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        There’s good news and bad news for Southeast golf communities in the latest rankings of residential golf courses from Golfweek magazine. Wade Hampton, the Tom Fazio layout opened in 1988 in Cashiers, NC, once again earned the top spot nationwide. But there isn’t another Southeast golf course in the top 10. Indeed, it isn’t until the #12 position that another regional entry, the classic Seth Raynor layout for Mountain Lake in central Florida, makes the Top 100 list. After that, though, courses from Delaware south to Florida are well represented; 36 layouts from Virginia south to Florida made the Top 100 list.
        In the 13th position is Mountaintop, the Fazio layout not far from Wade Hampton in Cashiers (pronounced “cashers”). Rounding out the top 20 are John’s Island West in Vero Beach, FL (#18) and the Pete Dye layout for Long Cove on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina (#19). A common theme in all these top 20 communities is the lofty prices for real estate, averaging seven figures for a home in most of the communities.
        Things become a little more down to earth with the choice at the #21 position, the Ben Crenshaw/Bill Coore modern classic at Cuscowilla in Eatonton, GA, just down Lake Oconee from Reynolds Plantation whose own Great Waters layout by Jack Nicklaus squeaked inside the top 100 at position #89. At Cuscowilla, condos are priced from around $250,000, and we noted a cute-looking single-family home currently offered for $289,000. A 2 bedroom, 2 bath cottage overlooking the practice range of the Great Waters course is listed for less than $200,000 (might need some work), but single-family homes around priced in the $500,000 range are more the norm at Reynolds, which is now owned by Metropolitan Life Insurance Company.
        Other courses in communities we have visited and can recommend include Old Tabby Links at Spring Island in Okatie, SC, whose recent renovations helped it bump up a couple of spaces from last year’s ranking to #26 this year. Spring Island is another one of those upscale communities that emphasizes low density. Surrounded by Lowcountry forestation and the wildlife that inhabits it, Spring Island’s natural setting is its calling card, although its Arnold Palmer/Ed Seay original design takes a back seat to none. There was nothing unnatural about Jack Nicklaus conceding a Ryder Cup ending putt to Tony Jacklin in 1969, but it did spawn a community called Concession (#27) in Bradenton, FL, that memorializes the extreme gesture of sportsmanship. Concession hosted the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Championships this past year.
FordPar3RailroadTiesThe $7 million renovation at Ford Plantation solved myriad drainage issues on the golf course but also made substantial changes to the layout. For example, Pete Dye removed his signature railroad ties from all but this par 3, perhaps a signal that he is getting softer as he approaches his 10th decade.
        I had the pleasure a month ago of playing the totally redone Ford Plantation course in Richmond Hill, GA, south of Savannah, the 28th rated course on the Golfweek list, a strong endorsement of the work Pete Dye did there on his own original invention. I had played the course some years before the nearly $7 million rework and, although I loved it then, some of the rough edges have been sanded off and all of the drainage issues solved by the erstwhile Mr. Dye. Gary Player’s effort for the Cliffs at Mountain Park in Travelers Rest, SC, just keeps getting better in the eyes of those who rate it. The course opened for play in late 2013, and some may have been shocked to see it enter the list last year at #43; but those of us who have played it, including members of the South Carolina Golf Rating Panel, of which I am a proud member, were not surprised at all. It is fun, challenging and its few oddities –- much too short par 3 from raised tee box, V-shaped tree dead center in a par 5 fairway –- add to its charm. Mountain Park improved to #36 this year.
        The Jim Fazio layout at Toccoa, GA’s Currahee Club improved its position last year by 23 spots to #40 before falling back a bit this year to #50. Perhaps some of Golfweek’s less accomplished ball strikers who played it this last year were frustrated by forced carries over canyons and approach shots to raised greens that are totally hit or miss. Although we wished for more views of Lake Hartwell, the fewer distractions the better when taking on the Currahee challenge.
MountainParksurroundedbysandAt times Gary Player's Mountain Park course for The Cliffs Communities effects a Scottish links-style attitude, and at others a parkland valley course. But it is never mundane.
        Before Mountain Park, the best Cliffs Communities course -– there are seven -– was widely acknowledged to be Tom Fazio’s layout at Keowee Vineyards, which plays alongside Lake Keowee. It held steady at #56 on the list. Vineyards’ 17th hole may be the most photographed par 3 in all of South Carolina, and with good reason. One big thrill of my golfing life was to go to the elevated back tee 235 yards from the hole and attempt to rip a tee shot with driver over a greenside bunker and onto the putting surface and stop it before it could roll off the back into the surrounding lake. Alas, I pulled my tee shot safely a bit left and short of the green. (Any par, which I made, is a proud score on that hole.)
        The community of Briar’s Creek on Johns Island, just outside of Charleston, SC, was bedeviled by startup challenges and the recession, and only recently have its high-priced home sites started to move. But there has never been any question about the Rees Jones golf course that awaits members at the marsh-surrounded layout. The Club at Briar’s Creek weighs in at #64 on the Golfweek list. Bright’s Creek in Mill Spring, NC, has struggled with similar financial and marketing issues since it opened in 2006. Its Tom Fazio layout feels as if it is located in the western part of the country, sitting in a bowl of a valley surrounded by mountains. Bright’s Creek is ranked #70 this year.
        The fastest greens I’ve putted on in the last five years were at Colleton River’s Jack Nicklaus golf course; paired with a Pete Dye course (ranked #88), the two offer a somewhat schizophrenic tandem of golfing experiences. The superintendent of the course told us after the round the stimpmeter readings for the greens were at 13 and if, like me, Golfweek raters like ‘em fast, maybe that explains the comfortable #75 ranking.
Wexfordpar4Along with Ford Plantation's Pete Dye course, Wexford Plantation on Hilton Head was the best course we played in 2015. Like Ford, the layout at Wexford was totally redone, by Brandon Johnson, a senior designer in Arnold Palmer's shop.
        I’m a bit disappointed in the #83 position that Hilton Head’s Wexford Plantation was assigned. I played it a few months ago for the first time, after what looked to be a brilliant total rehab job by Brandon Johnson of Arnold Palmer’s shop. (Wexford’s prior layout had come in for almost universal bashing.) Smart and challenging and everything you want a Lowcountry course to be (the marsh provides a backdrop but also comes into play frequently), Wexford surpassed in quality and playability virtually all courses I have played in the last 10 years and was the equal of the higher rated Ford Plantation, which I played the day before.
        Big name designers and some great layouts populate the last 10 positions in the Top 100 list. Jack Nicklaus’ Cliffs at Walnut Cove layout (#92) may be the best in the Asheville, NC, area. Tom Fazio’s Belfair Plantation West layout, at #93, is one of two the architect produced for Belfair and one of four of his designs within just a couple of miles of each other in Bluffton, SC. (The others for Berkeley Hall Plantation made the second 100 list.) Fazio did not score on the list for his 18 holes at Daniel Island, just outside Charleston, but Rees Jones did for his Ralston Creek layout there (#98), the site for a few years of the season-ending Web.com tour event. And rounding out the Top 100, and new to the list, is Creighton Farms in Aldie, VA, one of our favorites of the last 10 years for its impeccable service and clever Nicklaus layout that puts a premium on precise approach shots. It’s a good thing that on the practice range, yardages to flags are posted with the utmost precision. You absolutely need to know how far you are hitting the ball to the yard or two before you take on Creighton’s layout.
        To see other Southeast layouts that made the list, as well as all the courses rated in the Top 200, check out Golfweek.com

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Wednesday, 16 December 2015 11:39

North Carolina Mountain Bargains at High End

        Our real estate contacts in the Brevard, NC, area, The Clay Team (Carol & Bob Clay), just published their newsletter for December, and hiding amidst the market data seems an opportunity for those looking for a mountain home that is lofty in more ways than one.
        The Clays shared a chart showing November sales in their neck of the woods, and in terms of homes on the market, the most available are in the $600,000 and up range, where 137 homes and condos are listed for sale. The second most robust category is from $150,000 to $249,999 where 126 homes are currently listed. Allowing for the fact that the $600,000+ category extends to infinity, nevertheless 137 homes in an area where only 53 are on the market in the $450,000 to $600,000 range is still a lot.
        When there is too much of a good thing, in this case luxury mountain homes, that breeds price competition and a buyer’s market on the high end, a fact that seems borne out by a quick scan of homes currently listed for sale at The Clay Team’s web site. Below is an idea of the view from the rear deck of a home called The Trace just 15 minutes from Brevard and 45 minutes from Asheville. The Tuscan-style home sits on 27 acres of property and features long-range mountain and pasture views; as an extra bonus, the property includes 500 feet along the French Broad River. The home and property are priced just under $1 million.
        If you would like more information on this property or any others in the Brevard area, please contact me and I will put you in touch with the Clays.
Photo courtesy of The Clay Team, Brevard, NC

        The December issue of Home On The Course, our free monthly newsletter, is on the launch pad and ready to be emailed to our 1,000 subscribers. This month’s feature story is all wet. We compare the price ratios of water view home sites in golf communities with golf course and interior lots. (Spoiler Alert: They are much more expensive.) And we suggest a few golf communities where prices are low enough that “taking the plunge” on a waterfront lot or home won’t drown you in debt.
        Our special sidebar feature this month looks at the fastest growing counties in the Southeast, and we identify condominium oriented golf communities in those rapidly improving. Those of you looking for a vacation home in a warm weather area –- many of the fast-growing communities are in Florida –- should find the information especially timely and helpful.
        It happens every year. As cold weather (and snow) start to burden those of us who live in the northern U.S., our thoughts turn South and the urge to consider looking for a vacation or permanent home in a warmer climate becomes stronger. If you are contemplating a move in the next year or two, we have a few spots open for couples who have targeted the Southeast. Our services are free and without obligation. To get things rolling, please fill out our Golf Home Questionnaire. We will get back to you with some initial ideas within a few days.

weehawka cathyCondo prices are rising faster than single-family home prices across the U.S., and especially in resort areas like Myrtle Beach. Yet bargains still abound, like the 2 BR, 2 BA unit Pawleys Plantation (Pawleys Island, SC) that can used for rental income or spur-of-the-moment vacation visits. It is priced at just $125,000, fully furnished and facing the 10th hole of the Jack Nicklaus golf course.

        Assuming you are not retired yet, do you expect to reduce your spending in retirement? Not so quick. Chances are almost 50/50 that you will increase your spending. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute in a November 2015 report, 46% of retirees spent more in their post-retirement years than they spent just before retirement.
        Overall, for all couples, household spending dropped by 5.5% in the first two years of retirement, and by 12.5% in the third and fourth years. But after the fourth year, the reductions slowed down.
        For those 46% of couples whose spending increased after retirement, the number fell to 33% by the sixth year of retirement. Yet those who spent more in retirement were not just the most well-off; the increases were spread across all income levels.
        Those who have purchased a golf community home in the last few years won’t be surprised that median spending on transportation fell -– by 25% -- in the first two years of retirement but that, in subsequent years, the reduction was much smaller. The couples we work with spend their first few years getting to know their neighbors in a golf community, playing a lot of golf, and finding their social lives are centered in the

Retirees who move south may be on a fixed income, but it is fixed lower than it would be if they had remained in a higher-cost location.

community’s clubhouse or in new friends’ homes. Beyond two years, a bit of wanderlust sets in and interest in travel intensifies. Of course, with the typical drop in cost of living that comes with a move south, couples find they have more discretionary income to use for entertainment and travel. They may be on a fixed income, but it is fixed at a lower level than it was in their former lives.
        CarolinaLiving.com recently published in its semi-annual magazine cost comparisons among cities and states in the Carolinas and cities and states in the rest of the U.S. Some of those comparisons are so stark that we wonder how any couple could spend more in retirement after moving from, say, Boston to Raleigh, NC; Boston’s cost of living index is 140% above the national average, while Raleigh’s is 7% below.
        The following are a few additional comparisons that illustrate the often-dramatic cost savings of moving from one city to another. We’ve added the names of a few golf communities we can recommend in the destination cities; contact us if you would like more information.

(#s are Cost of Living % compared to U.S. average)

San Diego, CA +142 Charlotte, NC -4

A few nice golf communities dot Lake Norman, a half hour north of the city. Two upscale communities, The Peninsula and The Point, feature Rees Jones and Greg Norman layouts, respectively. The Point’s golf club was purchased out of near-bankruptcy by the Trump organization five years ago. River Run is a middle-price-point community also beside the lake whose Robert Walker/Ray Floyd course was refurbished a few years ago.

Boston, MA +140 Asheville, NC -1

Asheville seems to be on the target lists for baby boomers looking for a southern mountain location. The city is hip, the surrounding mountains are beautiful and the local golf communities run the gamut, from the classic and expensive Biltmore Forest to the modern and expensive Cliffs at Walnut Cove to the sharply priced Reems Creek, whose British-designed golf course is a semi-private bargain.  In the Hendersonville area just a half mile away, Champion Hills and Kenmure are both excellent choices.
Reems Creek from elevated teeReems Creek golf course, outside Asheville, NC, was designed by the British firm Hawtree & Sons.

Philadelphia, PA +121 Greenville, NC -6

If you have the least bit of concern about access to medical facilities, you can hardly do better than the “other” Greenville (not the one in SC), whose medical campus and adjoining facilities would be more in place in a city five times the size. The three private golf clubs in the area provide the widest range of styles: Ironwood Country Club’s course was designed by Lee Trevino and is as fun to play as Mex was to listen to; Cypress Landing lies beside the Pamlico River and its properties are bargain priced; and Brook Valley, a shot maker’s delight designed by Ellis Maples, is part of the McConnell Group, which means membership provides access to nine other outstanding clubs in the Carolinas.
BrookValleyapproachoversandGreenville, NC's Brook Valley is a classic layout by Ellis Maples. Its members have access to nine other McConnell Group golf courses in the Carolinas, including Sedgefield in Greensboro and Raleigh Country Club, both designed by Donald Ross.

Seattle, WA +133 Greenville, SC -3

This is the more famous Greenville, and for good reason. Greenville is economically sound, thanks to the BMW North America plant in nearby Spartanburg; sophisticated yet artsy; and home to the beautifully landscaped Furman University. The golf communities are diverse and excellent, including the in-town Greenville Country Club (two courses, one of them a perennial top 5 in the state), Thornblade (Tom Fazio) and a few Cliffs Communities (for example, Gary Player’s Cliffs at Mountain Park course which opened in 2013 and debuted at #36 on Golfweek’s list of best residential golf courses).
MountainParkpar5throughtreeOne par five on Gary Player's Cliffs at Mountain Park course, just outside Greenville, SC, features a tree in the middle of the par 5 fairway. Its "V" shape is only for victory if you manage to put your second shot on one side of the tree or the other.

Hartford, CT +125 Aiken, SC -5

It pains me to list Hartford, where I worked for 10 productive years, but Connecticut’s cost of living is causing many of its baby boomers and young people to head for the hills (and coast). Aiken is pretty much the opposite, laid back, inexpensive and with some solid options for golf community living. Top choices include Woodside Plantation, home to three golf courses and plenty of other amenities, and Cedar Creek, a more mundane but smartly laid out community with a fine Arthur Hills layout (semi-private) and bargain-priced real estate.

Chapel Hill, NC +121 Myrtle Beach -7

This is a bit of a ringer, since Chapel Hill, one of our favorite college towns, is located smack in the Southeast region. But real estate is pretty pricey in the area, and so too are other costs. (Of course, if you are moving from, say, San Francisco -- +173% of U.S. average cost -- to Chapel Hill, it is a relative proposition.) For those considering a more coastal location, the areas around Myrtle Beach –- rather than in the heart of the town, which is a bit tourist tacky -– provide a wide range of low-cost options. Our favorite combinations of beach and golf are in the Pawleys Island area (Pawleys Plantation, Reserve at Litchfield Beach, Wachesaw Plantation) and north of the SC/NC border (Ocean Ridge Plantation, River’s Edge and many low-price options).
Wachesaw par3 7thThe par 3 7th hole at Tom Fazio's Wachesaw Plantation layout does not permit of any bailout.

        We could go on, but if you would like us to run a cost of living comparison between your current home and anywhere in the South that you might be considering for your golf home in retirement, please contact us.

...and it's for an unlimited time only

        Those are not misprints. Our services are free to those searching for a golf community home; and you can call on us anytime for assistance, not just on some made-up retail holiday. And you don’t have to risk getting trampled. All you need is a computer, a few minutes and a phone (if you would like to speak with us directly).
        Here’s what you get from our Home On The Course service:

• Our free Golf Home questionnaire that helps you -– and us -– focus on your requirements for a golf home or property in the Southern U.S. The questionnaire takes about 10 minutes at most to fill out. 
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        We are monitoring the progress of a home for sale in the popular Venice, FL, community of Waterford. Waterford features three golf courses, a location near the Gulf of Mexico beaches and, needless to say, is a wonderful place to spend the winter months. Owners of the Waterford home have just dropped the price to $367,000 from $395,000. It isn’t too late to step in, make an acceptable offer and wind up enjoying most of the winter in a fine Florida golf community.
        At 3,700 square feet, 2,700 of it heated and air-conditioned, the home prices out at under $100 per square foot. Dennis Boyle, who has the listing for Atchley International Realty in Bradenton, tells us that similar homes in Waterford rent for about $1.50 per square foot in season, which would put the potential rental income for the Waterford home at around $4,000 per month for the four prime months of winter for any buyer looking to get a foot in the door in the Venice market with an eye to moving there later.
        For more information, please contact Dennis Boyle at Dennis_Boyle@Topproducer.com. Please mention Golf Community Reviews if you contact him.  Thanks.  (Full disclosure: The home for sale is owned by an acquaintance of the editor.)

Fontana homeThis 3,700 square foot home in the three-golf-course community of Waterford in Venice, FL, is currently unoccupied and waiting for an offer. The listing price, just reduced, is $367,000. Taxes and club membership fees are low. Contact Dennis Boyle at Dennis_Boyle@topproducer.com.

        I have mixed feelings about Hilton Head Island, especially after my first round of golf at the recently renovated Wexford Plantation. It almost made me forget about traffic there, a major headache for those who live on and just off the island, as well as those who vacation there. On the one hand, the golf on the island is superb, what with Harbour Town Links, the ultra-private and regaled Long Cove, and 22 other layouts, including one of my new favorites in all of the South, the aforementioned Wexford Plantation. At just 42 square miles and with 24 golf courses and a heritage going back to the late 1960s, Hilton Head is both the granddaddy of golf communities and one of the most dense golf areas in the nation.
        But it is also one of the most densely populated, especially at peak seasons when its 39,000 residents tend to crowd onto the modestly sized island, joined by thousands of golfers and beach goers. That makes even the most basic transportation, but especially on the one bridge to and from the mainland, seem downright Manhattanesque. (I once waited eight full minutes to make a left hand turn onto Fording Island Road, Route 228, the only road between Bluffton and Hilton Head.) As I left Wexford late on a November Saturday afternoon, I turned into a long line of cars on the road just outside the gates. Since there was no football stadium within a hundred miles, I wondered where they were going on a Saturday. (Hilton Head did not strike me as a haven for early bird buffets.)
Wexford Green House behindWexford's homes are almost all big and lavish and priced well into the millions. Many of them are second homes.
        The best remedy for traffic for Hilton Head residents is to stay put inside their golf communities, of which there are many to choose. If I could afford to live in Wexford –- home prices average into the millions -- I don’t know that I would have much reason to wander anyway. I’ll get to the golf in a minute, but although I am somewhat allergic to water, I found myself lusting over the parade of boats parked in the marina beside the clubhouse, some as big as a small house. The community’s system of locks, one of only three such systems on the east coast, maintains water inside the 37-acre marina at a consistent level, no matter what is happening in the Broad Creek and Intracoastal Waterway, which flow from Wexford out past the famed Harbour Town Lighthouse, across the Calibogue Sound and into the Atlantic. Half of the 280 boat slips are located behind homes along the marina’s canal. The snack bar just before the 10th tee does double duty as the dock master’s station.
        In addition to the boating, Wexford puts a heavy emphasis on tennis, with six Har-Tru courts, four of them lighted. The tennis center includes two decks of seating for viewing the matches between Wexford’s players and those from other communities in the Carolinas. The club employs a director of tennis and head tennis professional. For those interested in more cerebral pursuits, the community sponsors discussion groups and a “sunrise salutation yoga” session (an interesting way to greet the new day).
Wexford volcano with bunkersArnold Palmer designer Brandon Johnson created some interesting effects in the fairways at Wexford. Here, a "volcano" of bunkers obscures the approach shot to a green.
        Most residents of Wexford Plantation greet the new day, when they are in residence there, in beautiful 6,000 square foot and larger homes, many of which you would feel comfortable categorizing as “mansions.” Adjacent to the marina and just across the narrow canal from the 9th fairway, a sprawling home stretched across what looked like at least three fair-sized lots. “Nice looking Marriott,” one of my playing partners blurted. I’d guess that Marriott included at least 15,000 square feet of living space. Other homes around the golf course were larger and more elaborately landscaped than any I had encountered in 10 years of golf community visits. And, yet, there were few signs of life inside and outside those homes on an early November day; apparently Wexford’s part-timers start arriving a few weeks later for the winter.

        The Tax Foundation, which promotes pro-growth tax policies, is out with its ranking of the 50 states by how friendly they are to businesses (in terms of taxes). There are few surprises in terms of the highest tax states –- New York and New Jersey are #49 and #50, respectively –- but states in the Southeast aren’t exactly open armed for business, according to the Tax Foundation.  Florida ranks 4th overall, but none of the other states in the region crack the top 10. North Carolina does best at #15, followed by Tennessee at #16 and Mississippi at #20.
        Most surprising is that South Carolina ranks 36th overall; in recent years, the state has welcomed some big companies, such as Boeing and the Singapore-based tire manufacturer Giti. BMW’s 20-year old North American plant in Spartanburg is credited with having helped the Greenville area get through the 2008 recession. Since South Carolina is a right to work state –- that is, union membership is not compulsory in order to hold any jobs in the state -– the corporate in-flows likely have more to do with work regulations (and lower employment costs) than tax regulations.
        Other Southeast states ranked as follows on the Tax Foundation’s list: Alabama #29, Virginia #30 and Georgia #39.

        I consider myself fortunate that, last weekend, I was able to play two outstanding golf courses in the Low Country of South Carolina and Georgia that had been dramatically -– and at substantial expense -– renovated in recent years. Both golf courses –- Ford Plantation and Wexford Plantation –- are at the centers of communities of homes valued at $1 million and more, and the conditions and layouts of both are what you would expect from clubs populated by people who are used to the best things in life that aren’t free.
        Ford Plantation, which surrounds the golf course, has a rich history. Located in Richmond Hill, less than a half hour south of Savannah, it occupies grounds that served as the winter home of Henry and Clara Ford. At one point, the famous car manufacturer had amassed 70,000 acres in the Richmond Hill area to serve as his family’s winter playground. With Lake Clara at its heart and the Ogeechee River alongside the property, it is a congenial host for fishing, boating, as well as top-flight golf for its property owners, all of whom are required to be club members in some fashion or other. Ford even maintains a position for Director of Outdoor Pursuits, in other words a naturalist available to help members chase birdies and other fauna of a different type than on the golf course.
FordPar3RailroadTiesUse of railroad ties was reduced to just this one par 3 at Ford Plantation. "Mr. Dye," the President of Ford Plantation Club's board told us, "has become more member-friendly."
        Water is central to the community but water has always been a problem for the golf course since the original developer, from the Mideast who didn’t play golf, bought the land, was convinced by confidantes that he needed a golf course, and hired Pete Dye –- he had heard he was the best -– to lay it out. Dye, reportedly, told his patron that there was not enough dry land to accommodate a full 18-hole golf course, to which he was instructed to fill in some of the marshland to accommodate the extra holes. “Too expensive,” Dye allegedly responded. “Spend whatever it takes,” replied his not-to-be-denied patron.
        It took $11 million, one of the most expensive golf course jobs of its era when it opened for play in 1985. That was pretty much before any dwellings had been built on the site. When I played the Ogeechee Golf Club in 2007, before its name change and long after the original developer had fled to the Mideast to avoid some unpleasantness with American law enforcement officials, I thought layout of the course was among the best I had encountered in recent years. On the back nine especially along the river, the course felt links like, festooned with hillocks and pot bunkers indigenous to most Dye designs. I was blessed by good weather back in 2007, and what I did not know was that rains of any duration could render the course unplayable; the original sin of having built some holes on the marsh came back to haunt club members decades later.
FordGreenwithHomebehindMost homes in Ford Plantation are priced above $1 million. We saw a few currently under construction.
        Only a small handful of the club’s members –- 15, I was told -– walked away when the majority voted to assess themselves the equivalent of an initiation fee at a high-end club in order to get the renovation going. Last year, after spending a whopping $7 million, most of it on the drainage issue and a total redo of the layout by Mr. Dye himself, the club re-opened to critical praise and, more important, the plaudits of its club members. I can understand the positive fuss after playing 18 holes there with Paul Wickes, a former New York based attorney with a top international law firm and in his second year as Ford Plantation Club’s President; and two enthusiastic fellow members, one a doctor and one a former specialist on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
        The layout is sleek and challenging and fun to play, and the turf on fairways and greens is beautifully conditioned. (And after a few days of on-and-off rain, I saw no obvious wet spots on the course.) But this is not, to the casual eye, a golf course that fits the standard Pete Dye oeuvre, even though the back nine retains its feel of a links course (thank goodness). As Paul Wickes pointed out, the Dye signature railroad ties that buttressed lakes and lagoons and the occasional bunker are gone, except for one par 3 where it would have been a crime against art to remove them (see accompanying photo).
        “I think Mr. Dye has become more member-friendly in his advancing years,” Paul noted. Dye turns 90 next month.
FordLiveOakfrontinggreenPete Dye redid the entire layout at Ford Plantation. He fixed a multitude of drainage issues beside the marshland. The layout is a mix of Low Country parkland holes on the front nine (one par four shown here, back nine hole shown at bottom) and more links style holes on the back, by the Ogeechee River.
        There were other touches that illustrated Paul’s assessment was spot on. The bunkering was emphatic without being aggressive, which is to say pot bunkers were at a minimum; happily, fairway moguls were also almost non-existent, maintaining the sweeping views across the landscape. The green complexes were challenging and thoughtfully molded, providing a number of opportunities to putt the ball from five yards or more from the surface.
        Ford Plantation is solidly in the category of “upscale” golf community, and the price of admission is for high worth individuals only. The least expensive home currently for sale at Ford Plantation is priced a bit deceptively and out of character with its neighboring homes, given that it sits on a 2.9-acre lot that looks out onto the Dye golf course and yet is listed for only $475,000. But a closer reading yields a description of a 1-bedroom, 2-bath carriage house of just over 1,100 square feet, certainly habitable for a couple that likes their surroundings ultra-cozy, at least for a relatively short period of time. Alas, the broker with the listing sees it only as temporary housing. "Live on site," the description reads, "as you build your main home." The cottage is a bargain in another way; if the next owners purchase it by the end of the year, they will save $50,000 because Ford Plantation Club will raise its mandatory membership initiation by that much, to $100,000, at the end of December.
        For more information about Ford Plantation, please contact me. I will have some thoughts about Hilton Head Island’s Wexford Plantation in the coming days.

Monday, 09 November 2015 01:26

Living High on the House in Low Country

        I am approaching my 200th golf community visit, but the most recent ones, just last weekend, were eye openers. From the golf course at Wexford Plantation on Hilton Head Island, I saw a collection of the largest homes I have ever seen in any golf community; in fact, they are probably the largest homes I have seen in any one neighborhood. (Most of the homes were unoccupied, waiting for their owners to arrive for the winter season in a few weeks.) Across the river from the marina, which is adjacent to the clubhouse area at Wexford, one home appeared to span at least 20,000 square feet. One of my playing partners dubbed it "a nice Marriott."
        The median value of homes in Wexford, whose golf course was redesigned a couple of years ago by Brandon Johnson of the Arnold Palmer design team and is one of the best I've played in the last five years, is well into seven figures. The most expensive home currently on the market in the Hilton Head Island MLS (multiple listing service) is listed for $5.5 million and includes 6 bedrooms, 7 bathrooms and nearly 10,000 square feet. It looks much bigger from the  golf course.

imageOne of he biggest homes in Wexford Plantation has commanding views of canal and golf course.

        The least expensive home in Wexford Plantation is listed for $409,900 and includes three bedrooms, 2 full bathrooms and 2 half baths. It encompasses just over 2,000 square feet but is on a lot of 0 square feet, which implies it might be a free-standing condo, although the listing does not indicate that. On a per-square-foot basis, its $205 compares with the huge home's $550 per square foot.

        I played the golf course at Ford Plantation the day before Wexford. Although not as well established as the Hilton Head community, the Richmond Hill, GA, Ford Plantation is every bit as upscale. Like Wexford, its golf course was totally redone in the last couple of years by its original designer, Pete Dye, for a budget busting $7 million, for which all but 15 of Ford's members apparently kicked in serious dollars in added assessments. The precipitant for the redesign was a severe drainage problem that made play all but impossible the day after a heavy rain -- and it does rain heavy in the Savannah area. Although all but the most astute designers probably can't tell the difference between, say, a $4 million and a $7 million rehab, the layout and condition at Ford were superb, and the fact that the course was without damp spots after a few days of on and off rain offered positive testimony to the investment.

 image 102Ford Plantation owners are enjoying their totally redesigned golf course, a gem by Pete Dye that cost a hefty $7 million.

        While the homes surrounding the golf course were not as relentlessly large as those at Wexford, many communicated lofty price tags. Compared to the most expensive house for sale in Wexford, Ford's premier home, listed for "just" $3.2 million, seemed a relative bargain, but at $615 per square foot from its 5,191 square feet, its fit and finish may be beyond even the expensvie Wexford home. (The carriage house guest suite, the Lake Clara views, the Tennessee fieldstone and art studio give hint at the grandeur of the home.)
        The least expensive home at Ford Plantation seems like an extreme bargain given that it sits on a 2.9 acre lot that looks out onto the Dye golf course and is priced at just $475,000. But a closer reading yields a description of a 1 bedroom, 2 bath carriage house of just over 1,100 square feet, certainly habitable for a couple that likes cozy. Alas, the broker with the listing sees it only as temporary housing. "Live on site," the description reads, "as you build your main home." Your friends or family will be perfectly content in the carriage house, and you will save $50,000 if you contract to purchase the property by the end of the year. That is because The Ford Plantation Club will raise mandatory dues by $50k, to $100,000, at the end of December.
        For those with the resources and desire to call either of these great golf courses their own, contact me and I will be happy to make introductions to Ford or Wexford...or both.

        I'll publish in this space a few notes and photographs in coming days about my rounds at Ford Plantation and Wexford.

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