Every once in a while, I get the urge to imagine I am someone other than me. The web site FindYourSpot.com is a good place to do it. FindYourSpot is one of those sites that asks you a bunch of questions -- in this case, about what you want in a place to live -- and then provids a list of towns based on your responses. When I first tried FindYourSpot a few years ago, it told me, quite emphatically, that my responses indicated I wanted to live in the Texas Hill Country. That is one of the reasons I intend to visit the best golf course communities between Austin and San Antonio in the coming months.
With a little free time today, I decided to "pose" at FindYourSpot as a serious golfer who is concerned about little other than identifying a place where I could play all the time. I answered the climate questions in that regard, indicating that summers were meant to be long and hot, and when it asked if I needed to play golf often, I provided a "Strongly Agree." Virtually everything else I marked as "Neutral," including the question about whether I like weather that is neither too hot or too cold; I went "Neutral" on that one on one taking, and then "Strongly Agree" on the next.
The results were interesting, and dramatically different just by switching my responses on the not-too-hot, not-too-cold question. When I empahsized long, hot summers, my top five selections came up, in order, Key West, Naples, Hilton Head Island, Opalousas, LA, and Covington, LA. When I opted for the more moderate annual climate, FindYourSpot found me locations in Tennessee and Kentucky.
The thing is, I have no interest in living in Kentucky, Tennessee, or the hottest places in Florida, although I am intrigued by the Texas Hill Country, as I mentioned above. But maybe FindYourSpot knows something I don't know. If I fall in love with the Texas hills, you will be the first to know. In the meantime, FindYourSpot is a pleasant diversion, if not a deadly accurate one.
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This is the second part of an updated review that was mistakenly 'buried' on the site earlier this week. We repeat it here and apologize to those for whom this might be a repetition.
The Reserve's Greg Norman golf course winds its way through the live oaks and scrub pines that are indigenous to this part of the world. Green complexes are roller-coaster contoured but not heavily trapped, and we were delighted that we could putt on some holes from 15 yards off the green. The course is always in nice shape too. The community brackets Route 17, the main north/south thoroughfare through all of the Grand Strand of Myrtle Beach. To the west of the road is the largest part of the community with single-family homes that range generally from the $400s to $1.5 million. Across Route 17 and within walking distance of the beach, a small group of single-family homes are set up in a Charleston-type row house configuration, but separate from each other. These sell for more than $1 million and are within a three-minute walk of the beach. At the beachfront are a number of high-rise condominiums that are rented out by their owners. At prices in the low-mid-six figures and up, they are one alternative for second-home owners who want oceanfront living and aren't unwilling to live in close proximity to others.
Wachesaw Plantation is also west of Route 17, and a river runs through it (the Waccamaw). The community had some marketing and image issues when it first opened in the 1980s, but those seem behind it. The excellent Tom Fazio golf course can get a little moist after heavy rainfalls, but the layout is unmistakably Fazio, with large cloverleaf bunkers and roller coaster fairways. Some grasses (see photo below) grow long, adding a Scottish links cachet to the routing. Wachesaw is probably the most reasonably priced of the communities; the quality of housing and cost per square foot are relatively low for the area, which probably has something to do with its west of Route 17 location and some marketing problems in the community's early years in the mid 1980s. But Wachesaw is closest to the best variety of shopping and other conveniences, including Myrtle Beach International Airport, which is about 25 minutes away. The beach is about 10 minutes farther away than it is from the other communities, but the scenic and lazy Waccamaw River provides plenty of watery compensation.
The South Strand offers a wide range of high-quality daily fee courses to supplement the private ones. The renowned Caledonia Golf & Fish Club is in Pawleys Island, along with its companion course, True Blue, both designs by the late Mike Strantz. They could not be more different. Caledonia effects a bit of Augusta National with azaleas and other flora in profusion; True Blue has an abundance of sand off the fairways and around the greens, a desert-like course in the Low Country that is vintage Strantz, which is to say "muscular." Nearby is Heritage Golf Club, more of a parkland style course that is always in peak shape. And coming later this summer is the redone Sea Gull Golf Club, renamed The Founders Club, whose distinctive notes will likely revolve around the significant mounding we saw in the early stages of reconstruction. And if all that is not enough variety for you, Litchfield and Murrells Inlet add another seven courses, including Willbrook, The Tradition, The River Club, Litchfield Golf Club, Wachesaw East, Blackmoor and TPC of Myrtle Beach. And for a wondrous if expensive day trip of golf, Kiawah Island and the Ocean Course are about 90 minutes away.
Although there are many art galleries in the Pawleys Island and Georgetown areas, and Charleston is within 70 minutes or so, the area is a little short on culture and entertainment, except for the excellent restaurants. Shopping, though, is ample enough for any but those who crave Nordstrom nearby. A large number of outlet stores are available within a half hour. Myrtle Beach airport, with non-stop service to Washington, Charlotte, the New York airports and a few other northern cities, is within 40 minutes. Much of a couple's social life in the area will revolve around the clubhouse and friends' homes in the communities.
We have excellent real estate contacts in the Myrtle Beach area who are familiar with all the golf communities. One of our pre-qualified agents can help you cut through all the marketing hype and see any houses you want...at no cost or obligation to you. Contact us if we can help.
We celebrate our son Tim's high school graduation today, so I am taking a day off from golf. It seems appropriate to offer the best advice to graduates I have read, a piece written almost 10 years ago and attributed, falsely, as a commencement address at MIT by the late author Kurt Vonnegut. It actually was written by a columnist in Chicago, Mary Schmich. Congratulations to Tim and all other grads.
Ladies and gentlemen of the class of '97: wear sunscreen. If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.
Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they've faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you'll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can't grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.
Don't worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 pm on some idle Tuesday.
Do one thing every day that scares you.
Don't be reckless with other people's hearts. Don't put up with people who are reckless with yours.
Don't waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you're ahead, sometimes you're behind. The race is long and, in the end, it's only with yourself. Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.
Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements. Stretch. Don't feel guilty if you don't know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don't.
Get plenty of calcium. Be kind to your knees. You'll miss them when they're gone.
Maybe you'll marry, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll have children, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll divorce at 40, maybe you'll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don't congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance; so are everybody else's.
Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don't be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It's the greatest instrument you'll ever own. Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.
Read the directions, even if you don't follow them. Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly. Get to know your parents. You never know when they'll be gone for good. Be nice to your siblings. They're your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future. Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on.
Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young. Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.
Accept certain inalienable truths: prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you'll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble, and children respected their elders. Respect your elders. Don't expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you'll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out.
Don't mess too much with your hair or by the time you're 40 it will look 85. Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth.
But trust me on the sunscreen.
The news in the last two days has not been good for those looking to sell their homes. But for those looking to sell and then buy something else, especially a new home from one of the major builders, the news isn't all that bad.
On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Commerce reported that the median price of a new home had dropped 11.1 percent between March and April, and almost 11 percent below the same month a year earlier. Sales of new single-family homes jumped by 16.2 March to April, signaling nothing less than a fire sale by builders.
Then yesterday, more bad news: Sales of existing homes dropped 2.6 percent between March and April after dropping 7.9 percent the previous month. The median price of homes sold in April dropped a moderate .8 percent, but median prices are whimsical; given the sub-prime lending problems, fewer homes at the lower end of the spectrum may have sold in the month, artificially inflating the median.
So where is the silver lining. Sales of existing homes slipped only 1.2 percent in the South, compared with 8.8 percent in the Northeast. The slightest decline was in the Midwest, just .7 percent, but how many people are contemplating retiring to a golf course community in Iowa (apologies to Iowa, a great state in all other regards)?
In terms of new home sales, the South led the way with a whopping 27.8 percent increase compared with just a 3.8 percent increase in the Northeast.
You have heard it here before. The spread between prices in the North and South are widening. If you really, really want to move South, don't be too greedy about pricing your house. You likely made as much as 50 percent in the five years before the current bust. Consider giving back a little of it just to get out from under, and start that new life below the Mason-Dixon line.
The South will rise again...and again.
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.
The lake at The Cliffs at Keowee Vineyards is in play literally and visually.
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 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]
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.
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.
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).
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.