February/March 2022

Hidebound private golf clubs have traditionally been a lagging indicator of what the market wants. But in recent years, many have come to understand that extending memberships up and down a family tree is good for member retention and for attracting new blood. We discuss some recent innovations in membership plans…United Van Lines publishes an accurate annual assessment of where people are moving to and from. Their latest survey is out, and you will be surprised at the most popular state…Golfweek magazine’s best residential golf course list is out as well, and it holds only a few surprises. All this in the February/March issue of Home On The Course.

Going Vertical: How Kids, Grandkids and Parents Can Play for Free at a Private Club

In the early years of my private club membership in Connecticut, I was pleased that my golf-obsessed son could play as much golf as he wanted without me having to pay anything beyond monthly dues (except for the golf cart when he used one).  But then he turned 23 and I had a choice; pay for his new membership and dues — after all he was just out of college and not making much money — or resign the club after 25 years since I didn’t play enough golf or use the facilities enough to justify the expense.

I resigned, scratching my head over how shortsighted it was for private clubs to cut off “free” access for the children of members just when they were starting their careers and could not afford the fees.  If they had permitted him to play on, he (or I) would have paid cart fees, taken lessons from the pro who earlier helped him learn the game, and brought friends for whom we would have paid guest and cart fees and food and beverage. And my wife and I would have continued to eat dinner at the club chiefly because we were paying a minimum anyway. But when I left the club, my monthly dues payments went with me.

New wrinkle at Champion Hills

About a decade ago, private clubs began to redefine the notion of a “family” membership so much so that, today, some clubs provide “vertical” memberships, often referred to as “legacy” memberships, with privileges extended to direct relatives on the family tree trunk.  For example, if you are a full equity member at Champion Hills Golf Club in Hendersonville, NC, home to a lush mountain golf course designed by local boy Tom Fazio, then your children, grandchildren, parents and, if you are still lucky to have them, grandparents have full use of the facilities — golf course (with no green fees), clubhouse, pool, tennis courts, et al.  At the end of the month, your family members’ charges will show up on your club bill. (Your option whether to back-charge them or not.)

The vertical golf membership at Champion Hills had previously applied only to full golf equity members, almost all of them over the age of 55, but the club expanded it to all members last July as an additional incentive for new residents to join the club, according to Membership and Marketing Director Heather Myers.  Initiation fees at Champion Hills are $40,000 with dues of $1,200 per month, competitive with other higher-end private clubs in the Carolinas — some that offer legacy memberships, some that don’t.

“During the pandemic, younger retirees and others who are still working started moving to the community in greater numbers,” Heather told me. “Membership is not mandatory for community residents, and we wanted to encourage them to join soon after they moved here.” 

champion hills hendersonville ncChampion Hills, Hendersonville, NC

The result was the “Equity 55” program which essentially lowered the age requirement for the vertical membership. Although the extended program is just half a year old, Heather says there is plenty of evidence of its popularity.

“During the holiday period,” she indicated, “the clubhouse was busier than in past years and not just with families.  Many children of members used it on their own.” That, of course, has driven an uptick in revenues from all facilities.

At the end of January, I could find only one home for sale in Champion Hills that was not pending a contract, and it was priced over $1 million.  There were, however, plenty of lots on the market, starting at $25,000 (for a half-acre property).  One lot at 1.19 acres and facing the 5th fairway of the golf course was priced at $50,000.  It is located on Bobby Jones Drive. (What golfer wouldn’t be happy with that address?)

Reserve Club at leading edge

The first legacy membership I heard about, 10 years ago, was at The Reserve at Lake Keowee in Sunset, SC.  With a crystal-clear lake and a beautiful pool beside it, a 100-yard-long lawn that sweeps downhill from the clubhouse to the lake and a fine and challenging Jack Nicklaus golf course, the community is a summer magnet for the children and grandchildren of residents. I visited The Reserve a summer after the legacy program was announced and the Great Lawn was filled with multi-generational families lolling on blankets and tossing frisbees.  The golf course, tennis courts and pools were plenty active too.

The Reserve’s legacy membership was unique (to me, at least) at the time, but other luxury golf communities quickly caught on.  At the sprawling (12,000 acres) multi-course Reynolds Lake Oconee in Greensboro, GA, now in its 33rd year, the focus has been on building “emotional equity” between members’ families and the club, according to Dave Short, the community’s senior vice president of marketing, sales and strategic planning.

“We introduced what we call a Generational Family Membership about five years ago and the results for us and for our members and their families have been even more than we could have hoped,” Dave told me. “It made obvious sense to broaden out the membership usage footprint to help build a connection with the generation just below our members.” 

“With a pretty significant aging-in-place membership,” he added, “by extending the benefits to include multi-generational members in the same family, the club was better able to build a strong connection with their children.”

Wait! Mom and dad had a lake house?

Before the Generational membership, when a couple moved on, Short said, the reaction from their surviving children was typically, “Wait, mom and dad had a lake home!?”  But over the last few years, because of the Generational plan, that reaction has shifted to “Whatever we do, we are not getting rid of mom and dad’s lake house!’” 

“The results are gratifying to the club not simply because of the increased activity,” Dave said, “but also because of a more youthful rhythm that permeates the club.”    

Not only has the Reynolds Generational program padded the membership rolls with younger blood over the last half decade, but member retention numbers are up as is income from the six golf courses and clubhouse restaurant and bar. Members pay a one-time $100 “activation fee” for each family member they sign up for the Generational Membership option. This is pretty much standard at other communities with a legacy program. 

creek club reynolds lake coconeeCreek Club, Reynolds Lake Oconee, Greensboro, GA

The Generational Membership option is available only to the top-level Platinum membership — $60,000 initiation, all six courses — but a Silver membership ($30,000, two courses) can be upgraded at any time without restriction.  Family members in the Generational program have access to five of the community’s six courses, more than enough diversity for a two-week summer visit with mom and pop; and the member can always pay a guest fee and take a child or parent to play the beguiling Creek Club course as a guest.

Those looking for a lake home in an active community might be intimidated at learning Reynolds has a “mandatory” membership program; when you buy a home or lot, you must commit to one of the two club memberships when you close on your real estate, both of which offer golf and many of the community’s other impressive amenities.

“It’s an odd obligation that you don’t see many places” Dave admitted.  “But because the resulting benefit is that the dues obligation is spread to nearly every member, even the highest level of dues is still under $1,000 per month.”  With nearly everyone in the Club contributing dues, there are few revenue surprises for the club or its members, even when the economy goes soft.  

Those who decide to buy a piece of land at Reynolds and build later can save up to 45% on dues until they live in the community full time. Then they can upgrade, if they want, from a two-course membership to the full six-course membership.

Other notable legacy memberships

The Cliffs Communities in the upstate area of South Carolina and one near Asheville, NC, started its own legacy program in 2013. It is similar in approach to the others, but the Cliffs charges a modest $50 fee for connecting family members to the program.  Initiation fee at The Cliffs, for access to its seven excellent layouts, is $50,000, with dues around $1,100 per month.

If you are looking for a place to entertain family especially in winter, there are other nice options. The Grand Harbor Club in Vero Beach, for example, makes its family-tree trunk approach front and center on its website, advertising free access to all amenities for “the children (regardless of age), parents, grandparents, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of the member and spouse or significant other and [their] spouses…” as long as those family members do not own or lease a residence within 100 miles of the Club.”

My research for this article uncovered one irony and one surprise that induced a chuckle.  The irony was that most golf clubs with the word “Legacy” in their names do not appear to offer legacy memberships.  And perhaps the oddest “branch” of the family tree to qualify for legacy membership privileges is at the Bays Clubs, a group of country clubs located in California and Oregon. For a one-time service fee of $250, “Nannies are permitted full access to the Club, and children need not be present for a nanny to utilize the facilities.”

My Votes for Best Modern Courses in South Carolina

Every year about this time, I and the 120 other members of the South Carolina Golf Rating Panel are asked to vote for the best golf courses in the state.  Some years we vote for the best public accessible courses, other years for all courses, including private ones. As panel members, some of the fine private courses in the state are available for us to play under certain conditions.

This year we are voting for the best “classic” courses in the state and a separate vote for the best “modern” courses.  I just cast my votes a few weeks ago. Even though we receive some guidance on how to assess the golf courses, I suspect that, like me, many fellow panel members put a heavy emphasis on which courses are the most fun to play. For that reason, an otherwise visually impressive layout like the Arnold Palmer- designed Musgrove Mill in Clinton ranked #23 of 30 on my list.  It was just too difficult for this 10-handicapper when I played it.  Fun for my eyes but not for my game.

After my downgrade of Musgrove Mill for its degree of difficulty, my #1 choice for best modern course might bring cries of hypocrisy. It is the Ocean Course at Kiawah, no pushover even for the pros, but they play it from tees way behind the ones I played some years ago. But combine a brilliant Pete Dye design with all-in-one views of the ocean and the intriguing links-like layout, and excellent conditions that bely the heavy traffic the course gets, and you can’t ask for a better five-hour experience on a golf course. Of course, if the wind is blowing too hard, you might come to an entirely different conclusion.

My second-place vote went to Secession Golf Club in Beaufort (pronounced byoo-fert in SC, bow-fert in NC). Secession, which opened in 1991 and, yes, recalls the declaration of the South’s split from the North in 1860, seems almost to have borrowed the designs of 18 great marshland holes from other courses; you might believe you have played them all before just not on the same single patch of land.  When you learn that Pete Dye did the original routing but then left after a dispute with the founders of the club, and that former tour great Bruce Devlin finished the course, the attractive inconsistency in design of the holes makes some sense.  With a tough island green surrounded by marsh on its signature par 3 (echoes of the 13th at my own Pawleys Plantation), a sharp couple of doglegs around water, and wind shaping your approach on virtually every hole, anyone who loves coastal golf will love Secession.  And what atmosphere: The cannon in between the flagpoles at the clubhouse salutes the winning team in an annual event at the club — when the South wins it points South, and when the North wins it points the other way. 

One memorable hole on an excellent layout caused me to vote the Cliffs at Tom Fazio’s Keowee Vineyards as my 3rd favorite modern course in the state — and the only one of the top five located in a developed golf community. That hole is the par 3 17th, which runs to 230 yards from the tees I played; but because of the tee box’s elevation, it really required no more than a 200-yard play.  What a view!  With the beautiful Lake Keowee bending from behind the green all the way to the right front, a large menacing bunker blocking most paths to the pin and a smaller bunker back right that is preferable to finding the lake, you would love to spend an hour just banging tee shots. 

The late Mike Strantz left a legacy of imaginatively designed golf courses — some might say “weirdly designed” after they have played Tobacco Road or True Blue — but his somewhat more classic efforts are enjoyable in the extreme.  I have his Caledonia Golf and Fish Club (Pawleys Island) at #4 and Bulls Bay (Awendaw) at #5.  Caledonia is the premier public accessible course in the Myrtle Beach area, and it charges a premium, especially during the peak seasons (green fees about $200).  Like most of Strantz’s courses, each hole winks at you as if there is some mystery you are about to engage; for me, it is the golf equivalent of playing the game of Clue.  Along the way, you think you know the answers to how to play different shots but, in the end, you are left guessing on most approach shots (and on the mostly enormous greens).  Bulls Bay, while oddly more straightforward, is extreme fun for its wide-open fairways, beaches worth of sand, and an occasional “oh my gosh” hole like the 9th and 18th that play straight up a shared backbreaking hill to the clubhouse. It wasn’t fun to play in a driving rainstorm in 40-degree weather some years ago, but that 5-wood I stuck to four feet from the hole remains the only one of my five most memorable shots that didn’t go in the hole.

The rest of my top 10 are located in developed golf communities and include, in ranked order:  The May River Golf Club in Bluffton (Nicklaus); Wexford Plantation on Hilton Head Island (Arnold Palmer); the Cassique Course on Kiawah Island (Tom Watson); The Reserve at Lake Keowee (Nicklaus); and Haig Point on Daufuskie Island (Rees Jones).  As I consider the designers of my top 10 courses, I note they include eight different designers, with two each from Strantz and Nicklaus. I am asked all the time about my favorite designer, and my stock answer from now on will be “Whoever designed the outstanding golf course I played last.”

(Note:  When the SC Golf Panel publishes its list of the best Classic and Modern Courses, I will write about it at GolfCommunityReviews.com, along with some thoughts on the state’s best “classic” courses).

And the Most Popular State for Relocation is…Vermont?

That’s right.  In one of the most reliable annual surveys of where people are moving to and from, the most popular state is Vermont. In 2020 the most popular state was Idaho. 

What kind of cockamamie survey is this?  Well, it is probably the most accurate study of state-to-state migration there is, compiled by the people who actually move the people who move.  United Van Lines publishes a study just a few days after the end of each year in which it reveals which states have the highest net inbound migration and which have the highest outbound migrations. The mover has published the study for 45 years.

With a 74% net inbound migration, Vermont led other states like South Dakota (69%), South Carolina (63%), West Virginia (63%) and Florida (62%). The states with the most outbound migration will not come as any surprise: New Jersey topped that list at 71%, followed by Illinois (67%), New York (63%), Connecticut (60%) and California (59%).

United Van Lines displays a map at its website with states designated by the amount of inbound/outbound migration – dark blue for strong inbound, dark yellow for outbound, shades of each for other states – and the Southeast remains strong as an inbound region, with only Georgia and Mississippi colored anything but dark blue.  New England was also surprisingly blue, with Rhode Island and Maine joining Vermont as dark blue (although the rest of New England was either “balanced” in terms of migration (New Hampshire) or deep yellow (every other state).

jay peak vtJay Peak, VT

My daughter lives in northern Vermont and when we visit, my sense in talking with real estate agents there is that Covid has driven many New Yorkers and other urban and suburban families to look to the Green Mountain State.  Prices have jumped and listings of homes for sale have evaporated.

United Van Lines does a bit more than publish data about who is moving where. It also surveys its clients about their motivations and influences for moving.  And in 2021, almost 32% of its clients told them they moved to be closer to family which, the mover says, is a “new trend” emanating from the pandemic and the pressure it has put on lifestyle choices. Another 32.5% of clients moved because of a new job or transfer; this is a significant decrease, the mover says, compared with the 60% who moved for the same reasons in 2015. 

I have been a broken record since early in the pandemic that Covid’s effects on work and family would have profound consequences for real estate.  Therefore, I was not surprised to see this in the report on the study, especially the part about moving closer to family.

“This new data from United Van Lines is indicative of COVID-19’s impact on domestic migration patterns, with 2021 bringing an acceleration of moves to smaller, mid-sized towns and cities,” Michael A. Stoll, economist and professor in the Department of Public Policy at the University of California, Los Angeles, said. “We’re seeing this not only occur because of Americans’ desire to leave high density areas due to risk of infection, but also due to the transformation of how we’re able to work, with more flexibility to work remote.”

Attention Baby Boomers who want to move to Florida and other southeastern states: You have plenty of competition, according to United’s survey.

“…many Gen Xers are retiring (often at a younger age than past generations), joining the Baby Boomer generation. While many are retiring to states like Florida, United Van Lines’ data reveals they’re not necessarily heading to heavily populated cities like Orlando and Miami — they’re venturing to less dense places like Punta Gorda (81% inbound), Sarasota (79% inbound) and Fort Myers-Cape Coral (77% inbound).”

No state income tax in Florida, but oy that traffic.

The link to the United Van Lines study is here:  https://www.unitedvanlines.com/newsroom/movers-study-2021

Fazio Nails Top 6 of 10 in Latest Residential List

Golfweek magazine is out with its latest list of the top 200 Residential Golf Courses, and Tom Fazio dominates the top 10. Three of the top 10 courses are located in the Southeast Region, including the #1 residential course, Wade Hampton (Fazio) in Cashiers, NC; Diamond Creek (Fazio) in Banner Elk, NC; and Mountain Lake, a classic layout by the famed Seth Raynor, in Lake Wales, FL. Tom Doak, Pete Dye and the team of Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore are the only other designers to crack the top 10. 

Other highly ranked notables for which I can testify, having played them, are:  Colleton River Dye Course, Bluffton, SC (T22); Cuscowilla, Coore and Crenshaw, Eatonton, GA (T24); Old Tabby Links, Palmer & Seay, Spring Island, SC (T31); Cassique Course, Tom Watson, Kiawah Island, SC (T35); Cliffs at Mountain Park, Gary Player, Travelers Rest, SC (37); River Course, Kiawah Island, SC (38); and Champion Hills, Hendersonville, NC, Tom Fazio (T51).

For the full list, see Golfweek https://golfweek.usatoday.com/lists/golfweek-best-2022-residential-golf-courses-united-states/

The “Smartest” Places to Retire

The Internet and print magazines are filled with lists of the best places to retire, best cities for entertainment, best states for taxes and myriad other bests.  But nowhere have I seen any rankings of the smartest cities and states, those with the highest percentage of college-educated citizens. Until now.  (Thanks to faithful reader Keith Spivey who sends me all sorts of interesting surveys.)

An organization called Heartland Forward organizes data at the metropolitan and state levels, with a focus on the Midwest (but includes all states and cities in all regions).  A recent Heartland Forward study measured all states and their major metro areas, 350 in total, by “educational attainment and the share of the workforce engaged in knowledge, professional, and creative occupations.”  The organization calls it the “geography of talent” in America. For Baby Boomers who want to live in places where the citizenry is engaged in intellectual and cultural interests, it should be an effective guide.

The map of the 350 metro areas is fascinating. Hover over each of them and a text popup indicates the number of residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher and the percent of degree holders in each metro area in 2019; where that metro ranks nationwide; and the growth in educational attainment in the metro area between 2010 and 2019.  As you might expect, most metro areas that are home to universities typically rank near the top. Most, but not all.

A scan of universities located in the Southeast Region yields the following in terms of national ranking:

  • Charlottesville, VA, home to the University of Virginia, ranks 9th;
  • Raleigh, NC, home to North Carolina State University, 14th;
  • Durham/Chapel Hill, NC, home to Duke University and the University of North Carolina, 17th;
  • Austin, TX, University of Texas, 18th;
  • Athens, GA and University of Georgia, 31st;
  • Richmond, VA, and the University of Richmond, 57th;
  • Asheville, NC, and University of North Carolina – Asheville, 87th;
  • Columbia, SC and University of South Carolina, 98th;
  • and Knoxville, TN, and the University of Tennessee, 173rd.

If you want to check the nearly 340 other metro area results, Heartland Forward’s web address is:  https://heartlandforward.org/case-study/heartland-of-talent-how-heartland-metropolitans-are-changing-the-map-of-talent-in-the-u-s/ 

Cassique Course, Kiawah Island, SC