For months, rumors have been strong in and around the Cliffs communities in the Carolinas that South Street Partners, the firm that owns the amenities at Kiawah Island, were negotiating to purchase The Cliffs from Arendale Partners. An agreed-upon deal was finally announced late last week. No financial terms were disclosed.
The deal was announced separately by both Arendale and South Street. In their announcement, the new owners indicated that "we acquired all Cliffs Land Partners and Cliffs Club Partners entities previously owned by Arendale Holdings Corp...South Street will oversee the development, management, operations, sales, and marketing for The Cliffs."
The 50 year old South Street Partners maintains more than $1 billion in assets under management and is headquartered in both Charlotte, NC, and Charleston, SC. If they work their magic at The Cliffs as they have done at Kiawah, which they purchased in 2013, Cliffs owners can look forward to enhanced real estate values and a continuation of top-drawer club amenities.
"Since acquiring Kiawah Partners, the master developer of Kiawah Island, SC, in 2013," the South Street letter to Cliffs owners indicated, "median pricing of properties within the community has increased significantly, new home construction is at an all-time high, inventory levels have decreased to the lowest levels in over a decade and sales have topped $1.5 billion."
Prior to Arendale taking over at The Cliffs, the deluxe group of communities had something of a topsy turvy history. Jim Anthony acquired thousands of acres of land in the upstate region of South Carolina and began to build high-end golf communities that attracted well-to-do buyers from the Atlanta area and elsewhere around the country. Drawn by the luxury nature of the amenities Anthony installed inside the gates of the multiple communities -- an equestrian center here, a wellness center there, and beautifully groomed golf courses everywhere -- buyers signed up for club memberships that, at one point, required an initiaion fee of $125,000. Membership was mandatory at the point of property purchase; if you did not choose to join the club, you were not permitted to join it at a later date, and anyone interested in buying your lot or home at a later date could not join the club.
Anthony ran into financial trouble just before the recession started in 2008. A project to build another Cliffs community featuring Tiger Woods' first American design was scrapped as the Anthony real estate empire began to unravel. After a Texas couple, residents of The Cliffs, stepped in with some temporary life-saving injection of cash, Arendale and others combined to purchase some acreage and the amenities, including the golf courses.
A new purchaser must still sign up for membership within a few weeks of closing, but joining fees are now a much more reasonable $50,000, not outrageous when you consider the six clubs and the high standards of maintenance at each. Given South Street's record at Kiawah, we should expect a continuation of those high standards and, at least, some initial investments to enhance the quality of The Cliffs experience.
If you are interested in more information about The Cliffs or an introduction to a professional agent who can provide you with a tour of any of the communities, please contact me.
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Golf Community Reviews is my day job, but every couple of months I moonlight for CarolinaLiving.com, where you will find a few dozen articles you have not read in this space, all dedicated to the golf life in the Carolinas. A few of those articles may seem familiar to dedicated readers, such as musings about hurricane threats, how to search for a golf home, as well as reviews of some of my favorite golf courses. For those who are targeting the Carolinas as a vacation or full-time destination, you should find a rich trove of new material.
Check it out at Carolina Living.
When Jack Nicklaus’ golf course design career was in its infancy, he developed a particular design quirk to call his own -– like Pete Dye’s railroad ties, or Tom Fazio’s cloverleaf bunkers and “buried” cart paths. For Nicklaus, it was trees in fairways. Nowhere was this quirkiness more in play -– literally and figuratively -– than at Pawleys Plantation, a semi-private layout in Pawleys Island, SC, that is a scoring challenge for newcomers and members alike.
Whereas many designers punish tee shots that stray from the center lane of fairways, Nicklaus puts obstacles in the middle of the typically safe areas off the tee, forcing play to the edges. For example, on the par 5 4th hole, a string of three fair-sized bunkers split the fairway in two about 180 yards to 230 yards off the men’s tees. Using the fairway to the right of the bunkers provides the best angle for a long approach shot; a play to the left of the bunkers provides a shorter approach shot, but over a wide fairway bunker that extends all the way to greenside.
But it is Nicklaus’ fairway trees at Pawleys that have been a constant thorn in the side of members and visiting golfers looking to at least shoot around par, once they subtract their handicap from their scores.
The first close encounter with a tree at Pawleys Plantation is on #5, a medium sized par 4 whose main feature is a large pond in front of the green. A well-smacked drive is required to leave a short, lofted iron approach to a typically firm green. But Nicklaus left a tall pine standing at the left edge of the fairway, and a perfect looking drive toward the middle can catch one of the tree’s branches, leaving almost 200 yards over the water to the tightly guarded green.
The epitome of Nicklaus’ design idiosyncrasy is the sprawling and tall live oak at dead center of the 9th fairway that covers 60 percent of fairway. On the theory that a tree is 90 percent air, I typically try to fly my ball over, especially if I am playing the “executive” tees. That works out about half the time. The best play is either to the right of the tree, bringing rough and woods into play; or the narrower path to the left, where even more woods and a sprawling oak just to the left of the fairway may necessitate a pitch out to the middle of the fairway on the par 4. No matter the approach, the green is extremely difficult hit as it is the most elevated on the golf course and not very deep.
Two weeks ago, after a visit and tour by Nicklaus in January of his 30-year-old course, workmen cut down a tree that was dead center on the par 5 14th hole. It wasn’t a huge tree, but it was about 10 to 20 yards beyond most good drives, and if you were behind it, you had no choice to skim a shot under its branches. Its position forced one to think about placement off the tee.
A wide swatch of fairway to the right was the safe path but forced a layup shot over marsh. A shot to the left of the tree made for a shorter shot at an easier angle, but the cart path there and tight out of bounds along the edges of residents’ properties made a tee shot in that direction a fool’s paradise.
Nicklaus admitted during his visit in January that he thought the golf course was too hard for even decent players, and he recommended that greens that had drifted away from bunkers be restored to their original sizes, that many of the fairway bunkers be grassed in and that “a copper nail” would be enough to fell the tree on 14.
A few years ago, with Nicklaus’ affirmation, the club removed a couple of live oak trees that guarded the green at the long par 5 11th. (See my original article here. I don’t miss those trees, although they were a lot prettier than the solo tree on the 14th. But the latter tree’s demise, in my opinion, was a bad decision, an accommodation to those who felt punished after a self-described “good” drive ruined their prospects for a layup short of the green -- as if a shot straight down the middle of every fairway is always a good drive.
Even excellent golf course designers aren’t always right.
A week before Johnny Miller retires from the golf tournament broadcast booth, I had the opportunity to play one of the 17 layouts he designed. Harmony Preserve Golf Club is located smack in the middle of one of those golf communities that offers retirees an alternative to the massive Villages in central Florida, albeit on a much smaller scale (one golf course compared with The Villages’ 35). You can tell that considerable planning went into the development of Harmony Preserve, which is located pretty much in the Middle of Nowhere, Florida, between Orlando and Vero Beach. (One of the real estate sites pitching homes in Harmony indicates that the “Florida Mall is just 30 miles away.”)
A mix of single-family homes and townhouses, with a “town center” section just inside the gates, the community was designed to overcome its remote location with a basic array of services on site; actually very basic in that the “center” is just two blocks wide. By the looks of it, Harmony’s target audience is independent-minded retirees desirous of an active retirement at a fair cost. Homes start in the low $200s, and golf memberships are sharply priced beginning at $2,750 annually for as much golf as you want to play ($3,750 for unlimited play with a cart). You won’t do better than that at most nicely maintained golf clubs in Florida.
What about the golf course? First of all, this is Florida and, therefore, don’t expect any dramatic contours from fairway to green that weren’t created by bulldozers. Those who want the occasional exercise of a good walk will find Harmony Preserve quite accommodating. Although there is a water feature on every hole, the fairways are quite generous; a few bunkers at greenside will give you pause as you prepare your approach shots. I found the greatest challenges of the golf course almost exclusively in the greens whose contours were sometimes obvious but, for the most part, subtle. This was my first round of the year, an excuse of sorts, but there is no excuse other than tricky greens for a half dozen three-putted greens.
I understand from other reviews of Harmony that alligators keep a wary eye on golfers during the warmer months. On the coldish day we played, we didn’t see a one.
I was expecting a golf course that reflected Johnny Miller’s personality, or at least the one he’s expressed on air for the last three decades. But Harmony Preserve, while a perfectly enjoyable experience, lacked much drama (except on some of those greens). Miller, like former PGA stars Gary Player and Greg Norman, seemed to overcompensate in his design for Harmony. (Player’s layout for The Cliffs at Mountain Park and Norman’s at The Reserve in Pawleys Island, both in South Carolina, do not reflect the bravado of their personalities, or the make or break style of their golf games back in their heydays.) That is not criticism; all these golf courses, located in areas frequented by golfing retirees, may not reflect their artists’ personalities, but they certainly will please their audiences.
28 miles to Orlando International Airport
45 minutes to Melbourne, FL
55 minutes to Walt Disney World, Orlando
Homes from the low $200s
Sample home for sale: Click here
Golf course opened 2002, designed by Johnny Miller
7,428 yards from Miller tees, Rating 76.1, Slope 136
6,413 yards from White tees, Rating 71.1, Slope 126
5,408 yards from Red tees, Rating 65.9, Slope 114
Full golf memberships from $2,750 annually
If you would like more information on Harmony Preserve, or to arrange a visit, please contact us.
We are in that season again, the one in which the mainstream media decides it has been a few months since they published its previous “golf is dead” article. The thesis always goes something like this: Golf courses are closing in record numbers because -- choose one or more of the following: a) a round of golf takes too long to play; b) young people (read “millennials”) are more interested in electronics than golf; c) the business model for a golf course/country club is flawed; you can’t make any money; or d) the pressure from developers to put houses where fairways once stood is too intense for flailing clubs to pass up.
I know I am in the minority in believing golf does not need any structural changes – a round of 12 holes anyone? – to speed it up. My take is that it just needs players who are prepared to hit the ball as soon as their playing partners have hit; or we need to just chill out about the issue and understand that cutting a round of golf from 4 ½ hours to 4 means trimming less than two minutes per hole. Two minutes? Really?
I am not sure which millennials disdain golf, but they aren’t those I know. Indeed, every year a millennial family friend heads to Myrtle Beach with a foursome of fellow millennials and asks me for golf course recommendations and dining options. They plan the following year’s trip right after the current one. My son, a millennial, and most of the junior and college golfers he competed against between 10 and 20 years ago, still play golf. Not all of them have made a career of golf, as Tim has, but they are still tightly connected to the game.
If you think golf course operations is a bad business model, try getting a tee time most any morning of the year on the day you want to play at Caledonia Golf & Fish Club in Pawleys Island, SC. The secret to success at Caledonia, where green fees are at the high end of all those in Myrtle Beach, is care and imagination. The open-to-the-public golf course is always in peak private-club condition, the food in the restaurant is consistently outstanding, with views to match, and extra touches like the dispensing at the first tee of fish chowder on a cold fall morning are memorable. Golf courses that fail tend to do so in a way restaurants and other businesses fail -- with poor attention to quality and a general lack of marketing imagination. The good ones thrive.
Housing developers covet golf courses for home construction because the landscape is already pretty much prepared for them, keeping costs to a minimum. Across the country, residents and their lawyers are fighting back, and many are winning on the basis of a promise made by original developers that the golf course was a fundamental element of the community. Some original sales brochures that touted golf as the raison d’etre for the community have become Exhibit A in the attempt to convince courts that the implied contract to residents of a golf course supersedes a golf course owner’s right to sell his or her property to a developer.
Overall, the issue of golf being under siege is overblown. Developers simply built too many golf courses in the 1980s and 1990s in order to sell houses (and sell a lifestyle dream as well). The number of golf courses will reach equilibrium with the number of golfers in the coming years. For the time being, we should consider it ironic that years after they used golf to sell homes, developers now want to build homes on those very same golf courses? This is less about any ebbing of golf’s popularity than it is about turning a quick buck.
Golf courses will continue to close until their numbers are appropriate to the number of golfers with the time and desire to play a couple or three times a week. Here’s hoping that happens in the next few years; I am tired of dopey newspaper articles.
You probably can’t find two more unrelated topics than timeshare ownership and healthcare, unless you believe that stress can cause many health issues and timeshare ownership, according to those who know best, can cause stress. No shrinking violets, we, this month’s Home On The Course newsletter tackles both issues from a basically personal point of view. Yes, I think about the conseauences of living in South Carolina away from doctors in Connecticut who follow up with me on past major surgeries and, yes, spoiler alert – gulp – my wife and I just bought into a timeshare – although I hasten to add we don’t consider it really a timeshare.
In any case, we accepted an offer we could have refused. You can learn how and why by signing up to subscribe to Home On The Course. It’s easy and it’s free – especially of stress. Click here now and the newsletter will arrive in your inbox in the next day or two.
Some years ago, when I stayed overnight at the South Carolina golf community The Reserve at Lake Keowee, I ate dinner in the clubhouse on a Saturday night and, afterwards, headed to the sprawling rustic clubhouse’s tavern to check out the football action on television. The town of Clemson and its eponymous university are located just 20 minutes from the community, and the Tigers football team, not exactly a national powerhouse a decade ago, were playing an away game. A couple dozen residents, most resplendent in orange jerseys and other accessories, cheered for each incremental success and groaned for every miscue, the way fans everywhere do. But the decibel level was high, at least by the standards of an uninvolved bystander.
I can’t imagine what the noise level on the “campus” of The Reserve was like last night as the Clemson Tigers demolished the heretofore terrifying Alabama Crimson to win the national championship and finish the season undefeated at 15-0, the first team to ever do that. Clemson orange runs deep at The Reserve. The community’s co-founder, Buddy Thompson, was looking forward to the big game even before Clemson got by Notre Dame to qualify for the finals. He ended a recent email to me with this: “GO TIGERS!”
Buddy, by the way, is supervising the marketing of a beautiful piece of lakeside property at The Reserve, featuring 30 lots that were recently opened up for sale. There are only a few properties like this remaining for sale at The Reserve with views and docks on one of the cleanest lakes in America, so these on a property known as “The Enclave” should be in high demand. If you are interested, let me know and I can put you in touch with Buddy. He’ll be happy to have a chat, about the property and, especially, about Clemson football and its national champs.
The housing market has peaked, according to the mainstream media and some economists who follow home sales closely. Much of the blame, if you can call it that, is laid at the feet of Millennials, those in the 25-to-34 age category who are buying homes at a much lower rate than their predecessor generations. According to the Urban Institute, for example, just 37 percent of those in that age category are homeowners, compared with 45.4 percent of Gen Xers and 45 percent of Baby Boomers when they were in the Millennials’ age range. It stands to reason that if those youngsters are not buying the homes of us oldsters, we are going to have a harder time selling at the prices we want, if at all.
Therefore, many of you reading this who are in the Boomer category are probably asking yourselves if this slowdown in the housing market means that the primary house you have every intention of selling in the next year or two will fetch a lower price than you hoped for, or that it will indeed be tougher to sell...and therefore keep you from following your dream of a warm-weather home. To those concerns I have a simple rejoinder, a broken record I have been playing ever since a much bigger housing recession in 2008: Don’t worry, be happy; sell your house for what the market says it’s worth, not what you think it is worth; and move to your retirement dream location.
Here’s why I sound like Pollyanna. First, if you sell your home in the North for less because of a general housing recession, chances are you will pay less for your home in the sunnier South. There is a price at which anything will sell, and your house is in that category. The market will tell you what is a fair price for your real estate. If someone offers it, take it.
Second, as I have written ad nauseum in the past, the cost to live in the South is almost invariably less than the cost in the higher-taxed North, and the difference is often dramatic. If today you spend, for example, $75,000 per year on food, utilities, transportation, property taxes, entertainment and other living expenses, you could save as much as $20,000 or more on an annual basis living in a Southern golf community, even with homeowner fees. If you stay up North and wait for your primary home to increase in price over, say, two years, you will need it to increase 10 percent over those two years on a $400,000 house to match the $40,000 you might save by moving South. That is not likely to happen in a flat market.
Here’s just one example of the potential savings. According to the cost-of-living comparison tool at BestPlaces.net, a couple currently living in Natick, MA, who chooses to move to the lakeside golf community of Savannah Lakes Village in McCormick, SC – two excellent golf courses, rural setting, adjacent to Lake Thurmond – would save nearly 48% on annual expenses. (Note: Most of that is in real estate costs; the cost of living tool averages the much lower-priced homes in town with home prices inside the community. But still, 48%?)
And, third, and perhaps the most important consideration, a non-financial one: Is waiting a year or more going to make you happy, even if you save a few dollars by selling your home at a slightly higher price? Chances are you have pointed toward a retirement place in a warm weather climate for many of your working years. You owe it to yourself to put "Serious Search for a Golf Home in 2019" on your resolutions list. Let me know if I can help. (Contact me.)
Myrtle Beach area golf courses, whose total once stood at over 120, continue to be under pressure in a still-oversaturated market. Local news outlets are reporting that River Oaks, a golf community just north of Highway 501, the main east/west thoroughfare entering Myrtle Beach, will close nine of its 27 holes and build more than 250 homes on 60 acres of former fairways and greens.
This is only the latest in a continuing spate of closures over the last decade in a market that was once called a “supermarket of golf.” Just last week we learned that the owners of Indian Wells Golf Club, part of the Founders Group International of 22 golf courses in the Myrtle Beach area, had asked the county zoning board to rezone the golf course to include condo unit development. (The golf course was previously zoned for single-family home construction. Needless to say, homeowners in the surrounding neighborhoods are not.
The Indian Wells plans may be more problematical than those at River Oaks, where owners will still have 18 holes of golf remaining -– at least for the time being. Founders Group has petitioned Horry County for a change in zoning on the 150-acre Indian Wells golf course to permit construction of 255 single-family homes and 257 townhomes. Because the golf course was already zoned for single-family houses, residents are choosing not to take the typical stand that their home values will be eroded by the loss of the golf course. They say they fear environmental issues.
Maryann Dube, president of the adjacent Woodlake Village’s homeowners’ association, told Myrtle Beach Sun’s online publication, “We’re going to be in big trouble if they build…The whole golf course floods tremendously, [and] they’re not going to be able to do anything to fix that.”
Nearby residents and members of the other Founders Group courses, almost all of them located inside residential developments, are bound to be nervous about the Indian Wells events. That club was among the first that the Chinese company owners purchased in the area nearly a decade ago; the organization has been in the news over recent years because of squabbles among its owners and charges of embezzlement against a few of its executives.
As a vacation home owner at Pawleys Plantation in Pawleys Island, SC, home to a Jack Nicklaus golf course owned by Founders International, I will be watching for related news in the coming weeks and months. Watch this space.
At this stage it is just rumor, but the noise coming from some residents of The Cliffs as well as from local developers is loud enough to invoke the old “where there’s smoke there’s fire” adage. Residents at a high-end luxurious collection of communities like The Cliffs are a savvy bunch, many former captains of industry who were paid during their careers for what they knew. And what residents seem to know at The Cliffs, which is owned by Arendale Holdings, is that the development group in charge of the private club amenities and land development at Kiawah Island is negotiating to purchase the Cliffs’ vaunted amenities and unsold real estate.
In the last week, I reached out to both South Street Partners, the Charlotte-based real estate equity investment firm that purchased the Kiawah Island holdings in 2013, and The Cliffs own marketing department, to confirm the persistent rumors. I have not heard back from either.
But a pending sale makes sense from a number of standpoints. According to Cliffs residents, land sales in the community have not met Arendale’s expectations, and that may explain why they are seeking to sell their interest rather than commit to millions of dollars to fund new clubhouses they promised at Keowee Springs and Mountain Park.
Arendale has company in its desire to move on. Worthington Hyde, an equity investment firm out of Atlanta which had loaned money to original Cliffs developer Jim Anthony, gained in foreclosure in 2008 more than 2,000 acres and 250 lots at Cliffs at Keowee Falls. Worthington Hyde decided that developing the land might yield more than flipping it to a bottom-fishing buyer during a recession. But lot sales have been slow even in recent years, especially because the lots they “inherited” from Anthony are mostly located in interior wooded areas, far from the lake where lots were already mostly in the hands of private owners. Those who can afford to buy into and live at The Cliffs prefer lots with a view of water or mountains.
Worthington Hyde recently announced at a meeting with Keowee Falls owners that they have sold their interest in The Cliffs to the Colorado-based Resource Land Holdings. Private development companies are not known for their public communications, and there is nothing in a Google search and the Worthington Hyde and Cliffs’ websites about the deal. However, at that meeting with Keowee Falls owners, Resource Land Holdings executives indicated they plan to package some homes and lots together rather than just sell the land alone.
Worthington may have committed an unforced error when it opted to use an outside broker for the sale of lots at Keowee Falls, rather than co-broker with Arendale and The Cliffs’ sales office, which had established marketing power from the high-spending Jim Anthony days. With the arrangement, Worthington effectively threw itself into competition with Arendale for the sale of lots. At long last, Worthington decided to use Cliffs Realty to help sell its lots but the recent sale to the Colorado group implies that move was too little too late.
Current residents of The Cliffs give Arendale credit for stabilizing operations and keeping the golf courses in tip-top shape. They appreciate as well that Arendale has run things conservatively, even though they expected more in the way of clubhouse development. But Arendale is in the business of selling land, and more of their emphasis has been on that aspect of the operation, according to residents, than in enhancing the experience of club membership, whose all-in initiation fee was dropped to $50,000 in the post Anthony era. The golf courses remain in terrific condition, but most residents do not wander far from their home courses, even though they have unfettered access to all seven layouts, from Lake Keowee to Asheville, NC, and down to the Greenville, SC, area. The drive times can amount to as much as 1 hour or more, and the notion of being able to play seven excellent golf courses has lost some of its luster for both residents and potential buyers.
We will keep our eyes on The Cliffs in coming weeks and, if the sale goes through, will make it the lynchpin of our January edition of Home On The Course, our free to subscriber newsletter. Subscribe here.