Every year, an unbiased group of golfers in North Carolina weigh in on their favorite golf courses in their respective states. Based on defined criteria, such as condition, layout originality and other characteristics that can make or break the experience of a round of golf, the votes are rolled up into rankings that are available to those of us trying to decide where to play on a vacation or how to choose a home on the coast, beside a lake or in the mountains in this diverse geographical state.
Here are some highlights of the panel's latest list which was published in April.
Donald Ross' epic Pinehurst #2 continued as the most highly rated golf course in the state. Although Pinehurst members have to share all their courses with vacationing golfers from around the world, membership is a bargain for those a) who live in the area most of the year and play a lot of golf and b) can afford the $40,000 membership initiation fee. Pinehurst #8 weighs in at #10 and Pinehurst #4 at #12 on the panel's list. The 3rd rated course in the state, Mountaintop Golf Club in Cashiers, is as advertised, a Tom Fazio gem with plenty of altitude. Home prices in Mountaintop are high too, starting at the seven-figure level. The famed Wade Hampton golf course in Cashiers doesn't quite have the glow it once did in these rankings, but the homes around it are aging gracefully, and a #11 ranking in a golf-rich state is still nothing to sniff at.
River Landing, Wallace, NC
Farther down the list, a few highlights: River Landing's River course, one of two in the Wallace, NC, community located adjacent to Interstate 40, is ranked #25 and its companion Landing course at #46, forming a nice pair in an interesting community developed by a local family. There are currently 38 homes for sale in River Landing, just 45 minutes from Wilmington, starting in the low $200s. Another great pair are the two courses, 45 holes in all by Nicklaus and Dye, at Landfall, a community perfectly located between the active city of Wilmington and the ocean at Wrightsville Beach. The Dye course is ranked 29th and the Nicklaus course 37th. Homes are priced from the mid $300s.
Chapel Hill is one of those urbane smallish cities that seem to check every box for those looking for a golf community home away from mountains and coast. Governors Club (#31) is the top golf community in the area, featuring 27 holes of Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf. (Note: The designation "Signature" means that Nicklaus himself designed the course, not someone in the Nicklaus Design shop.) I note a current home for sale in the community for $319,000, but more typical are those approaching $500K in the high-quality Governors Club
Treyburn, Durham, NC
I have written much about the McConnell Group's collection of top golf courses in the Carolinas, and they are well represented in the North Carolina rankings. McConnell's Old North State Club, a sleek, lakeside Tom Fazio layout in a remote area mid state, is perennially ranked in the top five in the state, #4 for 2017. Lower-priced homes have been selling fast at Uwharrie Point, the adjacent community, but one is available for just under $300,000 and a few under $400,000. Treyburn in Durham is a bit more connected to civilization, with prices to match (average price about $500,000 but a few nice homes as low as the high $200s). Residents are active in the club whose course was also designed by Tom Fazio. At #36, and yet another Fazio layout, Hasentree in the town of Wake Forest is one of McConnell's more recent pickups and is easily accessible from the towns of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. It, like all other McConnell clubs, are available to members for one reasonable joining fee and dues. Let me know if you would like more information on the McConnell Group collection of courses.
Scotch Hall Preserve, Merry Hill, NC
I will stop at #50 in the rankings, Scotch Hall Preserve in the tiny town of Merry Hill. Located on the inner reaches of the Albemarle Sound, this is one of the best Arnold Palmer design courses I have played, using the sound -- which actually looks like a wide river -- for a brilliant backdrop. Scotch Hall had some startup issues pre-recession, but there is no denying its peaceful, yet remote, location and its reasonably priced real estate for those looking for a community about a decade young. I note a cute, three-year-old craftsman style home is currently listed for $289,000.
If you are considering a search for a permanent or vacation home in a golf-oriented area, please contact me for a free, no-obligation consultation at firstname.lastname@example.org
Golf Communities for Sale Show Challenges, Charms
The GPS system in my car was of little help when I looked for the golf community of Bright’s Creek in the North Carolina mountains seven years ago. When I crossed into the town of Mill Spring, I found the first gas station and asked for directions. “Never heard of it,” the guy behind the counter said when I asked for Bright’s Creek. But a patron kindly pointed toward an adjacent roadway and said, “Up that way…but the sign at the entrance is very small.”
Slow start for Bright's Creek
Indeed it was, but once inside the gates I was rewarded for my persistence. I enjoyed wonderful lodge accommodations for the evening and a sleek Tom Fazio golf course the next day. The course was a sight for all eyes, surrounded by mountains that were dotted with a few large homes for those who invested early, and at a substantial level, at Bright’s Creek. Unfortunately, that investment has not yet been rewarded, the community having suffered through multiple changes in ownership over the last eight years. Competition among golf communities in western North Carolina is intense, and remotely located communities like Bright’s Creek have significant challenges to get noticed. Despite having signed up to host a Web.com Tour event a few years ago, the positive effects of marketing have fallen short.
Bright’s Creek, Mill Spring, NC
I reference Bright’s Creek and two other golf communities I have visited (see below) because all appear to be for sale currently, according to the web site maintained by Land Advisors Resort Solutions. The other two are Bay Creek in Cape Charles, VA, and Tennessee National outside Knoxville. The Bright’s Creek offer includes 120 finished lots, six built condominiums and 3,000 acres available for future development, as well as all the established amenities, including the golf course and its clubhouse.
Jack and Arnie together
Bay Creek shares Bright’s Creek’s location issue. Set near the southern tip of the Delmarva Peninsula about 10 miles north of the 20-mile-long engineering marvel known as the Chesapeake Bay Bridge & Tunnel, the community is just a little more than a half hour from Norfolk, but the $20 bridge fare each way limits both commuting and frequent trips into the city for dinner or other entertainment. Yet Bay Creek is just a couple of hours from Washington and Baltimore and a couple of hours farther from Philadelphia; and, as I have pointed out previously, it is close enough to the New York metro area that a foursome could leave the city at the crack of dawn and be on the first tee of one of Bay Creek’s two excellent golf courses by 1 pm. The same is true for a couple from New York who choose to purchase a vacation home at Bay Creek.
Bay Creek has done an underwhelming job of marketing its assets over the years, although the community has been more active in that regard in the last couple of years, perhaps in anticipation of a sale. Its assets include the charming bayside town of Cape Charles, two excellent golf courses, a shrewd developer who exacted important tax and other concessions from Cape Charles’ town fathers, and the reasonable proximities to major east coast cities, not to mention the less than one hour to Norfolk’s serviceable airport and full-service city. Bay Creek also holds the distinction of being the first community to feature layouts by Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. The courses are tough enough to keep a single-digit handicapper engaged over multiple rounds but, at the same time, the more forward tee boxes will give the less accomplished average player plenty of fun. All will enjoy the views of the interior of the Chesapeake Bay which, in Cape Charles, appears more like a wide river.
Bay Creek, Cape Charles, VA
With some creative marketing, more golfing buddies from as far north as Boston would understand that Bay Creek, about halfway to Myrtle Beach, offers an enjoyable long weekend or week of golf. And retirees looking for either a vacation or permanent home with virtually year-round golf would understand that a golf home in Bay Creek would put them within an easy ride of family and friends back home. (After 25 years, the community still has more than 10% of its properties to be sold.) More than 500 acres of additional undeveloped land are being offered in the sale, as well as all the amenities, including the two golf courses. Developer Dick Foster sold his properties at the marina a few years ago.
Ooh, ooh that smell...
Tennessee National was not burdened by its location, as nearby Knoxville is a university town with plenty of services and entertainments. The community was one of the first developed by Medalist, a company led by former PGA star Greg Norman. Whether Norman’s other interests (wineries, clothing, multiple marriages and divorces) absorbed his attention or whether Medalist misinterpreted the market by too-optimistically counting on sales to pay for the golf course and other early amenities, Tennessee National has sputtered. It was also the victim of bad luck, or incautious research, depending on how you view such things. A stretch of Watts Bar Lake along Tennessee National’s edge was closed to fishing in 2008 because of contaminants, and the resultant publicity turned away potential buyers with an interest in lake activities, as well as those with environmental concerns; and, just as onerous (or should we say, “odorous”), the wind apparently shifted in 2008, a few years after Medalist opened the community, carrying the pungent odors from a nearby mushroom farm in the direction of the community. Try explaining that during a “discovery” weekend. (Apparently that problem has since been solved.)
Nevertheless, the golf course was a visual delight, with plenty of sod-lined bunkers to give it a British feel, as well as the panoramic views of the lake. And real estate, although belatedly, became more reasonably priced after 2008, in large measure because of the combined effects of the recession and a rush by original owners to sell their properties. More properties for sale, not to mention bad news in the market, always exerts downward pressure on prices. According to the Land Advisors web site, the offering at Tennessee National is for 134 lots, 900 acres for future development, the golf club and marina.
Tennessee National, Vonore City, TN
I reached out to Land Advisors to discuss these three properties but the company did not respond. I wanted some idea of how they were going to market three significantly different communities and whom they thought might be potential buyers. After all, conservatively managed firms like Metropolitan Life (Reynolds Lake Oconee) have invested in large, underpriced golf communities, providing a shot in the arm to the notion that the mass of baby boomers still facing retirement are a significant target audience. We have noticed as well that golf course conglomerates like the Escalante Group out of Texas have been buying golf courses, some surrounded by real estate. Apparently smart money does not believe the mass media’s theory that golf is dead.
Assuming that officials are dealing with the polluted Watts Bar Lake, Tennessee National probably stands the best chance of a sale, given its proximity to a nice-sized city and the infrastructure investment in the golf course and other amenities. Bay Creek, with a little imaginative marketing -– maybe sponsor and fund some round-trip buses from the New York and Philadelphia areas, for example –- is just close enough to civilization to attract vacation and permanent home owners. Bright’s Creek is perhaps the most attractive topographically of all three, given the mountains that surround the impeccably designed and conditioned Fazio golf course. It is a community perfect for those who want to live in splendid seclusion but just close enough to an exciting city like Asheville, an hour away and always worth the trip. I have visited all three of these communities and was impressed with their layouts -- both the golf courses and the communities themselves. Golf communities for sale offer the benefit of typically lower prices on real estate affected by some market anxiety. (Why, for example, reasonable potential buyers might ask, is the community for sale?) But sometimes the explanation is reasonable, such as the developer/owner of Bay Creek getting on in years. If any of these communities seem attractive to you, I'd be pleased ask the tough questions and make sure, in your behalf, that a bargain is truly a bargain. Contact me by clicking here. Of course, if you are in the market for an entire golf community, I'd be pleased to serve as the middleman.
Larry Gavrich Founder & Editor Home On The Course, LLC