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June 2019

Jeff and Joni, a couple from Connecticut, demonstrated that a search for a golf-retirement home that is well planned and organized can yield a great result, in their case a house with a great view and a location near friends and the services and entertainment options they were looking for.  Plus, our 10 steps that are fundamental to any successful search for a golf home.
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June 2019 
Callawassie Island, Okatie, SC

How to Search for a 
Golf Home in 10 Steps


I learn a lot about golf communities from my clients, and over the years some of them have demonstrated what constitutes a successful search for a golf home.  I have come to the conclusion that every successful search for a golf home comprises the same requirements.  Here is a step by step rundown of those.

Step 1 – How high or low to go

Decide on topography.  If you don’t agree as a couple on coast, lake, inland or mountains as the location of your future home, then the spouse who does not play golf should choose the location.  The golfer will find outstanding courses in any location.  If you can’t decide ahead of time and decide to search all topographies for a home, the odds of ever finding one that suits you are slim.  Certainly, you will search for a long time.

Step 2 – Some like it hot

The next decision is about the weather, specifically if you prefer a two-, three- or four-season climate.  If you choose the mountains, count on beautiful and cool summers but cold temperatures that might prevent golf play during the December to March timeframe (although some places in the mountains are thermal oddities where golf can be played almost year-round).  Virginia and much of North Carolina are catch as catch can in the winter, with many days offering pleasant golf weather but others frigid and wet.  Virtually all golf courses in most of South Carolina and Georgia claim their golf courses are open for play every day of the year, and as long as it is dry, especially along the coast, that has been my own experience.  Florida, of course, is perfect during the winter months but reliably steamy from June through September when many snowbirds fly north.

Step 3 – Urban, suburban or rural

Now is the time to decide how active you intend to be in terms of entertainment.  Many golf communities, especially the large ones, have enough going on inside their borders that they will keep you quite busy and entertained.  But for couples who enjoy theater, movies, concerts and a wide choice of restaurants, a golf community near a city will be preferable.  There are many fine golf communities near cities such as Wilmington, NC, Charleston, SC, Savannah, GA, Greenville, SC, Charlotte, NC, and the Raleigh/Durham area in North Carolina.

Step 4 – Thinking inside the gates  

It is time to decide on the amenities you must have in your new community.  If you own a boat, for example, and expect to bring it with you, it will narrow the topography to water-oriented locations (lake, river, ocean).  Some couples insist on a community in which personally owned golf carts are permitted on the streets and golf course(s).  That will narrow your search farther.  You can expect all golf communities to offer, obviously, golf, but most will also offer the following:  swim pools, fitness center, clubhouse with dining, walking trails, tennis, and other activities.  Few offer equestrian activities, so if you own a horse, expect some limited choices of golf and equestrian.  If you have a hobby and wish to meet regularly with people who share your interest, make sure to check a golf community’s web site and/or call the main number at the community and ask about its social clubs.  General rule of thumb is that the larger the community, the more clubs.  And most savvy golf communities will support a club if a resident shows an interest in starting and running it.

Step 5 – Create a budget

I have visited perfectly fine golf communities in which you could spend less than $300,000 on a house, pay dues and homeowner association fees of $100 per month and live perfectly well.  And there are other communities in which $300,000 might buy you a quarter-share of a house, and combined carrying costs of $30,000 per year are not unusual.  I have learned over time that most couples make the right move, in terms of flexibility, by creating a real estate budget with a $100,000 range from top to bottom; typically, they wind up spending near the top of the range.  My advice, though, is to spend more time thinking about carrying costs than about the initial cost of the real estate.  Decide ahead what you can afford to pay for taxes, homeowner fees and golf fees.  Also be mindful, especially if you are moving from a high-cost state in the north to the southeast that, in most cases, your expenses will drop, and possibly as much as 30% per year (mostly because property taxes are so much lower).

Step 6 – You know what you want, now find it

Now that you agree on what you want in a golf community home, and how much you are willing to pay, you can start your search in earnest.  In the 21st Century, the starting point for any search is the Internet.  But be mindful that golf communities are businesses, and those businesses know you will be using the Internet for the first part of your search.  Their goal is to get you to visit.  Therefore, expect each golf community to put its best foot forward at its web site, promoting itself as the paradise you have always been looking for.  Forget the hype and make sure that the communities you put on your list for a potential visit offer all the amenities you require.  If any otherwise qualifying community is missing one of your “must haves,” discuss with your partner if you can both live without that particular offering.  If you can’t live without it, strike that community from your list.

With thousands of communities spread across the Southeast region, you will drive yourself nuts if you conduct a search of all those that meet your specifications.  Instead, target three or four local areas you like the best and scan the golf communities in those areas.  The chances are excellent that you will find communities that match your requirements in each area. (If not, you can always expand your search later, but I don’t expect that will be necessary.)  

Build a list of all communities that meet your specs, paying special attention to the asking prices for homes on the market there.  (Keep in mind that most homes sell for 6% to 8% below their list price.)  My advice at this point is not to look at the descriptions of specific homes as that will bog down your search; at this point you should be looking for the most appropriate communities.  If you like the community, you will find a home there.

Step 7 – Planning your visits

You have built your list of communities that match your requirements.  Now it is time to plan your visits.  Some of the communities on your list will have an on-site real estate agency; others, mostly ones 30 years or older, may not.  In any case, to visit the golf communities on your list, you will need to work with a “buyer’s agent,” a real estate professional who is able to show you through the communities.  On these initial visits, it is not important to look at individual homes but rather to check out all the facilities in the community and, if possible, play the golf course(s), or at least take a golf cart spin around them, have a meal or two in the clubhouse and, if possible, meet some of the residents.  The best way to accomplish this at most golf communities is through something typically referred to as a “discovery package.”  These packages provide reasonably priced lodging, a couple of rounds of golf, in some cases a meal or two, a tour of the community with an on-site Realtor and access to the facilities that members use (fitness center, pools, clubhouse).  There is no better way to get a good sense in a short time of what a community is all about.  For those communities with neither discovery packages nor on-site real estate offices, a local Realtor can take you through the community and show you its facilities.  (I can help with the choice of real estate agents both on and off site.)

Step 8 – The Revisit

After the initial visits, you and your partner should rank the communities you toured and/or stayed at.  When Jeff and Joni returned from their initial visits to a couple of dozen communities in six different areas of the Southeast, they pretty much knew that there were four finalists.  They arranged a return visit to the four communities to look at homes and confirm their earlier impressions (or, in some cases, not).

On the revisit, a few things might happen.  Your impressions of the communities could change, some for the better, some otherwise, the more questions you ask and more comparisons you make among them.  (Jeff and Joni wound up bumping their favorite community down to number four after considering how much they would have to spend on homes that required substantial updating.)  Other than those impressions, you are revisiting to look at houses, and you could very well fall in love with one that could color, positively, your impression of that community.

Step 9 – The Deal

Once you find the right community and the right house, you have a couple of choices, depending on your financial circumstances and whether you have a home to sell before you buy.  In one case, you can buy the house shortly after you look at it with your real estate agent by putting a deposit on it.  In the second case, you can ask your real estate agent to keep you apprised of whether the home sells after you return home to put your own house on the market.  In that case, it is a good idea to have identified for your agent a second home you like almost as much as your first choice.  Therefore, if you lose the first house to someone else, you will be able to start the purchase process on your second choice with a phone call to your agent.  Jeff and Joni told me they had three homes picked out, either of which would have been fine.  They were lucky that their first choice did not sell in the week they returned to Connecticut to put their house on the market, and especially lucky that they priced their Connecticut home to sell.  It sold in one day.

Step 10 -- Close and move

You’ve done the hard work, and now you can relax (after you close on the house).  Take a walk through your new community, book your first tee time or, if it’s late afternoon, walk over to the pro shop, introduce yourself and go tee it up.  Enjoy your first dinner in the clubhouse or in a nearby restaurant.  (You won’t be cooking until the pots and pans arrive and are out of the boxes.). Celebrate for a search well conducted, a job well done.


Jeff & Joni, portrait of a happy couple
behind their new home on Callawassie Island.


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 editor@homeonthecourse.com

Paradise Found: One Couple’s Search for the Perfect Golf Home


This is the second and final part of the story of how one Connecticut couple organized and conducted a search for a golf community home and how, by all measures, that search was a resounding success.


Jeff and Joni were among the easiest couples I have worked with over the more than 13 years I have assisted people in moving to a golf community in the Southeast.  They were easy because they acknowledged each other’s requirements, were unified in what kind of community they were looking for, in total agreement that a near-coastal location was their target and that they would not prolong their search beyond two or three exploration visits. 

In terms of preparation — and I beg forgiveness for a little horn-tooting here — Jeff indicated to me that this monthly newsletter, Home On The Course, and a seminar I conducted at his and Joni’s local library (“How to Buy a Home in the Sunbelt”) helped them organize their thinking about what amenities and other features they wanted in a golf community.  Independently of each other, at my suggestion, they filled out my online questionnaire at GolfCommunityReviews.com.  Their responses lined up pretty well, and any differences were minimal and surmountable.  I knew that, because they were organized, their search would be efficient and that, barring any unforeseen snags, it would be relatively quick.

Targeting Locations

Because they had previously vacationed in the Southeast Region and had stayed with friends in Florida and the Carolinas, the couple had a pretty good idea of which areas to target for their visits.  Those included two on each coast of Florida, Bradenton/Sarasota on the Gulf Coast, and the Vero Beach area on the Atlantic Ocean side; and the Low Country of Georgia and South Carolina that runs roughly from Savannah north to Beaufort, SC.  

They flew to Sarasota in February and spent nine days visiting a dozen of the area’s golf communities.  In March, they drove from their Connecticut home to Savannah and the lowlands of South Carolina in the Bluffton area and spent seven days touring that area’s golf communities.  For each of their visits, I connected them with real estate professionals I work with who could show them the communities that best matched their requirements and interests.

Privacy and a View

One of the ingredients of their successful search was that, although they had serious requirements — pretty much “non-negotiable” items — they were few in number.  As Jeff put it, “Joni wanted to be close to an airport so we could easily fly out to see the kids.  I wanted a few excellent golf courses.”  They were also both quite clear that the home they would choose would have to combine privacy and a nice view.  I assured them that, especially since they were searching near the coast in areas that combined marshland and sprawling live oak trees, they could count on finding a home with a nice view as well as a buffer between them and their neighbors.  

Although they have friends scattered throughout the region, Jeff and Joni didn’t feel an urgency to live inside any of their friends’ communities.  They would ultimately target communities within a half-hour reach of those friends.  And though they did not require a major city within a few miles of their new home, they did not want to give up the suburban services, such as doctors and hospitals, restaurants, shopping and cultural venues they were used to.  A nearby beach was also a strong “nice to have.”

The couple used an organized approach to their trip preparations.  They sent emails to each of the real estate agents I connected them with, describing the kind of lifestyle they were seeking inside the gates of a community and the price they were willing to pay for a home.  They did not get too hung up on the exact specifications of a house, mindful that most of the communities they would visit would have a nice selection of homes in their price range, which extended up to $500,000. 

Time is Valuable

To ensure that things went smoothly when they landed on the Realtors’ doorsteps, they arranged pre-trip phone calls to each agent to figure out how much time they would need to explore all the communities that matched their preferences.

“Time is valuable for both [the client] and the agent,” Jeff told me, “and they appreciated that we had a particular timeframe in mind.” 

The agents they spoke with on the phone, after listening to their requirements, suggested Jeff and Joni take a look at the web sites of communities the Realtors believed were good matches.  A scan of the websites confirmed that the communities were indeed worth a stop.

Let the Trips Begin

First stop for the couple was Sarasota, where they met up with Dennis Boyle, who had retired from a position as Chief and Director of a New Jersey town’s fire department and moved with his wife to Florida in 2004.  Dennis maintains a comprehensive web site — http://www.suncoastgolfhomes.com/ — dedicated to golf communities along the Gulf coast between Bradenton and Venice, and his easygoing nature is a perfect complement to his in-depth knowledge of golf courses and real estate on the Gulf Coast.  Highlights of Jeff and Joni’s trip included visits with friends who live in the Sarasota area; over dinner, they were able to detail the day’s golf community visits and hear about their friends’ own personal journeys to the area.  All in all, during their time in the Sarasota area, they visited 12 different golf communities and looked at a few homes in some of them.

In the end, however, despite their knowledge of the Sarasota area and their local friendships, they decided to look elsewhere.  “For the last few decades,” Jeff said, “we had lived on two acres in Connecticut.  The homes in the Sarasota area were on one-quarter and one-third acre lots, and that just seemed a little tight for us.  And the roads were a bit more congested than we were looking for…”

In Vero Beach, they stayed with friends and visited five golf communities in the area, among them Grand Harbor and Pointe West which I feature at Golf Community Reviews.  Suzanne Leffew, who has lived in the area for a couple of decades, took them for a morning drive through the five developments and, in the afternoon, took them back to the ones they liked best for a look at a few specific homes.  After two days, though, Jeff and Joni just didn’t feel that the Vero area and its communities had what they were looking for.

“Pretty much the same issues as Sarasota with homes being close together,” Jeff told me. “And Vero was a little more laid-back than we preferred.”

The Home Stretch

The next and last series of visits started at The Landings on Skidaway Island where the couple booked a fully furnished private home for three nights through The Landings’ Discovery Program.  Wendy Reed, my contact at The Landings, toured Jeff and Joni around the 4,800-acre property that is a mere 20 minutes from downtown Savannah, and then turned them loose to essentially become resident members for their three days.  That included a couple of rounds of golf and meals at the three clubhouses, as well as a visit with Landings residents from their hometown in Connecticut.  I had assisted our mutual friends, Bill and Janet, in their search for a Southern golf home eight years ago; they have been spending seven months a year there for the last few years.

The next stop was Dataw Island, a nearly 40-year old community embedded in a beautiful stretch of marshland about 20 minutes from the charming Southern town of Beaufort and a like distance to a beautiful Atlantic Ocean beach at Hunting Island State Park.  The real estate professional I work with at Dataw, Trudy Arthur, set Jeff and Joni up with a two-night “Getaway Package” that included a stay at an on-site villa, two rounds of golf on the Arthur Hills and Tom Fazio layouts, and a $75 gift certificate for dinner.  One extra-nice touch the couple appreciated was the community’s Ambassador Program in which a resident couple is assigned to meet with a visiting couple to talk about life in the community.

“We had a delightful dinner with the recent past president of the (Homeowners) Association and his wife,” Jeff told me.

Making the Final Four

There were only a few more golf communities left to tick off their list, and even though these communities were rather spread out in the Low Country of South Carolina, my Realtor in the area, Tom Jackson, knows all of them well.  He toured the couple through five in all, and three of them — Moss Creek, Belfair and Callawassie — made the final four list — and in that order.  (Dataw Island was third among the four.)  They returned to Connecticut fully confident that their dream home was in one of those four communities.

Now, all they had to do was put their Connecticut home on the market, hope for a quick sale and then return to the Low Country to find their next home.  To say they sold their Connecticut home quickly is an understatement; the day after they listed it, they had an offer for their asking price that they accepted.  That was early in April, and the pressure was now on to identify what would be their new home in South Carolina.  

Since their four finalist communities were covered by two agents, they called both of them; one would get to sell them a house and the other one would be disappointed.  After scouring the MLS (multiple listing service) web sites for each of their target communities, they identified homes they would like to see on their next visit.  They set up appointments with Trudy and Tom for the fourth week in April to re-visit the four communities over three days. 

And the Winner is…

The final visit lasted three days during which Jeff and Joni looked at a couple dozen homes in the four communities.  Those follow-up visits turned their search on its ear.

“That second visit to the Low Country revealed some faulty recollections about two of our hot-button items,” Jeff said, “lifestyle and proximity.”  Although it is hard to discern the lifestyle of a particular community after only a day or two, proximity is finite; you can measure the distance to things you count on.  The couple loved Dataw but, when push came to shove, its one-hour drive to the Savannah airport and 45-plus minutes to their nearest friends’ home was just too far for them.  After their follow-up visit to Moss Creek in Bluffton, just over the bridge from Hilton Head Island and #1 on their list of the four finalists, they realized that although homes were fairly priced, they would need to invest a considerable amount to modernize most homes they were interested in.  At Belfair, they found one perfect house but it was under lease for another year; they did not want to wait that long, and all other potential homes in Belfair were either above their price range or lacked the view they wanted.

“[In the end], we found lifestyle, topography (a home with a glorious marsh view and plenty of privacy), economics, weather and a reasonable proximity,” said Jeff, “at Callawassie Island.”  That community had been last on the list of four communities after their first visit to the area.

Callawassie Island features the golf Jeff was looking for, with 27 holes by Tom Fazio threading their way through the marshland; and for Joni, Savannah’s airport is less than 45 minutes away, with direct service to Philadelphia where their children and grandchildren live.  Most important, they found at Callawassie a selection of three homes for sale that perfectly matched their desire for privacy and a killer view.  

“All of them had beautiful marsh views,” said Jeff, “but we chose the one that had been recently renovated, rather than deal with one that needed a bit of updating.”

Their new home is 2,500 square feet, just 50 feet from the edge of the marsh, sits on an acre studded with trees, including a few live oaks, and features floor to ceiling glass windows that maximize the views of the marshland.  There is a small lawn between the house and the marsh where the couple can relax as they take in the views, without any other homes in the way.

Before their visits to the Low Country began, I had alerted Jeff that former residents had sued Callawassie Country Club’s board of directors to get out of a contractual commitment to pay their dues.  Such publicity tends to create negative impressions, and the news seemed to tamp down home prices in the community during the court case, which had gone all the way to the North Carolina Supreme Court.  In the end, the club’s board successfully defended itself, and things have pretty much returned to normal.  Jeff told me he was impressed with the forthcoming way in which Callawassie’s marketing addressed those recent legal issues. 

“Callawassie’s legal issues were actually part of their marketing package,” Jeff said.

Joni and Jeff closed on their new home on June 1 and have begun the exhausting, yet rewarding process, of unpacking boxes.


High Life in Low Country


After scrupulous research and visits, Jeff and Joni chose Callawassie Island in Okatie, SC, over other high-quality golf communities in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.  Their choice from among four finalist communities in the Low Country of South Carolina came down to what specific homes were available for sale when they looked.  And the choice of Callawassie was the result of three homes they saw there that featured the privacy they were looking for and some spectacular views of the adjacent marsh.

If a home for sale in Belfair in Bluffton or Dataw Island in St. Helena had offered the same privacy and views, Jeff and Joni might have reasonably made an entirely different choice.  (They ticked Moss Creek off the list on their second visit because homes for sale in the 40-year old community would have required more upgrades than the couple was prepared to make.)

I have visited and reviewed Dataw Island and Belfair, as well as Berkeley Hall, a companion community to Belfair, and have arranged for clients to visit all of them.  (A retired executive of the Exxon/Mobil Corporation purchased a beautiful lot in Berkeley Hall some years ago and built his and his wife’s dream retirement home overlooking lake and fairway.)  Here are a few notes from articles I have written on these top Low Country communities.

Callawassie Island, Okatie, SC

“Callawassie is an attractive community set a couple of miles from the modest traffic on the nearest thoroughfare, Route 170, which runs between Bluffton and Beaufort.  Indeed, before you reach the community's gate, which it shares with the Spring Island community, the short trip from Route 170 takes you on a bridge over marsh, which gives Callawassie a remote feel.  This is a mature community but not by any means a dowdy one; home exteriors are up to date, the landscaping is neat as a pin, and the overall feeling is that Callawassie has grown gracefully in its 2 ½ decades.  I passed people fishing, bicycling, strolling and, of course, playing golf as I entered the community for the first time.  It felt comfortable right off the bat.  Everyone I would meet in the next 24 hours was friendly and enthusiastic about their community, whether they lived there, worked there, or both.”  Read the entire review at GolfCommunityReviews.com.

Home prices (resales) start at $219,000.

Belfair Plantation, Bluffton, SC

“Belfair's 1,100 acres are nestled between marshland and a branch of the Colleton River just seven miles from the bridge to Hilton Head Island and a few miles from the charming little town of Beaufort and the charming big town of Savannah.  The community's own charms are obvious upon the drive under a ceiling of live oak branches along the half-mile entrance, the eponymous Avenue of Oaks. 

Services in the area are excellent thanks to significant development on Hilton Head and just off the island in the past two decades.  Belfair, which offers the range of amenities you would expect, such as pools, tennis, fitness centers and fishing, combines the feeling of remoteness with the accessibility to Savannah, one of the most popular cities in the south.  And on returning from the occasional trip to Hilton Head for a day of beach or golf, you'll be thankful at Belfair that you don't have to hassle the annoying traffic to and from the island on a daily basis.
        The Fazio golf courses, called the East and West, are ranked in the top 40 of all layouts in the golf rich state of South Carolina.”  

(Editor’s Note:  During the post-2008 recession, some lots in Belfair, Berkeley Hall and neighboring Colleton River Plantation that originally cost as much as $450,000 were reduced in price to $1 by their owners.  These communities, all with multiple, fabulous golf courses, have a mandatory club membership regulation for all residents.  Owners who had purchased multiple properties were on the hook for annual HOA fees and dues of about $20,000 per property; thus the precipitous drop in prices.)

Belfair homes for sale start at $389,000.  Two lots are currently listed for sale at $1 each.

Dataw Island Club, St. Helena, SC

“If you were to draw a picture in your mind's eye of the ideal location for a golf community, you would likely conjure one that felt totally isolated from the rest of the world and yet, in reality, was an easy drive — say 20 minutes — to a functional, charming town with chain stores and boutiques, medical services and a choice group of restaurants. Oh, yes, and if you could get to an ocean beach within, say, 15 minutes, better yet.

You get all that at Dataw Island Club and golf community, located within 20 minutes of the quintessential Low Country town of Beaufort, SC, and less than 15 minutes to the sparkling sands of Hunting Island State Park. Not that you might consider leaving too often the 870-acre Dataw and its 36 holes of excellent golf, dozens of social and physical activities and a recently refurbished clubhouse that seems to have as many dining and meeting rooms as a major conference center.

What [Alcoa Corporation, developer of Dataw] left behind were two fine golf courses, one by Arthur Hills and the other by Tom Fazio, a beautifully and naturally landscaped community surrounded by wide expanses of marsh, and a master plan that put virtually every building lot within a good view of golf course, marsh, lagoon or, in many cases, a combination of all.”

Current homes listed for sale from $145,000.



Larry Gavrich
Founder & Editor
Home On The Course, LLC



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