I wish I had a dime for every time I have seen the following overheated words and phrases (or their relatives) in advertisements for golf course communities:
"Setting a new standard..." When multiple developers claim they have set a new standard, it becomes standard but not new.
"Small town charm..." This is code for no grocery stores or health care facilities within a half hour.
"Distinction" One of those claims that lack distinction.
"[Anytown's] premier private community..." Every community in town will claim this.
"A special place..." How special can it be if you have to say it?
"Unique..." In the Hall of Fame for advertising banalities.
"The perfect place [for you]..." Marketing professionals are mindreaders too.
"Timeless..." Brainless. Even in the event of nuclear devastation, a place is still timeless.
"Start a new life at [name of community]..." Insulting. What was wrong with my prior life, especially if I can afford to buy a place in your community.
"A vacation every day..." Except when it rains, snows or is 100 degrees and humid outside.
"Close...but world's away..." and its partner, "So near yet so far..." Translation: Remote; close to nature but not to the mall.
"The allure of [name of community] will last forever, the oportunity to live here will not." My favorite: It is as if they are selling the Roach Motel ("Roaches check in but they don't check out!"). Have they not heard of resales?
Caveat emptor. We admire the restraint some developers -- and their marketing firms -- show in being straightforward. They list the amenities, the course designer and the communities' points of distinction, without saying they are distinctive. They respect the fact that if we are in the market to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a place to live, we probably know what we are looking for, and that we aren't looking for inflated language.
In the coming days, we'll share a few examples that seem to get it right. In the meantime, if you have any questions about a specific community, let us know. If we aren't familiar with it, we'll do the research and report back.
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We have an informal list of areas and golf course communities to visit in upcoming months for our newsletter, HomeOnTheCourse, as well as for articles at this site. These include the Gulf Coast areas of Mobile and Biloxi, the Texas Hill Country between Austin and San Antonio, the high elevation areas of Boone, Brevard and Cashiers in North Carolina, Reynolds Plantation in Georgia and developing areas in New Mexico.
One community we definitely intend to visit is Uwharrie Point in central North Carolina. Although Uwharrie is secluded, with an adjacent 50,000 acre national forest, it is within easy drives of two major airports in Charlotte and Raleigh. Its Tom Fazio-designed Old North State Club is one of the best private courses in a golf-rich state, and with three finishing holes along Badin Lake (see photo below), the layout is eye-appealing as well as challenging. The community offers a nice range of townhomes as well as single-family homes. It adds all the amenities you would expect to find in a high-end community (Har-Tru tennis courts, a large clubhouse with views of the lake, many swimming pools, and miles of walking trails). A full-service marina is available for boaters.
Cottage-style patio homes begin around $300K. The largest single-family homes with prime views range into the millions, but there appear to be quite a few nice selections in between. Home sites with views of the lake begin in the mid $100s, and those with views of the golf course are still available at less than $100K.
For more information, see the community's web site at www.uwharriepoint.com . Who knows, maybe we will see you there.
Our next issue of the HomeOnTheCourse advisory newsletter will feature the communities north of Jacksonville, FL, including those at the Amelia Island Plantation resort. During our recent visit, we played three of the four courses at the resort, including the Pete Dye Oak Marsh, the Dye/Bobby Weed Ocean Links and Tom Fazio's sleek Long Point. (We passed on Royal Amelia, a Tom Jackson layout, because it will be undergoing renovation soon.)
Despite some thinly grassed putting surfaces on the Oak Marsh course, too many unrepaired fairway and green divot marks on Oak Marsh and the Ocean Links, services at the bag drop that left something to be desired and a practice area no better than Joe's Driving Range, we enjoyed the courses, especially the eight holes along the Plantation's 31/2 mile stretch of beach. We will have much more to say in HomeOnTheCourse, which will be available in two weeks. In the meantime, if you are considering a stay at the resort to explore real estate options, or just for a vacation, you would do well to read the latest offering from our friends at Golf Vacation Insider with their hints about the best options for lodging. Click here for the article.
As always, if you have a question about Amelia Island or any of the places we have visited, please drop us a line and we will be happy to answer promptly. And if you are considering a visit to look for property, please let us know and we will connect you with a qualified broker/agent in the area, at no obligation whatsoever to you.
Eyes right: Ocean winds bouncing off the homes and seven-story buildings across the fairways from the Atlantic at Amelia Island Plantation can play havoc with ball flight, but beauty outweighs the occasionally beastly conditions.
I have heard it time and again in the last year. People who have retired to Florida and other warm climates have decided they can't stand the heat. These bounce backs, or half backs as they are known because they started north, went all the way south and now are bouncing halfway back, say they have just tired of year-round heat. "We want a four-season climate," most say, typically adding "but not severe winters."
It can't just be the weather; average summer temperatures in Florida are just a few degrees higher than in interior Virginia. Probe a little and you find that the driving forces behind the moves north are a little more complicated. In many cases, the stifling traffic in Florida got to them, making them virtual prisoners in their gated communities, unwilling to fight the traffic to get to dinner or a show. For others, especially those along the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean coasts, insurance rates - if they can get insurance after Katrina - have driven them north.
Another reason, perhaps the most compelling and one you hear from people you meet on Virigina and North Carolina golf courses, is that they chose areas where their family and friends can get to in an easy day's drive. For those we met in the Williamsburg, VA, area this past week, being a few hours from their former homes in Washington, D.C., and a less than day's trip from the New York metro area were strong considerations in their decision on a place to call their retirement home.
It is no wonder that areas like Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill and Charlotte in North Carolina are among the strongest housing markets in the southeast. They are home to airport hubs, with non-stop flights to most major cities in the nation and to many smaller markets up and down the east coast (e.g. Hartford, CT). With a little planning, some flights won't cost much more than the costs of gasoline, tolls and wear and tear on both auto and body for a six-hour car drive. That is something to consider when contemplating your big move.
Average temperatures in cities like Charlottesville, VA, range from 43 degrees Fahrenheit in January to 79 in August, only three degrees less than the same month average in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. Courses in communities like Glenmore, just east of Charlottesville, are open for play year round.
The New York Times' web site has posted an interesting article about the global demand for designer golf courses. The upshot of the article is that the US, UK and other golf rich nations are essentially tapped out as far as new courses go, and that the growth is in places like China, South Korea and eastern Europe. Designers like Jack Nicklaus, whom the article calls a "grandfather of the design business" (What does that make Pete Dye, who helped train Jack, and Robert Trent Jones?), are receiving design fees of up to $2.5 million from some developers.
We have to wonder about a couple things: How much better will their courses in, say, South Korea, be than their US designs, and how much of the costs of building the courses will be reflected in housing prices? At the risk of sounding like an arrogant American, our European readers should first look to golf course communities in the U.S. when contemplating purchase of a second- or retirement home.
The U.S. offers every type of housing at all price points with adjacent golf courses that bear the names of Nicklaus, Norman, Palmer, Player, Dye and Jones on their scorecards. And may we be so bold as to argue that restaurant and cultural choices in, say, Charleston, South Carolina, USA, might be as plentiful as in Kiev?
We are not currency experts, but with such favorable exchange rates for most European currencies compared with the dollar, our European readers would do best to look westward first. Keep in mind that flights from many European cities are non-stop to Raleigh/Durham, Charlotte and other eastern U.S. cities with excellent golf communities nearby. GolfCommunityReviews.com is developing a network of real estate agents in the U.S. who know the golf course communities in their areas, and we will be happy to put you in touch with any of them as a courtesy for being a registered user of our site (always free). And where we don't have a contact, we will do the research and find the person must qualified to provide an overview of the golf course communities in your area of interest. And that goes, of course, for our American readers.
For access to the Times article, please click here.
Many excellent golf course communities are within an hour of an international airport, like Chapel Ridge in the major university town of Chapel Hill, NC. Chapel Ridge's golf course is a sleek Fred Couples design.
After a week of playing some nice golf courses in Williamsburg, VA, and scoping out a range of excellent communities, we predict the area will be a hot destination for those who want to live the golf lifestyle (hot except for the sweater weather a few months a year). The area's charms would seem to be a magnet for corporate headquarters but, except for aerospace giant Northrup-Grumman, an Anheuser Busch brewery, Busch Gardens, a number of military bases, and some smaller ventures, we were surprised at the lack of big employers in the area.
Apparently that is not for want of trying. Today's Wall Street Journal carries a quarter-page ad touting the City of Williamsburg as a place to "innovate" and "imagine." We can imagine that more businesses would mean more crowded roads, but we were impressed by how good and plentiful the roads in the area are, as if anticipating future growth. Forbes.com ranked the state of Virginia #1 for business last year, and we have to believe that Williamsburg is a potentially number-one place for business in Virginia. For those looking to ease into retirement with, perhaps, a part-time job in a vibrant community that is on the move, Williamsburg will be a place to look in the coming years.
Merchant Square in the heart of Williamsburg features quaint shops and a number of restauraunts.
For all but the most adolescent-minded of buddy golfers, Williamsburg is a better choice for both a golfing week and, perhaps, a permanent living situation, than is Myrtle Beach.
There are just so many courses you can play in one week; having 115 of them at your disposal on The Grand Strand is superfluous. After a week in Williamsburg, I'd say that the area's top 10 golf courses are as good as the top 10 in Myrtle Beach, which I have played over time. And the atmosphere at the golf clubs in the Williamsburg area seemed more refined. Williamsburg has no strip joints and no bars per se (just bars in restaurants), so if you are on a cut-loose golf vacation, head for Myrtle Beach or Orlando. But for the pure golf crowd focused on the golf, excellent lodging, some cultural activities post round and a good meal each evening, Williamsburg is a viable alternative.
Getting around Williamsburg seemed a lot easier than negotiating Highway 17 in Myrtle Beach. Williamsburg is finally growing as other southeastern golf destinations have grown, but the town already has good roads in place, including I-64 and US 60. Only at peak commuter times did I encounter any hiccups in traffic flow, mostly the result of traffic-signal congestion.
Although Pete Dye softened his original design at Kingsmill's River Course, he still made the greens a challenge to get to.
Williamsburg offers virtually every combination of golf course community, with prices to match a range of budgets. The resort community of Kingsmill provides two outstanding golf courses (The River and The Woods courses) and a good one in The Plantation course. Its nine-hole par three course runs along the James River with stunning views. Services at the golf course were excellent, for both guests and members, friendly and prompt and providing the feel of a private club. The lack of a resort hotel building - guests stay in condos - enhances the notion of private club. Because Kingsmill has been a tournament venue for more than 25 years, and is currently home of the LPGA Michelob Ultra open, the golfing amenities are excellent. Housing in Kingsmill, which is owned and run by Anheuser Busch, whose brewery and Busch Gardens are on adjacent properties, runs the gamut, from townhouses and condos to estate-sized homes, at prices that range from $350,000 to more than $4 million. Golf club initiation fees are $25,000 per couple, refundable at 75% of total (non-equity initiation is $10,000). One important note: Each day, Kingsmill designates one of its courses for member-play only, a daring and smart move.
Guests at the Marriott Hotel, one of the busiest in the chain, can almost roll out of bed and play one of the three courses at Ford's Colony.
The huge Ford's Colony, which is more than 20 years old, finesses its status as a resort. Its residential areas are segregated from the tourist's rentals and the Marriott Hotel that provides many of the golf packages that help populate and fund maintainence of the 54 holes of golf. Although the main entrances to the 4,00+ acre community are not gated, a key code is required for access to the interior entrances to the property's various neighborhoods. As at Kingsmill, Ford's Colony offers the entire range of house options, at prices that begin at $300,000 for a town home. Single-family homes with water or golf course views begin around $650,000. The three courses at Ford's Colony don't provide the drama or river views of Kingsmill, but a mid-teens handicap player will find much to like in the Dan Maples designs. Blue Heron was pretty easy without being boring, probably the best definition of a resort course. Golf initiation fees at Ford's Colony are $30,000 if you purchase a home through the on-site real estate office, $60,000 otherwise. We met one person during the week who had purchased a home in Ford's Colony via an outside real estate agent and resented the $30,000 "penalty" for having done so. He opted to join the Two Rivers Club at Governor's Land instead, for an initiation fee of $30,000 (equity).
The 16th at the Two Rivers course at Governor's Land provides the first glimpse of the James and Chickahominy Rivers, beyond the green.
What Governor's Land lacks in quantity (of golf) it makes up for in quality. It is the only strictly private golf community in Williamsburg. Its 18-hole Two Rivers Golf Club by Tom Fazio, opened in 1992, is lined with homes mostly designed in the Williamsburg tradition -- large, attractive and well back from the course, hidden for the most part behind mounds. The Fazio layout features a number of doglegs with the designer's customary big fairway bunkers, well-protected and undulating greens and, of course, buried cart paths. The two rivers at Two Rivers are the Chickahominy and James which merge just behind the clubhouse, forming a three-mile wide body of water that gives the effect almost of playing at ocean side (the wind blows too). Although the final three holes play along the river, the water does not come into play unless you overcook severely your approach on the finishing hole.
Narrow landing areas are only a few of the many challenges at the Arthur Hills layout for Colonial Heritage.
Colonial Heritage is a six-year old, age-restricted community whose challenging (tough, really) Arthur Hills course opened for public play in October. You must be 55 or older to live in the community and are required to abide by certain restrictions (e.g. limits on length of visits by children and grandchildren). Like most such communities, the gated Colonial Heritage is loaded with amenities like an indoor pool, a vast clubhouse (we were impressed by the two pool tables), concierge-type services, and reasonably priced houses, albeit on small lots set close together. I felt a little masochistic in my admiration for the difficult golf course, and I was confused as well: I don't know many players in their 60s and older who will be able to negotiate the forced carries over ravines that Hills has incorporated into his inventive design. It is small wonder the course counts only 44 members thus far, in spite of the modest initiation fees of $3,150 (per couple) for community residents (members also pay just $10 per cart rental, the best rate we have found anywhere). For those of us up for a severe challenge, Colonial Heritage is a must stop, in nice shape and with helpful folks in and around the golf shop.
Not everyone wants a home inside the gates of an amenities-loaded golf community, especially if membership in a private club is not a priority. In Williamsburg, the choices for daily-fee play are abundant. Williamsburg National is a 36-hole complex by The Nicklaus Design Group that emerged next to The Greens Springs timeshare resort (Does anyone buy timeshares anymore?). I drove through the surrounding communities - there are at least a half dozen that touch the courses at some point - and the choices were plentiful and less expensive than in the area's gated communities. Other excellent daily fee courses, including the heralded Mike Strantz layout at Stonehouse, are all within a half hour.
Finally, my only golfing disappoint with my week in Williamsburg was that I did not get to play either of the two renowned courses at The Golden Horseshoe complex, the only one in the area that is without adjacent housing. Many regard The Gold Course as the best layout in Williamsburg, something I hope to confirm on a drive south later this summer spring.
We will publish a much more estensive overview of Williamsburg and its golfing communities in an upcoming issue of HomeOnTheCourse, our bi-monthly newsletter.
The fairway at #7 at Colonial Heritage is built above a ravine, necessitating a carry of at least 200 yards on your drive and then a medium to long iron over the ravine to the green.
The Arthur Hills course at Colonial Heritage in Williamsburg is a stern test of golf, almost too stern at times for any but the most accomplished golfer. This was at least the fourth Hills course I've played, and each one of them has left me feeling totally satisfied in a slightly masochistic way. The architecture cognascenti don't necessarily agree, but Hills is a vastly underrated designer in my less than humble opinion.
The Colonial Heritage layout is tougher than Hills' respected Palmetto Course at The Landings at Skidaway Island, which I played last year. Colonial Heritage, which opened for public as well as member play last October, is set right in the middle of a large, age-restricted community of the same name; you must be at least 55 to live inside the gates. But anyone in the area can play the course for relatively modest greens fees. On the first sunny day in a week, we teed off at 8:45 a.m. and didn't see any other groups during our round. And given that the golf club has just 44 current members, one logical conclustion is that the Hills course has gained a reputation as being difficult. Despite its five sets of tees, many men past 60 and women will not have the length to carry the wide ravines that front a few of the greens; and the casual public course player might feel abused by the "reward" of a blind shot after a good drive. Even for those who can hit a six iron 160 yards, it is not easy to get close enough to front pin positions; anything past the pin yields nasty downhill putts on fast greens from behind the hole (or difficult chip shots from U.S. Open length rough). The pins on the day we played were in reasonably accessible areas, but it would not be fun to go at them on a morning the greens keeper is in a bad mood.
I was matched with Tom Abbott, a resident of Ford's Colony and former member at the Two Rivers course at the Governor's Club. Tom and his wife are contemplating a move to a golf community in West Virginia; local real estate agents have been telling him his home in Ford's Colony has appreciated as much as 30% in the three years they have lived there. Tom and I agreed that the price appreciation is the result of two things; a good housing market in Williamsburg and the increase in construction materials that has pushed costs from an average $150 per square foot up to around $180 or more.
Tom had played the course a few times earlier and came out to push himself and his game to the limit. He played well, but with a handicap of 12, he chose the silver tees (6,000 yards) to fully enjoy the game. I played from the green tees, at almost 6,400 yards, and enjoyed my game when I hit the ball on my chosen line which, surprisingly, was most of the time. But the approach shots I struck even slightly off line seemed invariably to find the four-to-six-inch deep rough, and the difficult chips rarely left me with a gimmee.
The greens themselves will be wonderful in a few weeks, after the aeration bumps left by a good punching 10 days ago settle in. In spite of the aeration and fertilizer spraying the greens received just before our round, they were medium fast. One of the courses rangers told us they typically read 11 on the stimpmeter, which is about as fast as any public course ever gets. Like most new courses, it was very difficult to get a good reading on the putting lines, and invariably Tom and I were reduced to whining about misreading. I didn't make one outside of four feet all day.
It was interesting to play the Hills course the day after playing Pete Dye's renowned River Course at Kingsmill. The Hills course is tougher, its fairway landing areas tighter and its forced carries longer and more threatening. Bunkers at the two courses were similar in terms of placement and size. Both courses are public accessible, and the next time you are in Williamsburg, I urge you to try them. And if you are interested in property, please let us know; we have qualified an excellent, knowledgeable broker in the area who knows all the golf communities inside and out. We'll be happy to put you in touch.
Thanks to Tom for his companionship and for guiding me on some of those blind shots. It helped.
After the difficult 7th, there is no let-up at #8, with its two tiered green and trouble all around. Pull your tee shot and you are left (literally and figuratively) for dead. Right is not much better.
Tom Abbott lives at Ford's Colony but is considering a move to West Virginia to escape some of the summer heat.
Fans lucky enough to secure a seat behind the 17th will have a great view of the hole and the James River at Kingsmill Resort's River Course.
The River Course at Kingsmill is everything you would expect of a professional golf tour stop. It is in terrific shape, and not nearly as good as it will be in a month when the LPGA makes its stop for the Michelob Ultra Open. You may recall the PGA used the course for 22 years as its local tour stop. In 1994, Pete Dye renovated his own original design, adding new fairway bunkers and softening some of the harder edges on and around the greens.
From the blue tees at 6,300 yards, the course rating is a modest 70.9 with a slope of 133, which seemed a little inflated for the routing. The comparables from the gold tees, at 6,800, are 73.3 and 138. Distance counts for a lot at the River Course, and when the blue tees were back near the gold tees, the holes played much tougher.
Kingsmill must have spent a fortune in over-seeding its courses last fall because everything was green and near lush, including the rough, which was close to tournament length. The greens were smooth but very difficult to read; Dye's typical mounding around the greens made it seem as if putts broke away from them, but looks were often deceiving.
There wasn't a bad hole in the 18, and a few memorable ones. The 17th, the par 3 that runs along the James River, is about what you see on TV - treacherous right of the green and nasty to the left (nasty is better than treacherous). The 15th, a benignly distanced par 5 at just 473 yards, requires that you thread the needle off the tee between one trap left and four at right. If you make the go zone, a deep ravine awaits, covering the entire right half of the fairway in front of the narrow green. Left and front of the green almost guarantees a par, if not a birdie; the ravine leads to bogey or worse.
We were restricted to cart path only, and one ranger told us he expects it to be that way right up until the LPGA arrives. I'm sure the course will close in the next two weeks as the heavy resort play has left many divots in the fairways.
I had the pleasure of playing the round with Chuck Coe, a self-described "rug merchant" from Maryland and a member of the Bethesda Golf Club. We had a great conversation during the round and at lunch about golf, family and exercise (Chuck was quite articulate about how yoga has helped him regain and maintain flexibility and improved his golf game after serious shoulder and knee surgeries). Yes, it's fun to go away with your buddies for a week of golf, but one of the glories of the game is the match-up with total strangers who, for four hours at least, turn out to be good friends. Thanks Chuck.
Modern art: From the tee at #5, the stream, bunker and mounding form parallel lines around the smallish green.
Chuck Coe of Maryland played some excellent golf and was great company.
Yesterday I noted that I have lost significant distance off the tee since last year, maybe 20 yards, and I am about one club shorter with my irons. I know it is the lack of shoulder turn, the result largely of advancing age and sedentary habits. Still, I had my best score of the year on the back nine at Ford's Colony's Blue Heron course in Williamsburg, so the logical conclusion is that the course was easy.
Dan Maples designed the Blue Heron as well as the two other 18s at Ford's Colony, the Black Heath and the Marsh Hawk. None of the ratings from the men's tees exceed 70.0 and the highest slope rating is 125 (the Blue Heron is 124 at 6,328 yards). I like Maples courses, but his designs do seem geared to "vacationers." (Who wants stress on a vacation?) The Blue Heron, which featured some nice elevation changes, fairly slick and smooth greens, and just enough in-play water to keep some adrenaline pumping, was the right medicine to boost my ego with a decent score. But I am not sure this, or its companion courses at Ford's Colony, would satisfy me day in and day out while I still pretend I am the golfer I once was.
Those of us contemplating retirement to a golf-oriented lifestyle face a dilemma: Will the course we choose to play a few times a week pose enough of a challenge or too much of one? At the brutally tough Davis Love III course in Chapel Hill, The Preserve at Lake Norman, breaking 80, for a 10-handicap golfer, would be a thrill; but the thrills would be far and few between. I also have played a course in eastern Tennessee, at Rarity Bay, that was so forgiving that the thrill was gone by the end of one round.
The Blue Heron tended a little toward the easy side, but in five years, who knows? It might be all the challenge I would want, and then some. So in choosing a community and its adjacent golf course(s), do we make the big investment based on our game today or the one we project for ourselves a few years out? My own theory is that many of us will have it both ways, moving a few times in retirement for a number of reasons, not the least to rehab our scores on courses more suited to our then-current game. As the generational psychologists like to say, baby boomers want what they want.
Last night's dinner was at a local Vietnamese restaurant called Chez Trinh. The "Chez" part is a little frilly, since there are no combo French/Viet dishes on the menu, but the food was serious, ample and quite tasty. The crab and asparagus soup was the real thing, not those ubiquitous, imitation and unfortunately named sea legs, but real shredded crab. The white asparagus may have come out of a can, but the half dozen pieces held their own in the silky broth. The rice paper that enclosed pieces of garlic pork, mint leaves and bean sprouts was a bit spongy, and the pork seemed a little past its prime, but the mint gave the dish a refreshing kick.
The Saigon Seafood plate announced itself just as the kitchen door opened, a sizzling - almost howling - dish that included small shrimp, the oxymoronic large shrimp, and scallops, as well as a heady dose of ginger. Well-prepared Vietnamese food depends on the freshest ingredients, and this dish did not disappoint.
Later today I play the River Course at Kingsmill, which Pete Dye renovated a couple of years ago. Stay tuned.
The 17th on the Blue Heron at Ford's Colony is not as tough as it appears. That bank in front of the pin is not steep and you can land just short of the green without fear of rolling into the water. However, the pin position indicator -- halfway up the stick -- was wrong. The pin was at front on a very deep green, and I hit way too much club.