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Flee Market: A Sampling of Golf Communities Outside U.S.
It was a brutal, contentious Presidential election season with a surprise ending. As it became clear Donald Trump would be elected, the official Canadian government web site that explains how to migrate to the country crashed. Ironically, given much of the rhetoric during the election, Mexico, Costa Rica and other countries in Latin America suddenly also became of greater interest to thousands of U.S. citizens. I know of at least one other person who was on his iPad, checking out golf homes for sale in Scotland late on election night as the winner became clear.
Although much of the interest in overseas living was a knee-jerk response to a newly elected President both loved and loathed by equal numbers of voting Americans, some citizens will indeed opt to expatriate themselves. For them, we offer the following select sampling of current homes for sale near excellent golf in a few locations around the world. For those who are resigned or excited to remain stateside, please contact me to discuss what golf communities are correct, politically and in other ways, for you.
Located in the Kingdom of Fife about 90 minutes north of Edinburgh and just nine miles from St. Andrews, Crail is a postcard perfect fishing village on the Firth of Forth. The Crail Golfing Society manages two absolutely wonderful courses –- Balcomie Links, formed as much by Mother Nature as by Old Tom Morris in 1894, and the more modern, but terrain-appropriate Craighead Links by Gil Hanse, recently of Rio Olympics fame. You will need to learn to drive on the other side of the road, but Crail is so walkable that a car is virtually superfluous. After Brexit, the British Pound Sterling weakened against the dollar, making real estate considerably cheaper. Check out this four-bedroom bungalow in Crail for just $359,000 U.S.: http://www.rightmove.co.uk
Cobble Beach Resort, Kemble, Ontario, Canada
Georgian Bay is a sister lake to Lake Huron, lying just to the east of Huron and about one third of its size, which is to say pretty big. Canadians, most of whom grew up swinging a hockey stick, and they have transferred that love to golf. Thus, a golf resort like Cobble Beach can attract strong interest as a weekend or summer getaway for active residents of Toronto. The golf course was designed by Doug Carrick, a noted Canadian architect, and lucky him that he was granted a piece of property where every fairway could have a view of Georgian Bay. Whether it is a marketing ploy or a reflection of Cobble Beach’s popularity, but most of the homes for sale on the resort’s real estate web page are marked “Sold.” Check out the others, priced from $379,900 CAN ($280,576 US), at: http://cobblebeach.com
Forest Lakes Country Club, Ardoise, West Hants, Nova Scotia
The golf courses of Cabot Links and Cabot ???, located in the remote Cape Breton area of Nova Scotia, have generated all buzz in the last few years in this part of the golfing world. For those interested in playing their regular golf closer to civilization, Forest Lakes may be worth a look. Importantly, it is located just 35 minutes from the modern and fairly large city of Halifax, which can lay claim to an airport with plenty of flights to the U.S., Europe and the rest of Canada. The community also sports the only Nicklaus design layout east of Ontario. The homes appear to be beautifully designed, reminiscent of the homes we have seen inside The Cliffs communities and Reynolds Lake Oconee. One-bedroom condos are available from $257,000 US, and two bedrooms from around $388,000 US. We note that this detached cottage of two bedrooms is on the market for less than $200,000 US (sorry, a German real estate web site was the only one we found with this listing): https://www.engelvoelkers.com
Cabo San Lucas, Baja California, Mexico
That long strip of water-surrounded land below California is the Baja of Mexico, and it is loaded with terrific golf courses and killer ocean views. Cabo San Lucas was one of the earliest parts of the Baja to be developed, and it is home to more than a half-dozen oceanfront layouts within a few miles of each other. They bear the names of some of the best designers in the game, such as Nicklaus, Love and Norman; four years ago, they were joined by Tiger Woods after his first golf design was unveiled in Cabo. Given Cabo’s proximity to Southern California and its popularity for vacationers and homeowners alike, you would think prices would be higher. This listing for a condo at just $389,000 US says otherwise: http://www.cabo4sale.com
Two Reviews of The Roach Motel
In the last issue of Home On The Course, I wrote about Callawassie Island Club and its trip through the South Carolina court system. In short, the club is enforcing what it believes is its contractual right for members who wish to resign to sell their membership to other parties and settle up for dues in arrears, which amounts in some cases currently to $30,000 and more.
I’m no lawyer, and I attempted to present the case as objectively as I could, relying on local news reports and comments to me from a few local real estate professionals. (I have since read the South Carolina Court of Appeals documents and would not change a word in my article, although I might add a few.) To make its point about Callawassie’s requirement that its members sell their memberships before being permitted to resign and stop paying dues, the Court cited the line from The Eagles’ Hotel California: “You can check in any time you want, but you can never leave.” In my article I made a similar point by referencing another lodging, “The Roach Motel.”
One Callawassie Club supporter took me to task.
“Your reference to ‘roach motel’ is totally off the mark,” he wrote. He added that he thought the Hotel California reference by the court was “inappropriate” because you can “leave” Callawassie if you “reduce the price on your home to one that reflects the true market value and sell it to someone who then must take over your membership.” Golf courses in thriving communities add to the value of the surrounding real estate; this seemed an admission by a defender of the Callawassie Club that the club is having the opposite effect on home values in the community. I found his suggestion for his fellow residents to sell at any price in order to get out from under the club membership obligation ironically amusing; he accused me of being “grossly unfair to folks who live on CI whether they are selling their property now or will in the future.”
In short order, that Callawassie member’s note was followed by one from an attorney who has been looking at golf communities in Florida and can’t understand the logic of six-figure initiation fees, large dues payments and the inability to resign without selling your membership to someone else.
“In your last e-mail you mentioned the concept of "Roach Motel Obligations" when one joins a country club,” he wrote. “I well agree with the analogy.”
He went on to describe the nightmare scenario of mandatory club membership that is on the minds of many baby boomers retiring to golf communities:
“Even if one becomes sick, financially or physically, one is obligated to continue paying the dues, which range between $18,000 and $28,000 per year,” he wrote. “Thus, purchasing a home in any one of these communities becomes not only a very expensive enterprise; it also becomes a lodestone around your neck almost in perpetuity.”
Although those numbers in upscale Florida communities are substantially higher than in fine Carolina and Georgia communities, our correspondent gets to the heart of the matter about mandatory golf memberships anywhere.
“When I have to pay $125,000.00, up front, to join a Golf Club Community, plus $25,000.00 per year, for dues, plus HOA fees, plus real estate taxes, plus food and beverage minimum, golf cart fees, plus, plus, plus,” he added, “I wonder whether I'm getting value for my money.”
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
Smorgasbord of Golf Membership Plans from Low Calorie to Super Rich
When a couple goes hunting for a golf community home that will be priced well into six figures, you would think a golf membership would be a distant secondary thought. But most of those looking at golf communities are golfers, and all those considering golf community living –- golfers or not –- need to make sure that the golf club inside the gates is successful and, for sure, sustainable. A failing country club almost always leads to falling home values. A successful one props up property values.
Although golf memberships fall into only two broad categories –- private and semi-private -– there are permutations within each that make the appropriate choice mesmerizingly confusing. Below we describe some of the most prevalent types of private club memberships, and the pros and cons of each. (I will follow with some thoughts on semi-private memberships in our next newsletter.) I am happy to assist those who want more information or a sounding board for their choices.
Private Club Memberships
Private club memberships are of two broad types, equity and non-equity. An equity membership basically provides a stake in the club that includes voting rights and the ability to transfer the membership to another person in the future, typically the person who buys the member’s home (but not necessarily). In the best cases, a member who resigns will get all or most of his/her money back. Equity memberships, which are typically priced higher than their non-equity counterparts (see below), were especially popular in the roaring 1990s and early 2000s when golf communities were pretty much a seller’s market. Developers pitched equity memberships as a way not only to give members a voice in the running of the club, but also to sustain the club financially long into the future. Once a club reached a certain level of members, organizers believed, those holding equity shares either would feel compelled to remain even during times of economic stress, or they would find others to purchase their memberships. Either way, the model pretty much assured the financial viability of the club. (The recession of 2008 pretty much changed all that; see below.)
Other developers less sure that a club could sustain itself long term if dues-paying members abandoned ship when the economy soured decided to impose a mandatory membership plan; that is, if you purchased a property -– house or home site -– in a fine community like Colleton River in Bluffton, SC, you were compelled to join the club at a modest joining fee but also with a contractual obligation to pay monthly dues until such time as you were able to sell your membership to the person who purchased your lot or home. That worked fine for Colleton River and other mandatory golf membership communities until the 2008 recession when, suddenly, property owners, many of them second home owners, were stuck with an obligation that was harder to pay as their investments, businesses and employment became less secure. And for those who had speculated by purchasing an extra lot in those communities, a commitment of around $20,000 per year with no near-term possibility to sell their properties drove some to try to give away their lots for nothing. Today, a few lots in the upscale Bluffton communities are still priced at $1 each.
The Cliffs communities in the mountain and lake areas of the Carolinas and a few other communities introduced a new wrinkle on the mandatory membership model by giving new owners of properties the option to purchase a golf membership at the time they purchased their new home or lot. However, if a property owner declined membership at that time, they could never join the club unless they purchased another developer lot, or the home of another resident with an attached membership. Whether attaching membership to the property rather than the person was clever or short-sighted on the part of the developer, the program had the effect of compelling membership and helping to sustain the extremely lavish clubhouses, golf courses and other amenities that characterize the Cliffs Communities conceived by Jim Anthony. Where Anthony probably outsmarted himself was in thinking the economy, and therefore sales at the expensive Cliffs, would continue in a straight line upwards; and that he could justify charging initiation fees that reached $125,000. When the recession came, sales at The Cliffs, which in effect had already been spent in advance on the amenities (and an ill-fated Tiger Woods designed golf course), dried up and the membership model collapsed faster than in any other golf community. Since then, new owners of The Cliffs have reduced the initiation fee to $50,000 and provided a short amnesty period for property owners who had chosen not to join originally. That helped reinvigorate memberships in the seven Cliffs clubs. But today, new property owners still have to make the call about joining at the time they close on their propertIt's.
The Pros of Private Club Memberships
Couples used to a country club lifestyle during their career and family-raising years are not going to want to abandon that lifestyle when they retire. On the contrary, whereas during our earning years we may have had time to use the club just on the weekends –- and maybe not that often if our kids played school or recreation sports on Saturdays –- now in retirement we can use the facilities virtually every day of the week (except maybe Monday, when most clubs are closed). That brings the cost per round average down to tolerable levels, both financially and psychologically.
Couples who may not have been able to afford a country club but now find that many private clubs in the Southeast U.S. charge nominal initiation fees and monthly dues that are reasonable see themselves getting the benefit of a private membership. We have encountered private clubs that charge less than $5,000 as an initiation fee and less than $400 per month in dues, and that includes more than golf (pool, clubhouse dining, tennis, social clubs).
And in a few cases, some golf community clubs charge even less or no initiation fees at all, and their monthly dues are baked into the overall homeowner association (HOA) fees; in those cases, members pay a deeply discounted green fee each time they play or can opt for unlimited play with the payment of an annual surcharge. The two-golf-course club at Savannah Lakes Village, in rural South Carolina, for example, fits this description of bargain golf. Club membership comes with $100 per month in HOA dues, and those who play less than weekly can pay green fees of $38 with cart for each round. The more frequent players can opt for an additional annual fee of $3,100 and play as much golf as they want just for a cart fee. For two excellent courses, named Monticello and Tara, $350 per month is a bargain.
Private Clubs for Every Taste and Pocketbook
The following provides a few samples of private club memberships at clubs that I have visited and whose courses I have played. All fees listed for "full-family" golf and are subject to change.
Upscale Private Clubs
Daniel Island Club, Daniel Island, SC Initiation fees about $85,000 for residents Monthly dues not published; estimate $800 18 holes by Rees Jones, 18 holes by Tom Fazio Of note: Just 15 minutes from downtown Charleston; homes from $600,000. Member can opt for a "cancellable" membership at lower price, which club can call at any time. Both memberships provide substantial refund when membership resold.
May River Club, Bluffton, SC Initiation fees TBD January 2017 Monthly dues TBD 18 holes by Jack Nicklaus Of note: Part of the Palmetto Bluff community and upscale resort; caddies only. Homes start around $1 million. Club expected to reduce initiation fees to $35K level but permit access to hotel guests.
Colleton River Club, Bluffton, SC Initiation fees about $15,000 Monthly dues + reserve fund fees $1,425 per month 18 holes by Jack Nicklaus, 27 by Pete Dye Of note: Membership mandatory for all residents; nearby Berkeley Hall and Belfair Plantations feature 36 holes each and similar membership plans.
Reynolds Lake Oconee, Greensboro, GA Initiation fees about $65,000* Monthly dues about $750* 117 holes of golf by Cupp, Nicklaus, Fazio, R. Jones, Engh Of note: *Wide range of membership plans start at $20,000 and dues less than $400 per month.
DeBordieu Colony, Georgetown, SC Initiation fees of $55,000* Monthly dues about $520 18 holes by Pete Dye Of note: *80% of equity portion ($34,000) returned when membership resold. Only golf community in Carolinas with beach inside gates; homes start around $500,000
Midscale Private Clubs
The Landings at Skidaway Island, Savannah, GA Initiation fees about $30,000 Monthly dues about $780 Six golf courses by Byrd, Palmer, Fazio, Hills Of note: Just 20 minutes from downtown Savannah
Champion Hills, Hendersonville, NC Initiation fees about $39,600 if paid in full Monthly dues about $899 (includes reserve fund payment of $72) 18 holes by Tom Fazio Of note: Fazio, a Hendersonville native, owns property in community. Member fee discount for those under 55.
The Reserve, Pawleys Island, SC Initiation fee about $4,000 (current special if paid in full) Monthly dues $500 18 holes by Greg Norman Of note: Membership provides access to a dozen other McConnell Golf Group courses in the Carolinas and Tennessee.
Wachesaw Plantation, Murrells Inlet, SCInitiation fee (equity) is $5,000Monthly dues $54918 holes by Tom FazioOf note: Lower priced memberships available to non-reisdents.
Bargain Private Club
Pebble Creek, Taylors, SC Initiation fee complimentary Monthly dues $200 per family 36 holes by Tom Jackson, one private course, one public Of note: One low-cost membership buys full access to both courses; designer Jackson lives in neighborhood.
Next Issue: The Semi-Private Club Options
Larry Gavrich Founder & Editor Home On The Course, LLC