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Tuesday, 29 September 2015 11:50

How and Where to Live in Splendid Isolation

        Thanks to the hyperactive optimism of speculators who bought properties just before the 2008 recession, beautifully sited home sites beside a terrific year-round golf course within an easy walk of the beach are available for less than the cost of a candy bar.
        Six lots inside the boundary of Haig Point, the lush and isolated golf community amidst a forest of live oak trees and coastal marshland on Daufuskie Island, are listed for sale at just $1 –- and have been for years. The costs to build a dream home on Daufuskie Island are higher than on the mainland because only boats and a ferry can bring the materials and labor to the isolated island. But when a nice plot of land costs a buck, even $250 per square foot can yield a very nice 2,000 square foot cottage in paradise.
HaigFerryThe Haig Point ferry to and from Hilton Head Island is the lifeblood of the community, and the most expensive component of homeowner dues.  Photos courtesy of Hilton Head Island Multiple Listing Service.
        And Haig Point pretty much meets the definition of paradise...if that definition includes clean air (because there are no polluting vehicles on the island except for a few service vehicles), peace and quiet, a Rees Jones 29-hole layout that maximizes the marsh and forest of live oaks, and a frequently running ferry that makes connections with the mainland easy when necessary.
        A few of the $1 lots include club membership in the deal, which saves about $20,000 against the current tariff. Carrying costs in Haig Point are not the cheapest in golf community living, but that ferry is expensive to run and it isn’t as if the island is teeming with industry to offset property taxes and other costs. Actually, Haig Point did begin as a business location; International Paper saw the island as a great logging opportunity and, later, when the price of paper no longer justified island operations, as a great opportunity to get into the residential community business (as other big land-owning paper companies like Weyerhauser did). But IP found that running a golf community was more complicated than they thought, and they disposed of unsold lots at very cheap prices and left the island in the 1980s.
HaigGreenonSoundThe 29 holes at Haig Point -- the 29 is not a typo -- are by Rees Jones and compare favorably with Harbour Town Links at Sea Pines Plantation, just across the Calibogue Sound on Hilton Head.
        Since then, Haig Point has struggled to translate for the market the wonderfulness of life in a golf community on an isolated island. It doesn’t help that the nearby Daufuskie Island Resort, with homes for sale and its own excellent Jack Nicklaus layout and another 18 holes at Bloody Point, went out of business in 2009, leaving homeowners there a bit in the lurch and drying up the number of visitors (and potential Haig Point owners) to the island. Bought by a Denver businessman in 2011, the Resort still has not re-established its footing, denying Haig Point of an important source of potential property owners.
        Those not interested in building a new home will find house prices beginning just under $300,000 and ranging up above $1 million.  We note a cute yellow golf cottage of 3 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms and almost 2,600 square feet with a lake view currently listed at just $285,000. 
        For the curious, and those who dream of true island living with an adjacent golf course that professionals have used as practice for the annual event at Sea Pines Plantation across the Calibogue Sound and raved about it, a visit should be in order.  Contact me for an introduction to our real estate professional in the area who knows Haig Point and Daufuskie well.  Or check out the Haig Point page in our Golf Homes for Sale section.

HaigHouseMost homes in Haig Point are set on lots nestled among the live oaks and scrub pines. A few lots are available for just $1.

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Friday, 25 September 2015 15:03

Fall for Apples: Orchard Golf Best in Autumn

        LINKS magazine is out with an email today about the best golf courses to play when autumn leaves start to take on some color. As always for LINKS, the accompanying photographs are lush and beautiful. Click here for the article.
        I especially appreciated the LINKS article because, just yesterday, I played a Robert Trent Jones course that could be a contender for LINKS’ top 10 Fall Golf Course list. Lyman Orchards is located in central Connecticut, in the town of Middlefield, and as the name implies, is set beside an apple orchard. However, the Jones course (circa 1969), which shares the complex with a more recently opened Gary Player course, wends its way through former farm land with clusters of pine and maple trees for background and extra challenge; the apples are left for the slightly longer and more challenging Player layout. After my round, I drove up to the rows and rows of apple-laden trees and had a lot of fun maneuvering my golf cart up and down the rows, stopping to pluck a Macintosh here, a Macoun there and a few sour green apples.
LymanOrchards10teeThe landing area on #10 at Lyman Orchards' Jones course seems very narrow, but those trees on the right force a drive that must challenge the water.
        It reminded me of another impressive orchard course, Orchard Creek, just west of Albany, NY, where I followed my son during a junior golf tournament 12 years ago. Each fairway was lined with apple trees bearing different breeds of apples; by the 4th hole, I was starting to suffer a stomach ache after having picked and eaten one per hole.
        I was hell bent on some revenge on the Jones course yesterday. The only other time I played the course was 25 years ago, shortly after I moved to Connecticut from Manhattan. On the first hole, I snap hooked my drive into the lake on the left; it set the tone for a horrible round. Over the years, Lyman Orchard switched the nines, and I had to wait until #10 this time around. This time I made sure to aim down the far right side and, once again, pull hooked my shot, dribbling it into the water. I won’t wait another 25 years to have another go at it.
LymanOrchards14approachThe 14th at Lyman Orchards' Jones course isn't long but requires a deft approach shot over a nasty looking stream.
        The course was in wonderful condition, the greens smooth, large and undulating. Jones the elder guards them well with bunkers, but there always seems an option to enter directly from the front, although with many false fronts that make full carries pretty much the only way to get close. The starter explained to me that the green superintendent uses a new type of aeration that sends just a few tines into the turf and then distributes a burst of air underground. That means the few aeration holes make putting almost normal a day or two after the aeration process. Thankfully, the greens were quite receptive, even though that part of Connecticut hasn’t seen much rain lately; perhaps it is all that air they blow under the greens.
LymanOrchardsPlayerpar3The Gary Player layout at Lyman Orchards, which features rows of apples just off a few of the fairways, is considered the tougher of the two layouts.  Judging by one of its par 3s, we understand.
        Although there are really no blind holes on the course -– I understand there are some on the Player layout next door -– I found some golf balls tough to find even after well struck and straight shots. My drive on the par 5 4th hole pretty much ruined my day. Per the instructions of my playing partners, who know the course well, I flew my tee shot over the fairway bunker that cut into the left side of the fairway about 200 yards out. We watched it bounce once beyond the right center of the bunker, but when we got to the fairway, it was nowhere to be found. Five minutes later, after scouring the rough on both sides, I threw down another ball, angry and frustrated. I don’t mind losing one in the woods, but this ball should have been center cut.
        How’d I like them apples? Not very much.
LymanOrchardapplesWhen you play the Gary Player 18 in late September or October at Lyman Orchards, you can divert for a little refreshment just off a few of the fairways.

Friday, 18 September 2015 11:30

Bargain Golf in Simsbury, CT

        Tower Ridge in Simsbury, CT, about 20 minutes from Hartford, is not a perfect golf course, but for the price of its green fees, it has enough good holes –- and a few excellent ones –- to make the cost/benefit proposition skew in the direction of benefit. And as the leaves begin to change color on Avon Mountain, which forms the backdrop for most holes at Tower Ridge, the club’s $30 weekday fees -– cart included -– on crisp autumn days will be too good to pass up.
TowerRidge7greenTower Ridge's side-of-the-mountain holes are set well above the Farmington Valley. The view is from the 7th green.

        It isn’t quite autumn yet, but my round at Tower Ridge yesterday was a special bargain of $20 from one of those online golf tee time consolidators. I booked the 11 a.m. round at 8 a.m. the same morning and was paired with another bargain seeker. We caught the foursome in front of us for the first time on the 15th hole and eventually made it around in just over 3 ½ hours. (Thankfully, Mike didn’t spend more than a few seconds looking for hopelessly lost golf balls.)
        Tower Ridge, which was designed in 1959 by respected New England architect Geoffrey Cornish, plays between the Farmington River on its western edge and up the lower slope of the Avon Mountain. Holes #5 through #8 –- three par 4s and a long par 3, respectively -- play parallel to the mountain, the rest up and down, providing uphill carries to small, firm greens and elevated tee shots and approaches to somewhat softer greens where the water drains down the hills. Fairways on the par 4s slope significantly from the higher level to the lower, and a shot to the middle of a fairway can bounce into the rough. The 8th hole sticks out as unusual, and interesting, in that it is a long par 3 from a significantly elevated tee to a green that is deeper than it is wide, and extremely difficult to hit. The rough to the left of the green is thick and sloped downward, and the hill to the right is steep. Its designation as the 11th hardest hole on the scorecard, which is low for a par 3, should be even lower; the straightforward and short par 4 1st hole noted as the 9th handicap hole seems off, comparatively speaking.
TowerRidgehouse6greenThere is just one house facing the Tower Ridge golf course, and it is a beauty, overlooking the 6th green and the valley below.
        I especially like the holes at the base of the mountain which put a premium on the placement of the tee shot in order to keep the ball out of the gnarly rough and away from draping trees that hang over the edges of the holes. The small greens on the 5th and 7th, the hardest and third hardest holes on the course, respectively, are perched up on hills and are very difficult to hit and hold. The 6th hole features a steep hill on the left that, at other times I have played the hole, kicked balls down into the fairway; but not on this day, as the rough was too thick to permit a bounce. The green on #6 is fronted by two nasty bunkers, and another one waits behind to catch any shot that rolls off the firm green.
        My only sour note of the day occurred at the 10th hole, a short but uphill par 5 dogleg right where a solid drive hit straight at the middle of the fairway can bound through to the rough on the left. I hit my best drive of the day; it followed the shape of the fairway and landed in the bright sunlight middle right on the fairway. But when I approached my ball, I found it had bounded off a severe fairway mound into the right hand rough. I don’t typically quibble about golf course layouts, and I can’t believe this was a feature the nuanced designer Mr. Cornish would have built into the hole, but this seemed a rather dopey and unfair way to make a short hole tougher.  In retrospect, the prudent play off the tee would have been a fairway metal, which seems pretty wimpy on a par 5.
        Tower Ridge, which was a private club until about 15 years ago, shows some signs of a revenue struggle, with somewhat uneven cutting of the fairways, greens that showed bare spots around the peripheries, and cart path buckling that threatened to send me to the chiropractor a few times. A posted annual weekday membership for 2016 of $999 –- cart included! – may also be a sign of the day-to-day challenges to generate revenue. That said, if the okay conditions I found yesterday are maintained through 2016, that $999 will be a gigantic bargain. Play 10 rounds per month, and the average cost will be less than $15, cart included.
        Looming over the golf course from the top of the mountain is Heublein Tower, named for the man who started the alcoholic beverage company of the same name, which was headquartered nearby. Local hikers can make the one-mile trek to the Tower from the other side of the mountain and enjoy stunning views of the Farmington Valley below to the west and the city of Hartford to the east. The views of the Valley from the golf course itself are significant, and certainly worth the modest price of admission.
TowerRidge14wTowerThe Heublein Tower looms over the entire golf course of Tower Ridge, including the par 5 14th hole.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015 10:49

Winter Retreat: Venice, FL, Golf Home for Sale

        Just in time for winter, a friend has placed his mother’s home for sale in the comfortable community of Waterford in Venice, FL. Venice, which is a magnet for snowbirds from the North, is located between Sarasota and Ft. Myers, and just off Interstate 75. Needless to say, the climate from November through March is balmy, with excellent golf weather virtually every day of the week on the three golf courses available to residents of Waterford and surrounding communities for one annual membership fee.
Fontana home
        Our golf real estate expert in Sarasota, Dennis Boyle of Suncoast Golf Homes, is handling the sale. The home is located on a quarter acre lot with views of an adjacent lake from virtually every room. It is less than 40 minutes from the Sarasota/Bradenton International Airport. The 3-bedroom, 2 ½-bath house features almost 3,700 square feet, more than 2,600 heated and air-conditioned. The large lanai at the back of the home is the perfect place to enjoy drinks while watching the sunsets out over the Gulf of Mexico. The kitchen is especially large, with Euro-style cabinets, a Jenn-Aire range and an open entrance into the expansive Florida room, the perfect place for entertaining or just plain relaxing. The home, which has been listed for only a week, is priced at $395,000; property taxes are a modest $3,155, and HOA fees cover use of the community pool, tennis, fitness center and clubhouse. The widely praised Venice beaches are just 15 minutes away.
        Given the approaching winter and the uptick in Florida real estate, it should not take too long to sell this well designed home in a community designed for active retirees.
        For just $3,500 in annual dues, for example, with no initiation fees, Waterford residents can become members of the semi-private Waterford Golf Club and have access to two other local clubs as well. The annual payment works out to the equivalent of about $11 per round in green fees per person if a couple plays an average three times per week. If you are an occasional player and don’t want to pay the annual fee, Waterford and its companion courses, Calusa Lakes and Capri Isles, offer pay as you go rates. Waterford features 27 holes designed by Ted McAnlis; its toughest combination of 18 holes plays to a rating of 72.3 and slope of 136 at 6,670 yards. The yardages and course rating at Calusa Lakes, also designed by McAnlis, appear to be similar to Waterford’s, although the slope ratings are a bit lower. The ratings at Capri Isles, designed by Andy Anderson, are slightly lower than at the other clubs.
        You can access the full listing details for this home by clicking here. If you would like more information about Venice, Waterford Golf Club and this reasonably priced home for sale, contact Dennis_Boyle@Topproducer.com. Please tell him you read about the home at Golf Community Reviews.

Golf Course 1
Waterford Tennis
Pool w clock

        It is incumbent on private clubs these days to be as creative as possible in seeking new members...and keeping the ones they already have. The most actively managed clubs do not let a good opportunity for promotion go by.
        Governors Club, the 25-year old community in Chapel Hill, NC, is celebrating its Silver Anniversary this month in a big way, hosting a special dinner on September 29 with invited guests Jack and Barbara Nicklaus in attendance. Nicklaus designed the club’s 27-hole golf course under his “Signature” course banner, which indicates that he gave his full personal attention to the design.
        Some club members will have the opportunity to join the Nicklauses at the dinner and cocktail party that precedes it. And during the month of September, a few new members will have the opportunity to attend the cocktail party as well. As we write this, Governors Club is offering 15 “Reserved Membership” packages to new members,

Governors Club recently jumped from #57 to #36 in the North Carolina Golf Rating Panel's rankings of best courses in the state.

most of which include the opportunity to attend the pre-dinner cocktail party. The three different levels of membership include a different assortment of incentives in addition to the Nicklaus reception. The highest level (at $38,000) includes 16 guest rounds of golf, four nine-hole playing lessons with the Governors Club PGA professional, monthly dues reduced to just $25 for 12 months, club credits of $1,000 and a range of other incentives. New members joining at an initiation fee of $25,000 -– the regular fee is $22,000, without the extras -- receive tickets to the cocktail party and five months of half-price dues (regular family dues are $655 per month).
        After a multi-million dollar renovation, the Nicklaus design made a significant jump on this year’s North Carolina Golf Rating Panel list, from #57 to #36. The golf course has historically been well maintained, and it is as challenging as it is well groomed, with a slope rating for the Gold tees (around 6,600 yards), depending which combination of nines you play, coming in between 134 and 137 and course ratings above 72. Not a pushover, but then not many Jack Nicklaus designed golf courses are.
        If you would like more information on this one-month only opportunity at Governors Club, please contact real estate professional Kay Dunson, who lives in the community and works with folks considering a move there.  Kay recently assisted a couple we referred from Yorba Linda, CA, in building their dream home in Governors Club.

        Registration closes in the coming days for our special weekend at the Carolina Colours golf community in New Bern, NC, October 29 – November 1. We are co-sponsoring the weekend with CarolinaLiving.com, the foremost lifestyle and information service for the Carolinas, and Carolina Living’s co-founder Pat Mason and I will join Carolina Colours developer Ken Kirkman for a special panel discussion on how to search for a golf community home. With lodging included, as well as golf on the Bill Love designed layout and some meals, the weekend is specially priced at just $350 per couple. But time is running out. For more information or to reserve your spot, please contact me, Larry Gavrich, founder and editor of Home On The Course, LLC.  I look forward to greeting you at Carolina Coloours on October 29.


Carolina Colours greenthrutrees


Tuesday, 01 September 2015 08:59

Latest City Rankings Point Way South

        Friends have been sending me links to articles this week that rank U.S. cities in terms of their housing prospects and friendliness. NASDAQ recently published a list of 11 “up and coming” housing markets. Charlotte weighs in at the #10 spot, with Austin, TX, at #8 and the Raleigh/Durham area at #6. We’ve received a number of inquiries recently about Charlotte from prospective buyers looking for a golf community within an easy commute of a full-service urban area. The area north of Charlotte, principally around and near Lake Norman, and the city’s southern suburbs, which stretch to Tega Cay in South Carolina and beyond to Rock Hill, are rich in golf communities of every stripe, from the upscale Quail Hollow to a few more-mundane but high-value communities just off Lake Norman. We visited Austin years ago, and most of its sprawling golf communities are also within an easy drive of the city and the large University of Texas campus. Great barbecue is never far away either. Raleigh/Durham has been one of the south’s major economic success stories over the last three decades, with the Research Triangle area the major lure for technology and other companies looking to relocate from northern areas. With all the activities surrounding Duke University, the University of North Carolina and North Carolina State University, one of Raleigh/Durham’s nice selection of golf communities would certainly be an educated choice.

Savannah bubbles
        Conde Nast’s Traveller magazine asked its readers to weigh in on America’s friendliest and most unfriendly cities, and most choices on the unfriendly side are not surprising (e.g. Newark, NJ, tops that list). But for those contemplating a move south to a golf community, the list of most friendly towns points the way toward a few nice options. (Although Park City, UT, weighs in at the top spot, the next two are deep in the heart of Dixie.) At #2 is Savannah, which the magazine’s editors describe as “Bubbling with Southern charm.” We agree, and if you want proximity to the city (just 20 minutes) in a large community with dozens of clubs and other activities, including six terrific golf courses, The Landings on Skidaway Island is a good choice. For a more upscale experience, Ford Plantation, on a beautiful patch of ground by a river where Henry Ford and his family once spent their winters, is just 25 minutes south of the city.
        Charleston, SC, holds the #3 spot on the Conde Nast ranking, and while we prefer it slightly to Savannah – mostly for its inventive and world-class roster of restaurants – both deserve their high ratings on the friendliness meter. Surprisingly, most of the golf communities in the Charleston area are semi-private, with Rivertowne in Mt. Pleasant near the top of our list. Kiawah and Seabrook Islands are 40 minutes away, and both offer near-private golf experiences (resort guests have access to all but a couple of the islands’ courses).

Nashville & Asheville, friendly rhymes
        Other good choices on the Conde Nast list include Nashville at #4 and Asheville at #7. We did not know much about Nashville until a meet up with friends for a couple of days of music club hopping in May. Although time constraints did not support an investigation of the golf communities near the city, we did stop for a round of golf and a quick drive-through at Fairfield Glade, the expansive community on the Cumberland Plateau about an hour east of Nashville. We were matched with a couple from Florida who had just moved to Fairfield Glade a week earlier, and they were definitely in the honeymoon phase with their new second home and community. For reasonably priced real estate and three good golf courses, Fairfield Glade seems an excellent choice.
        Asheville, of course, is on everyone’s list of best cities for retirement. It has been an especially strong lure for Floridians looking for relief from summer heat in the Sunshine State. On the upscale end of golf communities in the area, The Cliffs at Walnut Cove features $1 million homes and higher and one of the most elegantly sculpted golf courses in Jack Nicklaus’ oeuvre. One $50,000 membership provides access to The Cliffs’ seven other courses, all different yet all as good as Walnut Cove. (Tom Fazio’s layout at Keowee Vineyard may be even better.) For an interesting, albeit more down-market experience, the Reems Creek community north of the city features a wide range of real estate at price points that begin hundreds of thousands lower than Walnut Cove but with a unique golf course designed by the Great Britain based Hawtree & Sons, close relations of the designer of Donald Trump’s heralded new course in Aberdeen, Scotland.
        If you would like some friendly suggestions of which golf communities in the South might best match your requirements, please contact us.

        The huge, hulking castle of a clubhouse at St. Georges Hill Golf Club southwest of London offers no shelter from the storm. It began to rain just after our round, and it was impossible to find a dry place to store our clubs outside while we had a post-game brew in the comfortable clubhouse bar. Even huddled against the side of the massive structure, the water rained down on the clubs. But like everything else at this 102-year old club, accommodations are made: We were invited to store our clubs on a wooden indoor rack spread along a hallway leading toward the inner sanctum of the clubhouse.
St. Geroges 1
The par 4 1st hole at St. Georges Hill in Weybridge, England.

        There is no shelter on the golf course either; quite the opposite actually, given all the heather and gorse. You can really use a drink after a first round at St. Georges Hill, which tests most shots in the bag, even though it plays to a rather modest length of 6,324 yards from the tees I played and just 6,541 from the tees my son Tim played. This is typical British heathland golf, which is to say up and down, with plenty of bunkers; and the bunkers, in this case, are fringed in beautiful purple flowers indicative of the ugly gorse bushes below. In typical States golf, you clear a bunker and you are relieved; here, clearing a fairway bunker might lead to a worse fate. If you are lucky enough to find your ball in the gnarly gorse, best of luck plowing through the stuff with any club. The medicine you take is often a stroke for an unplayable lie. Tim referred to the beautifully deadly gorse as the Purple People Eater. It is hungry stuff.
St. Georges green with mansion
One of the mansions beside the golf course peeks out from behind the par 3 3rd hole.

        All the holes at St. Georges Hill are memorable. Take any hole on the course and plop it onto a layout any of us play regularly and it would stand out. The first hole, for example, is a par four which plays down to a fairway that narrows as it makes its way back up to the green which, itself, is half hidden by a hillside. You are blind to the green, which is to say that first timers will guess at how far front or back the pin is (in our case, up front but that wasn’t much help in guessing at the distance from mid fairway, even with sprinkler-head yardages). In any case, the green was just deep enough to accommodate a well struck, if longer-than-necessary, iron approach. A wonderful starting hole. (By the way, the distances on sprinkler heads are to the front of greens rather than the middle, which I found helpful; the flagsticks are color coded for their positions on the greens, and since it was madness to try to hit approaches to the stick, the front edge was essentially where most shots should be played.)
St. Georges 4
A classic short -- very short -- par 4, the 4th at St. Georges requires a drive 240 yards or so in the air or a layup with an eight iron or less.

        St. Georges was rated by Golf Digest in 2014 as the 77th best golf course in the world and in the top 25 of all British Isles courses in recent years by Golf Monthly and Golf World. Unlike handicap ratings for many American courses, the Royal & Ancient surveyors of courses in the UK give a fair nod to challenging par 3s and are not deferential to distance. For that reason, the par 3s at St. Georges stand out as among the best collections anywhere, rivals for those at Pine Valley or Augusta National. The first one-shotter you encounter at St. Georges is the 3rd hole, at 198/178 yards respectively from the white and yellow tees, a downhiller with four bunkers at greenside and only the narrowest of entryways at the right front. Peeking out from behind the evergreens behind the green is a huge estate home, one of many dotting the course but at a distance. The 3rd green is banked from back to front, and we caught probably the easiest pin position on the green, middle right but far enough up the slope to make any play beyond the pin a deadly affair.
St. Georges 7 approach
The approach to #7 at St. Georges is best made from the left side lest menacing bunkers and a greenside tree that appears, from some angles, to front the green affect the shot.

        The 8th is a wondrous par 3 (179/173 yards), another downhiller, the crater-like greenside bunkers looking a bit lunar. The three in front are pulled well away from the green – about 15 yards – and the fourth, at left, is at some remove from most pin positions and only a magnet for severely pulled shots. The position of the bunkers and the wide green give the impression of a rather easy hole (as does its scorecard handicap of 15), but the green slopes upward from front right to rear left, and shots left more than 25 feet away are in three-putt territory.
        The 11th is the first par 3 that is uphill, and needs to be since it is a mere 119 yards from the tips and 107 yards from the yellows. It earns the easiest hole rating on the card but still carries a challenge since there are two menacing front bunkers behind which any mischievous greenskeeper would be proud to place the pin. On our day, the pin was behind the left front bunker and forced a conservative wedge to the middle of the green, a good 15 to 20 feet away from the hole.
St. Georges multiple bunkers 16

The purple topped gorse is ornamental at tee boxes but the stuff is lethal around bunkers and off the fairways at St. Georges.  The bunkers themselves are brutal too.

        The final par 3 of the round, #14, is the longest at 211/199 yards and forces a solidly struck tee shot lest the yellow-staked ditch about 40 yards short, or the gorse just beyond it, gobble up any skulled or skied shot. A smallish bunker right and a huge one arcing around the left side of the green will snare an offline shot. The only proper landing area is just short and mid green, from where you are bound to have a longish birdie putt unless the greenskeeper has seen fit to place the hole at center green.

The Ultimate Par 4
        Other highlights of the round included the ultimate short par 4 4th hole (handicap 17), which measures just 272/264 yards and is certainly drivable for the big bangers. The proper drive needs to carry at least 245 yards in the air to the one landing area short of the green that is devoid of sand. Three long and narrow bunkers ring the front and left sides of the massive green, making any sand shot a long one to most pin positions on the green (ours was at left rear). Even though the bunkers should not be challenged by any but the longest hitters, those of us who hit drives 220 yards in the air will feel a bit wimpy standing on the tee of such a short hole with something like an 8 iron in hand. There is really no other alternative but to go for it, and that is the genius of the Harry Colt, Jr. designed hole.
        That short par 4 is more than balanced by some robustly distanced holes, such as par 4s of 458/441 at the 2nd, 468/459 at the 6th, 434/431 at the 10th and 438/403 at the 16th. The par 5s are all of rather normal length except the short 476/456 yard 7th, where the approach to the green is a hoot about which some might holler. The uphill tee shot is blind, but should you make it to the top of the hill, the layup before you holds a bit of menace. The ideal narrow landing area is on the left side of the fairway, unless one hitches one’s trousers and goes for the green. A slightly offline shot could find the heather and gorse on the far left or a stack of three bunkers that lead to the green on the right. Beyond them, seemingly in front of the right half of the green, is a lone tree. Not even Jack Nicklaus, he of the tree-in-mid-fairway design cult, would be so brazen as to put a tree there. But alas, the eye is fooled; the tree is just behind the green. It is a beautiful and challenging hole and a beautiful and challenging golf course.

A Day to Remember
        The staff at St. Georges was substantially on the younger side and could not have been more helpful or nicer. Before our round, we took lunch on the veranda behind the massive clubhouse and overlooking the finishing holes on both nines. We had arrived wearing sports jackets in the expectation of sitting in on the club’s legendary “Carvery Lunch,” a festival of meat and fixins. But that lunch was slated for a 1 pm start and we had the opportunity to start our round early, before 1; rain was expected for late in the afternoon, so we took the starter (Dave from Seattle) up on his offer; indeed, as we putted out on the 18th, it started coming down.
        Fortune smiled on us all day with excellent weather and a great round on a great golf course. It was the best 115 pounds sterling ($175) I’ve ever spent to play golf.

I have a few more photos I would be happy to email upon request.  Just contact me using the button on the top of the page.

Thursday, 20 August 2015 11:32

Great Britain, great golf

        The family and I are attending our niece's wedding in London next weekend and my wife and I decided to spend a few weeks surrounding the event in the British Isles. After a few days in London to overcome jetlag issues, we headed for Crail, Scotland, which is located on the Firth of Forth or, more familiarly to most of us, the North Sea. Crail is about a 90-minute drive north of Edinburgh and just nine miles south of St. Andrews. On the way to St. Andrews from Crail, you pass four outstanding golf layouts -- the two at the Fairmont Resort, Kingsbarns and the relatively new Castle Course, part of the St. Andrews Trust portfolio of layouts. The Crail Golfing Society maintains two golf courses overlooking the water, and I had the chance to reacquaint myself with Balcomie Links, the 7th oldest golf course in the world, and to be introduced to Craighead Links, a modern layout done in a classic style by Gil Hanse, who is designing the 2016 Olympics course in Brazil.
Crail Hotel
The first major building you face on your way into Crail town from St. Andrews is the Golf Hotel.

        Our hosts, George & Dorothy, have become fast friends since we swapped golf homes with them in 2008; they spent two weeks in Pawleys Island, SC, at our condo and my son and I spent one glorious week later that year in Crail, playing Balcomie, the Old and New Courses at St. Andrews, and other classic links courses in the area.
        Crail's Craighead Links was closed for renovations in 2008, which created great expectations for me on this trip. I was not disappointed. Hanse did a fabulous job in 1999 of blending classic linksland touches (walls across fairways and behind a green, the standard sod bunkers, sweeping vistas to the sea) with just enough modern affects to make Craighead a complement, not an entirely different experience, to the old course next door. I found Craighead a little more fun and not quite as much work as Balcomie Links, although the former is a good 400 yards longer in total. The wind blows equally capriciously on both courses, and during the middle of our second of two rounds at Craighead, George pointed out to the fog offshore and said "Get ready." Within five minutes, we were enveloped, the temperature dropped about 20 degrees, and we were sending approach shots to greens with pins only dimly seen. I loved it!
Craighead man in pothole bunker
On the Gil Hanse designed Craighead Links at Crail, pot bunkers and other touches give a nod to centuries old links golf.  The adjacent North Sea (Firth of Forth) is everpresent from the course.

        For camera buffs, or for anyone with two good eyes for that matter, the fishing village of Crail is a feast. Its narrow cobblestone streets rise and fall to the harbor, and on the outdoor patio at the combination tea shop and gallery where my wife and I stopped for an afternoon cup overlooking the crashing waves five stories below, it had to be 15 degrees colder than the town's main street, just 50 yards away.
Crail Hells Hole
The fishing village of Crail is pretty as a picture, and just nine miles south of St. Andrews.

        I was also able to play a bit of golf in the London area, a different experience than Crail -- pretty much the difference between parkland and linksland golf -- but nevertheless still different enough from the Stateside golf experience to make the English rounds both interesting and fun. I'll have a bit more to say about them later. In the meantime, enjoy a few photos from my excursion to Scotland.

        Virtually all the top 25 golf courses in the state of South Carolina are closely connected to organized residential communities. Most of the others are adjacent to a residential community that was planned with golf in mind.
        Topping the list compiled by the South Carolina Golf Rating Panel (your editor is a member) is Pete Dye’s famed Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, located beyond two gates and at the edge of a community of estate homes, although no homes are close to the golf holes. The Ocean Course is among the most challenging layouts east of the Mississippi River, a course that every decent or better player ought to try at least once. Just behind the Ocean Course is May River in Bluffton, part of the lush Palmetto Bluff, one of the most expensive resorts in the east. The Jack Nicklaus layout is walking only, with caddies supplied, and the surrounding homes are priced at $1 million plus.
Chanticleer 2The par 3 2nd hole at Greenville Country Club's Chanticleer course gives a hint of just how strong the layout is.      Other highlights on the panel’s top 25 list include Greenville Country Club’s Chanticleer Course, perennially rated in the top 5 even though it snakes through a neighborhood whose large and well-landscaped homes are draped along the well-manicured fairways. But the tricky layout by Robert Trent Jones circa 1970 and later buffed by Rees Jones will keep even the best player’s eyes down and straight ahead. Greenville CC’s other course, Riverside, was recently redone by classicist Brian Silva who redesigned it in the manner of Seth Raynor. It should be ranked higher than its 44th place in my fellow panel members’ estimation.
        Hilton Head Island, which arguably began the golf community revolution in the 1970s, places two golf courses in the top 10, Harbour Town Golf Links at #5 and Long Cove Club at #7. Homes can be seen from both layouts but at a respectful distance.
Keowee Vineyard 17If there is a better looking par 3 in all of South Carolina, we have not played it.
        One of the best golf courses we have played in the last 10 years tips the scale at #12. The Jack Nicklaus course at Colleton River Plantation was in impeccable condition and the greens, we learned from the superintendent after our round, were “stimping” at 13.5. Anyone who loves fast and true greens will go gaga over Colleton River, which also encompasses a 27-hole Pete Dye layout, ranked #20 by the panel. Almost as good is Arnold Palmer & Ed Seay’s Old Tabby Links on Spring Island, and we played it before a heralded renovation two years ago. We won’t soon forget the commitment to conditions at Old Tabby shown by workers on their knees clipping individual blades of grass on the 1st green.
        The 17th hole at Cliffs at Keowee Vineyard, a 230 yard downhill par 3 framed by Lake Keowee, is almost enough to convey top 20 status on the entire golf course, but the rest of the Tom Fazio layout is thoughtful in its use of indigenous trees, stones that frame ponds and the lake.
        Briar’s Creek, a small but expensive community just outside Charleston, has suffered some financial hardships as it seeks to sell million-dollar properties but there is absolutely nothing wrong with the Rees Jones layout. So (justifiably) impressed by Jones’ effort that the developers of the club and community commissioned a painting of the designer and hung it in the lobby of the comfortable clubhouse.
Old Tabby workers on greenWhen we played Old Tabby a half dozen years ago, we were astounded, and impressed, that workers were picking poa annua from the first green.
        As a champion of the underdog, we love seeing Haig Point’s 29 holes of Rees Jones golf achieve a top ranking, in this case #24. We say “underdog” because a golf community reached only by ferry –- or helicopter, if you own one –- has a marketing challenge no other community has. But if you like peace and quiet, no pollution (no cars), two extra holes on your golf course, and don’t mind contributing a fairly substantial subsidy for the frequent ferry service, there may be no more perfect setting for golf and living.
        You will find the SC Golf Rating Panel’s 2014 list of best golf courses here and the 2015 best public golf courses in South Carolina here.

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