It seems like heresy for someone who reviews and writes about golf communities to stipulate that golf communities aren’t the best choice for all golfers. But that is reality, and in recent months I have helped customers purchase homes near excellent golf courses, but not adjacent to them.
These communities are every bit as nicely landscaped as nearby golf communities but do not impose the same level of overall carrying costs. Golf is available nearby, either in the form of private club membership or enough publicly accessible golf to enthuse a serious golfer.
One such community is Alston Plantation in Pawleys Island, SC, home to one of the best collections of golf courses anywhere. Alston is less than five minutes away from Heritage Plantation, Caledonia Golf & Fish Club, True Blue Plantation, Pawleys Plantation and the Founders Club. Caledonia and True Blue offer a combined annual membership that is almost laughably inexpensive for the kind of quality golf they offer, less than $2,000 per year, without payment of an initiation fee. (Caledonia is on virtually everyone’s list of the best of 100 golf courses in the Myrtle Beach area.)
“I can’t imagine living among all these courses and playing the same one 90% of the time,” says Mario Lattanzio, who purchased a vacation home in Alston Plantation two years ago. “If I did want a golf membership though, the deal at Caledonia/True Blue seems to be as good or better than anything you would get in your own golf community.
“But I kind of like the fact that I am equally free to play at any golf course and don’t feel an obligation to a home course.”
Here are two other non-golf communities in Beaufort, SC, Celadon and Habersham, located near excellent golf and a charming coastal city. There are many more examples I would be happy to discuss if you contact me.
I had a nice tour of Celadon, a small community in Beaufort, SC, during a recent golf trip to Secession Club. Secession is essentially a “national” golf club with most of its members flying in for a long weekend or week of golf. The club does, however, offer a few local memberships, and you can’t get more local than Celadon, which is less than five minutes away from the course and the charming Beaufort, SC. Experienced developer J. C. Taylor, a principal at Blue Sky Real Estate Company, drove me around the community and the Beaufort area and hit all the essential justifications for a golfer to consider a community like Celadon, which is named for the pale green color of much-prized Chinese pottery.
“The Celadon name was inherited," J.C. told me. “We went through an extensive branding exercise and determined the name was quite good. The color green implies many things, but nature, wellness, green building, and soothing typically come to mind. Celadon embodies all of these.”
Justification for a golfer to buy into a non-golf community include, of course, costs; the charming, Low Country style homes in Celadon start in the mid-$300s if you use one of the community’s approved builders, but you are perfectly free to choose your own architect and design (as long as it meshes with the overall look of Celadon’s other homes). Home sites run from around $75K to $125K.
Homeowner association fees are super reasonable at just $2,200 per year, but that is not because Celadon skimps on amenities. The Wellness Club -– the club is staffed and membership is included with HOA dues –- is as well outfitted as many we have seen in much larger and higher priced golf communities, and it includes a junior Olympic swimming pool, steam rooms, certified personal trainers and even a spa.
The two tidy models I walked through were beautifully outfitted with hardwood floors, nicely appointed cabinetry and top-notch appliances; to maximize the sense of community at Celadon, front porches are mandatory for each design, and a network of sidewalks and pocket parks enhance the convivial nature of the community.
Golfers looking either for a club to join or courses to play ad hoc will not be disappointed in the area. Sanctuary Island Golf Club is a links style course a mere six miles from Celadon with a no-initiation fee membership available at dues of just $339 per month per couple. ($258 for a single member.) I haven’t played the course but I have driven by it; it has been well reviewed online, although some point to conditions that seem to vary from season to season. Dataw Island, itself a golf community with two fine layouts (Arthur Hills and Tom Fazio), is just seven miles away and offers non-resident memberships. And if you like safe and secure golf, you won’t do any better than The Legends at Parris Island, inside the gates of the famous marine base, about a half hour from Celadon. The course is well rated and green fees are just $31 and up.
Do a quick online search with the terms “habersham” and “golf club” and you might have a notion there is a golf course inside a community named Habersham. But the online page for Habersham Golf, complete with a logo that looks like it belongs to a golf club, is nevertheless clear about its intentions: “While Habersham doesn’t have a golf course, that doesn’t mean there’s not golf at Habersham!” Indeed, almost three-dozen male golfers will testify to that. And, it appears, a group for female golfers is in the offing. (“Stay Tuned!” the club’s web site announces.) The club’s home course is The Legends at Parris Island, where the men play every Tuesday year round; on Thursdays, they rotate the choice of course among more than a half dozen other local clubs.
For those who crave the perquisites of a private club and are happy to spend what they save by living outside a golf community, Callawassie and Chechessee Creek Club are within 20 minutes. Of Chechessee, its co-designer Ben Crenshaw told LINKS magazine: “It’s Lowcountry, but it’s low key. It’s a very quiet place to play golf. It’s really that simple.”
Habersham, which seemed alive but itself quiet during a drive through I made a couple of years ago, is squarely in the camp of “new urbanism,” which combines living, working and a commercial center. A few residents actually live where they work, above their shops or offices. Others can easily walk to work in the town center and, still others, who are blissfully retired from work, simply like the small town pace of a community like Habersham or Celadon. Habersham is considerably larger than Celadon and features restaurants, retail shops and offices in its “marketplace.” It isn’t every residential community that includes, for example, an Indian restaurant inside its gates.
As many of us prepare for retirement, we dream of playing golf everyday. But like me, you also know full well your marriage would not survive it, and neither would your body. Better to pace yourself and promote connubial bliss by aiming for a few rounds per week. Let’s say you are able to negotiate a schedule of four rounds weekly: Will you be content playing the same layout (or two) over and over again, like the golfing equivalent of Phil Connors (Bill Murray) in Groundhog Day? If not, read on. We have a few ideas on how you can get the most out of your golfing retirement by playing the most golf courses –- and, in some cases, for annual costs that are lower than for a private membership at a club with just one course.
Different Golf Course Every Day
You could play a different golf course virtually every day of the week by living in one of the South’s best golf communities. The best choice, in terms of proximity and quality of courses, is the legendary Pinehurst in central North Carolina. With the addition of National Golf Club a couple of years ago, a Pinehurst membership now makes nine good-to-great golf courses available to its members for an initiation price of around $45,000 and dues of $445 per month (the latest fee schedule we could find was dated 2014); this membership provides full access to Pinehurst #1 through #6 and advanced tee times for the other courses. Initiation is pegged at $25,000 for unlimited golf only on Pinehurst #1 through #6. You must be a resident of Pinehurst to gain membership. If those prices are either too steep or you simply want the freedom to play as you go at whatever golf course you want, Pinehurst and Southern Pines areas will not disappoint, with more than 40 layouts you can access as a member of the public. One of them is Tobacco Road, the Mike Strantz masterpiece -– a few would say “messterpiece” for its wacky hole designs -– in nearby Sanford.
The Cliffs communities boast seven lavishly tended layouts that stretch from the Asheville, NC, area south to the Greenville and Lake Keowee areas of South Carolina. Membership in the Cliffs country clubs is tied to each property; make sure if you purchase a resale at The Cliffs that the owner of the property is a Cliffs club member, otherwise you may be shut out (or compelled to purchase a developer or resale property with membership attached). Initiation fees range from $25,000 to $50,000. The latest Cliffs golf course to open (in 2011) is at Mountain Park in Travelers Rest, a sporty, links-like affair designed by Gary Player along the Saluda River. Our other favorite Cliffs layout is the Tom Fazio design at Keowee Vineyard; Fazio uses the lake to great visual and routing effect. The long par 3 17th hole may be the best one-shotter in the state, and certainly the most dramatic. Count on great conditions and excellent service at all the Cliffs golfing venues.
The state of Georgia sports two of the best multi-club communities anywhere. The upstate Reynolds Plantation provides three levels of membership, depending on how many and which of its six golf courses you intend to play regularly, with initiation fees that range from around $22,000. But within each membership plan is an option, for a slightly higher dues level and the payment of green fees that permit you to play the courses not included in the basic plan. (Note: Initiation fee for unrestricted play on all six courses is $65,000.) Figuring out which plan to opt for may cause you to involve a computer or accountant, but the quality of the golf courses is worth noodling around with the numbers. Down by the coast, and just outside the exotic city of Savannah, The Landings provides its own roster of six golf courses by the likes of Fazio, Palmer and Arthur Hills. Initiation fees are around $30,000 for full access to all six courses, which provide as much variety of layouts as you will find along one stretch of the coastal South, ranging from parkland to marshland to hybrids of both. Because all its golf courses are within a reasonable cart ride of each other, The Landings has one of the largest and most convivial group of members anywhere.
For the ultimate in golfing excess, some will consider The Villages in north central Florida, a “city” unto itself and the source of both praise and ridicule (and each opinion very much along political lines). Suffice to say that 35 golf courses within a half hour or so of each other will sate the most gourmand of golfers; and for those who consider The Villages something of joke, understand that many of the 100,000 retirees who live there are laughing all the way to the first tee.
Semi-Private Membership with Privileges at More than Six Clubs
Most retirees who have spent decades as golf club members will insist on a private club in retirement, perhaps one like those described above, or one with just a single golf course. Old habits die hard, and the pleasures of a club where the golf course is well groomed, pace of play is quick, everybody knows your name and the staff treat you royally are difficult to give up.
But for others not used to the perquisites –- and the costs -– of country club living, but every bit as interested in playing a lot of golf, an “affiliate” membership in a consortium of clubs is a viable alternative. In the wake of the 2008 recession especially, many golf club operators with a bit of cash to spend bought up hard-pressed golf clubs and stitched them together into an attractive group that those who love variety can play for a modest initiation fee and deeply discounted green fees. In the Myrtle Beach area, for example, two groups of Chinese businessmen purchased a combined 35 area courses, fully one-third of all courses considered part of the area’s “supermarket” of layouts. One, named Founders Group International, owns a total of 22 clubs, including Pawleys Plantation (Jack Nicklaus), Long Bay (Nicklaus), Kings North (Arnold Palmer) and TPC Myrtle Beach (Tom Fazio), some of the most popular and best reviewed courses on the Grand Strand.
The sign-up fee for Founders’ Prime Time membership to all 22 courses in its group is just $225, after which green fees start at $33 per round (cart included) and free rounds are accrued after as few as two 18-hole trips. Up to three guests can play with you at discounted rates. As a second-home owner and long-time member at Pawleys Plantation, I am an automatic member of the Prime Time group, with the same privileges as others (except my member dues of around $300 per month gets me free play at Pawleys Plantation and the waiver of the $225 initiation fee for Prime Time membership). Frankly, if I purchased my condominium today, rather than in 1999, I would not opt for a full membership but would instead go for the $225 Prime Time membership. I am not in Pawleys Island often enough to justify a membership more suited to someone who can play the golf course a few days per week, year round. (Note: There has been some noise lately in the Myrtle Beach media that the Chinese owners of the area's golf courses may be in legal trouble back in China.)
There are many other group memberships that work like Prime Time. One example is in Bluffton, SC, which is home to some of the most upscale private golf communities in the South, including Palmetto Bluff (and its May River Golf Club), Colleton River (two and a half courses by Jack Nicklaus and Pete Dye), Belfair and Berkeley Hall, with 36 holes each by Tom Fazio. But those latter three communities all require a mandatory golf membership with the purchase of property; for those unable or unwilling to commit to such a plan, Brown Management, which owns five courses in Bluffton and one on Hilton Head Island, offers a reasonably priced membership that encompasses all six of its courses, which includes the Old South Club.
What distinguishes the aforementioned memberships from others is that you can own a home that is not in a golf community, generally pay less (or nothing at all) for the amenities on offer there and, often, pay less for a home comparable to one in a nearby gated golf community. For more on non-golf communities near excellent golf, see the article at left.
The Network Solution: Some Clubs Offer Hundreds of Courses to Members
One of the best deals in membership, especially for those for whom travel distance is of minor consequence when searching for excellent golf, is to join a club managed by a company like Troon Golf, ClubCorp, or the Arnold Palmer and Billy Casper management groups. One of the attractions when these firms pitch their services to a country club is that members have access to most courses managed by the company. The Tournament Players Club was one of the first to offer such privileges to its members and, today, TPC members have access to more than 30 of its layouts, many of them familiar as hosts of annual pro events. If, for example, you are a member of TPC Prestancia in Sarasota, FL, you have access to TPC River Highlands outside Hartford, CT, and host of the Travelers Championship, a favorite course of PGA tour players. Joining fees for TPC vary but $15,000 to $25,000 is probably a good range estimate.
ClubCorp claims more than 3,400 holes of golf under its management umbrella, about 430,000 members and some of the most recognized golf courses in the U.S., including Firestone, Mission Hills and The Woodlands. For a modest extra fee, members of any of the 200 ClubCorp clubs may access any other club in the system. ClubCorp runs country clubs we are especially familiar with, including Woodside Plantation in Aiken, SC, Cateechee in Hartwell, GA, Currituck Club on the Outer Banks in Corolla, NC, Neuse Golf Club in Clayton, NC, The Golf Club at Indigo Run on Hilton Head Island, SC, and Queen’s Harbour in Jacksonville, FL. They are all excellent.
Because it represents one of the best values in private club memberships, we have written often about the McConnell Group, which is based in Raleigh, NC, and has stitched together a dozen of the best private golf clubs in the Carolinas and, as of a few months ago, Tennessee, with the addition of the Donald Ross designed Holston Hills outside Knoxville. Join one McConnell club and you gain access to all the others. Your initiation fee depends on your “home” club, but we have seen such fees as low as $5,000 in recent years at The Reserve Club of Litchfield just south of Myrtle Beach. If you live in the Raleigh/Durham area, where McConnell clubs include Raleigh Country Club, Treyburn and TPC at Wakefield Plantation, you don’t have to drive too far to enjoy multiple layouts. And Greensboro, home to McConnell’s Sedgefield Country Club, with 18 holes designed by Donald Ross, and another 18 by Pete Dye, is just an hour away.
Larry Gavrich Founder & Editor Home On The Course, LLC