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Friday, 25 May 2007 04:58

Horses for courses

    In the rush to provide more amenities than the next community, some developers are appealing to horse owners who also like to swing clubs.  No, we aren't talking about polo players, but rather golfers who have a taste for the equestrian.
    Two communities that provide the best of both sports are featured in the Wall Street Journal today.  The Cliffs at Keowee Vineyards is the one we are personally familiar with; its Tom Fazio course, which runs along the lake, is one of the best and most scenic we have played in the southeast.
    The other is at the Club at Black Rock in Coeur d'Alene, ID, across the lake from the famed course that bears the town's name and features a legendary "floating" green that is motorized and can be moved from place to place on the lake.
    Prices are steep for homes and communities of the quality of these two.  The featured homes at The Cliffs and Black Rock in the WSJ article are priced at $1.99 million and $3.2 million respectively.  Annual taxes are a stratospheric $22,000 and $42,000.

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 The lake at The Cliffs at Keowee Vineyards is in play literally and visually.

 

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Wednesday, 23 May 2007 22:16

Review: Porters Neck, Wilmington, NC

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In just the last year, Porters Neck's Tom Fazio designed course has gone from good to excellent thanks to the investments the club made.  (Photo courtesy of Porters Neck)

 

    It is a challenging and scary proposition to take a golf club private. First, you need a governing board with the backbone to make an investment in the course up front, before membership rolls are filled.  There's a reason you don't see marketing lines like, "If you join, we'll use your money to improve the golf course."  Then you need to communicate, without being too stuffy, that privacy brings a certain amount of privilege not found at daily fee courses, and that the privilege is worth the price of initiation.  Simple math is working against you; a $30,000 initiation fee divided by a $70 daily fee at a good public course works out to a decade worth of golf elsewhere.
    That is the challenge that Porters Neck Country Club, about 12 miles northeast of Wilmington, NC, is facing.  Although the club is being coy about its intentions, all signs point to a transition to 100_1043pnp3 exclusive status.  Greens fees for non-members have been raised to $110 and up, the club is in its second contract with a marketing firm that specializes in attracting new members, and the golf membership rolls are nearing 400, certainly a good number for an 18-hole course.  The club's members, who took over from the developer in 2004, invested aggressively and smartly, spending $1 million in 2006 to restore and upgrade the terrific greens on the Tom Fazio layout, improving tee and fairway grasses as well as the drainage systems that support them, and enhancing the practice facilities (they added another $200,000 for new lighted tennis courts).  We played the course before the renovations and after, and the money was well spent in our estimation. 
    Over time, we have found that Tom Fazio designs the most consistently good routings of any architect.  On otherwise excellent courses, some holes by Nicklaus and Dye just make you scratch your head at how odd or brutal they are (or both).  We've yet to find a clunker among the dozen or so Fazio courses we've played in the two years.  He may not provide the drama of the others, but neither does he provide any unpleasant surprises.  [Continued; click below]

Wednesday, 23 May 2007 16:54

Westies finish 3rd of 24 teams

    As I wrote earlier, today was the big season-ending tournament for New England prep schools (only 24 competed, one less than planned), the Kingswood-Oxford Invitational.  My son Tim's Westminster team finished 3rd behind Avon Old Farms, whose five players shot a combined 391, and Deerfield Academy which posted a 396.  The Westminster Martlets posted a 401, which included a 74, 75, Tim's 78, an 86 and 88.

    The host club for the match, the Oak Ridge golf course in Feeding Hills, MA, is not long but today it played tough.  The rough was almost U.S. Open length, the greens were hard (but not particularly fast) and the wind was gusting up to 15 mph.  The overall low score of the 120 golfers was a 73.  One of the low-handicap players in my son's group posted two quadruple bogies on the front nine, and a Westie teammate suffered a 10 on a par 5. 

    Although disappointed with the third place finish today, Westminster had an excellent season.  When multi-team as well as head to head matches are calculated, the Martlets finished the season with a very respectable 39 wins and just 5 losses.  Congratulations, Westminster.

Coming tomorrow:  A review of Porters Neck Plantation in Wilmington, NC. 

Wednesday, 23 May 2007 05:15

Westminster golfers try to close the deal

    There will be no regular post today.  I am off to watch the Westminster School golf team compete against 25 other New England schools in the season-ending Kingswood-Oxford Invitational.  All five scores from each team will be counted (typically in prep school tournaments six play and the highest score is dropped).     

    My son Tim's Westminster team has a 19-4 record, having finished third in the league tournament last Saturday.  They get a chance for redemption today against Kingswood-Oxford and Taft, the two teams that finished ahead of them last week.  By the end of the afternoon, 125 or so players and coaches will crowd around the scoreboard for the final results.     

    High drama.  For those interested, I'll report on the results later tonight.  In the meantime, have a great day.  It is sunny and mid 70s Fahrenheit in Connecticut today.  Hope the golfing gods are smiling on you as well.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007 11:43

Your editor, the matchmaker

    True story.  I thought I was meeting my friend and former colleague Alden for a cup of coffee this morning, something we try to do every three months or so.  Instead, Alden showed up with Annette, whom I also once worked with, and the two of them presented me with a certificate labeled the "Cupid Award."  It was signed by both and cited me "For fulfilling [the] role in bringing together the lives of Alden and Annette just as it was meant to be, just at the right time."
    Alden and Annette were oozing mutual love at Starbucks this morning.  They announced that they are going shopping for an engagement ring this week.  My role in all this was totally involuntary.  Four years ago Annette, former director of admissions at a small local college, had some organizational issues.  Alden, an internal organizational consultant in the corporation I worked for, had the right skills for the job.  It only seemed right that I put them together for purely professional reasons, but it took one or two presentations - Alden is very smooth, Annette a good listener - for them to fall in love.

    I probably know more about golf course real estate than I do about affairs of the heart.  If I can help bring two people together without trying, maybe I can help others find their home on the course.  Please give me a try by registering here and by also considering a subscription to our newsletter, which we will launch in the coming weeks for the reasonable price of $39 annually (six information packed issues).  If I can provide any advice, please don't hesitate to contact me (contact button at right).

Tuesday, 22 May 2007 05:08

Why we love the game

    I could never hope to hit a 95 mph rising fastball.  Or move a 300 pound lineman out of the way in football.  Or beat a pro basketball player in a game of one on one (if he was really trying).  There is no sport I can think of where I could do anything as well as the best professional...except in golf.

    Perhaps you've read about Jacqueline Gagne of California, a 46-year old who maintains a seven handicap.  In the first four months of this year, she made 10 holes in one, all verified by the local newspaper in Rancho Mirage, CA.  The odds, according to a piece last week in the Wall Street Journal , are about 12 septillion to 1.  That would be a 12 followed by 24 zeroes.

    Most of us would kill for just one of those aces, but Ms. Gagne's feat reminds us that, for a moment, rank amateurs like us can be as good as Tiger or Phil or any of them.  And the odds are something less than 12 septillion to 1.

Monday, 21 May 2007 06:11

Favored architects command a price

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Fazio's fairways at Champion Hills keep homes and OB stakes at bay.

 

    For the last week, we ran a poll to ascertain our readers' favorite golf course architects.  Albeit with only a few votes cast, the results are not surprising, with one exception.  Arthur Hills, whose work we respect, garnered as many votes as Jack Nicklaus and Tom Fazio.  Pete Dye was the other vote getter.     

    The results prompted an informal investigation of a few communities with courses designed by our top four vote getters.  We looked at Fazio's Champion Hills in Hendersonville, NC; Nicklaus' Cliffs at Walnut Cove in Asheville; Dye's Ford Plantation in Richmond Hill, GA; and Hills' The Ridges in Jonesborough, TN.  To get a feel for the relationship between designer cachet and prices, we looked at the most expensive home that is currently on the market in each community, as well as an example of a more moderately priced home.  And we computed the cost per square foot of the homes.  Of course, prices are the consequence of lots of factors, and our little investigation is neither scientific nor conclusive.  If nothing else, it is a good excuse to talk about four fine communities, three of which we have visited.     

    With hundreds of his golf courses built or in construction around the world, Nicklaus is arguably the most financially successful of the group, benefiting by the name recognition he built during his legendary career.  He builds sometimes brawny, sometimes quirky but almost always interesting layouts.  His design for the Cliffs at Walnut Cove is a little more brawn than quirk, in a beautiful setting ringed by the Blue Ridge Mountains.  One of the three Cliffs courses used for the Nationwide Tour's BMW Charities tournament this past weekend, Walnut Cove was the toughest course on the tour in 2005 and the 10th toughest last year.  The most expensive home on the market in Walnut Cove is listed at $5.495M for 7,000 square feet of living space ($785 a square foot).  A more reasonably priced home is offered at $1.295M for 3,000 square feet ($432 per foot).
    Champion Hills in Hendersonville, NC, is a refined community with a typical Tom Fazio course, which is to say you could play it every day and never tire of it.  Fazio grew up in the area and still owns real estate in the community.  He figures prominently in Champion Hills' marketing, which plays up his local-boy status.  You can tell when you play Champion Hills that he lavished particular attention on it.  Funneled fairways are generally set well below the well-spaced houses, which has the double benefit of keeping out of bounds stakes to a minimum while providing dramatic views of the golf course from rear decks of the homes.  A couple of years ago, Champion Hills' dedicated membership developed a long-term strategic plan that would be the envy of some corporations, and they set about improving an already well-conditioned golf course.  You will find a few home sites available at Champion Hills in the ½ to two-acre range for $100,000 to $365,000; the ones toward the top of the range will have mountain views.  The most expensive home currently for sale in the community is available at $3.575 for 7,527 square feet ($475 per square foot).  More representative is a listing for $985,000 for 4,454 square feet ($221 per foot).     

    One of the best golf courses we have played in the last few years is Pete Dye's track at Ford Plantation, just south of Savannah.  Set along the Ogeechee River, the links style course does not seem manufactured in a Pete Dye way; the customary moguls and railroad ties are at a minimum and do not interrupt the natural flow of the routing, although the customary breezes provide all the challenge you need.  The course is the centerpiece for a community loaded with history and class.  General Sherman spared the plantation during his burning spree at the end of the Civil War, and we wouldn't be surprised if the beauty of the landscape softened his pyromaniac tendencies a little.  Less than a century later, Henry Ford made the place his southern home, and those who take the official real estate tour at Ford Plantation have the chance to sleep in the room where Clara Ford slept while her husband was tinkering with who knows what (or whom) in his workshop a hundred yards across the lawn.  Ford Plantation home sites are available in the $395,000 to $750,000 range and at two to six acres.  Most expensive on the market now is a 5,600 square foot house priced at $3.45M ($616 square foot).  Less extravagant is a $1.25M home that comprises 3,200 square feet ($391 a foot).     

    Arthur Hills was a surprise vote getter in our poll, and we are glad he was.  We think he is the most underrated of designers working today (he's been at it for four decades, so he must have learned a few things along the way).  His work at the Palmetto Course at The Landings at Skidaway Island in Savannah and at the little known and rural River Islands Course in Tennessee show a masterly balance between challenge and playability, with tough medicine for those who don't think their way around the course (Don't short-side yourself next to an Arthur Hills green without being prepared to pay).  We haven't played his course at The Ridges in Jonesborough, TN, but we note it is long and well regarded.  The most expensive home we found available in The Ridges might be a misprint at $1.85M for 13,000 square feet (a puny $142 per foot), so we will rely, for the sake of our comparisons, on the more reasonably listed home for $1.2M for 3,500 square feet ($343 per foot).
    In most cases, there seems to be a direct relationship between the quality of golf course designers and the quality of the communities in which their courses are located.  You likely won't go wrong following any of these winners.  If you would like us to contact real estate agents at any of these communities, or an agent who can show you homes in these and other golf course communities in the area, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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Sometimes the most direct approach is not a straight line, as is the case at this short par 4 dogleg right at Pete Dye's Ogeechee Golf Club at Ford Plantation.

    Sea Trail Plantation, the huge complex north of Myrtle Beach, will open a new section of townhomes in their Eastwood Bluff section June 29 - July 1. The amply sized Eastwood units, at 2,300 square feet and up, have a few interesting features, including three suites and location on the complex's Willard Byrd golf course.  Included in the developer's list of incentives is free initiation for Sea Trail's three golf courses (the other two were designed by Rees Jones and Dan Maples).  For more on the golf courses, click here for Sea Trail's web site.

   A little further south, Grande Dunes in Myrtle Beach has been pulling out the stops to showcase the high-end community.  With single-family homes beginning in the $800s, the developers are stressing the quality of the amenities in the community.  They recently hosted a tour of all the facilities that included stops at the 27,000 square-foot private Members Club, the Resort Club, beachfront Ocean Club, Tennis & Fitness Club, Grand Dunes' two golf courses and the 130-slip, full-service marina on the Intra-Coastal Waterway.  Twenty-five houses in the community's 13 neighborhoods were opened for inspection during the tour.

    We've played both the resort course and the private Members Club and prefer the older resort course, which provided more memorable holes and a better overall challenge.  Still, the two form a wonderful tandem for those with the capacity to live in Myrtle Beach's most exclusive community.

    Further south yet, a few miles below Georgetown, SC, Harmony Township is practicing something called "New Urbanism."  If you are looking to live within walking distance of a town center with shopping, restaurants, and services, Harmony is one of those communities worth checking. The area has been slow to take off, with strong competition from similar concepts in the Charleston area, like Daniel Island, which has two good golf courses, and I'on, but that could spell buying opportunity at Harmony if the concept appeals to you.  The large community along the river does not include a golf course but is within a half hour drive of some darn good ones in Pawleys Island.  Experience Harmony packages, including lodging in one of their cottages, is currently $79 for 3 days and 2 nights.  Of course, you will need to take the tour, but you can't beat the price.  For more info, go to HarmonyTownship.com.  And if you want to read a good short piece on New Urbanism, click here for an article at CarolinaLiving.com .

Friday, 18 May 2007 15:59

Expensive homes taking longer to sell

    We are hearing from real estate agents that homes at the top of the market are lingering longer on the MLS (multiple listing service) and fetching a smaller percentage of their asking prices than down-market homes. 

    Wilmington, NC, is one example of the phenomenon.  In April, homes in the Hampstead area just north of the city, in zip code 28443, took an average 133 days to sell at an average price of $369,000, 89% of the asking price.  In the Wilmington zip code of 28405, where homes were listed at an average $293,000, they sold in April in 73 days and at an impressive 98% of their asking price.

    With the stock market remaining strong, at least for now, there is not too much downward pressure on pricing for owners of higher end homes.  But a stock market correction could certainly change that.

*  *  *

    Our friend Adam Ney is a leading exponent of green businesses and lifestyles in the state of Connecticut.  He maintains an interesting web site called Building Connecticut Green.  Last month Adam masterminded a clean-up of the road that runs alongside his town golf course, Wintonbury Hills in Bloomfield. 

    Wintonbury Hills is not your average muni; it was designed by Pete Dye for the princely sum of $1 as a favor to friends of his in town, and it is the equal -- in layout and condition -- of most local private courses.  Adam arranged for a few of his fellow club members to help pick up trash along the road, and then played the course.  This might be a day of fun and productivity you can organize at your own course, whether it is private or public.  For Adam's article, click here .

 

Friday, 18 May 2007 08:39

Immigration reform and golf

    Immigration reform is all over the news pages, and it occurs to me that there might be only one degree of separation between the resolution of the immigration issue and the future of golf in America.  
    Every small town I drive through in the southeastern U.S. - and I do a lot of driving from community to community - every one seems to have a bodega (Hispanic grocery store).  These are towns with populations of fewer than 1,000 and no commercial district to speak of.  The number of Mexican restaurants has blossomed as well over the last decade.  Immigration is not just a border state issue; immigrants who make it across the border, legally or illegally, aren't stopping only in Texas or Arizona.  Like water that seeks its own level, people who need to earn a living find the jobs that are available.  And in the southern U.S., many of those jobs are on golf courses.
    Golf course maintenance is a brutally tough job, especially in the south in the summer when temperatures can reach well into the 90s before lunchtime.  Virtually every course I have played in the southeast over the last two years -- and that amounts to nearly 90 -- employs Hispanics to do the manual labor of course maintenance.  They do the jobs the local kids long ago stopped doing for pay or the privilege of playing on Monday, otherwise known as caddies' day.  There is no question that, with an estimated 12 million non-resident aliens in the U.S., some of these workers - maybe many of them - are in the country illegally.
    These golf course workers are a metaphor, it seems to me, for a larger issue.  There are lots of jobs that American workers just won't do, for love or money, jobs that immigrants will do gladly for an honest day's pay until such time something better comes along (This, of course, is the first rung in the ladder known as the American dream).  There is a great tradition of migrant workers on farms to harvest the food to feed the nation, but we need people to do many other jobs, such as to keep our cities clean.  If I lived in a city, I wouldn't care who did the work.  Golfers who count on pristine conditions at their country club likely don't care who cuts the grass.
    I have no clue yet who will get my vote for U.S. President in 2008.  But I do know the one who has the most creative ideas about immigration will have a leg up.

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