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Pyramid scheme:  Glenmore's driving range is amply sized and professionally outfitted.

Golf Course Review 

    Glenmore is one of those communities that suddenly appears along a stretch of country road and, yet, is close to everything.  Just a 20-minute drive to the University of Virginia, the gated Glenmore is also conveniently close to all other conveniences and necessities, like hospitals and shopping within 15 minutes.  Its east-of-Charlottesville location offers alternative air transportation options for those willing to drive about an hour to Richmond International Airport.  The Washington, D.C., area airports are two hours away. 
    Glenmore appeals to those who still work and those who don’t with roughly equal numbers of retirees, young families and empty nesters who are still working at least part time.  “The home office,” says lead broker Tom Pace, “is an important room to have [in Glenmore].”
    Housing runs the gamut in the community.  We found what Glenmore calls their “Scottish Homes” to be especially interesting.  Eleven choices of models are available.  At 2,100 to 3,700 square feet on lots from 2/10 and acre to ½ acre, these low maintenance homes fetch prices from around $550,000 to $800,000.  For $1,000 annually, an outside contractor handles all landscaping on the property, including mowing, mulch, fertilizer and aeration.  As for homes in the rest of the 1,300-acre community, they tend toward indigenous brick exteriors, with a good representation of hardy plank and stone.  Pace says Glenmore’s “bread and butter” house is about 3,000 square feet and sells for around $750,000.  There are no multi-family homes in Glenmore, although cottages are available (close together and some as small as 1,700 square feet) in the $400K range.  Owners of the cottages are required to purchase landscaping services for about $800 annually.  Houses in the rest of Glenmore range in price from $550,000 to more than $2 million.
    Glenmore has not been stingy with its non-residential land; 500 acres, including walking trails, a two-acre park, athletics fields and the golf course, will not be developed.  Just a small handful of Glenmore’s 800 lots remain available, and almost 700 of them have houses already.  This is a popular community near a popular town for both workers and retirees, and Glenmore’s resale values over the last few years have been strong. 
    100_2234The John LaFoy-designed golf course, which preceded the rest of the community, has the same kind of wide appeal as does the community that surrounds it.  LaFoy, a former president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, is an authority on the classic designers, and among his body of work are renovations of courses originally designed by Alister Mackenzie, Seth Raynor, A.W. Tillinghast, Donald Ross and Charles Blair MacDonald.  As we made our way around Glenmore’s challenging track, we saw multiple classic influences in the Scottish-style bunkering, undulating and large greens, and sometimes dramatic changes in elevation (a number of those big greens sat well above the fairways). 
    Tree lines provided nice framing for both fairways and some of the greens, and houses rarely encroached.  Greens were aerated and heavily top-dressed when we played the course, but the rest of the layout was in nice condition; we didn’t have a bad lie in fairways.  Our only wish is that Glenmore would relocate the large, dark scoreboard that dominates the back of the 18th green.  Better to let the dramatic clubhouse form an uninterrupted backdrop on this good finishing hole.
    Full family golf membership initiation fee is $20,000 with monthly dues of $411, both reasonable not only for golf of this quality but also for the 15 tennis courts (nine lighted), fitness center, and large swimming pool, as well as both casual and more serious dining in the clubhouse, with views out to and across the Rivanna River to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.
    From the Scottish style homes to the golf course design unashamedly influenced by Ross, McKenzie and the other greats, Glenmore is true to its name.  Coming up the long, uphill finishing hole to the dramatic clubhouse, only the elimination of the scoreboard and addition of a bagpiper might have improved the scene.  For info, contact Lead Broker Tom Pace at 800-776-5111, or TPGlenmore@aol.com.  Website:  www.glenmore.com
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Eyes have it:  You wonder if architect John LaFoy was having a little fun when he put a "human face" on one of the holes at Glenmore.

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House on the hill:  Keswick Hall dominates the landscape at Keswick Estate, as do the sand bunkers at the Arnold Palmer-designed course.

    Keswick Estate tends to its image with more care and self-consciousness than any other golfing community in the Charlottesville, VA, area.  It offers no condos or patio lots; the price points on its lots and large houses ensure that no riff raff will sully the community’s image or resale values.  The owners, British firm Orient-Express, welcome well-heeled guests in the 48-room Keswick Hall, a circa-1912 yellow stucco mansion that was purchased and tripled in size by Sir Bernard Ashley in 1990, who sold land and mansion to Orient-Express in 1999.
    One of the first things Cary Brent did in 2002 when Orient-Express hired him as director of estate development at Keswick was to double the price of the fledgling community’s lots.  It made him a popular guy among those who had paid modest prices for their properties.  It also helped remake the property’s image and reflected the Orient-Express plan to go slow in selling properties.  Brent says Orient-Express did not want to sell out the lots in just one or two years, preferring to take some time to upgrade the community’s reputation (and its selling prices).  The strategy appears to have worked; only a handful have sold in each of the last four years, but prices have increased significantly.  Today, with homes priced at $1.5 million and above, Keswick is at the highest end of Charlottesville’s golf community market.
    “People who live here [at Keswick],” Brent says matter of factly, “can live anywhere in the world.”
    Why then Keswick?  For one thing, privacy counts most in the community, which is home to a number of current and former CEOs, investors and entrepreneurs.  A manned security gate controls access to the community and resort house.  Membership in the golf club is capped at 450, but the roster is well short of that today and may never reach maximum, although the course has a few members from the surrounding community.  The club generates only 10,000 rounds a year, and an average round clocks in at just 3½ hours.  The Initiation fee for full golf is relatively low at $27,000, with dues a modest $365 per month.  Membership, which includes use of the five tennis courts and three swimming pools (indoor and outdoor), is not mandatory for homeowners.
    At 600 acres, with two-acre minimums for lots, Keswick is small as well as exclusive.  Thanks to local zoning regulations that have designated the town as “agricultural,” Keswick won’t have to bother with encroaching real estate development.  Despite its location in the middle of Virginia horse country, Keswick is just a 15-minute drive to Charlottesville and all it has to offer.  Grocery shopping and a hospital are even closer.
    We found the golf course a pleasant routing but overwrought in a few places.  We can’t say we are the biggest fans of Arnold Palmer courses, and Keswick did not cause us to reevaluate.  Palmer has reworked the Fred Findlay design by adding some huge traps, distracting from the natural contours and elevations that give the course its true character in the first place. Findlay has an established reputation as a fine early 20th Century architect – we will review his Farmington Golf Club in the next day or two -- and we can’t imagine his original layout needing such a dramatic makeover.  Arnie’s golf game was always aggressive, and sometimes his golf course designs reflect that, as it does at Keswick.  100_2122.JPG
    That said, the course was in fine condition, and the less overly expressed holes provided challenging shot-making opportunities.  The practice range includes a small, canopied shelter for those who like to practice in the rain.  The range isn’t large or fancy, but it doesn’t have to be since the course doesn’t generate much traffic.
    Every city area seems to have one upscale golf community, and in Charlottesville, that distinction goes to Keswick.  Although its golf course is not the most celebrated in the area, Keswick’s sophisticated air is undeniable.  Its homes are big and better spaced than in most communities.  From its perch on the hill, Keswick Hall defines the character of the community –- refined, solid and self-assured.  For more info, contact Cary Brent at 434-923-4320 or cbrent@keswick.com.  Web site:  www.keswick.com

    University towns are hot retirement destinations for baby boomers longing to return to school, at least part time, but infrastructure hasn’t always kept pace.  Traffic in the increasingly popular Charlottesville, some longtime local residents say, has increased palpably in recent years, and the city’s and county’s fathers have been slow to make the necessary improvements and expansions.  Instead, they have focused on cleaning up and gentrifying downtown areas. 
    From what we observed during a four-day stay last year, they have done a terrific job of that but, of course, an attractive downtown brings more people into the city, exacerbating the traffic problems.  Only recently have the city and county begun to seriously consider creation of a regional transportation authority to deal with the problems.
    The 25-year old Downtown Mall, which replaced a formerly seedy commercial area, features 120 shops, 30 restaurants and no cars, although parking garages and lots are within a block or two.  A free trolley service runs between the university and The Mall and picks up people along the way.  The Mall is great for people-watching, and the food we had at three of its restaurants was good to outstanding.  (The best was Zo-Ca-Lo, which serves inventive fare with a slight Latin embellishment; the Downtown Grille and Blue Light were good but not as inventive.)   100_2180.JPG
    The Mall is eight blocks long, bracketed at one end by a big Omni Hotel and indoor ice rink, and at the other end by an amphitheatre that attracts top talent like country and western stars Dwight Yoakum and George Jones, as well as the Black Crowes and Bruce Hornsby.  With the opening last August of the new $130 million, 15,000-seat University of Virginia basketball arena, even more headline acts will be coming to the area (and more non-students will be able to attend the basketball games).
    The Mall has sparked construction of condos and the refurbishment of existing apartments in the surrounding neighborhoods.   At The Randolph, a five-story condo building two blocks from The Mall, the price range is $350,000 to $800,000 for 1,200 to 2,200 square foot units.   A few townhouses and condos in the downtown area passed the $1 million threshold for the first time recently.
    Of course, Charlottesville might be just another one-horse town if it weren’t for its anchor and major reason for being, the University of Virginia, one of the best public universities in the nation.  The school’s undergraduate population includes nearly 1,000 students from 90 countries, and this adds a cosmopolitan tone to the city. 
    The university also appeals to the non-traditional-aged student, with a roster of interesting courses, public lectures and other sponsored activities. We spoke with Sondra Stollard, dean of the School of Continuing and Professional Studies, who described intellectual activities that span degree programs, certificate programs and an innovative “Community Scholar” program.  More than 1,000 Community Scholars from the area, including talented high school students and senior citizens with a passion for a particular subject, attend selected UVA classes with undergrads.      
    The school’s “personal enrichment program” provides a wide array of subjects for those who want to explore their inner child-literature writer, landscape architect, or Monticello expert (Jefferson’s legendary home is just a few miles away and a must side trip for those visiting the city).  Dean Stollard says these courses have “a strong academic bent, no fluff,” that they last a semester and that many “sell out fast.”
    The Jefferson Institute for Lifelong Learning (JILL), which UVA helped develop as an alternative to its own more intensive and expensive curriculum, offers day courses for those who have transportation issues or just want to spend their evenings at home.   Many JILL courses are taught by former UVA faculty, as well as by local business people.  Recent course titles included “Writing Your Memoirs,” the canal and people of Panama, and the poetry of Alexander Pope.  JILL’s students range in age from the 30s to 80s, with most in their 60s.
    The golfing communities we visited in the area, none more than 40 minutes from the city, offer a wide range of lifestyles, housing options and pricings.  The farthest from Charlottesville, at 30 miles, is the Wintergreen Resort, which offers two-season recreation, with an emphasis on golf and skiing (we reviewed the community here on Feb. 23).  On some days during the winter, you can do both.  Residents don’t seem to mind sharing their space with resort guests; indeed, many current residents first came for a weekend and later purchased a home in Wintergreen.  One other unique and commendable feature of the resort:  More than half its 11,000 acres will remain natural forever.
    The three other communities we visited are closer to the city.  Old Trail, in Crozet, which we reviewed here on March 8, is the least established, about 18 months old and still in development mode.  Its golf course will always be daily fee, and so it doesn’t offer a private club experience.  Its attraction is in the variety of housing it offers, the services planned within walking distance of all its homes, and its proximity to Charlottesville (20 minutes). 
    Keswick Estate is the most exclusive of the area’s communities, offering two-acre lots at up to $900,000 and homes that average over $2 million.  The course, an Arnold Palmer re-design of a Fred Findlay classic, is for the exclusive use of Keswick’s members, many of whom are residents, as well as guests of the 48-room mansion on the hill that overlooks the community. 
    Glenmore, at about 20 minutes from the city and an hour from Richmond, presents a more traditional golf community on a piece of property with enough elevation changes to provide lofty views from the golf course and many of the homes.  We thought the John LaFoy-designed course was challenging and scenic and the community an attractive mix of housing options. 
    We'll review Keswick and Glenmore, as well as the terrific and private Farmington Country Club, in the days that follow.

Sunday, 25 March 2007 19:00

Housing numbers bad, weather or not

    The housing optimists' glasses were more than half full last week with the decent numbers on existing home sales.  The hope, false though it was, was for a positive report today on new home sales.
    Ooops.  In the words of Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics Ltd, the report is "just horrific."  He went on to blame weather across the country for the ugly January and February results.
    The decline is the steepest in the last seven years and would have been a lot worse if it weren't for all that irrational exuberance among buyers (and builders) in the south.  Whereas sales fell almost 27% in the northeast, they dropped just 7% in the south.
    We can't wait to hear the customary positive spin from the National Association of Realtors' mouthpiece David "Pants on Fire" Lereah.  He will find the flower on the dung heap.
Saturday, 24 March 2007 19:00

Mascots gone wild

From time to time, I can't resist the urge to comment on things unrelated to golf, especially if they irk the political correctness lobby...

    I had the pleasure last Sunday of sitting next to my former boss, Walt Harrison, president of the University of Hartford.  We were both in Columbia, SC, for the Lady Hawks’ WNIT tournament game against the Lady Gamecocks of the University of South Carolina.  Neither of us took much pleasure in the drubbing the Hawks endured at the hands of the tall and athletic USC team.
    Walt is a high-ranking official within the NCAA, and I’m sure he’d like a nickel for every time someone asks him about the organization’s policy toward Native American mascots like Illiniwek, the University of Illinois mascot who left for his happy hunting grounds a month ago.  Poor Illiniwek was just the latest in a series of such defenestrations. 
    During one of the many low points of the game Sunday, I suggested to Walt that he and the NCAA turn their attention next to the problem of cross-gender mascots.  A Lady Gamecock, for example, is an oxymoron, since a cock is, by definition, a male.  There must be something in the water in South Carolina; at Coastal Carolina University, the nickname for the women’s teams is the Lady Chanticleers.  Again, a chanticleer is a rooster.  This must be very confusing to young children, as it is to an old fogy like me.cheer065.jpg
    Of course, we live in an age of political correctness, and every group has the right to be, or not to be, as it sees fit.  So, on second thought, I rescind my suggestion to Walt.  The NCAA doesn’t need the burden of a cockfight with the transgender mascot lobby.
    National Association of Realtors data released yesterday indicates that existing U.S. house sales increased almost 4% in February compared with January, the biggest single-month gain since March 2004. 
    Okay, so much for the good news.
    The rate of annual sales still lags last year’s rate by 3.6%.  The median price of a home dropped to $212,000, a reduction of 1.3% compared with a year earlier.  In same-month comparisons with a year earlier, February marked the seventh straight price decline.  As the sub-prime lending mess sorts itself out, stress sales will increase and add to housing inventory, which will have an indirect negative effect on prices at other levels of the market. 
    Of course, like politics, all real estate is local, and for every home that declines in price by 5%, there is another one somewhere that sold a little higher than expected.  As we have warned at other times, if you are planning to relocate south soon after selling your house up north, don’t hold out for the last penny you think you can get.  Chances are that property in Chapel Hill or Charleston is appreciating at a rate a few points greater than your northern home is appreciating (if your home is appreciating at all).  Many of those who sold their homes last month may have realized this. 
    If you wait, the delta between your selling price and purchase price for what you want could very well widen beyond your ability to pay the difference.  Of course, if you have had your eyes on a condo in Miami, Naples or the Phoenix area, waiting may not hurt as much since those markets continue to drop.
    The old line about the stock market is instructive in real estate as well:  “Bulls make money, bears make money but pigs get slaughtered.” 
&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Thousands of male golfers mourned the loss last year of Hooters Airlines, which had provided cheap and reliable service to Myrtle Beach (and, ahem, friendly flight attendants) from Newark and a few other airports.&nbsp; Into the breach has stepped Myrtle Beach Direct Air, the brainchild of a few Myrtle Beach citizens in the tourism business.&nbsp; The new service was launched on March 7 with flights to and from two likely, and one odd, northeast cities.<br />
&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; For now, the airline will offer service only during the peak tourist season, March through October, from Newark, Pittsburgh and Niagara Falls.&nbsp; The latter city, which appears a weird choice, was selected in an effort to fill seats going from Myrtle Beach to a northern tourist destination.&nbsp; In the early weeks of the airline, Niagara Falls has been the most frequently booked flight.&nbsp; We expect that route will appeal as well to some of the thousands of Canadians who flood Myrtle Beach during March and the fall.<br />
&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Airfares should appeal to everyone.&nbsp; Prices range between $99 and $169 each way on the three routes for flights we checked in April.&nbsp; In the coming months we plan to fly the new airline and will report back to you.&nbsp; At those prices, we are hoping that Myrtle Beach Direct will find its sweet spot.
Wednesday, 21 March 2007 19:00

News and notes

    Cutter Creek, a new community near Greenville, NC, will soon release its second phase of properties (although their web site says this will happen in the summer, but a note to us says the spring).  Prices for lots will run between $80,000 and $140,000.  Cutter Creek is stressing education in its marketing materials, both on property and outside.  A planned Family Activities Center will offer classes in art, dance and cooking.  Also, East Carolina University is just a few miles down the road.  The community's 18-hole golf course will be designed by Bob Moore and certified by the Audobon Society for its nature friendly design.  See www.cuttercreekplantation.com for more information...
    St. James Plantation, the huge community near Southport, NC, will release new homesites in it Woodlands Park neighborhood the weekend of April 27 and is offering a special visitation package that weekend.  The Preview Weekend includes two nights accommodations on site; golf at The Reserve Club, the new Nicklaus Design course; cooking classes; massages; a sunset yacht cruise on the Intracoastal Waterway; dinner and dancing; and extra incentives St. James values at up to $35,000 if you purchase a piece of property.  Cost for the weekend is $199, and lots begin at $200,000.  Go to stjamesplantation.com/AprilGetaway.aspx for more details...
    Magnolia Greens, near Wilmington, NC, is offering a range of builders' spec homes that begin at $270,000 and range up to nearly $500,000.  The less expensive homes are in Cornerstone Village on smaller "patio" lots but are "association maintained," which means you don't worry about exterior maintenance.  We did not play the Tom Jackson layout in the community, but we did note its wide fairways and generally flat contours.  www.magnoliagreens.com
    Fawn Lake, near Fredericksburg, VA, is offering some fairly large new homes at "buyers market" prices, according to their latest brochure.  Four bedroom homes begin around $699,000 and range up to $898,000 for a monster with two kitchens -- one in the basement -- and views of the 4th hole of the community's Arnold Palmer Signature course.  The community's web site is www.fawnlakevirginia.com...
    Cooper's Point Communities at Shellman Bluff, GA, is sponsoring a Discover Coastal Georgia weekend March 30 to April 1 which includes golf on the fun Sapelo Hammock course next door, 2 nights accommodations at the Westin Savannah Golf Resort (about an hour away), boat tours and other goodies.  Our invitation says "Free" weekend, but the web site is a little coy about the price.  We are confident you can probably wangle the free deal if you are serious about looking at property.  There were some wonderful marsh view lots available when we visited a year ago.  See www.cooperspoint.com...
    DeBordieu Colony on the furthest south extremity of Myrtle Beach's Grand Strand, and the most upscale of all the South Strand communities, sent us updated master plan schematics with available lots and homes.  There are many choices at the high end, including one lot directly on the ocean for $2.5 million.  Interior lots are priced beginning in the low $300s and up.  Oceanfront and ocean view homes are priced about what you would expect, beginning around $3 million.  Interior homes, some on the excellent Pete Dye golf course, begin at around $800,000.  Contact Hollace Williams at hwilliams@debordieu.com.


Tuesday, 20 March 2007 19:00

I need help with hole-in-one ethics

    A few days ago, I wrote that my son, Tim, scored his first ace on St. Patrick's Day.  After a few cursory congratulations to him from the cart boys and the foursome that played in front of us at Pawleys Plantation, we left the course for our condo nearby.
    I have been feeling a little guilty ever since because I did not buy drinks for everyone in the clubhouse.  But Tim is under the drinking age, disdains alcohol and did not want to make any deal about his achievement.
    So, I ask, should I have left a couple of hundred on the bar, or does Tim’s age preclude my obligation?  I will provide a copy of Zagat’s 2006/07 Guide to America’s Top Golf Courses to the first five who respond, regardless of whether you coddle me or not.  (Note:  You need to register to leave a comment, but I promise not to bombard you with emails or share your information).
Monday, 19 March 2007 19:00

Quotes of the Day

    "We haven't had a stand-alone project in seven to eight years."   -- Damian Pascuzzo, past president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, indicating that all new golf course development has been connected to real estate development.   According to the National Golf Foundation, the U.S. lost a net of 26 golf courses last year.

    “If we go in and screw around with their design, they’re gone forever.”  -- Gil Hanse, golf course architect, on his respect for the original designs of golf courses and his restraint when working on them.

    Pascuzzo and Hanse took part in a panel discussion of architects at the recent Golf Industry Show in Anaheim, Calif.

Source:  www.golfcourseindustry.com
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