So many golf courses, so much time in retirement. If your idea of satisfaction comes from playing a different golf course nearly every day of the week, then have we got some ideas for you. Here is a rundown of some of the options available to the golf glutton (and we mean that only in the best sense of the word).
Public Option: Myrtle Beach deluxe
You could play a different course in the Myrtle Beach area every day for 3 ½ months before you would run out of options. But rather than spend all the gas money driving up to 90 miles each way to do that, here’s our take on the best five courses north, south and in the middle where you should spend your green fees. (Attention Myrtle Beach veterans: If you have quibbles with my choices, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will post your own selections in the August newsletter.)
Most Myrtle Beach visitors believe Caledonia is the best golf course of the 100 + on the Grand Strand.
North of Myrtle Beach (NC/SC border & above) Tidewater, Little River, SC Tiger’s Eye (Ocean Ridge), Sunset Beach, NC Long Bay, Longs, SC The Thistle, Sunset Beach, NC River’s Edge, Shallotte, NC
Heart of Myrtle Beach/N. Myrtle Beach Dunes Club Kings North Grande Dunes Resort Barefoot Resort (Dye Course) Legends Resort (Moorland)
South of Myrtle Beach Caledonia Golf & Fish, Pawleys Island True Blue Plantation, Pawleys Island Pawleys Plantation, Pawleys Island TPC Myrtle Beach, Murrells Inlet Heritage Plantation, Pawleys Island
Private Options: Multiple clubs (45 holes+) inside the gates
Sometimes you just want to hang out with the same people or, as the old Cheers Bar intro intoned, “You wanna go where everybody knows your name.” In that case, private golf clubs inside the gates of some of the South’s best golf communities are a good choice. Here are a few multi-course clubs to consider.
The Landings, Savannah, GA Oakridge, Arthur Hills Palmetto, Arthur Hills Magnolia, Arnold Palmer Marshwood, Arnold Palmer Plantation, Willard Byrd Deer Creek, Tom Fazio
Reynolds Plantation, Greensboro, GA Plantation, Bob Cupp Landing, Bob Cupp Great Waters, Jack Nicklaus National, Tom Fazio (27 holes) Oconee, Rees Jones Creek Club, Jim Engh
Landfall, Wilmington, NC Dye course, Pete Dye Nicklaus course, Jack Nicklaus (27 holes)
Lakewood Ranch, Bradenton, FL Cypress Links, Arnold Palmer/Vicki Martz King’s Dunes, Arnold Palmer/Vicki Martz Royal Lakes, Rick Robbins
The clubhouse at the Cypress Links golf course at Bradenton, FL's Lakewood Ranch is a fixture from many vantage points on the golf course.
Semi-Private Options: Multiple clubs, with memberships, but open to public
Sharing your golf courses with "outsiders" can be a good thing. You get to meet different people from all over the United States, and you save money on your golf membership because no club is going to charge you $50,000 or more to share your courses with interlopers who may never grace your club’s fairways again. If nothing else, you can make sure the visiting golfers you are paired with fix their ball marks.
Barefoot Resort, North Myrtle Beach, SC Dye course, Pete Dye Love course, Davis Love III Norman course, Greg Norman Fazio course, Tom Fazio
Legends Resort, Myrtle Beach, SC Heathland course, Tom Doak Parkland course, Larry Young Moorland course, P. B. Dye
Pinehurst Resort, Pinehurst, NC Pinehurst #1, L. Culver/J. D. Tucker Pinehurst #2, Donald Ross Pinehurst #3, Donald Ross Pinehurst #4, Tom Fazio Pinehurst #5, Elllis Maples Pinehurst #6, Tom Fazio Pinehurst #7, Rees Jones Pinehurst #8, Tom Fazio* Pinehurst #9, Jack Nicklaus**
*members only **former National Golf Club
The former National Golf Club is now Pinehurst #9.
Itinerant Golf: Travelilng hither and yon in the name of great golf…
You know the old saying that begins “Drive for show…” Well, some golfers like to drive for mo…as in mo golf. If your aim is to fill as many open days with different golf courses, the South has almost countless options, including the following which are diverse in character, and in prices: The Cliffs full-golf membership is $50,000; the McConnell membership starts at $4,000, depending on which “home” course you choose.
The Cliffs Communities (NC & SC) Cliffs Valley, Ben Wright Cliffs at Glassy, Tom Jackson Cliffs at Mountain Park, Gary Player Cliffs at Keowee Vineyard, Tom Fazio Cliffs at Keowee Springs, Tom Fazio Cliffs at Keowee Falls, Jack Nicklaus Cliffs at Walnut Cove, Jack Nicklaus
McConnell Group Membership (see main article) Sedgefield, Donald Ross Sedgefield*, Pete Dye Treyburn, Tom Fazio TPC at Wakefield Plantation, Hale Irwin Raleigh CC, Donald Ross Reserve at Litchfield, Greg Norman Musgrove Mill, Arnold Palmer Old North State, Tom Fazio Grande Dunes Members**, Nick Price & Craig Schreiner
*formerly The Cardinal **managed by McConnell Golf
The McConnell Group's Old North State Club along Badin Lake is rated the 4th best course in North Carolina by that state's golf rating panel.
Accepting New Clients Looking for a Golf Home
The real estate professionals we work with in the southern U.S. are reporting increased sales traffic, lower inventories of homes for sale, and prices that are inching up (although in some formerly depressed markets like Naples, FL, they are more than inching up). Other markets –- Myrtle Beach comes to mind –- are still suffering some overhang from the recession years and have not shown much price appreciation this year and last. (We do note, however, that the lowest-priced condo in Pawleys Plantation, for example, which is about 40 minutes south of Myrtle Beach International Airport, rose from $110,000 earlier this year to $155,000 today, an indication that some folks are buying up the bargains either as a second home or a unit they can rent out while it appreciates in the coming years.)
We like bargains as much as the next person, and because we have established good relationships with real estate professionals in the top golf markets in the Southeast, we are tapped into bargain properties shortly after they come on the market (and occasionally before). If you are considering a golf home in the southern U.S. and are willing to share the specifics, such as your price range, size of the home, general idea of location (coastal, lake, mountain), and your time frame to buy, we will be pleased to put our professionals to work scouting out the bargains that match your criteria.
To start the process, please fill out our Golf Home Questionnaire, which takes less than five minutes to complete, and we will be back to you with some initial thoughts about which golf properties match up the best for you. Our service is free and without obligation, and we will supply references from satisfied customers upon request. Click here for the Golf Home Questionnaire.
Calling all fans of Japanese home design
I recently posted an article at my blog site (GolfCommunityReviews.com) about a unique home currently for sale inside the gates of Pawleys Plantation in Pawleys Island, SC. For couples that appreciate Asian design, this house could be perfect. It is currently listed for sale at $649,900, about half of what it was listed for just before the recession. The photos at my web site of some of the rooms in the home are quite impressive.
I know this home well; I own a vacation condo just across the 15th tee from the house. It is a unique home which appears to be in perfect shape. The grounds might need a little pruning to open up views of the adjacent lake and the Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course. If you would like more information or to arrange for a tour, please contact me and I would be pleased to put you in touch with the real estate professional who has the listing.
How to Play Smorgasbord Golf
If variety spices your life, here’s how to add multiple golf courses to your retirement rotation
Traveling golfers wouldn’t think of playing just one golf course every day for a week -– unless it was, perhaps, Augusta National, Pine Valley, Winged Foot or the like. Well good luck with that unless you are a member of one of those exclusive clubs. And, frankly, the excitement to play, say, a Pine Valley or Shinnecock Hills repeatedly could be depressed by an inability to come within 10 strokes of your established handicaps. Most of us consider a successful golf vacation to be one in which, over the course of a week, we might play six courses, repeating play on maybe one or two at most. But making the best choices of unfamiliar layouts can be a pig in a poke. I recall the run-up to my first weeklong trip to Myrtle Beach in the pre-Internet early 1970s, pouring over brochures and any other printed material I could get my hands on to guess at which six or seven courses my buddy and I would play on “the golf package.” (Side note: Our one week of golf, including up to 36 holes per day with cart, lodging in the beachfront Travelodge, breakfast every morning, an oyster roast and beer in the late afternoon, and a couple of sleeves of golf balls cost just $99.) The Myrtle Beach area at the time had around 25 golf courses -– there are over 100 today –- and, frankly, I chose a couple of clunkers (anyone remember Raccoon Run?), but the variety of layouts gave us conversation material for weeks after, and even the mediocre ones yielded some stories.
Retirement should be a permanent vacation, and that vacation can certainly include multiple golf courses in your monthly rotation. Here are a few strategies to make the dream come true.
Strategy #1: Play all the golf you need, inside the gates
As in any other business, golf communities are competing with each other for your real estate dollar –- or, we should say, your hundreds of thousands of dollars. Competition is intense, especially coming out of the recession with so many properties on the market. Back in the roaring 1990s, when golf was arguably at its most popular, there was a lot of ante-upping among the higher end golf communities. That competition manifested itself in a rush to build the most amenities, including the most golf courses, on the theory that customers would consider more is better. It worked for a while, as multi-course communities like The Landings outside Savannah, The Cliffs in the Carolinas and the vaunted Pinehurst presented themselves as buffet options for golfers.
The Landings and Reynolds Plantation offer their members six golf courses each for one membership. Pinehurst offers nine, including the famed #2 where the USGA recently held its men's and women's championships.
The Landings was the first gated community to offer the multiple-course option, even though Pinehurst’s first courses are 100 years old. Now in its 41st year, The Landings is just 20 minutes from downtown Savannah and offers six good to outstanding layouts by a roster of designers that include Tom Fazio, Arnold Palmer and one of my personal favorites, Arthur Hills. The full-golf initiation fee is around $30,000 for all the golf you care to play, as well as access to The Landings’ wide range of amenities, and monthly dues are around $700.
Because roughly 2,000 residents are full golf members, the Landings installed a tee-time system some years ago that might have been designed by NASA engineers; using some kind of algorithm, it somehow makes it possible for everyone to get a fair shot at the course they want to play, even if they might have to settle for a second choice occasionally. We know three couples that live and play golf at The Landings, and nary a complaint has been heard from any of them about golf in their community -- just the opposite, actually. Reynolds Plantation takes a slightly different approach, mindful that not everyone is prepared to pay $60,000 to play its six golf courses or wants easy access to that many layouts. Reynolds offers membership in “packages,” with a $20,000 initiation fee granting privileges on a couple of its courses, and other packages that add courses with the payment of higher initiation fees and dues. However, quite smartly, members at the lower levels can add a monthly dues supplement to have access to most of the other golf courses with payment of a green fee each time. This works out well for those who want to simply sprinkle a little variety on their golf rotation a few times a year. No one, however, gets to play the private Creek Course at Reynolds, Jim Engh’s wonderfully serpentine layout, without paying the top membership fee. The Pinehurst Resort may be the best buy in multiple-course membership if -– and it is a big IF for many golfers –- you don’t mind sharing your courses with traveling golfers. The Resort’s most comprehensive membership includes all nine courses in Pinehurst’s portfolio –- they recently purchased the nearby National Golf Club, now labeled Pinehurst #9 –- and costs just a $35,000 initiation fee and $445 per month. Advance tee-time booking privileges for members is anywhere from seven days to 10 days, depending on the golf course, and the membership package includes all other amenities, including tennis, croquet and other lawn sports, and a swimming pool. (A new fitness and swim center is slated for next year.) One catch, though: You must be a property owner inside the gates of the Pinehurst Resort in order to hold the golf membership. And as at Reynolds, less frequent golfers who don’t care about access to the full roster of courses can pay a little less.
Strategy #2: Long drive contest: Multiple courses, up to an hour away
Jim Anthony and The Cliffs Communities pioneered the notion of ultra-private, lushly appointed and maintained multiple golf courses for its resident members, at initiation fees that eventually reached $150,000 for the development’s seven courses. Aside from that lofty price tag, the trouble was that, leading up to and during the recession, the formula was unsustainable. After an abortive attempt to borrow survival money from his own members, Anthony lost the golf courses and his real estate empire. Today, the new owners are charging $50,000 for full access to courses strung from just north of Asheville (Walnut Cove golf course) to the Lake Keowee area (three courses). And therein lies a problem: Whereas membership in seven terrific golf clubs seems like a good idea to serious golfers, the one-hour drive between those at the farthest stretches can seem daunting all but a few times a year. In short, most Cliffs golfers generally play the vast majority of their rounds on their own community’s golf course and wander off the reservation only for tournaments.
The $50,000 initiation fee at The Cliffs can seem like a bargain, given that the golf courses are high-quality and that the membership fee had been $150,000 just a few years ago.
Still, you cannot argue with the high quality of design and conditioning at all The Cliffs courses, especially with Nicklaus, Player and Fazio in the portfolio. And $50,000 seems like a fair rate (certainly much fairer than $150K). Three of the Cliffs courses rank in the state’s top 30, according to the South Carolina Golf Rating Panel; Keowee Vineyards #18 (Fazio), Mountain Park #26 (Player) and Keowee Falls #28 (Nicklaus). The new Player course at Mountain Park has made a special impact; it debuted at that lofty spot in the state rankings. Golfing retirees with plenty of time on their hands and a comfortable car could very well find a $50,000 fee a bargain rate at The Cliffs.
Strategy #3: As the golf industry shrinks, your options expand
The death of golf may be greatly exaggerated, but there is no doubt the industry is going through significant changes. One of those changes, not unknown to industries in transition, is consolidation. Over the last decade, but especially during the recession, savvy and well-funded entrepreneurs have been cherry picking the highest quality and most financially strapped golf clubs and stitching them together into portfolios that make the sum of the parts more attractive to prospective members. No one in the Southeast has done this better than has John McConnell, who cashed out of his medical software business (for a reported $30+ million) and has put a good slug of that money toward the purchase of seven private Carolinas golf clubs and nine golf courses in total (one of them under McConnell’s management). A comparison of the golf courses in the McConnell Group rotation with their rankings by the North and South Carolina Golf Ratings Panels is enough to demonstrate the quality of a membership in one of McConnell’s clubs, which provides access for members to the others: Old North State Club (#4, NC); Raleigh Country Club (#21, NC); Sedgefield CC, Ross course (#22, NC); Treyburn CC (#28, NC); Sedgefield CC, Dye course (#56, NC); TPC Wakefield Planation (#73, NC); Musgrove Mill (#22, SC); The Reserve Club at Pawleys Island (#47, SC). The Grande Dunes Member’s Course in Myrtle Beach is managed by McConnell but not owned by the group (at least not yet), but membership there also grants access to McConnell’s other courses. McConnell initiation fees range from $4,000 to $40,000, depending on the member’s “home” club. McConnell is by no means the only golf group that uses this formula, although it is more “private” than other similar groups. In Atlanta, for example, Canongate advertises “22 Private Clubs, One Membership,” but “private” may be stretching it since some green fees are exchanged between member and pro shops at certain courses. The clubs are, more or less, distributed equally around the perimeter of the city, making access easy no matter where a golfer lives in the metro area. (There are actually 25 golf courses in all.) When you join one club, you have full access to other clubs in the nearby “cluster” of Canongate courses. Outside the cluster, members may be charged a modest fee at other Canongate courses (typically less than $35, with cart, but most in the $25 range). The distances between Canongate golf courses are not vast, but Atlanta traffic is notoriously bad.
Six of the McConnell Group's golf courses hold down Top 50 spots in the North Carolina and South Carolina Golf Ratings Panel rankings.
Hampton Golf Group, the majority of whose 18 golf courses are located in Florida and most inside golf communities, doesn’t pretend to be “private” in nature, but it does offer an approach similar to Canongate’s, with memberships available for as little as $90 annually; membership reduces drastically the fee you pay to play the course you join, and offers discounts up to 50% on other Hampton courses in the area. Although the Hampton mission is to “create an atmosphere where our members and their guests can enjoy beautiful golf courses…and special amenities…” members share their favored clubs with the public; indeed, the home page on the Hampton web site lists available tee times. Five years ago, I played North Hampton, a links-like Hampton golf course located just outside Jacksonville and in a community of modern homes and condos. The Arnold Palmer design was a lot of fun, challenging too, and quite a surprise layout through dunes 10 miles from the Amelia Island beaches.
Strategy #4: Have golf clubs, will travel
John McConnell and the Canongate folks in Atlanta aren’t the only organizations that smelled opportunity during the recession. The golf club conglomerate ClubCorp advertises 2,500 holes of private, semi-private and public golf, the most in the industry, and they add new courses to their repertoire every year. The organization boasts golf clubs under its ownership or management in 26 states, including Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia and access for members at up to 200 golf clubs and in-town social clubs. That’s a lot of golf, especially for retired couples wanting to combine travel and golf without breaking the bank. There are many fine layouts by reputation in the ClubCorp portfolio, and a few I have played and for which I can vouch, positively. However, I am always stupefied when I try to figure out which ClubCorp plans provide what benefits for its members, something I only undertake every few years lest I pull out my few remaining hairs. I suppose that if you find yourself a member of a club owned or managed by ClubCorp, your club pro might be able to explain the mesmerizingly confusing array of benefits offered by ClubCorp. For example, I made believe on the ClubCorp website that I was a member of the fine ClubCorp-managed Woodside Plantation Reserve Club in Aiken, SC, and that I wanted to drive up to Charlotte, a couple of hours away to play golf at TPC Piper Glen, a ClubCorp-operated course (according to the web site). But when I plugged in the particulars, I was offered instead the Pine Island Golf Club in Charlotte, whatever and wherever that is. I know ClubCorp has different arrangements with different clubs, but its explanation of its combinations and permutations is like a movie with great actors and a lousy script. Still, you can’t argue with the vast number of options in the ClubCorp arsenal. The four-year old Outpost Club is rather secretive about which private golf courses are in its portfolio but the club says it chooses layouts “where the design is compelling…” One of the photos on the club’s web site looks suspiciously like a hole I triple-bogeyed at Pine Valley 25 years ago. In any case, by virtue of where the Outpost Club holds some of its annual gatherings -– The Golf Club at Yale, Chechessee Creek near Beaufort, SC –- I suspect the portfolio is rich with some of the best courses in the land. For an initiation fee which was $5,000 back in 2010 and dues of $1,800 per year, half of which can be used as a credit against golf charges and lodging, Outpost Club offers access to “home clubs,” where members play without payment of a green fee for up to eight days annually; and to “partner & association clubs,” where a “special” rate of between $100 and $250 is required for play a certain number of days per year. Outpost Club membership is by invitation only, but there are always ways to introduce yourself.
Strategy #5: Getting Carded: For small bucks, big discounts
In our younger days, most of us started out as public golf course players, hustling for tee times, sparring with the insolent guy at the counter for whom paying our green fees seemed an imposition, and enduring five hour rounds. (Although who among us was in a hurry to get home to do homework?) Today, municipal and other public golf courses have been scared straight by the recession and intense competition from other survivor clubs. I still play enough public golf courses these days to know there is a new attitude among those survivors. For retired golfers planning an active couple of decades on the links, the greatest variety may come from the least imaginative approach to golf -– not joining any club. Let’s look at the golf-course-laden Myrtle Beach area as an example. Myrtle Beach, although it lost almost two-dozen golf courses just before and during the recession, still offers the vacationing golfer and local resident 100 good to great golf courses from Pawleys Island north to Brunswick County in North Carolina, a stretch of about 90 miles. The best of them -- arguably Caledonia, True Blue, Heritage, and TPC of Myrtle Beach on the south end of the Grand Strand, and Tidewater and Grande Dunes on the northern half –- are all special treats, but like most special treats, are priced accordingly. But with the purchase of the Myrtle Beach Golf Passport card, just $42.50 annually, anyone can play these courses at a discount, the depth of those discounts depending on the time of year. (Note: Purchase of the Passport includes a $20 gift certificate to the local PGA Superstore.) If you can stand the heat, summers provide the greatest discounts on the Passport, with reductions of as much as 50% or more; for example, a round of golf with cart at Heritage last week were just $29, at the Grande Dunes Resort course just $30, at Jack Nicklaus’ Long Bay a mere $17, and at Nicklaus’ other gem in the area, Pawleys Plantation, just $23. Those courses charge as much as five times more during the peak seasons. (Pawleys Plantation, as I recall, $102 last fall.) Okay, Caledonia, everyone’s favorite layout in the area, is a pricier $88 in summer, but that compares favorably with rates around $200 in the peak seasons of spring and fall. I’ve found over time that the break-even point for most private golf memberships is between eight and 10 rounds per month; that is, the cost of monthly private club dues equals about 10 green fees at good-to-excellent-quality public golf courses. Dues for private club membership south of Myrtle Beach average around $700 per month (considering the private DeBordieu, Reserve at Litchfield, and Wachesaw Plantation clubs). With the Myrtle Beach Passport, according to its spokesman Tracy Connor, green fees along the Grand Strand average about $70 during the peak seasons. Therefore, the break-even point between private club membership and playing around on the Passport meets the 10-round expectation at prime times, but is much lower in the off-seasons. The differences between private club membership and a vagabond’s approach to golf are substantial. In the long run for most retired golfers whose spouses do not play, paying as you play is a better financial deal. And you have many more courses at your disposal. But a couple that plays golf regularly together or individually makes the club membership more attractive financially, since on the discount program, they would still pay two green fees but on the “family” plan, they pay for the one private club membership. Mostly, though, for many of us, the pride of belonging to a club that would have us as members may be more than enough compensation for the financial differences.