Separate Lives: Where to play golf "outside the gates"
If a home near great golf but without customary amenity fees appeals to you, here are some interesting combinations (home descriptions taken directly from current MLS listings). Contact me if you would like more information.
“Circa 1830, fully renovated in 2009. Formal living room and dining room with wine closet. Kitchen with white carrera marble counter tops and breakfast room with French doors overlooking the private garden. Double-verandah front porch complete with hammock and porch swing as well as screened-in porch and alfresco dining area in the garden which adjoins a private office/workout space and potting shed.” 3 BR, 3 BA. A few blocks from the bay. Listed at $599,000
“To be built-Custom Built 2-Story Home with Upgraded Features including all Hardwood Floors, Ceramic Tile in all Baths, Stainless Steel Appliances, Elevator Shaft, and so much more. Floor Plan consists of: Large Great Room that is open to Deluxe Kitchen with Island, Formal Dining Room and Study on the First Level. Upstairs you will find two large Guest Bedrooms that share the Hall Bath, and the generous Master with luxurious Bath, Walk-in Closet & Exterior Deck. 3rd Floor Attic. Wet bar in the Butler's pantry by the formal dining room. Full Front Porch and Screened Porch off the Great room, a Garage to accommodate up to 4 Vehicles. Amenities include neighborhood pool and crab dock.” 3 BR, 2 ½ BA, 3,000 square feet, listed at $474,000.
Nearby private clubs: Bulls Bay (10 minutes); and Snee Farm (10 minutes)
Litchfield Beach, SC
“Panoramic Views of Creek & Marsh. Private Dock on Litchfield Creek. Walk to Litchfield Beach. High-End Custom Home. Large Screened Porch & Large Open Air Porch Overlooking Creek. Kitchen has Custom Cabinets, High-End Stainless Steel Appliances, Granite Countertops & Hardwood Floors. Large Master Suite with Private Deck. Elaborate Master Bath with Large Shower, Dual Sinks, Whirlpool Tub & Custom Tile Work. Walk-in Closets in All Bedrooms. 10 Ft Ceilings, Heavy Crown Molding, Elevator, Alarm, Irrigation, Partially Fenced Yard for Pets, Cul-de-sac. Can be Sold Furnished!” Listed at $674,999.
Nearby private golf club: The Reserve at Pawleys Island, five minutes away. (Note: This club is part of the McConnell group of eight golf courses in the Carolinas. Membership at The Reserve confers privileges at the other McConnell courses.)
“Fabulous Chanticleer home featuring 5 bedrooms-master on the main-3 full baths, 2 half baths, on over a one-half acre fenced lot. Custom built home with large living spaces and bedrooms. Four spacious bedrooms and two baths on second level plus a large bonus/recreation room AND walk up stairs to over 500 square feet of attic storage! The main level features a large dining room, den with fireplace, lovely living room with corner fireplace, master bedroom and bath, a beautiful wood paneled office with built ins, a half bath AND a lovely sunroom overlooking the sparkling in-ground pool. The lower level features a large recreation room with corner fireplace, half bath, and walk-out to the lovely patio. Home warranty available with acceptable offer.” Listed at $565,000.
Nearby private club: Greenville CC, comprising two separate courses: Chanticleer (within three minutes) and Riverside (10 minutes)
“PERFECT Bed and Breakfast setup! Don't miss this amazing 1928 Tudor, located directly across from the Hill House south of downtown. Character and architectural details abound in this historic beauty! Generous formals, limestone fireplace, light-filled sunroom, XL dining room, pro-grade kitchen, third floor studio, and a fantastic entertaining area downstairs.” 5 BR, 5 BA and more than 5,000 square feet. Listed at $659,900.
Nearby private golf club: Old Chatham (10 minutes)
“Exceptionally renovated "Not So Big" house with up-to-the-minute finishes. New kitchen & baths, new roof, HVAC, WiFi & more. New Anderson windows & doors, screened porch & patios all connect indoor & outdoor living in sublime setting. Sprawling landscaped grounds backed up to the Biltmore Estate offers unparalleled seclusion while only minutes away from Biltmore Village, downtown & hospital.” 3 BR, 2 ½ BA, listed at $655,000.
“Beautiful all brick home featuring 1st floor luxury living with exterior & lawn maintenance. The premium, 3/4 acre lot affords privacy for the outdoor living area. Cherry & granite kitchen is open to family room & breakfast room. Master suite has 2 closets, one with built-ins, plus two bathrooms joined by Roman shower. Gorgeous hardwood floors entire first floor, stairs, halls and two bedrooms up. King-sized bedrooms, exquisite architectural moldings, built-in cabinets in family room, trey ceilings, custom blinds, surround sound in family room, generator, pantry & cabinet pullouts, accent lighting, luxury island. Shows like a model. Fish Kinloch Lake.” 5 BR, 4 ½ BA
Nearby private clubs: Kinloch (short walk) and Hermitage (36 holes within five minutes).
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The Golf Community Specialist Scopes Out Alternatives to Golf Communities
I don’t own a boat, and never will. I am perfectly content to get my exercise on a treadmill at home or on the streets of my neighborhood rather than sweating it out with my neighbors in the community’s fitness center. Baking in the hot sun by the edge of a pool? No, thanks, I don’t like to sweat sitting still either (although my wife has a decidedly different view). As for a guarded gate at the front of my community, I recoil a bit at paying extra in my homeowner association dues if there is little local crime? (And why would any of us move to a crime-ridden area in the first place?) In short, I can’t see paying for activities and infrastructure I don’t plan to use unless the golf course inside the gates is better than a club I could join less than 15 minutes away. Some of my more active fellow baby boomers who work out and swim a lot and enjoy the extra security of a 24x7 guarded gate will derive the most value from a standard golf community, especially if the golf course suits them to a tee. But for others, a home in a nice neighborhood with few amenities on site but with an excellent golf course and active clubhouse outside the neighborhood can work just fine -- and it is likely to be cheaper overall. You might wonder why someone who publishes a blog called Golf Community Reviews and spends a fair number of weeks a year visiting, playing golf in and reviewing golf communities is touting the option of living in a community with no golf. Well, I recently spent three days playing and socializing at two outstanding private golf clubs with virtually no homes in sight of either one and it got me thinking more seriously about alternatives to golf communities. These alternatives may not be for everybody or for most of us, but they are worthwhile considering, if for no other reason than to reinforce a decision to move to a community with golf and everything else we want within walking distance or an easy cart ride. The two courses I played were Secession and Chechessee Golf Clubs, within 20 minutes of each other in the marshland area between Beaufort and Bluffton, SC; they rank #9 and #14 respectively on the South Carolina Golf Panel’s list of top golf courses in the golf-blessed state. (For reference, The Ocean Course at Kiawah and Harbour Town are #1 and #2.) The most casual of investigators of golf communities in this part of the world will know just how many outstanding and highly amenitized options there are in that particular corridor, including Callawassie, Spring Island, Dataw Island, Oldfield, Colleton River, Belfair and Berkeley Hall. And that is before you even reach nearby Hilton Head Island, with its own dizzying array of golf communities, or nearby Daufuskie Island and the Haig Point community, which smells better than any community we know mostly because no cars are permitted on the island (reached by a community-subsidized ferry). But carrying costs at some of these wonderful communities can reach more than $15,000 a year, club dues included. Taxes on a lovely old home in charming Beaufort plus club dues at Chechessee or Secession, for example, will run considerably less. Such a combo could be the path to a happy life for, say, a couple in which one spouse is golf addicted and the other likes the charm of an old house within walking distance of shops and restaurants. We know of many such combinations of charming locations near exceptional golf throughout the South. (See accompanying sidebar.) For those open to the idea of real estate not in the standard golf community, here are some options to consider, posted in no particular order:
Option 1: Buy a house and join a club nearby
The purpose of this column is not to review the two wonderful golf clubs we played in the South Carolina Lowcountry, but to make a larger point about buying your real estate and golf in separate locations if you don’t need all the amenities many golf communities provide. Suffice to say that both courses were immaculate, imaginatively laid out, and will appeal to lower handicap players; those with handicaps above, say, 15 will find the prevailing winds, well-protected greens and threatening marshland enough to drive them to drink; for them, there are no more comfortable clubhouses in which to drown your sorrows than those at Chechessee and, especially, Secession, whose wide back deck looks out across the deep 18th green to a wide and soothing expanse of marsh. Secession is primarily a “national” club, which means its 700+ members live more than 100 miles away and fly in or drive substantial distances to spend a few days walking the fairways -– caddies are mandatory –- and enjoying the laid back but attentive service in the club, from the bar and dining areas to the locker room attendant who figures out a way to clean your shoes before you even know they need to be cleaned. A total of just 50 memberships are reserved for local residents, those inside the 100 mile radius. The quintessentially southern town of Beaufort is just 10 minutes away; a few for-sale signs on some of the older homes by the bay just off downtown Beaufort had me dreaming about a life of short walks to fine southern restaurants and a short drive to world-class golf. (Dinner at Breakwater, a downtown Beaufort establishment, was outstanding.) Chechessee, where we played one round and enjoyed some post-game libations in the convivial and unpretentious clubhouse, hosts many local members as well as some from across the country. Both it and Secession are busy during the non-golf-playing months up north but are said to be almost empty of golfers during the hot Lowcountry summers. I met a few folks at Secession who said they especially like the summer for golf because the early mornings are not oppressively awful given the customary ocean breezes, and they don’t need to reserve a tee time in advance (although members who plan a day or two ahead generally do not have to worry even at busier times).
Option 2: Real estate untethered to the adjacent golf course
Some neighborhoods surrounding golf courses are not what we would define as golf communities, although they function essentially as such but generally at lower total costs to members. Take, for example, two fine clubs in the Greenville, SC, area, Greenville Country Club and Thornblade Club. Greenville Country Club comprises two 18-hole layouts that are separated by about three miles. Chanticleer, originally designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. in 1970, is surrounded by homes that reach into seven figures, although the club itself offers little beyond a bar and locker room; it is oriented to golf only, an obsession justified by its ranking as the fifth best course in South Carolina. Chanticleer’s companion club, Riverside, was renovated by Brian Silva in 2007 in the manner of classic designer Seth Raynor and provides not only adventuresome golf but also all the typical country club amenities, including fitness center, pool, tennis and a bustling clubhouse. The homes adjacent to Riverside are more modest but by no means déclassé, with prices averaging in the mid six-figures. Thornblade Club in Greer, SC, is home to a stellar Tom Fazio layout and a stable, family-oriented membership. The homes surrounding the course, at some points close enough to warrant backyard out-of-bounds stakes, run from the mid six-figures into million-dollar territory. Professional golfer Lucas Glover honed his game at Thornblade and former PGA tour star Jay Haas and family own the home that abuts the 5th green. Thornblade too offers virtually every amenity you’d expect to find in a more formal golf community. Membership in Greenville Country Club or Thornblade runs about $20,000 for initiation fees and around $600 or so per month in dues; that is certainly in the ballpark of some good golf community clubs we have reviewed, but these courses are at the top of their games. For the serious golfer, they may seem a bargain.
Option 3: Happy Trail to you
It seems virtually every market with more than a dozen or so golf courses has decided to create a “golf trail,” an artificial contrivance that permits courses to pool their advertising dollars to attract visiting golfers. Myrtle Beach has Waccamaw and Brunswick County Golf Trails that actually compete with each other, since they bracket the South and North ends of the Grand Strand respectively, but they also grab those foursomes who might be contemplating a trip to Pinehurst or the original “trail” in Alabama, the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. Although they don’t market them as trails as much as they do “multi-club memberships,” some owners of groups of courses in relatively close proximity offer serious golfers some nice alternatives. We have been following the McConnell Golf Group in the Carolinas since wealthy businessman John McConnell started buying up some of the best and most classic golf courses in North and South Carolina seven years ago. His current collection includes North Carolina clubs Treyburn (Durham), TPC Wakefield Plantation (Raleigh), Sedgefield (Greensboro), The Cardinal (Greensboro), Raleigh Country Club, and Old North State Club at Uwharrie Point, as well as the South Carolina located Musgrove Mill and The Reserve at Pawleys Island. Membership in one club, in the range of $10,000 to $20,000 depending on what club you choose as your "home" and with dues no higher than other comparable clubs, confers playing privileges at all the others, although there are some limits on the number of rounds you can play at clubs other than your “home” club. However, given that the McConnell empire includes eight clubs within a 3 ½ hour drive at its farthest, there is enough golf to satisfy even the most obsessive player. And you can’t miss on quality by choosing any of these clubs as your home course. The McConnell strategy was aimed at buying clubs that could draw naturally from the immediately surrounding area. All his clubs, with the exception of Musgrove Mill, the toughest of them all and located in Nowhere, South Carolina, are surrounded by real estate of varying vintages (Raleigh Country Club the most mature and, frankly, the most downscale, to Treyburn, a modern Durham, NC, enclave, to Old North State inside Uwharrie Point, a sylvan location on a pristine lake in the heart of North Carolina). Although he isn’t developing any of the remaining lots near his courses, McConnell is likely counting on a return to the pre-recession model that saw homebuyers opting for club membership inside the gates of their new community.
Option 4: Buying into the wonderful world of golf
Over the last decade, multi-course clubs patterned on the Scottish golfing societies have emerged to attract the private club golfer who has everything -– including a membership at Augusta National or Pine Valley or Shinnecock Hills. But these golf “destination” clubs also appeal to certain serious golfers who don’t carry membership in an elite club but can afford the often-lusty fees. The Outpost Club, a Toledo, OH-based organization, has cobbled together access for its members to some 40 private courses that are among the most well known and prestigious; but, sorry, we only get the names of these clubs if we are serious prospects for membership (one Wall Street Journal scribe wrote that the list includes some Donald Ross and Alistair MacDonald classics). Fees do not seem unreasonable -- $5,000 to join, $900 per year in dues -– but if you read the fine print, you note that there is a limit to the number of times during the year that you can play your Outpost “home” course and you will shell out up to $250 per round at the “partner” courses – plus travel expenses. Still, if you save on a home in a community that is light on amenities and, therefore, less expensive to purchase and maintain, you might have enough left over to finance this ultimate club membership. If you have a steady foursome of like-minded vagabond golfers, then one of Outpost’s competitors, Tour GCX Partners, might work. Tour GCX members pre-purchase a group of tee times at its 200 partner courses, most near urban centers; at last look, prices started at $5,500 for 10 foursome rounds (or about $138 per person per round). Another group called The Tour Club makes available the 26 TPC golf courses across the nation for a membership initiation fee of $40,000 and $9,600 in annual dues, but there is no limit to the number of rounds you can play at the TPC courses. However, if you figure in the cost of lodging near far-flung clubs, the numbers may not work out for any but the most seriously itinerant golfers. By the way, and for comparison’s sake, the aforementioned Secession Golf Club in the Lowcountry of South Carolina appeals primarily to golfers who live hundreds of miles from the course. Clubhouse dormitory style rooms are available at just $75 per night and nearby cottages at $150. There are no limits on the number of rounds you can play -– although they might get suspicious about your residency if you play for weeks on end. I can testify that the lightest-use members and first-time guests are treated as if they were regulars.
Option 5: Dozens of courses, some excellent, on the cheap
Even before the recession, the overbuilding of golf courses led to competition and then to consolidation. Today, where individual golf courses once competed with each other, now mini-conglomerates of clubs go head to head for the limited golfing dollar. Nowhere is the competition more intense than in the Myrtle Beach area, where 100 golf courses, most of them now owned by local companies, slug it out for the visiting and local golfer’s green fee. I write this from Pawleys Island, SC, just south of Myrtle Beach, where an ad in this morning’s Sun News touted a round of golf at The Legends golf complex (three very good golf courses) for $39 that included breakfast, lunch and two beers. To keep the cash flowing, about 90 of the area’s 100 golf courses, all members of the local golf owners association, have signed on to the Myrtle Beach Golf Passport. Until this year, you needed to prove local residency to qualify for the passport, but now anyone can purchase the annual pass for $40 and receive deep discounts to the 90 courses. For visiting foursomes, the deal is especially good because the rest of a foursome receives the same discount as the passport holder. Discounts at some popular area restaurants and golf retailers also come with the passport. As I write this in mid May, I note that discounted green fees for Myrtle Beach courses on the passport start at just $27, cart included. Those who may not plan to play their private club more than three or four times a week might want to get out their calculators.
If you are in the early stages of searching for a golf home, or just thinking about where you might want to relocate in the next few years, contact me and I will be happy to answer your questions and provide some initial ideas of which golf communities best match your requirements. Better yet: Please fill out our online questionnaire; once we receive your information -- always in confidence and never shared without your permission -- we can start the process to find you your dream home on the course. Click here for access to our Golf Home Survey.