When I was 16, I had my first – and only – hole in one, a 127-yard shot on the golf course where I learned to play in New Jersey. From the elevated tee, I tracked it all the way into the hole. Until yesterday, it was the golfing thrill of my life.

As a 73-year-old, such golfing thrills are fewer and farther between. A few years ago, at my favorite course in Connecticut, Hartford’s Keney Park, I struck perfectly a three-wood from the right rough on the longish par 4 9th hole and 217 yards later, it rolled into the cup on the front third of the green. At the time, my average three-wood distance was about 190 to 200 yards, but I caught a flyer and, well, it went a lot farther than any three-wood in the preceding two or three years – or since.

I intellectualized that an eagle from 217 yards out was far superior to a hole in one that was just a bit farther than half that distance. But emotionally I was tied to that hole in one, the first major thing I had ever done in golf and cause for a lot of whooping and hollering with my slightly older playing partner, who went on to dump a nine iron into a par four hole for his own eagle later that day. The town paper covered our exploits and, for about a week, I was cock of the walk with my friends.

So what happened yesterday? After a rather uneventful first nine at Pawleys Plantation Golf Club on the South Carolina coast, a water-logged scrambling bogey on the 10th and a misplayed short approach on the par 5 11th (another bogey), I pushed my drive into a the huge fairway-length bunker on the right side of the par 4 12th and had about 140 yards to a tightly placed pin in the back of the green – all carry over the greenside portion of the bunker and not much room behind the pin either. With a 15-mph wind into my face and blowing slightly from the right, I hit the purest long sand shot I have ever hit -- with a 5 hybrid. It took off on a high trajectory just a bit to the right of the pin, and with my aging eyesight, I lost it just before it began its descent. I was pleased that I hit it well enough to have a chance at staying on the green but was surprised when my playing partner – only three years younger than I but obviously with far superior eyesight – said, “I think that’s in.”

I was nonplussed. Although the wind was blowing slightly in a direction favorable to the line of my shot, there was just no way the ball could stop between the high lip of the bunker and the hole 20 feet beyond. When I drove my cart to greenside, there was no ball on the green, and my first look was over the green. Seeing nothing there, I circled to the windward side of the green and saw nothing there either. My playing partner yelled, quite emphatically from the bunker, “Look in the cup!” I know I grimaced and shrugged my shoulders but, as I strolled to the cup, I caught a glimpse of the top of my Callaway. There it was, propped up by one of those gizmos they have been using during the pandemic to provide no-touch removal of balls from the hole.

Pawleysbehind11greenBehind the 12th green at Pawleys Plantation Golf Club, the first place I looked for my ball after a prodigious blast from the bunker 140 yards away. The pin was about 20 feet left of where it is in this older photo. The ball was in the cup.


Footnote: I birdied the next hole, a par 3, for my first-ever pair of deuces in two successive holes. But that sand shot, which felt so good right off the clubhead, has supplanted the memory of a five-foot birdie putt on the Road Hole at St. Andrew’s Old Course, a 217-yard eagle at my favorite muni course and, yes, even that hole in one just three years after I received my first proper short set of clubs.

Now, only shooting my age remains.

In my latest newsletter, Home On The Course, I speculated that the market for golf community homes was changing rapidly, and that the pandemic’s effects on real estate could last well beyond the end of the contagion. Millions of workers will never return to their offices now that their employers have found they are more productive at home; those companies will be turning out the lights in many of their offices and saving millions of dollars on leases and other utility costs. To top it off, their employees love working from home, able to commute from bedroom to home office, saving them hours a day in travel time and expenses. And what company doesn’t benefit from satisfied employees?

I asked my readers, most of whom are retirees or near retirement, to imagine when they were 30, living in some cold spot in the North, and their employees gave them the freedom to work from home. Would they stay in place or consider a relocation to the Sunbelt where they could play golf year-round, buy a home substantially bigger or less expensive – or, likely, both – than their current home, and save 25 percent or more on their costs of living?

It was a rhetorical question but apparently many millennials and other pre-retirees have answered resoundingly by rushing to purchase vacation homes. According to a study by Zonda, the real estate consulting company, that was recently published in BuilderOnline.com, the average median age of a vacation home buyer in the U.S. before Covid was 58; today it is 50. Families with children at home accounted for 30 percent of vacation home purchases before the pandemic; today that number is 45 percent. In short, the last wave of Baby Boomers and those a generation behind are competing with already retired Boomers for some of the prized vacation communities. That is putting additional pressure on inventories of primary homes in weather friendly areas. As simple economics teaches us, when demand goes up and supply evaporates, prices rise – in the case of vacation homes in the highest quality communities, as much as 30 percent and more over the last year.
Williston10fromtee10th tee at the Williston Golf Club, Williston, VT, a few miles from the university town of Burlington.

Strategies to deal with this sea change in the real estate market are limited and pretty obvious:
First, you can just accept that you will pay more for the retirement home you have always wanted. Second, and related, is that you can prepare for a smaller, less elaborate home. You can still have the golf course(s) within the gates of your new community, but the home you choose will be more modest than the one you had your heart set on. Third, you can buy a lot – they are still reasonably priced – and build a home to your specs; but expect the costs per square foot to be considerably higher than you might imagine, given a shortage of construction labor and the still-inflated price of building materials, especially lumber. Fourth, you can stay where you are, in a home and area you know well, and travel to warm weather spots for part or all winter. (If you can afford homes in two places, more power to you; it is probably the best solution if you can afford it.) And, fifth, reverse your dreams of a warm weather retirement, buy a new winter wardrobe, learn how to ski (if you don’t know already) and buy a home in a place like New Hampshire (no state income tax) or Vermont (great craft breweries, great overall lifestyle, and the best performance of any state on Covid). The golf is fine, albeit for five to six months a year, and the summers are glorious. And Vermont’s transportation department certainly knows how to plow its roads quickly in the winter, making it easier to get to some great restaurants, some fabulous skiing and all those craft breweries.

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