People love lists, especially those with a round number of entries like 10, for example. Consider the following list and descriptions as shorthand for why couples with certain criteria should consider a golf community like Reynolds Lake Oconee. I will add other high-quality communities to the list in future editions of Home On The Course. As ever, if you would like more information on any community or any golf-rich area of the South, please do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here is what I think makes Reynolds worthy of consideration.
Six outstanding golf courses
Except for Pinehurst and The Landings in Savannah, we know of no other golf communities with six or more golf courses available to their member residents. At Pinehurst, you share your club with lots of traveling golfers; because there is a Ritz-Carlton inside the gates of Reynolds, hotel guests have access to five of the six excellent layouts; the sixth, Jim Engh’s Creek Club, is off limits to non-members. It is a feast for the eyes and looks way more difficult than it is (though no pushover). A wide range of membership plans are offered.
Homes to suit every taste and most budgets
Champagne taste and a beer budget will still get you a comfortable 2-bedroom, 2-bath “cottage” overlooking the fairway of The Plantation Course for just $179,000. And the house is furnished! Single-family homes start at $388,000 currently, and that will get you 2,500 square feet comprising 3 bedrooms and 3 ½ baths, a two-car garage and hardwood floors on the main level. You can spend more if you like, up to nearly $4 million for a 10,500 square foot behemoth with stunning views of the lake and golf course (and a 1,000 bottle wine cellar).
Customers who eventually purchased a lot and built a home in Chapel Hill, NC, loved Reynolds but thought it was too remote. That was three years ago, and a lot has changed since; a large and growing local golf community with residents who have built up resources over the years will do that to a town. In the last year, a new hospital has opened a mile outside Reynolds’ gates, and the Publix supermarket even closer to the entrance is as large and comprehensive as any such facility we’ve seen in the South. With all there is to do inside Reynolds –- the golf, the lake, the clubs, the social events, the continuing education opportunities – “remote” gets a “so-what” response from Reynolds residents.
Hotlanta just 90 minutes away
For those stir-crazy former urbanites who need their city fix every once in a while, Atlanta is less than 90 minutes away, its sophisticated northern suburbs even closer. Atlanta has become quite the foodie’s refuge in recent years, and if you live at Reynolds and are traveling long distances on vacation, Atlanta's international airport is one of the most sophisticated in the nation, with flights to virtually everywhere, including Europe, South America and Asia.
The marketing officials at Reynolds recently changed the community’s name from Reynolds Plantation to Reynolds Lake Oconee. Some wags will claim that owners Metropolitan Life Insurance are being politically correct in eliminating from the name a term with connotations related to slavery. Perhaps that is an accurate assumption but in playing up the lake in its new official name, it is trading on its biggest asset. The lake itself is big -– the second largest in Georgia -- beautiful, a center for dozens of activities, including all manner of boating and excellent fishing, and a magnet for all those grandkids who visit during summer. After an exhausting day of golf, doesn’t a moonlight cruise sound inviting?
Got Met, It Pays
Speaking of names, give Metropolitan Life credit for leaving the Reynolds name attached, even though the community went into bankruptcy during the Reynolds family’s reign. But before the recession cost them their community and Met Life swooped in to save it, the Reynolds clan plowed lots of money into building one of the most recognized, aggressively marketed multi-golf-course communities in the nation. Met Life is a conservatively managed organization that knows a good deal when it sees one, and its deep pockets are a sign that the financial future looks as bright at Reynolds as the sun shining on a crystal clear lake.
Flexible Membership Program
We can share specific numbers with anyone interested in the membership plans at Reynolds –- it is a bit complicated – but here’s the outline: You can opt for a plan that gives you unfettered access, without the payment of extra green fees, for two, four or all six of the community’s golf courses. Initiation fees range from the low $20s to around $60,000 for golf on all courses without any additional payment (other than monthly dues and cart fees). For additional dues payments and nominal green fee payments, those who opt for the lower initiation fees and fewer number of golf courses can have access to the other courses, but will pay nominal green fees. I told you it was complicated, but if you want all the details and numbers, write me at email@example.com, and I will have our real estate professional at Reynolds, Jere Mills, send you the membership package.
Gentleman Real Estate Agent
Speaking of Jere Mills, I have known him for almost 10 years and when I say he is straight out of central casting for “Southern gentleman,” I am probably understating it. I haven’t embarrassed him by asking to see his customer testimony file, but I am sure it is loaded with hosannas about how he takes seriously his search for the perfect home for his customers. If ever there was a reason to look seriously at a golf community because of the integrity and seriousness of purpose of one of its salespersons, it is at Reynolds Lake Oconee.
Putting On The Ritz
You don’t see this very often in a golf community, but Ritz-Carlton has maintained one of its high-end hotels inside the gates of Reynolds since just after the Reynolds family began selling lots there in the 1990s. If you have rich relations or friends who insist on staying in a hotel when they visit, you and they could certainly do a lot worse than putting up at the Ritz. Typical rooms are in the $400 range but we couldn’t help but notice that during the first weekend in April, the only rooms available were priced around $1,300 per night. It turned out there was a modest little golf gathering down the road about 70 miles in Augusta and some attendees chose to lodge at Reynolds.
Eat Your Heart Out
Reynolds is conscious that the surrounding town of Greensboro isn’t exactly Charleston or New Orleans when it comes to restaurants. It wisely offers nine dining establishments inside the gates, and lists of on-site continuing education courses we’ve seen include seminars on food and wine. But every once in a while, you just want to get away and eat in town, or even farther afield. You can do that in Greensboro, especially after the opening of The National Tavern recently, an eatery where one food critic from Atlanta wrote, “every bite was amazing and [she] never wanted it to end.” There are a few other options including Yesterday’s Café, where I consumed a nice meal at the lively bar a few years ago. But for serious dining, Atlanta northern suburbs are a little over an hour away and offer a good selection to top restaurants. Just don’t drink too much before the drive home.
If you would like more information about Reynolds Lake Oconee or would like an introduction to our professional agent there, Jere Mills, please send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Florida Conundrum
Comprehensive Living, But At A Price
There is no doubt that Florida is back as a destination for baby boomers seeking sun and fun. After a few years of net population loss, Sunshine State developers are back to building everything from inexpensive condos to estate homes. The U.S. Census Bureau tells us why: “For the first time in almost a decade, Florida added more people than California between July 2014 and July 2015…[The state] gained 365,703 people, leapfrogging over New York to become the nation’s third most populous state, after California and Texas.”
Sunshine State golf communities can be an easy choice for those on a fairly strict budget, with many homes costing less than $200,000; and although some of the state’s golf communities offer an endless buffet of amenities for one reasonable price –-The Villages near Ocala, for example –-retirees targeting golf communities with real estate choices in the $300,000 to $600,000 range have a decision to make that has less to do with the homes and more to do with golf: The carrying costs in many top golf communities in Florida are a significant percentage of real estate costs.
Take the triumvirate communities of Piper’s Landing, Jonathan’s Landing and Harbour Ridge, all located inside a 45-minute circle with Port St. Lucie and Jupiter at the edges, and with homes generally starting in the $300s. These communities, like most of their mid-priced competitors along the east coast of the state, feature the widest range of amenities available to all residents for one set dues level. The golf courses are excellent and well conditioned, with 36 holes each at Jonathan’s and Harbour Ridge, and 18 at Piper’s. I daresay these communities are well financed also since club membership is mandatory with the purchase of a home; as long as homes are on the tax rolls, the clubs have a steady flow of revenue to lavish on the courses, their clubhouses and other amenities.
It (Almost) All Comes Back to You
At first look, initiation fees seem high as well, in the $70,000 area, but most of that down payment is returned a couple of weeks after members sell their homes. Of course, the new owners of the house understand the obligation of the mandatory membership and the annual dues payments. But the carrying costs are high on a relative basis, in some cases as high as $30,000 annually. The highest annual carrying costs we have encountered outside Florida are around $20,000 for such communities as Colleton River, Belfair and Berkeley Hall in Bluffton and almost as much at Haig Point on Daufuskie Island, SC; club membership is mandatory at Colleton River, which includes terrific Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus golf courses, but not at the isolated Haig Point where, if you are not a member, you could feel very lonely.
The argument for paying the high carrying costs at the Florida communities is that they tend to cover just about every activity and luxury inside the gates, including some unexpected ones. At Piper’s Landing, for example, every membership includes golf and tennis, trail fees (use of your own golf cart on the course and in the community for no additional fee), 24-hour security, water and sewer charges, enhanced cable, trash pickup and staff gratuities. At many communities we have encountered, a trail fee can run up to $2,000 annually. Most of the homes in Piper’s Landing –- except “custom” built homes -- also receive free landscaping for the $22,600 to $25,400 in annual dues. The community also assesses capital fund and clubhouse renovation fees that amount to about $2,500 annually per home.
You Get What You Pay For.
At Piper’s Landing’s sister club, Harbour Ridge Yacht & Country Club, the story is much the same. After an initiation payment of $84,000, of which $68,000 is refundable at the time you sell your home, total annual payments for the club and POA fees is in the neighborhood of $25,000 if you include the optional annual trail fee. But as is the case in many upper-end Florida golf communities, a “neighborhood” assessment is required in addition to the overall POA fees. At Harbour Ridge, those assessments range from $0 (for some of the custom homes) to $2,600 per quarter, or more than $10,000 per year. Note that these neighborhood payments include landscaping, maintenance of each community’s pools, trash pickup and pest control in the condo neighborhoods, as well as contributions to reserve funds used for painting and road repair in most areas.
In the end, the decision to live in one of these types of Florida golf communities comes down to whether you mind writing many checks for in-community services or prefer writing just a few that come out to a slightly higher total. More importantly, it depends on whether $25,000 to $30,000 in carrying costs fits your annual budget.
Why Golf Doesn’t Rank Near the Top as an Amenity
CarolinaLiving.com, a web site for which I write a column about golf living, has produced some new data about what amenities are most important to those intending to move to North and South Carolina. The results are revealing as much about the psychology of retirees as they are about which amenities communities might be wise to offer their future residents.
CarolinaLiving, which is based in Columbia, SC, used data from 4,000 “households” that responded to its online questionnaire. Folks over the age of 50 who are considering relocation to the Carolinas use CarolinaLiving as a resource for information about a wide range of topics related to the two states, from the best places to eat to the best hospitals.
Golf Just Misses The Top 10
The top 10 amenities of choice among the responders, in order from #1, are: Walking Paths, Shopping, Gardening, Swimming, Bicycling, Museums, History, Fishing, Boating and Health Club. You will no doubt have noticed that Golf is not on the list; Golf finished at #11, just ahead of Computers, Marina, Canoeing and Clubhouse.
If that ranking implies that the game of golf is in trouble, then consider the alleged plight of Tennis, the only other “competitive” sport on the list, which finished at #18, stuck between Civic Clubs and Sailing. On a relative basis, at least, golf seems to be in pretty good shape.
There is no doubt that communities, with or without golf, need to offer as many activities and amenities as they can to attract the widest number of retirees (and the children and grandchildren who will visit them once or twice a year).
“Based on 130,000 surveys over 30 years,” says Pat Mason, co-founder of Carolina Living, “developers and property owner associations need to pitch a robust and wide band of lifestyle activity options to address all members of the family.”
The golf game’s mediocre ranking on the list is the result of a few factors. First, people tend to idealize their retirements before they actually look for a new home. Golf is burdened with the perception of being a “soft” sport, not particularly aerobic, especially when you use a golf cart, and I understand why “swimming” and “walking” would show up more often in responses. Out-of-shape 60-somethings, like yours truly, see themselves tending to their fitness and wellness once they “finally” will have the time to exercise. If that sounds far fetched, consider that “Museums” and “History” are ranked #6 and #7, respectively, in the survey. After living part-time in a retiree-oriented community in South Carolina, and having visited a couple hundred other golf communities, I have never met a soul who touted access to a local museum (in most cases because there isn’t one within 50 miles); my wife and I have made it to the Burroughs-Chapin Museum in Myrtle Beach, the only art museum in the area, as well as a few in Charleston, but I’d say our visits averaged out to once a year. My ratio of golf rounds to museum visits is about 40 to 1. In other words, the notion of museums being truly the 6th most important activity for retirees is just that, a notion.
Cost Implications Hurt Golf’s Rating
Golf and #10 Health Club are probably the only activities of the top 11 that require a fee for use. Most of us will not assume we have to pay for fishing and swimming, and certainly not to shop, walk or garden (except for purchasing the seeds). Wariness about spending too much in retirement might very well be driving the golf numbers lower, and the spectre of "free" activities may be driving their numbers higher.
The implication of golf’s costs probably works against the game’s ranking more than anything. Certainly, we all know that there are plenty of golf communities throughout the Southern U.S., and most of them have facilities for swimming, walking, bicycling, fitness (health clubs) and gardening; and many on lakes and rivers include boating and fishing. (I’ve yet to find a museum inside the gates of a residential community.) Many pre-retirees, with some justification, consider that golf communities will exact a higher tariff in terms of dues and other carrying costs, and that swimming and fitness carry no cost in communities without golf (not true in many cases). That too could pollute the responses somewhat and make golf appear a little less popular than it is.
There is no denying that golf is relatively expensive. But then so is a meal with a bottle of wine in a nice restaurant (even more expensive in a Nice restaurant!); or a cruise through the Greek Isles; or a major league baseball game (especially if you consider the $8 beers and $6 hot dogs). We know of private golf community clubs that can be joined for less than $3,000 and semi-private clubs for way less than that (some for no initiation fee at all). A well-thought-out budget can absorb the costs of golf; and after a 40-year career, raising a family and sacrificing some of the luxuries of life, that seems like the least you can do for yourself.
The Creek Club at Reynolds Lake Oconee, designed by Jim Engh, is the only strictly private club of the six in the community. (Guests at the on-site Ritz Carlton are granted privileges at the other five courses.) On view is the par 3 13th hole, short but with a wildly shaped snake of a green with severe mounding but surprisingly accessible pin positions (if you don’t mind five foot breaks).