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        As if the pandemic was not enough challenge for Connecticut golf courses, the remnants of a hurricane with a confusing name slammed into the heart of the state taking down trees and power lines and making life even more miserable for a week.  Your correspondent and his wife were without power for five days.
        Taking a cue from the besieged U.S. Postal Service, neither downed trees nor power lines nor 90-degree weather was going to keep me from playing golf even before the power was turned back on.  My friend Peter and I booked an afternoon tee time at Wintonbury Hills, a Pete Dye course in Bloomfield, CT, that plays through gently sloped fairways of a former farm.  Dye "donated" his design services to Bloomfield in the early 2000s, and the course still ranks as one of the best of the public options in northern Connecticut.  Power was out at Wintonbury, and I was warned that my electric cart could run out of juice by the end of the round. (Thankfully, it didn't.)
        Having driven around my home town shortly after the storm passed, I noted that many of the larger downed trees were cleaved almost in half, from top to bottom. The worst damage seemed to be in small, separated areas, implying to this armchair meteorologist that mini-tornadoes may have been spawed by the storm.  At Wintonbury, I noted that a few medium-sized trees had been toppled but mostly small trees and limbs were down on the course -- until we came to number 14, where a huge tree covered half the fairway. I hit my best drive of the day almost to the tree but was able to play over the newly formed hazard.
Wintonbury14downedtreeAn extra hazard in the 14th fairway at Wintonbury Hills in Bloomfield, CT.
        My favorite public course in Connecticut, Keney Park in Hartford, had no such luck.  Closed for five days because of a lack of power and many downed trees, I played there on Thursday this week and was stunned at how many large trees had been felled by the storm.  The crews had done a great job of removing those that had blocked play and pushing aside many of the others for later cleanup.
Keneytreeblockingshotto7Only twice was a downed tree or branch in play for me at Keney Park this week; here, for my approach shot on #7 (I played it), and on #10, where my tee shot on the par 5 wound up in a pile of brush at the edge of the fairway. (I took a drop.)
       We think that hurricanes and the ensuing damage is an issue only for coastal locations in the Carolinas and Florida, but those of us in New England have lived through some challenging post-hurricane effects in recent years.  (Irene inundated a large swath of Vermont and New Hampshire in late August 2011.)  If you are looking forward to life near a beach in the Carolinas, then go for it.  No place is perfect in terms of climate -- well, some people say San Diego is but, oh, the cost of living! To quote the worldly philosopher of Saturday Night Live fame, Roseann Roseannadanna (Gilda Radner), "It's always something."

Keneytreedamagebehind1
Keney downed treesTop, tree damage behind the first green at Keney Park. Bottom, a sample of the scene on much of the front nine. Oddly, the back nine was largely unaffected.

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Friday, 24 July 2020 15:08

One Way to Better Golf Scores

        My friend and fellow golf blogger Brad Chambers is celebrating an anniversary today. One year ago, he published Think Better, Play Smarter and Manage Your Way to Better Golf Scores, an every-player’s guide to preparing yourself for mental obstacles that face us on our chosen field of battle, the golf course. Brad, who maintains the web site Shooting Your Age, takes the game seriously enough to think deeply about the details that can spell the difference between a good round and a disappointing one.
        I especially like Brad’s common sense approaches to pre-golf routines and on-course thinking and all the other vagaries that combine to make golf rewarding and maddening, often in equal measures. His advice will help you subtract the maddening and enjoy the rewards.
        Think Better, Play Smarter is available at Amazon.com.
        As Brad likes to say, it will cost you about half of a bucket of range balls. As I like to say, it is likely to be twice as helpful.

Screen Shot 2020 07 24 at 3.11.19 PM

        The July edition of our newsletter, Home On The Course, will mail tomorrow morning to subscribers. The main feature is about how the definition of a “bargain” golf home is changing. We also share examples of current bargains for sale in a few of the best golf communities in the Southeast.
        But the part of the newsletter I am most excited about is an invitation to a Zoom presentation that I will give next Wednesday. It is sponsored by the Simsbury, CT, Public Library near my hometown and titled, “Finding Your Dream Golf Home in the Sunbelt.” Because there is a limit to the number of participants via Zoom, I am opening the invitation to Home On The Course subscribers only. 
        Please subscribe today to be able to sign up for this one-hour presentation scheduled for 4 pm EDT on July 15.
        I look forward to seeing you then.

Wednesday, 08 July 2020 14:40

Bias in Best Places to Live Ratings

        Those who read my free monthly newsletter, Home On The Course, and Golf Community Reviews know I am not a big fan of those web sites and magazines that rank the best places to live or retire. Such rankings range from those that are biased toward their advertisers to those that are coy about the criteria that help produce their lists. One site I recently discovered, Niche.com, is forthcoming about the criteria it uses and, in so doing, does a service to retirees who may be inclined to take too seriously the “best of” ratings, even Niche’s own.
        Niche is a site worth exploring. It is comprehensive and fun to dabble with and, taken with a grain of salt, is a decent source of information about places to live. I took it for a test drive by clicking on its “Best Counties to Retire” list and was surprised to note that the top 14 on the list were all Florida counties. (Beaufort County, SC, broke the schneid at #15.)
        That tilt toward the Sunshine State led me to explore the criteria Niche used to develop its rankings. I was pleased that the site was direct not only in detailing its 16 criteria but also in sharing the weightings they used.
        But therein lies a problem. You would think that a site advising retirees on the best place to live might assign weighting to the criteria most important to retirees. But the highest weighted criteria, at 15%, is a something called “Retiree Newcomers,” described as, “The percent of residents 65 years old and over, who moved into the area within the last year.” That is not something relocating retirees care about. I can say honestly in the 15 years I have worked with retirees and others to find their “best” places to live, no one has ever said to me, “We want to move where most retirees are moving.” If you are like me, the last thing you want to hear from a salesperson, for example, is, “That is one of our most popular items.” Popularity does not confer wisdom of choice. Niche stacks the deck in favor of Florida right off the bat.
        The second most heavily weighted category, at 12.5%, is “cost of living,” a criterion that most retirees looking to relocate indicate in their top three. Niche’s sources for COL data is “consumer price index and access to affordable housing.” Niche is quite forthcoming with additional details about how the site determines cost of living, but I won’t burden this discussion with the particulars. Suffice to say that many sources available to all of us on the Internet proclaim South Carolina and Georgia, for example, as overall less expensive places to live than Florida. (Yes, I know, Florida does not have a state income tax, but the other taxes – property, sales, tolls on highways that aren’t bumper to bumper – more than compensate.) 
        Niche weights equally, at 10%. the three categories of average sunny days per year, crime and safety, and the number of residents over 65. To the extent that sunny days equal nice climate, Niche is calculating a criterion that relocating retirees put at or near the tops of their lists of requirements; after all, what refugee from the cold winters of the north would want to relocate someplace other than the “Sun” belt? But sunny days in Florida do not tell the entire story of climate, especially in July and August when temperatures are relentlessly high and sun gives way to almost daily thunderstorms. And need we mention the threat of hurricanes, a factor utterly ignored by using sunny days as the criterion for “climate?”
        And what is with weighting relatively heavily the category “residents over 65”? That certainly seems like gilding the lily after giving the highest weighting to “Retiree Newcomers.” Combine the two and the effect of old people in Florida – I can say that, I am 72 – accounts for 25% of Niche’s scoring. 
        That is like an ad proclaiming, "Come to Florida. We really are God’s Waiting Room."

Wednesday, 08 July 2020 14:23

Bias in Best Places to Live Ratings

        Those who read my free monthly newsletter, Home On The Course, and Golf Community Reviews know I am not a big fan of those web sites and magazines that rank the best places to live or retire. Such rankings range from those that are biased toward their advertisers to those that are coy about the criteria that help produce their lists. One site I recently discovered, Niche.com, is forthcoming about the criteria it uses and, in so doing, does a service to retirees who may be inclined to take too seriously the “best of” ratings, even Niche’s own.
        Niche is a site worth exploring. It is comprehensive and fun to dabble with and, taken with a grain of salt, is a decent source of information about places to live. I took it for a test drive by clicking on its “Best Counties to Retire” list and was surprised to note that the top 14 on the list were all Florida counties. (Beaufort County, SC, broke the schneid at #15.)
        That tilt toward the Sunshine State led me to explore the criteria Niche used to develop its rankings. I was pleased that the site was direct not only in detailing its 16 criteria but also in sharing the weightings they used.
        But therein lies a problem. You would think that a site advising retirees on the best place to live might assign weighting to the criteria most important to retirees. But the highest weighted criteria, at 15%, is a something called “Retiree Newcomers,” described as, “The percent of residents 65 years old and over, who moved into the area within the last year.” That is not something relocating retirees care about. I can say honestly in the 15 years I have worked with retirees and others to find their “best” places to live, no one has ever said to me, “We want to move where most retirees are moving.” If you are like me, the last thing you want to hear from a salesperson, for example, is, “That is one of our most popular items.” Popularity does not confer wisdom of choice. Niche stacks the deck in favor of Florida right off the bat.
        The second most heavily weighted category, at 12.5%, is “cost of living,” a criterion that most retirees looking to relocate indicate in their top three. Niche’s sources for COL data is “consumer price index and access to affordable housing.” Niche is quite forthcoming with additional details about how the site determines cost of living, but I won’t burden this discussion with the particulars. Suffice to say that many sources available to all of us on the Internet proclaim South Carolina and Georgia, for example, as overall less expensive places to live than Florida. (Yes, I know, Florida does not have a state income tax, but the other taxes – property, sales, tolls on highways that aren’t bumper to bumper – more than compensate.) 
        Niche weights equally, at 10%. the three categories of average sunny days per year, crime and safety, and the number of residents over 65. To the extent that sunny days equal nice climate, Niche is calculating a criterion that relocating retirees put at or near the tops of their lists of requirements; after all, what refugee from the cold winters of the north would want to relocate someplace other than the “Sun” belt? But sunny days in Florida do not tell the entire story of climate, especially in July and August when temperatures are relentlessly high and sun gives way to almost daily thunderstorms. And need we mention the threat of hurricanes, a factor utterly ignored by using sunny days as the criterion for “climate?”
        And what is with weighting relatively heavily the category “residents over 65”? That certainly seems like gilding the lily after giving the highest weighting to “Retiree Newcomers.” Combine the two and the effect of old people in Florida – I can say that, I am 72 – accounts for 25% of Niche’s scoring. 
        That is like an ad proclaiming, "Come to Florida. We really are God’s Waiting Room."

Wednesday, 08 July 2020 14:23

Bias in Best Places to Live Ratings

        Those who read my free monthly newsletter, Home On The Course, and Golf Community Reviews know I am not a big fan of those web sites and magazines that rank the best places to live or retire. Such rankings range from those that are biased toward their advertisers to those that are coy about the criteria that help produce their lists. One site I recently discovered, Niche.com, is forthcoming about the criteria it uses and, in so doing, does a service to retirees who may be inclined to take too seriously the “best of” ratings, even Niche’s own.
        Niche is a site worth exploring. It is comprehensive and fun to dabble with and, taken with a grain of salt, is a decent source of information about places to live. I took it for a test drive by clicking on its “Best Counties to Retire” list and was surprised to note that the top 14 on the list were all Florida counties. (Beaufort County, SC, broke the schneid at #15.)
        That tilt toward the Sunshine State led me to explore the criteria Niche used to develop its rankings. I was pleased that the site was direct not only in detailing its 16 criteria but also in sharing the weightings they used.
        But therein lies a problem. You would think that a site advising retirees on the best place to live might assign weighting to the criteria most important to retirees. But the highest weighted criteria, at 15%, is a something called “Retiree Newcomers,” described as, “The percent of residents 65 years old and over, who moved into the area within the last year.” That is not something relocating retirees care about. I can say honestly in the 15 years I have worked with retirees and others to find their “best” places to live, no one has ever said to me, “We want to move where most retirees are moving.” If you are like me, the last thing you want to hear from a salesperson, for example, is, “That is one of our most popular items.” Popularity does not confer wisdom of choice. Niche stacks the deck in favor of Florida right off the bat.
        The second most heavily weighted category, at 12.5%, is “cost of living,” a criterion that most retirees looking to relocate indicate in their top three. Niche’s sources for COL data is “consumer price index and access to affordable housing.” Niche is quite forthcoming with additional details about how the site determines cost of living, but I won’t burden this discussion with the particulars. Suffice to say that many sources available to all of us on the Internet proclaim South Carolina and Georgia, for example, as overall less expensive places to live than Florida. (Yes, I know, Florida does not have a state income tax, but the other taxes – property, sales, tolls on highways that aren’t bumper to bumper – more than compensate.) 
        Niche weights equally, at 10%. the three categories of average sunny days per year, crime and safety, and the number of residents over 65. To the extent that sunny days equal nice climate, Niche is calculating a criterion that relocating retirees put at or near the tops of their lists of requirements; after all, what refugee from the cold winters of the north would want to relocate someplace other than the “Sun” belt? But sunny days in Florida do not tell the entire story of climate, especially in July and August when temperatures are relentlessly high and sun gives way to almost daily thunderstorms. And need we mention the threat of hurricanes, a factor utterly ignored by using sunny days as the criterion for “climate?”
        And what is with weighting relatively heavily the category “residents over 65”? That certainly seems like gilding the lily after giving the highest weighting to “Retiree Newcomers.” Combine the two and the effect of old people in Florida – I can say that, I am 72 – accounts for 25% of Niche’s scoring. 
        That is like an ad proclaiming, "Come to Florida. We really are God’s Waiting Room."

Friday, 03 July 2020 19:57

Happy Birthday Balcomie

        My first visit to the Balcomie Links at the Crail Golfing Society was magical, and it started even before my first tee shot. Standing on the tiny practice green with my son Tim, a collegiate golfer at the time, overlooking the North Sea and much of the golf course from its highest point, I heard my son’s name called. Here we are 5,000 miles from our Connecticut home, and Tim introduces me to a young Scottish lad against whom he had competed in a college tournament in Virginia. It was pure kismet that they both were at Balcomie on the same day at the same time.
CrailBalcomiedogleg5Long Way Around: The 5th hole on Balcomie Links is a par 4 of 437 yards -- on a front nine that measures less than 3,000 yards. And the wind is always blowing, typically in your face.
        From there, the magic continued for my first round on a true links course. Yeah, I had played what I thought were links courses, like the Ocean Course at Kiawah and Shinnecock Hills but, no, this was an entirely different experience. I won’t belabor my opinions about Crail’s two courses – the other is a more modern links course by Gil Hanse opened in the ‘90s but with strong nods to classic architecture – but suffice to say the experience is unique, given that all 36 holes feature at least one view of the North Sea, quite possibly the only place on earth where that is the case. Other elements such as blind shots and double greens and walls in fairways and behind greens are not unique, but blended together into one beautiful package…maybe. (I reviewed the course here in 2008)
        I was so smitten with Crail, including the charming coastal town right out of a picture postcard or jigsaw puzzle – I own the latter – that I signed up as an overseas member knowing full well that during some years, especially those smitten by something called coronavirus, I would not be playing there. But, heck, it is less than $200 annually, and it gives me something to dream about. And that is a small price to pay for great memories and dreams.
        I didn’t want to let today pass without a special shout out to Balcomie Links, designed by Old Tom Morris and 125 years old today. Beatha Fhada. Long life.

Balcomie practice green 1M best view ever from a practice green, at Crail Golfing Society

        The North Carolina Golf Rating Panel, a group of regular players with a few professionals thrown in, is out with its update list of the best public golf courses in the golf-rich Tarheel State. I would say they left off a few but the bigger head scratcher is the rankings themselves, with a few iconic courses a little too far down the list.
        First, the highlights. The Sandhills area comprising Pinehurst and Southern Pines swept the first six positions on the list, with – no surprise – Pinehurst #2, the Donald Ross masterpiece updated a few years ago by the team of Coore & Crenshaw at the very top, followed by Pine Needles, Pinehurst #4 and #8, Mid-Pines and Pinehurst #9. Pinehurst #9 is the former National Golf Club. The Mid-South Club, also in the Sandhills, logged the #10 position on the list. The rest of the top 10 includes the high-altitude Linville Golf Club at #7, University of North Carolina’s Finley Golf Course at #8 and Bald Head Island Club at #9.
PineNeedles green front 1Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club, #2 on the Panel's list.
        All in all I have played 21 of the 50 on the list over the last 20 years. Therefore, take these quibbles with a grain of salt since I have not played 29 on the list, but a few of those in the bottom 30 deserve a much higher ranking. For example, Tanglewood Park Championship course in Clemmons, near Winston-Salem, is a Robert Trent Jones Sr. masterpiece, good enough to have hosted the 1974 PGA Championship, when Lee Trevino nosed out Jack Nicklaus by a stroke. (Bit of trivia: Richard Nixon resigned the Presidency on the Friday of the tournament.) I played the course with my dad and brother a few years before the PGA and then again a dozen years ago. The imaginative routing, the bunkering and the changes in elevation were impressive. My friend and fellow blogger, Brad Chambers, played it last month and wrote a review at OffTheBeatenCartPath.com.
        I know that Tobacco Road, Mike Strantz’ most attractively chaotic contribution to a portfolio of unique golf courses, is not to everyone’s taste, but surely the stamp on the memory of anyone who plays it is worthy of a higher position than #40. And weird or not, it is more memorable than Compass Pointe (#29) in Leland, an easy-going yet less than dramatic layout, or the Currituck Club on the Outer Banks, whose beautiful eastern vistas of the Atlantic Ocean are neutralized by the rows of condos that line some of its fairways. Just last year, Golf Digest rated Tobacco Road #13 on its “best courses in North Carolina,” and that list included private courses as well.
Duke finisher 1Duke University Golf Club, #11 on the Panel's list.
        I would also rank Cape Fear National (#27), the course inside the Brunswick Forest community in Leland, the equal of Leopard’s Chase (#13), Tiger’s Eye (#20) and Thistle Golf Club (#21), and even competitive with Bald Head Island and its #9 ranking (although, full disclosure, I have not played Bald Head since it was renovated a half dozen years ago).
        I also had to look a few times to see if I had missed Strantz’ other Tarheel contribution, Tot Hill Farm in Asheboro, also reviewed by my friend Brad Chambers (click here). It didn’t make the list but is certainly the equal of any of the bottom 15 or so on the Panel’s list. And the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, home to the famed Donald Ross layout in the mountains, should qualify as a "course you can play" but it is not on the list.
        Despite these minor flaws, the NC Golf Panel's list is a great guide to those who want to play almost two months of excellent golf in a state that spans the ocean and highest mountains in the east. In terms of states for the widest possible range of golf courses, North Carolina ranks near the top of any list.

     It may seem counterintuitive, but the coronavirus is about to have some positive effects on real estate sales in Southeast golf communities. There are a few reasons for this, which I explore in my upcoming June newsletter, Home On The Course. (It’s free; subscribe here.)
     Here is the Cliff Notes version of this month’s main feature: Baby Boomers put their searches on hold for the virus, and the pent-up demand is causing them to restart their searches now…Employees, for the most part, like the flexibility of working from home and the savings from not having to commute or buy work clothes. More importantly, their employers are finding they are saving tons of money on office space and utility costs and, surprise, employees are more productive at home. If they can work from home, why not from a home in a warm climate, low-cost-of-living area of the Southeast?…Also, city dwellers fearing a restart of Covid-19 as well as future pandemics are heading for the hills, literally and figuratively. There are many “hills” in the Southeast.
     All this plus the mistaken notion that hot weather kills viruses – a wives’ tale, according to scientific evidence – mean more people heading South. But here’s the problem that awaits them: Inventories of homes for sale in many popular areas of the Southeast are well below what the real estate industry considers “in balance” -- six months. What happens when increasing demand meets limited supply? Of course, higher prices.
     I offer additional observations about Covid-19 and golf community real estate in the June issue of Home On The Course, coming later this week. Sign up for free here.

Connestee Falls 11th from teeInventories of homes for sale in the Brevard, NC, area are down 32% from this time a year ago. Shown is the 11th hole in the nearby mountain golf community of Connestee Falls.

Thursday, 21 May 2020 14:31

Golf Community Marketing Goes Zoom

        Businesses are doing their best to adapt to the pandemic, and golf community marketing departments are no different. President of Administration Diana Peters at Woodside Plantation in Aiken, SC, was kind enough to let me be a fly on the wall when she and her staff hosted a Zoom meeting with prospective buyers. Zoom, for the uninitiated, is FaceTime on steroids, with the ability to put as many as 100 in a room at one time – the room being the screen on your computer or tablet. (For an additional price, the upper limit is 500.)
        I’ve participated in a number of Zoom meetings with family, friends and groups of people who want to discuss a specific topic. Just prior to writing this, my wife and I sat in on a Zoom discussion of the late 1990s movie “As Good As It Gets” starring Jack Nicholson as a mean-spirited, emotionally damaged, obsessive-compulsive writer. (I recommend.) The movie discussion included about the optimal number of participants, just over a dozen. With any larger group, people tend to talk over one another; and the variable response times of modems and wireless routers can cause a lag that causes participants to miss a lot. There are also some moments of freeze frame that always seem to occur when a participant is about to say something important, perhaps profound – but there is no way to know that, and you don’t want to stop momentum by asking someone to repeat him- or herself.
WoodsidePlantationHomeandGreenOne of the swirling greens on the Nicklaus Course at Woodside Plantation.
        The Woodside Plantation meeting was burdened with some of these technical issues, but it was well organized and the agenda was geared to providing plenty of information for potential buyers with a range of prior knowledge about the community. The first half of the hourlong meeting included introductions from marketing and sales staff, followed by brief stories from two couples and a single resident who have chosen Woodside as their homes. The owners were well chosen, with one couple living there permanently, another couple shuttling between Aiken and their home in Washington, D.C., and the single woman whose husband passed away a couple of years ago. Her heartfelt story about losing her husband and how she held fast against the urgings of her family to return to her native Minnesota was priceless marketing communication as it demonstrated, in human terms, one person’s serious commitment to life at Woodside. She and her husband had created the “ambassador” program there that partners resident couples with prospects who visit the community and helps new residents adjust. She still runs the program today. 
        The last half of the meeting included a question and answer session. Some of the questions were general but the specific ones were relevant to all, including about distance to the nearest airport (answer, 45 minutes), if fences to keep pets inside a property are okay (yes, with permission from the architectural review board), the range of home prices ($300,000 to over $1 million), the number of part-timers (vacationers) who own homes (relatively few) and the cost of a social membership ($140 per month which provides access to clubhouse, dining and fitness centers). One of the owners mentioned that the Fuzzy Zoeller designed golf course will open in July, joining the Nicklaus designed golf course to give golfer residents a full 36 holes.
        One participant asked a question I tend to ask when I visit a golf community and speak with residents: “What are the best and worst things about living at Woodside?” One owner answered, “Southern hospitality is alive [at Woodside].” And the “worst” was about “traffic,” the respondent adding with a smile, “It takes you 15 minutes to get anywhere.” 
        Now that should be enough to sell Woodside to any Northeasterner who has commuted to work.

 

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