(Laurel Oaks, Prestancia, Concession)
Indian River County
(Grand Harbor, Pointe West)
(The Landings, Ford Plantation)
Georgetown, Pawleys Island
(Pawleys Plantation, River Club, The Reserve)
(Woodcreek Farms, Wildewood, Columbia CC)
Bluffton, Hilton Head Island, Okatie
(Colleton River, Belfair, Berkeley Hall)
Southport, Leland, Ocean Isle Beach
(St. James Plantation, Brunswick Forest, Ocean Ridge)
New Hanover County
(Landfall, Porters Neck)
(Cliffs Walnut Cove, Champion Hills, Reems Creek)
(Glenmore, Keswick Hall, Old Trail)
If you would like more information about any of the communities listed above, or dozens of others we can recommend, please send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org
Election 2016: All Quiet On The Golf Community Front
In this particular Presidential election, you might think that many relocated Yankees and native Southerners in Deep South golf communities are at each other’s throats as we approach November 8. After all, the results of the election in many northern states are as pre-ordained one way as they are in, say, Alabama the other way. But after interviews with residents, real estate brokers and developers over recent weeks, it turns out that coping mechanisms are alive and well across the entire political spectrum in southern golf communities. Verbal combat between donkeys and elephants is as rare as golfing eagles.
Don’t Ask, They Don’t Tell
Let’s be clear up front: If you are searching for a golf community home and want to know whether a particular community is Republican or Democrat, don’t ask your real estate agents. They are not permitted to share such information.
“No customer has asked me questions regarding [political affiliations],” says Mike Wyka, a Columbia, SC, real estate agent and resident of Woodcreek Farms golf community. “And I am not permitted to steer anyone to one location or another.” (The term “steering” goes back to the days when some real estate agents navigated couples of color away from white neighborhoods. Today, an agent isn’t permitted to answer any questions about demographics, such as “How many children live in the neighborhood” or “How many retired couples live here.”) The best you can do to determine political leanings is to check election results by county and town, freely available on the Internet (and some posted in the accompanying sidebar from the 2008 and 2012 Presidential elections).
But, in many cases, especially in the conservative South, those county results may be disconnected from votes inside a local golf community.
“Residential communities filled with those who have relocated do not tend to reflect the surrounding politics,” says Ken Kirkman, who developed the New Bern, NC, golf community of Carolina Colours after successful stints at Landfall (Wilmington) and Bald Head Island. “At Carolina Colours, I see more red than blue, but it is not an overwhelming preponderance.”
Registered Republicans in New Bern itself comprise 57.7% of the electorate, with Democrats at 41.6%. Presidential voting in New Bern the last two cycles reflected that composition, but in 2008, the state of North Carolina gave President Obama a narrow electoral victory over John McCain, the first time the state had gone blue since 1976 (Jimmy Carter). Mitt Romney beat the President by a couple of percentage points statewide in 2012. Yet, as of this writing, Hillary Clinton was leading Donald Trump in most North Carolina state polls.
Sometimes declaring a political point of view in a golf community can cause shock and awe. I learned this during a July 2008 barbecue with neighbors in Pawleys Plantation in Pawleys Island, SC, where my wife Connie and I own a condo. I thought I’d have a little fun with my conservative neighbors during that heated summer of Presidential politics, and I said something like, “What’s wrong with a universal healthcare system?” There was nothing funny about their reaction, and I have not tried to provoke political discussions since then.
Going Silent to Get Along
One of my customers has learned to navigate community politics more deftly than I in the two years he has lived on Daniel Island, 15 minutes from Charleston, SC. He moved there from Florida with his wife and children. (He prefers to remain anonymous.)
“In our Florida golf community,” he told me, “I declared myself a Democrat to a member of my golf group. He was shocked beyond belief.”
The couple was active in political campaigns in Florida and involved in the governance of their golf club, but they made the decision to adopt a lower profile after their move to South Carolina. They have turned their efforts more toward community projects, such as their children’s schools, the girl scouts and a local food bank.
“It is impossible to avoid political discussions in the locker room and men's grill,” my customer says. “But how one chooses to participate in those discussions can help to avoid lots of strife. [My fellow members] have not tried to make me feel uncomfortable.”
Recent polling for the 2016 election indicates tight races in some southern states. Mrs. Clinton appears to be securely in the lead in Virginia, and Florida and North Carolina are rated as tossups by Real Clear Politics, which averages all state polls. Georgia, which has not gone Democrat in a Presidential election since 1992 (Bill Clinton), is also rated a tossup, while South Carolina, always Republican, is “leaning” toward Donald Trump. In this most contentious and nasty of Presidential elections, the tone and tenor inside the gates of most golf communities seems to be détente.
Mandatory Dues Communities A Mixed Bag of Bargains
The recession of 2008 created commitment anxiety among potential golf community homebuyers. More and more of them are recoiling at the idea of paying mandatory golf dues. Originally used in the 1990s and early 2000s, during the boom times of golf community development, such membership dues models were designed to stabilize country club financials and encourage use of the facilities.
But today, even buyers who expect to play a lot of golf over the next 10 years or more are wary –- scared might be more like it –- of a “roach motel” obligation; you can check in but you can’t check out of some country club obligations. In at least one case, such a mandatory club membership has led to a lawsuit that is pitting member against member and has eroded real estate values in an otherwise fine community with 27 holes of Tom Fazio golf. Contrarians who like to buy on bad news would do well to keep a close eye on the community of Callawassie Island since all other fundamentals appear to be positive. And prices, based on a recent scan of homes for sale at Callawassie, seem comparably lower than in other competing communities.
The Callawassie community is located between Bluffton and Beaufort, SC, in the town of Okatie and shares an entrance with the upscale golf community of Spring Island, where homes are priced mostly from $1 million. Although Callawassie’s real estate has always been of good value, today you can find a range of homes priced on average well below their pre-recession values. I recently counted five single-family homes currently for sale at under $200,000. One 3,889 square foot four-bedroom house is listed for $346,500, or around $89 per square foot, virtually unheard of for a golf community with 27 holes by a top architect like Fazio. Eight lots in the 22-year old Callawassie are selling for under $10,000 and one of the members at the center of the lawsuit has been offering a lot she owns for just $1.
That resident, Lolita Trifiletti of Charlotte, purchased a lot in 2005 at Callawassie, according to the Island Packet newspaper, which serves the Hilton Head and Bluffton areas; she planned at the time to build a vacation home there. She paid an initiation fee of $15,000 for her non-golf club membership, signing up for $100 per month in dues; she anticipated maintaining a “social” membership, literally, that did not include golf. Faced with declining full-golf membership, the Callawassie Club, which had been purchased by club members in 2001, consolidated all memberships into one, and began charging a much higher monthly fee than what Ms. Trifiletti committed to -– more than $700 per month. (Those who opt for unlimited golf pay an additional $300 per month.)
Board Puts Its Foot Down
When Ms. Trifiletti attempted to resign her club membership, she was informed that she owed $38,000 in unpaid dues, or about 4 ½ years worth, and was required to find someone to take over her membership. The club’s board has sued more than a dozen club members for non-payment of dues.
Callawassie is not the only golf community in the area with a mandatory golf membership. The well-regarded Bluffton golf communities of Berkeley Hall, Belfair and Colleton River all make club membership mandatory for anyone who purchases a property, a policy that attracts serious golfers with long-term views but also scares off potential buyers who find such an obligation intimidating. Before 2008, some residents had voted their confidence in these communities –- and the national economy -- by purchasing additional lots, some that went for as much as $500,000 each. But after the recession, these lots were unsalable and, yet, the legal obligation to pay nearly $20,000 a year in member dues, homeowner fees and taxes on each property remained. Some of those unsold lots are still listed today for sale at $1 in an attempt to get out from under the annual obligations. Given that homes in the three communities are selling well and prices have risen almost to pre-recession levels in recent years, those $1 home sites sure seem like a bargain, even with the attached obligation.
Back at Callawassie, its club’s board remains steadfast that its contract with members is valid and that the members’ legal responsibility is to pay their obligations. The members are pointing to ambiguous language in the original member documents they claim gives them an out. The South Carolina Court of Appeals found enough ambiguity in the arguments of both sides to refer it for trial in a lower court.
Contrarian Play Could Be Bargain
Meanwhile, Callawassie Island’s web site indicates a $15,000 initiation fee is still in place and monthly dues are $714 (plus $300 if you opt for the full golf membership). A recently added option offers $60 rounds of golf in lieu of the extra $300.) No mention is made on the page of what happens if you decide to resign your membership.
The ongoing battle is a lose/lose for all homeowners at Callawassie; uncertainty makes potential buyers skittish about buying a home (and golf membership) there and keeps prices lower than inherent values. Lower prices are to no one's advantage except, perhaps, for future buyers. The smart money may bet on a settlement of the lawsuit before the lower court rules and be ready to take a serious look at Callawassie shortly after it does.
Founder & Editor
Home On The Course, LLC