach and its airport, its restaurants and other entertainment centers and, of course, to some of the best and most plentiful golf east of the Mississippi River. A few select single-family homes are available for purchase in Ocean Ridge starting at $340,000. Lots are priced from $15,000. Our Ocean Ridge real estate professional would be pleased to share more information about this stable and high-profile community. Contact us.
Kiplinger’s latest lists of the best and worst states for taxes are a mixed bag of the blindingly obvious with a few surprises. The blindingly obvious are, essentially, embedded on the “worst” list. Six of the worst 10 are located in the Northeast, and California (the absolute worst on the list) and Hawaii (#4) come as no surprise. Minnesota and Illinois round out the list at #s 9 and 10, respectively.
But the lowest overall tax states are something of a surprise in that they do not include the famously no-income-tax states of Florida, Tennessee and New Hampshire. In order from #1 to 10 are: Delaware, Wyoming, Alaska, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and South Carolina.
Delaware is a sleeper state for retirees, and it ranks not only #1 on Kiplinger’s list of friendly tax states but also #1 on that financial publication’s list of the best states for retirement. And for a small state, it has a large range of golf communities across all price ranges. Check them out at the Delaware golf communities page of our Golf Homes for Sale section. Do the same for an even wider selection of golf communities in South Carolina.
A Bloomberg news service headline a week ago must have made some recent retirees a little nervous, especially those who are poised to start searching for a vacation or retirement home. “Bargains Dry Up; So Do Vacation Home Sales” blared the headline in my local Hartford Courant Sunday real estate section, as I am sure it did in other local papers across the land. Citing National Association of Realtor figures, the article reported that sales of vacation homes in 2015 were down 19 percent compared with 2014 sales, and that the competition among baby boomers for a dwindling number of properties is driving prices higher. Indeed, the median price of vacation homes that sold in 2015 jumped to $192,000, a 28 percent rise. Since, in very few instances, current primary homes in the North are appreciating at rates approaching 28 percent annually -– or even double digits for that matter –- baby boomers poised to sell their current homes and move to a warmer climate could continue to lose buying power the longer they wait. (Full disclosure: I am a baby boomer trying to get our primary home in Connecticut ready for sale, but it is taking forever to get rid of stuff. Sound familiar?)
Although the numbers don’t lie, we know of some extreme bargains in high-quality golf communities across the Southeast, although you may have to make a compromise or two in terms of location. For example, Savannah Lakes Village, one of our favorites for its low real estate prices and low cost but well-tended amenities, including 36 holes of golf, is located a good half hour from Greenwood, SC, the nearest town that provides services beyond the one supermarket eight minutes from the community. Those looking for single-family homes that begin in the low $100s and homes with views of beautiful Lake Thurmond that start in the mid $200s may find the remote location not much of an inconvenience at all.
There are dozens of other such golf communities across the region. Take just 10 minutes to fill out our Golf Homes Questionnaire -- click here – and we will share with you which golf communities best match your lifestyle, your golfing interests and your plans for a good chunk of the rest of your life.