Out of Shape: Cutting golf course expenses can be costly to golf communities

        In recent months, I have visited two high-end golf communities, Hampton Island Preserve and White Oak, that could serve as poster children for bad timing.  Both opened for business and started selling properties in the few years before the economy went sour.  They both face a long slog ahead but are approaching the future in slightly different ways.

        Hampton Island, sited on a beautiful piece of marshland property along the Georgia Coast about an hour south of Savannah, has a guard, a gate and a golf course that hosts a couple of rounds of golf “on a good day,” according to a Hampton Island representative.  Just a few homes have been completed in the community.  Yet if you happened on a description of Hampton Island in the online Robb Report, you’d get the impression the golf community was in full operation mode.

        “…Hampton Island,” says The Robb Report, “is a coastal resort with a community base of more than 400 people.  Members enjoy use of the golf course, two luxury spas, an equestrian center, an organic farm, fishing and hunting excursions, and meals prepared by an on-site master chef.”  The Robb Report also indicates that memberships are $150,000 and dues $10,000 annually; the developers may have taken a page from The Cliffs Communities playbook which also offers a boatload of amenities at sunken-treasure prices.


The 1st hole at the Ricefields golf course at Hampton Island Preserve.


Mohair greens  

        Although Hampton Island Preserve lists all these pricey amenities on its web site, I saw zero activity around the equestrian barn and organic farm, and did not see a soul on the golf course over my 18 holes.  The Davis Love III designed course, called Ricefields, features an impressive layout that takes full advantage of the abundant marshland and sandy land formation.  Love did not disturb much of the terrain, but if he visits the year-old course, he might be plenty disturbed by its condition.  No lawnmower had touched itThe approach to #8 at Ricefields. for at least a few days before my visit, perhaps as long as a week, and the greens putted like mohair.  They also showed some severely worn spots.  I had looked forward with anticipation to playing the course, but I felt like weeping on the first green.

        Hampton Island Preserve must be spending whatever limited resources it has on things other than maintenance of the golf course.  Or maybe the developers are simply preserving all their capital.  (I tried to contact the developer but he did not return my message.)  With only a handful of property-owner members, despite The Robb Report’s claim of 400 of them, it is hard to justify the expense necessary to maintain a top-notch layout.

        Yet for all the sense cutting expenses seems to make, letting the golf course deteriorate can develop an ugly spiral from which it is hard to recover.   Golfers considering property at Hampton Island will likely look past the attractive course design and see only the current course conditions; they are not likely to be satisfied with explanations that it is only a temporary situation.  Such conditions scream “We are out of money!”  With so many fully functioning golf clubs up and down the Carolinas and Georgia coasts, only daredevil risk-takers are likely to plop down a half million dollars for a marsh-view lot at Hampton Island if the golf course conditions are, as my teenage children might say, “sketchy looking.” 

        Here’s hoping that Hampton Island Preserve can find its way, and the resources, to attend to the needs of its attractively designed and laid out golf course.



Waste bunkering is the commanding feature at White Oak.


Another approach to course maintenance

        White Oak, another golf-oriented community whose timing was unfortunate, has taken a slightly different tack.  The upscale Tryon, NC, community is located at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains on a piece of property its developers say reminds them of their native Ireland.  PGA professional Padraig Harrington and Champions Tour player Des Smyth are both involved in the White Oak development (the developers built a home at White Oak for Harrington and his family to use when he plays U.S. tour events).

        I played nine of White Oak’s holes recently with one of its few members, a dedicated reader of this web site.  The second nine at White Oak is scheduled to open later in the fall but, to my eye, it looked almost ready to open now.

        Unlike at Ricefields, White Oak’s owners are cutting the grass frequently enough to give the fairways and especially the greensOne of the par 3s at White Oak features all carry over water. the feel of a championship course, although there is little evidence of such grooming elsewhere on the layout (the “natural” looking waste bunkers were starting to look unnaturally scruffy).  That aside, White Oak could eventually be a top-10 course in the golf-endowed state of North Carolina.  The Arnold Palmer design -– Erik Larsen took the lead on the layout -- makes the most of the natural foothills landscape and looks for all the world as if it could have come out of the currently hot (Bill) Coore/(Ben) Crenshaw design shop.  The scruffy waste bunkers look indigenous, and nowhere does one get the sense that the land on which the layout is carved took a back seat to concerns for the housing.  Because the course is laid out along the lowest area of the property, the future homes will be sited well above, providing excellent views of the course from the back decks but, more importantly, keeping out-of-bounds areas to a strict minimum.

        The accompanying photos will give you a better sense of White Oak than words will but, for the record, I did not encounter anything resembling a mediocre hole on the nine we played.  Developers and golf course designer have conspired to create a challenging layout that members should be pleased to play over and over.  Hazards abound at White Oak, and to quote the cliché, you do have to “think your way around” the course.  But I found the layout fair and penal in equal measure, although in full disclosure, I struck the ball better at White Oak than on any nine holes I have played in at least five years.  It was 100 degrees on the course, and I was hot in more ways than one.

        It made me smile, and I hope Irish eyes will also soon be smiling at White Oak.



A new home for sale in Tryon, NC's White Oak community is patterned on this home already occupied at The Cliffs Communities.  The White Oak home adds another 1,000 square feet.


        Elaborating on a design used at The Cliffs Communities, JL Design Builders of Spartanburg, SC, are putting the finishing touches on a nicely sited and dramatically designed home in Tryon, NC’s White Oak community (see photo above).  The Laurelwood model includes 4,200 square feet (heated) and such flourishes as a wine cellar, media room, full-house audio system and even a 12-square-foot “doggie” room where Fido can have a bit of privacy.  In all, the home is 1,000 square feet larger than The Cliffs version.  Built at the midpoint of a sloping piece of property, the house features dramatic wooded views beyond the entire back end of the house, including from the dining room, great room, master bedroom and porch.  Conveniently located within 20 minutes of the growing cities of Greenville and Spartanburg, new owners in White Oak should appreciate both the privacy of the setting and the convenience of the location.  For more information about this brand new home, contact me and I will be pleased to put you in touch with the builders. 

        List priced at $1.15 million.

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