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Proximity to a charming southern town, Beaufort, and a languid beach, Hunting Island State Park, both 20 minutes away, provide the rural Dataw Island with special status, but I will never forget that long drive into the community over marsh and through a forest of live oaks that was a special setup for this well-rounded community loaded with southern atmosphere.
Daniel Island, Daniel Island, SC
Daniel Island is not really a golf community but rather is a community, in all senses of the word, with golf. And what golf it is, two 18 hole championship layouts by Tom Fazio and Rees Jones, the “championship” part not used lightly here since what is today the Web.com held its championship event at Daniel Island for a number of years. Most special of all, though, is that Daniel Island is a self-contained, full-service community that is the embodiment of the New Urbanism movement, with schools, shopping and medical facilities all in one place. It is enough to keep anyone on the island (except, perhaps, for work) but if the urge for an urban excursion hits, everyone’s favorite southern city, Charleston, is just 20 minutes away.
Grand Harbour, Ninety Six, SC
The special aspect of Grand Harbour, located beside Lake Greenwood in rural South Carolina, is that its Davis Love III golf course is literally in ruins. Love, who has a fanciful side that many who have watched him on the professional golf tours may not recognize, noted the land on which he was to build a golf course was just a few miles from the site of an important Revolutionary War battle that destroyed a Patriot fortress. He commissioned the construction of brick ruins that mimicked those of the fort, and placed them strategically around his rolling layout. It is quite a surprise the first time you see these unique “sculptures” behind greens and next to tee boxes but after a while, it becomes just part of the landscape. Still, it is something special to tell the folks back home about.
Greenville Country Club, Greenville, SC
There may be no two golf courses included in one membership that are of better quality than the two at Greenville Country Club. The Riverside Golf Course, designed in the manner of a Seth Raynor classic layout, was updated a few years ago and has yet to receive the plaudits it deserves; nevertheless, the South Carolina Golf Rating Panel ranked it the 46th best course in the state in 2016. There is no such waiting around, however, for the club’s Chanticleer Course to get its due as the Robert Trent Jones Sr. layout is consistently ranked in the top five in the state, beaten only in 2016 by The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, Harbour Town Links at Sea Pines Plantation, Sage Valley and the splendid May River Club at Palmetto Bluff in Bluffton. The two courses at Greenville CC may be three miles apart, but they form one of the more special membership tandems in golf.
Pebble Creek, Greenville, SC
I don’t know of any other clubs in which membership confers full playing privileges at a private and a public course adjacent to each other. But tucked inside the community of Pebble Creek are two such layouts by architect Tom Jackson, who lives just up the road from the club. The owner of the two courses, Lindell Young, a native of Myrtle Beach, cut his teeth in the golf industry on the Grand Strand and he watches over his two layouts with the pride of a mother hen. He has hatched one of the best bargains in golf club membership anywhere. Pebble Creek is also home to a very active men’s golf association.
Keowee Key, Salem, SC
For retired couples looking for the best bargains in golf community homes, I don’t know of any lower prices than at Keowee Key, where it is not unusual to find a nice selection of homes at under $100 per square foot. (Similar bargains are available at Savannah Lakes Village on Lake Thurmond in McCormick, SC.) Keowee Key has the benefit of a location beside the beautiful and clean Lake Keowee, which is home to other golf communities whose lot and house prices begin at double the average price for a Keowee Key property. Bargains at Keowee Key are its something special.
Champion Hills, Hendersonville, NC
Champion Hills is aptly named. It certainly has the hills, mountains really as the Blue Ridge Highway is nearby. And its singular “champion” is its golf course architect, resident and member of the club and hometown boy, Tom Fazio. The architect built Champion Hills to be his home course and, local scuttlebutt has it that he discovered the property the community and golf course are built upon. Fazio is known for his high standards, and those who superintend the club and course that bear his name take seriously maintenance of those standards. Most Fazio golf courses are special, but none more so than Champion Hills.
Haig Point, Daufuskie Island, SC & Bald Head Island, NC
Our only pair of special communities, I mention them together because they share one special attribute, and that is they are located each on a true island -– that is, an island that is not reached by a bridge connected to the mainland and is closed to vehicular traffic other than golf carts, which are essentially the mandatory mode of transportation. For those who don’t own a helicopter, a trip to either of these islands is by ferry. Bald Head is a resort island, crowded in summer, with a links-style golf course (open to any who want to take the ferry from Southport) that plays inside the many high dunes along the island’s edge, but with some impressive peeks at the ocean. Haig Point is a bit more laid back, yet private, never seems to be crowded, and features 29 holes of golf by Rees Jones (the 29 signifies that two holes can be played from entirely different tee boxes). Such island living isn’t for everyone, but for those who appreciate it, it is quiet, un-polluted by smells or noise, and indeed something special.
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What Makes Some Golf Communities Special
Those readers who are careful proofreaders may wonder why there is no question mark at the end of the title above. That is because I am about to share my thoughts about what makes certain golf communities special, no question about it.
At my web site, GolfCommunityReviews.com, I have already written about three such communities; Treyburn in Durham, NC, Wintergreen Resort in western Virginia, and The Reserve at Lake Keowee in upstate South Carolina. Here are a few more special communities, and some notes on what makes them so. (See attached sidebar for some quick notes about other special golf communities.)
Mountain Air, Burnsville, NC
Having played many rounds of golf on crowded municipal golf courses in my youth, I became used to waiting between green and tee box to hit my next drive. What was unique between holes at Mountain Air was that the wait was for an airplane to take off from the airstrip that bisects the golf course.
At 4,400 feet, Mountain Air’s golf course is at the highest altitude of any community course I have ever played, and not only will I will never forget waiting for an airplane before playing my next shot, but also the six iron I hit more than 200 yards, not especially hard to do when you are six to eight stories above the green below. The Mountain Air layout may take some criticism for being quirky but I have rarely had more fun or looked out on more splendid views than from the Scott Pool routing. The same goes for the clubhouse dining room, which appears to hang over the runway, a great vantage point from which to observe the landing skills of the weekend pilots who use the airstrip.
Cypress Landing, Chocowinity, NC
This may be the least known golf community I write about and recommend (enthusiastically). A number of things make it special, including a solid financial balance sheet that is managed like a conservative company’s by its club and homeowner boards; a location near one of the east coast’s major, but underrated, medical centers in Greenville, 20 minutes away; and real estate prices that are among the most reasonable per square foot in the South. But Cypress Landing’s location is what makes it special. Sited along the Pamlico River, which is actually a finger off the Atlantic Ocean that stretches inland about 35 miles from the Pamlico Sound beside the Outer Banks, Cypress Landing amenities combine water and land activities, with a golf course that takes full advantage of the water views. And there is another asset to the community’s location just off US Highway 17 and about 40 minutes from Interstate 95; residents will find it an easy half day’s drive home to New England or the middle-Atlantic states or, better yet, a magnet for family and friends who might find the Carolinas or Florida a trip too far to make occasional visits.
Carolina Colours, New Bern, NC
New Bern was founded more than 300 years ago, but the special camaraderie shared by residents of Carolina Colours never gets old. Spend a few hours on the community’s fun golf course and in its clubhouse, as I did a few years ago, and it doesn’t take long to understand that Carolina Colours people like each other and are eager to welcome newcomers to their community. The evidence, and what makes Carolina Colours special, are the Friday night get-togethers in the modest sized but well laid out clubhouse when the community’s snack bar chef gets to strut her stuff as an accomplished chef. Here’s a great piece of advice: If you are interested in a reasonably priced home in the Carolinas in a community of enthusiastic residents, visit Carolina Colours and make sure your visit includes a Friday evening. You’re welcome.
Landfall, Wilmington, NC
It is really hard to choose just one thing that makes Landfall, the sprawling Wilmington community, special. So we are not going to even try. The combination of three things –- proximity to beach and a fine southern city, both less than 15 minutes away, and 45 holes of golf by Jack Nicklaus and Pete Dye – confers a special designation on Landfall. The sand and ocean, just a few miles out the back gate of the community, is at Wrightsville Beach, and the city of Wilmington, which features a major branch of the North Carolina university system and is a magnet for Hollywood movie producers looking for real Southern backdrops, is just a few miles outside the front gate. Both urbane and casual, Landfall checks many boxes.
Brunswick Forest, Leland, NC
Golf communities suffered during the recession that began in 2008, and some have not fully recovered yet. But Brunswick Forest, which opened in the mid 2000s, skated right through the recession, maintaining its status as the best selling golf community on the east coast in the latter part of the first decade of the century. The recipe for success was simple, and what makes Brunswick Forest special: Offer an extremely well-priced land and house package, an imaginative, links-style golf course that pays for itself with outside as well as member play, and amenities like a large and professionally outfitted Wellness Center, and both retirees and local families will beat a path to your community. Moreover, the Lord Baltimore Capital organization had the deep pockets to withstand the recession and the good sense to work with a local developer of experience and savvy. It’s a special combination.
The Landings, Savannah, GA
No community this side of The Villages in Florida offers more holes of golf and has more activities than does The Landings, where 8,000 people make their home -– some year round, some seasonally -- on almost 5,000 acres. Once inside the gates of the sprawling community, you and your neighbors will feel as if you are a long way from anywhere; but with the exception of Landfall in Wilmington (above), no full-service golf community we know is closer to a big city than is The Landings, with downtown Savannah and its many charms just 20 minutes away. This makes The Landings a viable choice not only for those used to the perquisites of urban living, but also for those who are quite content to stay far from the maddening crowds. Indeed, with an active marina on site and a boat club that caters to casual captains, as well as experienced ones, Landings residents can float as near or far from the city as they want.
Reynolds Lake Oconee, Greensboro, GA
There is no guarantee, but putting down roots at Reynolds Lake Oconee could improve your golf game dramatically. That’s because Reynolds is home to The Kingdom of Golf, what Vice President of Marketing David Short described to me as “the Mayo Clinic for golfers.” The Kingdom includes two highly respected teachers, Charlie King and Rob Bowser; a Taylor-Made fitting center that ensures your clubs are perfectly suited to you; and a Taylor-Made trailer where you can watch your clubs being made. On any given day, you could find that Brian Harmon or some other PGA tour player is testing out new equipment in the hitting bay next to you. And when you are ready to put into practice what you’ve learned, or to break in your new, perfectly matched set of clubs, six of the best-conditioned and most interesting layouts in the nation are just a cart drive away. In all its aspects, the game of golf is special at Reynolds.
DeBordieu Colony, Georgetown, SC
All beaches in South Carolina are open to the public which means that any golf community that abuts the beach –- there are precious few on the east coast north of Florida -– have to share their sand with the general public. But if you are going to share the sand on DeBordieu’s two-mile long beach, you better own a boat with an anchor or a helicopter with a rope ladder; DeBordieu is gated and guarded and access to the beach is not through the front door. In other words, residents of the 2,700-acre community have the beach pretty much to themselves.
And the Pete Dye golf course too, as it is one of the few strictly private clubs among the more than 100 courses in the Myrtle Beach area. Although you can hear the ocean from the golf course, and smell the ocean air, you never quite see it beyond the $3 million and up homes that look out to the Atlantic. But residents of DeBordieu, where house prices start around $500,000, get to share the millionaire amenities of the beach club, golf clubhouse and nearly 800 acres of wildlife preserve.
For some quick takes on other “special” golf communities, see the accompanying sidebar.
Larry Gavrich Founder & Editor Home On The Course, LLC