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        Over the last four days, I played four excellent golf community courses in the Myrtle Beach area, all in South Carolina, that were fun to play and in nice condition. And, like most golf courses along the Grand Strand, they are accessible to the public. Homes beside the fairways of the four layouts are a mix of single-family and condominiums and, in general, they were priced at the low end of the local scale. If you are okay sharing your golf course with traveling visiting golfers and locals, you will pay appreciably less for a home than in the half dozen or so private golf communities of Myrtle Beach.
        The four, in order of play, were Pawleys Plantation in Pawleys Island; Tidewater in Little River, SC; TPC of Myrtle Beach in Murrells Inlet; and Willbrook Plantation in LItchfield Beach. Pawleys Plantation features a Jack Nicklaus golf course with a split personality between its two nines: The front nine layout threads its way between large bunkers and live oak forests, whereas the back nine runs mostly along the marsh that separates the community from the island and Atlantic Ocean beach, one of the nicest on the east coast. Condominiums are currently selling as low as $184,900 and single-family homes from $265,000.
        Tidewater was designed by the relatively unknown Ken Tomlinson, but don't think that it is in any way inferior as a layout. It is perennially one of the best reviewed and most popular courses on the Grand Strand. Located just below the North Carolina state line a couple of miles inland, it features impressive reviews of marsh, inlet and the beaches beyond. Single-family homes at Tidewater start at $230,000.
        TPC of Myrtle Beach is part of the network of TPC courses throughout the nation, and members of the local course have access to many of the other clubs. The gentleman I was paired with at the TPC course was over the moon at what he said was the best bargain in golf in Myrtle Beach, just $1,500 per year in dues. The course is one of the more challenging by Tom Fazio but characterized, for the most part, by the designer's large, cloverleafed trademark bunkers. Although some areas of the fairways were a little thin, the greens were in nice shape, although not cut on a day where temperatures reached well into the 90s. TPC sits inside the community known as Prince Creek, which features a number of different neighborhoods. Condos are priced from $150,000 and single-family homes from $220,000.
        Willbrook Plantation is located along a two-mile road that is home to two other golf courses, including Tradition Club and the private Reserve at Litchfield. Surrounded by plenty of marsh, Willbrook can become a bit damp after typical Low Country downpours, but on the day I played it, it was dry as a bone, although the Bermuda rough was sticky and tough to emerge from. Willbrook is the only community in which no homes are for sale under the price of $449,000, but it is a nicely landscaped, mature and gated community with a fine golf course at its center.
        If you would like more information on any of these communities or on the many golf community options in the Myrtle Beach area, please contact us.

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        Zillow, the online real estate resource, has published a list of the best cities and towns to buy a vacation home with golf as a major activity. In order to qualify for the list, 15% of the area within five miles of a town must include golf oriented homes. (Zillow ranks the towns also by other activities, including large bodies of water, like oceans and lakes; amusement parks; historical sites; and national parks.)
        Zillow ranks vacation towns on a range of attributes, including price to rent ratio, median home value, median rent and a home value 12-month forecast, and rolls them all into one "Second Home Index" on a scale of 1 to 100. The coastal town of Calabash, NC, rates a perfect 100 on that scale.

Calabash, NC, tops the list
        I know Calabash for two things, its indigenous approach to frying sea creatures and the number of golf courses in the immediate area. The frying substitutes cornmeal for flour in coating the seafood. As for the golf, we count 135 holes of golf with a Calabash address, most of them located adjacent to real estate. All available for public play, they include 27 holes at Brunswick Plantation and 36 holes at The Pearl. The others include Meadowland and Farmstead, close to each other and part of the same group; Carolina Shores; and Crow Creek. The real estate in most of these communities is bargain-priced, with a mix of multi-unit buildings and single-family homes. Overall, Zillow indicates that the median home price in Calabash is just under $96,000.
        Brunswick Plantation, for example, is a sprawling 1,200 acres and includes 1,200 single-family homes and 800 multi-unit dwellings. Of the 60 homes currently listed for sale in Brunswick Plantation, condos begin under $60,000 and single-family homes from $181,000. Crow Creek condos begin at just $114,000; the least expensive single-family home currently for sale is 4 bedrooms, 3 baths priced at $340,000. A relative few number of lots are still available in these communities for those who would like to design their own homes.

Big Cats anchor Sunset Beach golf offerings
        Sunset Beach, NC, just north of Calabash, also rates highly on Zillow's index of vacation towns with a golf orientation, no doubt owing to the presence of a few golf communities with multiple courses. Ocean Ridge's collection of golf courses, known as the "Big Cats" because they are named Tiger's Eye, Leopard's Chase, Panther's Run and Lion's Paw, provide 72 holes of golf inside the gates of a popular golf community. Sea Trail, another local golf community, adds 54 holes, Sandpiper and Thistle Golf Club add another 27 each, and the unique Oyster Bay, which features oyster shell faces on some of its greens, kicks in another 18. If another complex, Angel Trace, had not closed for business recently, Sunset Beach would equal Calabash for golfing excess.
        Ocean Ridge features only single-family homes, with prices starting at $340,000. There are also more than 100 lots still available at prices starting around $16,000. Prices in Sandpiper and Sea Trail are generally lower, Thistle, which is a much smaller community than the others, generally higher.
        Other towns in Brunswick County, NC, show up on the Zillow list, as do plenty of towns in Florida. You will find the Zillow list of golf vacation home towns if you click here.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016 13:15

Bargain homes...in Connestee Falls

        From time to time, we will post current homes for sale that we deem bargains in golf communities we have visited. The following are courtesy of the Clay Team, Bob and Carol Clay, whom we work with in the mountains of western North Carolina. If you are interested in either of these properties or in learning about others in the 3,900-acre Connestee Falls and other fine golf communities in the Brevard, NC, area, please contact me for an introduction to Bob and Carol.

        The golf course at Connestee Falls, designed by George Cobb who designed the par 3 course at Augusta National, winds its way through tall pine forestation that is ubiquitous throughout the mountain regions of North Carolina. If you like doglegs and playing the slopes of fairways and greens, Connestee will be to your liking. Besides golf, the community features hiking trails, tennis and four lakes. The nearby Davidson River was recently celebrated in Garden & Gun magazine as one of the best waterways in the South, especially for its population of large rainbow trout. The charming town of Brevard is a mere six miles from Connestee’s front gate, and the prices for homes currently listed in the community (see below) will appeal to second-home buyers (especially those from Florida seeking to flee summer heat) and retirees from everywhere who appreciate the arts and crafts ethic of small-town mountain living.  For my review of Connestee Falls after I visited in 2008, please click here.
        Overall, homes in Connestee Falls range in price from the mid $100s to just under $1 million.  Two current properties for sale in Connestee Falls seem like especially good buys. One highlights outdoor living with wide, open decks for appreciation of forest and mountain views and a patio with a gas-fired pit. The 3,100 square feet inside contains three bedrooms, two and half baths and two fireplaces. The owners recently refurbished much of the home, with a coat of fresh paint, new carpet, new plumbing and other touches. The home is listed at just $259,000, which works out to an impressive $84 per square foot.
Connestee Home 1Plenty of nice views from this Connestee Falls home. Priced at $259,000.

        The other home the Clay Team is featuring is smaller but less expensive overall. It also features three bedrooms and two and a half baths but encompasses just under 2,000 square feet. It has been remodeled to include new hardwood floors, repainting and an updated kitchen. What has not changed are the year-round mountain views. The home is priced at just $250,000.
Connestee Home 2At 2,000 square feet, this home is more than manageable for a couple who would prefer spending time on the golf course or just sitting on the deck looking out at the mountains.

        Virtually everyone looking for a golf community home these days begins the search online. Golf community web sites are no different than any other consumer product and, therefore, expect from most of them a lot of hype and a less than thorough discussion of details, such as cost of golf membership and other fees. That said, you truly won’t get a feel for any golf community until you visit, and getting you on site should be the goal of every golf community web site. Some do that well, some not so well, and we present advice in the July issue of our free Home On The Course newsletter about how they can do better.
        If you are inclined to visit a golf community in the coming months, make sure to take advantage of the “discovery packages” that most offer. We provide a list of a few such packages in golf communities we can recommend, and we are pleased to assist in making arrangements for the many dozens of communities that attract potential customers for a few days of golf, on-site lodging, access to the clubhouse and other amenities and, of course, a guided tour of the community. (These are generally of 90-minutes to two hours duration and without any hard sell by your real estate agent guide.)
        If you are considering a search for a golf home or want more information on visiting golf communities, sign up today for our free monthly newsletter, Home On The Course.

        I brought the clubs with me on a visit to see our daughter in northern Vermont this past holiday weekend and was able to play 18 at the Champlain Country Club in Swanton, whose logo features a bright red-orange maple leaf (the course is just 15 minutes from the Canadian border). Champlain, designed by someone named Duer Irving Sewall in 1915, is a classic layout, and the club has the feel of a family run enterprise, which it is, and with a friendly and loyal group of members.
        On a crisp and breezy summer afternoon, which is to say about 70 degrees and alternately sunny and cloudy, I was stuck as a single behind a foursome and waited before every shot on the front nine; that was okay because I was taking pictures and trying to solve some chipping and putting issues. However, when the foursome stopped for lunch in the popular dining room at Champlain, I saw my chance to speed things up a bit and scooted to the 10th tee. I made it around the back nine in less than 90 minutes, without rushing, and the entire round clocked in at just 3 hours and 15 minutes.
Champlainapproach1The greens are small, and fast, at Champlain Country Club (#1 green pictured).        Although there were a few brown and bare spots near greens and in some of the fairways, the putting surfaces were nearly perfect and as fast as any publicly accessible greens I have played in recent memory. Clearly, the membership exerts influence on course conditions, and those non-members who pay the fairly modest green fees -- $40 on weekdays -- are beneficiaries. There are no initiation fees, and an annual membership for a single golfer is just $1,022; of course, the season that far north is short (April to October, in a good year), but if a retiree can get out on the course three times a week, the greens fee per round works out to about $13.
Champlain par3 with pondThe par 3s at Champlain offer the best opportunities to pick up strokes.        Vermont, especially in the Burlington area, is an underappreciated golf vacation destination. If you love consistently good food (heavy on the farm to table), a beautiful lake (Champlain), mountain views, and an almost endless variety of local craft beers, you won’t be disappointed. If you have a golf pro willing to intercede with a call to Vermont National Golf Club in Burlington or Country Club of Vermont a half-hour away in Waterbury, do it, although there are many interesting public course options in an hour radius of Waterbury, a small town with a selection of restaurants the equal of much larger cities, including Prohibition Pig, Arvads and Blue Stone Pizza. (I’ve eaten in all of them and can recommend.) Just across the interstate and located on a fast rushing stream, Hen of the Wood is arguably the best restaurant in the entire state. (The New York Times once said so.) Stay at nearby Stowe Village –- a couple of nice courses there too –- and if you must, take the tour of the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream factory. (Just make sure they are actually making ice cream as the tour is boring when the pints aren’t moving along the conveyor belts.) At least you get to sample the flavor of the day at the end of the tour.
        Most of all, if you like beer, all the local restaurants serve Vermont craft beers on tap and in bottles, more different brands and types than you could drink in a year; don’t be afraid to order the weird sounding ones like Folk Metal or Heady Topper. And when you fall in love with one, head for Waterbury’s Craft Beer Store where you just may become tipsy while contemplating the mind-numbing selection of beers on the shelves.

Monday, 04 July 2016 16:02

Coastal Carolina Hits the Big Time

        The last two weeks have put Coastal Carolina University in Conway, SC, on the map for big time sports. Conway is the last town you pass from the west as you enter the much better known Myrtle Beach. In just one week in mid June, the school’s most famous graduate, Dustin Johnson, won the U.S. Open championship and then, a week later, the school’s baseball team earned the College World Series title in Omaha, beating the favored and more highly resourced University of Arizona Wildcats. Then, yesterday, Johnson, who has notoriously finished tournaments the way hares finish road races, closed with a flourish at Firestone Country Club near Akron, OH, to run down the favored and generally steadier Aussie Jason Day.
        Include this reporter among those who have never been big fans of Johnson. Having an enigmatic personality like Tiger Woods would be an improvement for the dry and diffident Johnson whose tragic pratfalls late in major tournaments would be legendary in the world of golf if not for a man named van de Velde.
        There has always been a sense, as well, that the 30-year old had not grown beyond his college days. Hard partying and competitive golf are undeniably incompatible, and Johnson, unlike a lost soul like Johnny Manziel, chose his sport after a stint in rehab earlier this year.  The sober reality of being a new dad seems to have shaken the boy out of both Johnson's personality and his golf game. He has sealed the deal in the last two tournaments he has played as emphatically as Tiger at his best. And his post-game comments have been more assertive and confident, without a trace of smugness. Good for him, his family and for golf.


        If you can stand the heat, this is a great time of year to play golf in Myrtle Beach. Summer is actually the off-peak season for golf on the Grand Strand, and prices are at their lowest of the year. Almost next door to Coastal Carolina University are three excellent layouts of varying degrees of difficulty and eye appeal at the Legends Golf complex on Highway 501, the major east/west route into Myrtle Beach and home to the huge Tanger Outlet Mall. The Heathland course, designed by the celebrated “classic” architect Tom Doak in the manner of British Isles course, features deep greenside bunkers and sweeping, unobstructed views across the entire course. P.B. Dye’s Moorland course is a bit more like its sister courses throughout the Myrtle Beach area, which is to say composed of wide expanses of sand and enough bodies of water to get your attention (and, if you are not on your game, your golf balls.) The Parkland was designed by local architect and golf course developer Larry Young and features aggressive bunkering and tricky green complexes that inspire creative shot-making.
Legends Clubhous beyond bunkerWith any luck, you will catch the late-afternoon bagpiping between the clubhouse and practice range at The Legends.
        Those who come to The Legends hungry for more than good golf and thirsty for more than a Gatorade will be impressed that the Legends offers breakfast, lunch and two beers (or fountain drinks) to go along with the golf. Although by the time your round is done, you may feel transported to the British Isles, try to extend lunch to 4 pm when a bagpiper strolls out near the practice range and does his number.
        For more information on The Legends or for ideas about which of the many Myrtle Beach area golf communities might suit you best, please contact us and we will respond within 24 hours.

        London bridges aren’t exactly falling down, at least not yet, but London real estate prices are. Previously buoyed by an influx of wealthy foreigners, especially Russian and Arab, London has for some years been the most over-priced city in the world. The Brexit vote changed that overnight, as those wealthy foreigners are already starting to put their properties up for sale. Florida real estate agencies could be the beneficiaries.
        “Anything in the United States will fare very well with the Euro-centric audience,” Leonard Steinberg, an executive with a major U.S. brokerage, told Yahoo, adding that Miami was among American cities that “will always do well with the foreign buyer.”
        I think other Florida cities like Naples, Sarasota, Fort Myers and the Gold Coast on the eastern side of the state could do very well also as well-to-do British citizens look to escape the plummeting real estate market in London and other higher priced areas of the UK. The British have long had an affinity for vacations in Florida, and many have purchased second homes there. Non-stop flights from London to Miami, Orlando and Tampa are a few hours longer than flights to Portugal, Spain and other sun-drenched havens in Europe, but receptions for British citizens in some Euro countries in the wake of the vote could be tepid at best and vacation-ruining at worst. Florida and, potentially, other parts of the U.S. Sun Belt, could look like safe havens in more ways than one.
LaurelOakapproachoverwaterBritish citizens looking for a safe haven in Florida won't do much better than Laurel Oak Country Club, located near Sarasota.
        Europeans watching their stock portfolios and real estate values drop, and fearing worse over the coming months, don’t believe America needs to be made great again, certainly not as a place to invest. The U.S. is the world’s only true safe haven for real estate and other investments, according to global experts. If I were the chambers of commerce and major real estate agencies in Florida cities, as well as other cities in the Southeast that can be undeniably attractive to foreign real estate investment, I’d be running ads in British media read by those with real estate holdings. Yes, the drop in the value of the pound sterling has made investments in U.S. properties that much more expensive for the Brits, but the exchange rate difference is nothing compared to the impact of, say, a 50% drop in properties valued in the millions.  Smart money in London may be ready to take some losses now rather than much bigger ones later.
        Of course, having been through a vote whose results many did not see coming, British citizens may be reluctant to jump from the fat into the fire of another chaotic and contentious campaign in the U.S. Uncertainty certainly does not inspire investor confidence. In that regard, here is an open invitation to any British citizen looking for information on the top golf communities in Florida or elsewhere in the Southeast U.S. to contact us now to lay the groundwork for a purchase decision, say, on November 9, the day after the election. That provides plenty of time to visit some Florida communities in the meantime, while lodging prices are very cheap in Florida (hot summers drive the snowbirds away) and golf communities are eager to see you.
        For a sample of golf communities in Florida that we can recommend, click here.

        As of last week, nine of the 23 new home sites released for sale on June 10 at Aiken, SC’s Woodside Communities had been sold.
        The general economic and demographic environments seem to be driving the recent spurt in land sales at Woodside and throughout golf communities in general in the Southeast. Consumer confidence, especially among retiring and nearly retired baby boomers, is improving. Aside from the anxiety some might feel during a Presidential election year -– especially this Presidential election year –- baby boomers are done with deferring their retirement relocations; their primary homes have recovered much of their values since the recession, taking away the biggest excuse for waiting. And in spite of media predictions to the contrary, golf is still popular enough with 26 million people that a retirement adjacent to a fine golf course –- or in Woodside's case, a few of them –- is seen as a realistic luxury.
        But Woodside itself, and the location of the lots in the Summer Hill section of the community, which is bounded by a park on one side and the upcoming 12th and 13th holes of Fuzzy Zoeller’s Hollow Creek course at The Reserve Club, gets most of the credit for the strong interest. A pond, pedestrian footbridge, stone and timber pavilion and quarter-mile lighted walking path –- “walking,” boomers say time and again, is their favorite activity –- add to the appeal.
        The lots are priced from $55,900. Owners have no required time frame in which to build and can use home designs from Woodside’s own collection or build to their own (or their architect’s) design. Construction costs of $135 to $140 per square foot is a good rule of thumb for homes commissioned through Woodside’s building program, but if you hire your own architect and builder, the sky’s your limit.
        The Hancock is one of models Woodside is offering for Summer Hill. At 2,000 square feet, space enough for two or three bedrooms, it is the perfect size for a vacation home or a tidy residence for a retired couple. Costs should not exceed $300,000 to build a nicely outfitted home.
Woodside Hancock Model 1The Hancock model at Woodside Communities will cost under $300,000 to build in the community's new Summer Village section.
        For more information about Woodside and access to a listing of properties for sale, please see our Golf Homes for Sale section
        One other item of note regarding Woodside: The community is located just 22 miles from the gates of the Augusta National Golf Club. During Masters week in April, lodging in the city is notoriously short, and some Woodside homeowners rent out their houses to well-heeled tournament attendees –- and occasionally players and their families –- for enough to pay for a pretty nice golf vacation -– airfare included.

        It may seem counterintuitive, but the Beech Mountain Club in western North Carolina awarded free rounds of golf to 23 golfers this past Tuesday because the weather was terrific –- maybe too terrific. The surprise giveaway of free-round certificates resulted when the temperature passed 79 degrees in the typically cool environs of Beech Mountain.
        The four-year old Summer of 79 Degrees promotion guarantees that temperatures do not reach 80, a level that Beech Mountain head pro John Carrin says is “not cool.”
        When Carrin handed out the certificates for free rounds, he offered the shocked golfers his “deepest apologies for the weather,” which was filled with blue skies, low humidity and refreshing light breezes. “They laughed,” says Carrin.  During the program’s duration, the thermometer passed 79 degrees only three times, all in 2012, until earlier this week. Temperatures in Beech Mountain, elevation 5,506 feet and the highest incorporated town east of the Rocky Mountains, have exceeded 79 degrees only 12 times since 1992.
        Check out listings of homes for sale in Beech Mountain in our Golf Homes for Sale section. We noted a selection of four-bedroom houses, some with nice views, in the low to mid $200s. The golf course is a mile-high, which will add a few yards to every club in your bag. If you would like more information about the community that surrounds the golf course, or an introduction to Jim Brooks, our Realtor at Beech Mountain, please contact us.
Beech Mountain 1Instant Yardage: The balls fly farther when you play a mile high at Beech Mountain.

Friday, 10 June 2016 11:04

Excellent golf, played inexpensively

        Life inside the gates of a golf community may not be the best choice for every golfer. Some golfers crave variety and would rather not face the obligation of playing the same course or two courses consistently. Others don’t want to pay the fixed costs associated with private club membership.
        The trick for those who might live outside a golf community but near excellent golf courses is how to replicate the feeling of a private club. At Habersham, one of those “new urbanism” communities with a town center within walking distance of many of its homes, golfing residents have solved the problem by banding together into a “golf club,” according to Joe Moran, who runs the Habersham Golf Club.
        “We have more than 40 members,” Joe told me, “and a few of them are from outside the community. We met them during our play at area courses and they asked to join.”
        The group plays every Tuesday year round at The Legends of Parris Island, a nicely tended layout inside the gates of the U.S. Marine base near Beaufort, SC, and just 20 minutes from Habersham.
        “The $36 they charge is a great deal,” says Joe, who indicated that the greens superintendent at The Legends once held the same job at the private and well-respected clubs at Dataw Island.
Joe Moran and DaddioJoe Moran, left, leads the Habersham Golf Club which plays every Tuesday at The Legends on Parris Island. According to Joe, his fellow golfer's name is "Daddio."
        On Thursdays, the group plays another course in the area from a selection ranging from the Hilton Head/Bluffton area to the Savannah area.
        “We typically send out a reconnaissance group in advance to make sure that course conditions are good,” says Joe, adding that the nearby Sanctuary Island course on Cat Island can be in great condition for three months and then fall off for the next three.
        Joe and his wife Dee wound up in Habersham when their daughter went to college in Charleston. They hadn’t been considering a golf community for their retirement, because Joe says he didn’t want to play the same golf course four times a week. On one trip to visit their daughter in the late 1990s, they drove through Habersham –- which Joe describes as “embryonic” at the time -– and took a “leap of faith,” purchasing a lot which they built a house on in 2003.
        Joe says he made the right decision as both a golfer and homeowner, and points to local area golf communities like Callawassie, where some members are fighting the mandatory resident membership rule, and the top end Bluffton communities of Colleton River, Berkeley Hall and Belfair, which still feature a few $1 lots for sale by owners besieged with the mandatory membership costs.
        “I could not be more pleased with the way things have turned out,” he says.
        Our June edition of Home On The Course, our free newsletter, will feature all the different ways a serious golfer can play serious golf on a variety of courses, whether you live inside or outside the gates of a golf community. The issue will be emailed to subscribers on Monday, so you have time to sign-up to receive your copy and all future copies.

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