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Thursday, 10 August 2017 18:14

You Get What You Pay For

        I don't sleep well on airplanes -- or at all. And when the plane is as crowded as Norwegian Flight 1609 from Hartford Bradley International to Edinburgh was yesterday, in both numbers of passengers and configuration of the seats, no sleep is guaranteed.
        When the price is more than right for an international flight like the Bradley to Edinburgh non-stop flight, you know you are going to pay the piper in one way or another. I scooped up a fare of just $99 for the U.S. to Scotland leg and paid an extra $75 for one checked piece of luggage and a meal in flight. My bag arrived shortly after I did but the meal of undercooked green beans and overcooked chicken certainly was no bargain. Neither is the return flight from Edinburgh which, pre-paid at $300, includes the bag and meal. That's about half of what a roundtrip flight on one of the other trans-Atlantic carriers costs, but none of them fly non-stop from Bradley, just a half hour from my home in Connecticut, to Edinburgh. The cost and headache to get to Boston or New York convinced me to try Norwegian.
        There is always a balance between price and service. The Boeing 737-800 aircraft with three seats across on both sides of the plane made it impossible to even attempt to sleep. The seats reclined about three inches, meaning the seatbacks at full recline were virtually upright. And the narrowness of the seats themselves meant the guy in the seat to my right and I were vying for elbow space on the handrest most of the trip. He was a bit more aggressive than I was. He also snored and could not make up his mind whether to lean his head on the drop down table in front of him or try to lean back on the barely reclined seat back. His efforts were distracting.
        I have one other gripe with Norwegian. When I booked my flight, I thought I would bring my golf clubs with me. But 10 days before the flight, I decided to ship them straight to my golf club destination at the Crail Golfing Society, where I have become an overseas member. I called Norwegian a week before my flight and alerted them that my pre-paid clubs would not be flying over with me and asked for a refund or credit. Not permitted, they said. That $99 fare includes zero flexibility.
        On the plus side, the plane arrived in Edinburgh 50 minutes early and customs was farily easy to get through, maybe a total of 30 minutes. I was surprised that after I collected my bags I did not see a single customs agent. Perhaps they trust the X-ray machines in the U.S. to do the job of spotting bad stuff in luggage, but this was a first time for me that there was no cutoms presence.
        There is a convenient shuttle at the airport into the center of Edinburgh and stops along the way. I was going to take a train to London to see my sister and her family there for a few days before proceeding to Crail for a week of golf. The shuttle service is called Airlink and it is just about $6.00 for the one-way trip, and comparatively cheaper for a round trip. Again, cheap is relative; on the way into the city, a female pedestrian tried to beat the bus at a traffic signal. She didn't quite make it. The driver slammed on the brakes in time but the woman went arse over tea kettle in the road. She picked herself up, grabbed both sides of her head more in frustration, it seemed, than in injury, and ambled off. The young bus driver was shaken. He called his supervisor who advised him to move the bus to a side road, park it there and dismiss his passengers from the bus. The driver advised that I was only "two stops" from Waverley Train station and that I could walk it in 10 to 15 minutes. It might have been a pleasant walk without the three pieces of luggage, but the big one has four wheels which at least made it doable. But by the time I made it to Waverley Station, I almost felt as if I had been hit by a bus.
        Once at the train station, the odyssey continued. I tried to secure an earlier train but it turned out that the firm I pre-bought the ticket from, Rail Europe, a North American based company, does not have agents in Edinburgh station. I decided to wait for my original train, scheduled at 1:30 which, around 1:00, was cancelled.  I was able to snag a reservation for the 2:00 train. When two British citizens, one from Scotland and one from England, sat down with me at my table, we started talking as the train left the station. When I realized they could take a joke, I warned them that they might want to change their seats because my luck was running ice cold over recent hours. Not one minute after I warned them, the train came to a halt and the conductor came on the PA system to say there was an obstruction on the rail line ahead -- "probably a cow," my new Scots friend said. I wound up arriving 35 minutes late in London, where it was pouring rain.

Hartsbourne Country ClubHartsbourne Country Club is home to a classic golf course with some modern flourishes.
        On a more positive note, I was invited to play at Hartsbourne Country Club just outside London today, and it was an uncharacteristally glorious sunny and cool day in the often wet London summer. The course was in excellent condition, it was a convivial round with two friends and my brother in law (he's my friend too), we stopped for a genteel lunch in the centuries old clubhouse (hideaway place, I am told, for one of the former Edwardian kings and his mistresses), and had a relaxing post-game beer in the same dining room. It made me almost forget the disaster of the previous day's travels and caused me to look forward even more to my week in Crail, which begins on Saturday. I can only hope that the weather forecast in Scotland, which calls for rain half the time I will be there, is wrong. More to come.

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        Maybe it is a sign of the times, but when I receive good customer service these days -– you know, suppliers doing what suppliers say they are going to do –- I find it extraordinary. That happened on a recent trip to the Dominican Republic when I was stuck at the steaming hot Punta Cana airport waiting for my daughter and her boyfriend to arrive from Toronto on a delayed flight. The young man running the desk for the Amstar shuttle service not only volunteered to send my wife, son and his girlfriend to the resort early, but he loaned me his portable wi-fi unit (without my asking) to amuse myself on my iPhone for a couple of hours and then drove me to the other terminal to meet my daughter’s plane, assigning another staff member to wait with me.
        My good streak continued today when, within minutes of each other, I heard from the membership director at Crail Golfing Society in Scotland that my clubs had arrived, and then from a staffer at Luggage Forward, the shipper, to tell me the same. Luggage Forward deserves special praise for its efficient process, follow-through and delivering more than it promised. Last Tuesday, I contacted them about sending my clubs to Crail in advance of a week of golf there that begins August 12. The next day I received an envelope with a bag tag and customs forms and, as promised, the following day a DHL employee came to the house to pick up the clubs. I was guaranteed delivery by next Friday, August 11. The clubs arrived today, August 7. Given that kind of service, Luggage Forward will be shipping my clubs in the future when I travel for golf.
IMG 0613 1Old stone walls and the North Sea are a constant presence on both 18 hole layouts at the Crail Golfing Society.
        It may seem pricey, but the $244 door-to-door shipping charge turned out to be reasonable. These days the airlines charge as much as $75 for a golf bag and because I was going to take a side-trip to London from Edinburgh before returning to drive to Crail, I wasn’t going to drag my clubs to London with me. Storage fees at Edinburgh airport for a golf bag are £20 per day, or around $30 time four days. The slight extra cost was worth not dragging my clubs on trains and planes before getting to Crail.
        Speaking of the flight to Edinburgh, the discount carrier Norwegian Airlines is now flying from Hartford, CT’s Bradley International Airport, just 35 minutes from my home. And to spur folks to use its service, the airline has offered flights to Scotland for as low as $99; I scored one of those but, of course, one checked bag and a meal are $75 extra, and the return flight is around $275. Still, for an overseas flight, that’s a bargain. Norwegian is flying from a number of U.S. airports so if you are planning a golf vacation in Scotland, it makes sense to check if Norwegian Airlines has set up shop near you. And check out LuggageForward.com to make life and travel a lot easier on yourself.

        When it is the middle of January in Connecticut and the ground is covered with snow, I will likely think back to the past week in the Dominican Republic and a dream vacation with my wife, son and daughter and their significant others. We tried our first "all-inclusive" resort vacation -- at Secrets Cap Cana near Punta Cana -- and, for the most part, it really is as advertised, which is to say relaxing and entertaining given that swarms of staff really do everything to make you as comfortable as possible. And you don't have to ever dip into your pocket for a tip, unless you want to.  (We experienced some incidents of extreme service and felt the need.)  Okay, the food doesn't quite rate four chef's hats but the drinks were all from the top shelf and well made, especially if you make friends with any of the dozens of friendly and entertaining bartenders who tend to their craft at inside and outside locations, by the pools and on the beach. (Some of my family members seemed quite taken with a drink called a Dirty Monkey which tasted to me like an alcoholic chocolate milk.)
        There was plenty to do on site, including a smallish but professionally outfitted fitness center, organized activities like beach volleyball and baseball, and a horseshoe pit and bocce court, although urban lovers of bocce will find it strange to throw the balls on the soft sand rather than roll them on a legitimate bocce surface, but no one seemed to care. Some might complain about the two feet wide stretch of seaweed -- actually more like sea kelp -- that washes up onto the beach and also bounces around in the first few feet of water before you step into a clear blue (warm) sea. We thought the seaweed issue was much ado about nothing.  All in all, though, this is a great way to pack away all your cares and woes for a week.
        The three golf courses we played ranged from fun to more fun to tons of fun with relentlessly drop-dead gorgeous views of the ocean and cliffs. I'll let the photos below speak for themselves, except for some brief notes that follow.

La Cana Golf Club

This was a great layout for a warmup round since water was fairly easy to circumvent on the first nine, the Hacienda course, but was both a visual and hazardous presence on the Arrecife nine, especially the last few holes along the ocean. (We did not play the Tortuga nine, which seems to have the strongest presence of sand and a couple of holes with close views of the ocean.). We noted that greens on all the golf courses we played were not cut for speed in fear that the hot summer sun would wreck havoc on the grass. So they were much slower than they would be in season, in winter. Some of the ocean views showed the bluest water I have ever seen this side of a Disney cartoon.
La Cana Golf Club hole by the seaThe water just off La Cana Golf Club in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, was the bluest I had ever seen.
P.B. Dye Bulkheads at La CanaDesigner P.B. Dye echoes his famous golf architect father's use of bulkheads at La Cana Golf Club

Corales Golf Club

Corales has scored a major coup by landing a PGA tour event next March, the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship. As you leave the airport in Punta Cana, you pass a billboard promoting the event and featuring a huge photo of PGA star Jim Furyk. The Tom Fazio-designed Corales should be a worthy test of the pros' shotmaking abilities, given the championship tees are set at 7,670 yards and sand and water hazards abound. The ocean views from the three finishing holes, as at La Cana, showed unnaturally blue and green waters. TV coverage of the first PGA Tour event in the Dominican Republic should be a lot of fun to watch.

Rainbow at Corales Golf ClubYou know you are likely to have a good day on the golf course when you see something like this just before tee time at Corales Golf Club in Punta Cana.

Corales approach over waterEven the holes at Corales that don't abut the ocean still manage to get your attention.

Corales #18 from behindThe finishing hole at Corales, a par 4, is played over the deep blue sea and then to a smallish green perched above the cliff. It should be fun to watch the PGA competitors finish their rounds there next March.

Punta Espada

We saved the best for last with a goodbye round at Jack Nicklaus' Punta Espada, rated by most followers of Caribbean golf as the best in the islands. I believe it as the course doesn't come close to having a clunker of a hole and it is drop dead beautiful from the first tee to the 18th green (especially the 18th green, which is perched over the brilliant blue waters on the ocean below). Indeed, eight holes play along the ocean and few others are within site, the golf course sitting pretty much above the water at most points. The final three holes may be the most visual anywhere this side of the Irish and Scottish coasts, with the ocean directly behind the long par 3 16th and beside the 17th and 18th, two par 4s that will test your patience and ability to negotiate the fickle ocean breezes. Punta Espada is expensive but I would say worth every penny. And, what the heck, you'll be on vacation. However, if you want to stay forever, most homes are priced above $1 million.

Punta Espada sand, trees, oceanIn one view, Jack Nicklaus captures every element -- sand, sea, palm trees -- that exemplify Caribbean golf.
Punta Espace iguanaAn almost-finished second 18 at Punta Espada is called Iguana, although we saw a few on the finished 18.
Punta Espada finishing holeThe finishing hole at Punta Espada demands a perfectly gauged and struck tee shot over the water and then a deft approach shot to the green (far right in photo)

        I suppose we might have David Letterman’s widely regarded and oft-quoted “Top 10 Lists” to blame for the profusion of “best of” lists. But at least Letterman’s lists were funny. There is nothing funny about Where to Retire magazine’s annual “50 Best Master-Planned Communities in the U.S.” issue.
        In this year’s July/August edition, the magazine’s editor, Annette Fuller, writes that the issue is “guaranteed to bring you many fruitful hours of contemplation.” My minutes of contemplation included checking Where to Retire’s top 50 choices against the paid ads inside the same issue. Marketing to potential buyers certainly doesn’t disqualify a community from a designation of excellence, but it does call into question how the magazine goes about choosing its Top 50.

No Science Involved
        At least Where to Retire makes no claim of science behind its selections; they simply say they were the editors’ choices. (No doubt the advertising director had some input.) And the only apparent research done on the communities was after they were chosen, when a Where to Retire senior writer “spoke with residents at each of our 50 winning communities [and] heard a lot of glowing reports.” Duh. Consider if the mainstream media announced that it checked with its sources only after it published an important story. (Consider also if a resident did not present a “glowing report” to Where to Retire; would it have made the publication?)
        You might say that, like the Letterman lists, no one takes the Where to Retire rankings too seriously. But that is not so. The magazine’s circulation is around 200,000, and it is sold in bookstores, like Barnes & Noble, and by subscription to thousands of couples in search of a retirement community. Unwary and trusting readers could very well look at Where to Retire’s helpful cost of living chart that compares cities across the country and conclude that the rest of magazine is objective. It isn’t, at least not in the July/August issue.
        Many deserving high-quality communities do not make the Top 50 list in Where to Retire; I won’t list even a few of them here because, well, that would be employing my own biases. Suffice to say that of the Top 50 communities listed in the July/August edition, I counted a couple dozen who advertised in that very issue, and others I recognized from past issues. My advice may be free –- contact me if you are searching for a golf home –- but at least I do not accept a marketing fee from any communities I recommend.

No Established Communities Considered
        Lacking any objective criteria for its selections, and the obvious large number of worthy communities left off the list, the magazine’s choices are suspect. The editors explain those choices, in a manner of speaking, in a response to a letter from a reader who asks why they don’t “publicize” more communities than those that are “developer owned.”
        “We cover more closely locales where thousands of retirees are going,” the editors respond.
        Seriously? That implies retirees don’t buy resale homes by the thousands in the many already developed communities across the country. Developer-owned communities, of course, spend more on marketing to get noticed and to sell their properties. Established communities don’t typically have the discretionary budgets to take out a full-page ad for a few thousand dollars in a retirement magazine. In their response to the letter writer, the Where to Retire editors imply that if thousands of retirees are moving to new communities, then they are not moving to established communities, a notion that is demonstrably false yet may be disorienting to some retirees searching for the best possible community.

Pay to Play
        Where to Retire, which claims to be “The Authority on Retirement Relocation,” could be a guiding light for couples looking for the best place to retire. But true guidance requires objectivity. By promoting almost exclusively in its editorial content the communities that advertise in the magazine, and by ignoring the benefits to retirees of well-established, built-out and financially stable communities, Where to Retire does not live up to its claim of authority.
        A more accurate title for this annual list would be “50 Best Master Planned Communities that Advertise in Our Magazine.”

        I subscribe to Google Alerts for mentions of golf communities and related terms, and so I am treated to a daily stream of stories from media around the world. A fair percentage of the topics have to do with failing golf courses, and it is sad to contemplate what that means for those who own properties in those communities.
        There are a few different types of owners of golf community clubs. The most secure, generally, are the property owners themselves. If a golf course owned by residents fails, they have only themselves to blame. (I have visited a few communities in which there is friction between residents who are club members and residents who believe the club members get special privileges. My advice to those non-golf member residents who might feel that way is to tread lightly; the values of your homes are tied closely to the health of the country club.)
        A developer of a golf community typically owns the golf course and associated amenities but offers it for sale eventually to residents when the community is substantially sold out of properties. In some cases, the original covenants indicate that the club must be offered to residents at a certain time and, sometimes, at a pre-stipulated price. In other cases, the developer will simply begin negotiations with the residents and if they break down, will look to sell it to an outside firm. In a few cases, the developer will keep the course and either manage it himself or herself or hire a management firm to run it.
        These latter situations are the ones that, most of the time, can devolve into chaos through mismanagement. Given all the horror stories I have read about golf courses going under, my advice to anyone who lives in a golf community in which the signs point to mismanagement, try to rally your fellow members together as soon as possible in the process and see if there is a way to take over the club from the owner. This could involve a pooling of resources to buy out the owner, or a visit to a local bank to see if a purchase loan to the community is possible.
        I know; your first instinct is to recoil in horror at the thought of spending money to “own” a golf club that someone else couldn’t run. But consider that the golf course at the heart of your community is abandoned or taken over by the bank or, if permitted by local covenants, sold to a developer to turn into 150 acres of new homes. That could erode the value of your home substantially, especially if the golf course becomes an eyesore. Let us say, for the sake of argument, your home is worth $300,000 today. An adjacent white elephant golf course could cause it to lose 10%, 20% or even more of its value. Suddenly a modest investment by each of a few hundred residents doesn’t seem like the worst type of protection money.
        Let us hope it never comes to this but for those currently living in a golf community, keep a close eye on the operation of your golf club and if trouble seems to be brewing, don’t wait for things to go south. And if you are looking to relocate to a golf community, don’t ignore those communities that “bundle” golf course membership with the purchase of your home. Yes, you are obligated to pay monthly dues, but since is everyone else has the same obligation, you can be confident that, barring outright embezzlement, your club will have enough ongoing revenue to survive and thrive. In other cases, find out who owns the country club and make sure they have the reserves and the experience to make it work.
        If you would like to read about some communities facing problems with their golf courses, here are some links:

Bank forecloses on golf course in Arkansas 

Myrtle Beach Homeowners Take Donations to Cut Grass on Course

Homeowners protest golf course land use  

Nevada community course closure 

Residents upset about consolidation of golf courses  

        There are many ways to skin a cat but really just one way to make a search for a golf community home efficient and successful. Follow these few steps and you are on your way to find a golf home that matches your requirements.

Step One –- More Choices are not Better

        Okay, you like the mountains and your spouse likes the coast. Do you really think you are going to resolve that particular issue by looking at golf communities in the western mountains of North Carolina and in Myrtle Beach? Unless you have the budget and the desire to own homes in both geographies, you are going to have to settle on one.  
        A compromise is necessary to keep your search from taking years. Let’s say one spouse doesn’t play golf and wants to be near the beach, and the other, who prefers mountains, is an avid golfer, the more courses to play the better. Perhaps the compromise here is to identify a coastal community with a beach a few minutes outside its gates and more than 18 holes of excellent golf within. St. James Plantation in Southport, NC, Landfall in Wilmington, NC, and the Barefoot Resort in Myrtle Beach all come to mind (others too). Or for the ultimate in compromise, where each gives a little, the choice could be a lakeside golf community, like Reynolds Lake Oconee in Georgia, Keowee Key near Clemson, SC, or one of the fine communities along Lake Norman north of Charlotte. One spouse gets the water view and the ability to loll by the lake, and the other gets the golf. And as a bonus, many of these inland golf communities in the Carolinas and Georgia are just a couple of hours from beach and mountains.
ReynoldsNationalcourseThe National Course, one of six at Reynolds Lake Oconee

Step Two –- Target Golf Communities, Not Specific Homes

        I have conducted searches in which the clients wanted to see an endless stream of golf community homes that matched their specs rather than the details on the golf communities themselves. This is a classic case of making perfect the enemy of good. The fact is that, except for golf communities with a limited number of properties, most people will find the home they are looking for in any golf community (or at least a home that, with a little cosmetic updating, will match their preferences). If you choose the perfect home in what turns out to be an imperfect (for you) community, you will be miserable. After all, the choice to live amongst other people implies a desire for a social life. Focus on that before you focus on the house you want.

Step Three –- Assessing the Golf Community

        Let’s say you have found an area that is right for you, and you have narrowed the search down to two local golf communities. At any one moment, a golf community typically has between 8% and 10% of its homes for sale, although inventories have tightened up recently. In a medium to large community, that means 80 to 200 properties on the market. You will have plenty of choices.
Since you have targeted a golf community, the quality and costs of the golf course and club should be a top priority for consideration. You probably wouldn’t buy a car without driving the model you wanted; it stands to reason that you should always play your future golf course at least once to ensure it suits your eye and your game. Have lunch or dinner in the clubhouse as well, preferably with a couple of members. Check out the other amenities; okay, you don’t have to swim in the pool or walk the treadmill to assess those, but you do want to know that the pool is big enough to handle the crowds and not overrun with screaming children –- unless you like happily noisy children at your pool –- and that the fitness center has the particular machines you like to use -- and enough of them.
        If you are down to a choice of two communities and have no clear preference for either one, then consider yourself lucky. You can just start searching for the best home in both of them.
Cliffs at Glassy from teeThe Cliffs at Glassy is a beautifully conditioned, challenging and fun layout in the mountains of South Carolina, but it may not be to everyone's taste, given its up and down nature. It is a course you should definitely play before considering a membership.

Step Four – Home is Not (Necessarily) Where the Hearth is

        That subheading is a bad attempt to communicate that a focus on one small element –- like a fireplace -– can derail an otherwise efficient search for a golf community home. In many locations in the Southeast, especially the warm ones near the coast, such an add-on is unnecessary and, frankly, a little weird. (It is kind of like maintaining an outdoor swimming pool in Alaska.) Some northerners used to a basement in their homes may be surprised and dismayed to find that the soil in many parts of the region does not support an underground room. Focus on that particular element of a home near the coast, and you will be greatly disappointed.
        Other elements of a search may limit the choices. Those wishing to be in a defined golf community close to a city will need to concentrate their searches in the Wilmington, Myrtle Beach, Charleston and Savannah areas. These are typically comparably pricier choices than similar golf communities more remotely located. You may need to make some compromises. For example, my wife and I typically like to go to the movies every few weeks, but from our home in Pawleys Island, SC, it is a good 50-minute round trip to the nearest cinemaplex. We don’t go to the movies except rarely when we stay in Pawleys, but we do have a Netflix subscription. One compensating factor, though, is that within four miles of our front gate, we have a choice of five supermarkets including a Fresh Market, a worthy competitor of Whole Foods. The warning here is that if you get hung up on one item on your wish list, you may be constrained in terms of choices.  Flexibility is key to a successful search.

        I’ve spent 10 years helping couples navigate the many choices in their search for a golf community home. The search can seem complicated, but it really doesn’t have to be. Contact me, and I will be happy to help you work through the options -– by the lake, in the mountains or by the shining sea.
Rivers Edge par 5Nothing can prepare you for your first attempt at the long par 5 at Rivers Edge, a nice small golf community in Brunswick County, NC. The layup second shot must be long yet not too long to avoid the marsh. And no matter where the third shot originates, it is guaranteed to twist your knickers.

        I could have no trouble recommending enthusiastically most of the more than 150 golf communities I have visited and reviewed over the last 10 years. After all, developers don’t invest in a multimillion-dollar enterprise to fail, although some indisputably do a better job of development than others. To anyone or any couple interested in moving to a golf community but not sure of where that community should be, the choices are dizzying. If it is mandatory to be close to a city or be able to play multiple golf courses under one membership or enjoy mountain or ocean views from the golf course, then the choices narrow.
        However, as I have found, each community is special in its own way, and those differences could make the difference between choosing one community over another. In the July issue of my free monthly newsletter, Home On The Course, I plan to include a list of communities that display “something special.” As a preview, here are a few that stand out. (Click here to subscribe to our free monthly newsletter.)

Treyburn, Durham, NC

        Those with even a passing knowledge of college basketball know that perennial powerhouse Duke is located in Durham, and that means Treyburn residents can take advantage of continuing education courses on one of the most beautiful campuses in America, as well as watching big-time collegiate athletics. Treyburn’s Tom Fazio golf course threads its way through the community, its sculpted fairways winding through trees and over streams and distracting attention from the homes beside the layout. But it is the club membership itself that makes Treyburn special, especially for serious golfers who don’t mind a little bit of travel to play some of the best layouts in the Southeast. That is because Treyburn is one of a dozen clubs in the McConnell Golf Group collection in which membership in one club confers privileges at the others, which range from the mountains (e.g. Asheville Country Club) to the coast (The Reserve at Pawleys Island). Nearby Raleigh Country Club, designed by the famous Donald Ross, and Hasentree, another Tom Fazio gem, are within a half-hour’s drive, essentially giving Treyburn members three top courses within easy reach for the reasonable price of one.
TreyburnovercreekTreyburn Country Club

Wintergreen Resort, Nellyfield, VA

        I don’t know of a community better suited to active adults than Wintergreen, which is both a resort and year-round residential community. The 45 holes of exceptional golf designed by Ellis Maples and Rees Jones are special enough, and the fact that a community geographically in the Southeast region maintains an active and popular ski operation just a couple of hours from Washington, D.C. qualifies as unique. But for me, the truly special aspect about Wintergreen is that, on any given day in January, you could very well ski in the morning and play golf in the afternoon. That is because the Rees Jones 27 holes are located in the valley below the mountains and ski lifts, and when it is freezing at 3,500 feet it can be sweater weather down below on the golf course. This weather anomaly occurs just often enough to qualify Wintergreen for “special” status.
WintergreenJonesCourseWintergreen Resort (Jones Course), Nellysford, VA

The Reserve at Lake Keowee, Sunset, SC

        Back in the ‘90s and early ‘00s, the group of communities known as The Cliffs was the big gorilla among golf developments in the upstate area of South Carolina, and The Reserve was fighting for attention. Formed by a small group of local professionals with the good sense to call in a professional management team from startup, The Reserve boasts lots of special characteristics, such as its tournament ready Jack Nicklaus golf course, the crystal clear lake along its edge, and a large and comfortable craftsman style clubhouse atop a 200-yard lawn that sweeps down to the lake and community pools. But you have to be in The Reserve clubhouse on a cool autumn evening when Clemson University’s vaunted football team is playing an away game to understand the special spirit that happily infects the community. If it were a home game, many of The Reserve’s residents would make the 25-minute drive, but in the clubhouse when the Tigers are away, it might as well be a home game, given a boisterous crowd festooned in Tiger orange. Retiring couples from Syracuse, home of the Orangemen, should not consider tossing their shirts and pom poms before a move to The Reserve.
ReserveLakeKeoweeReserve at Lake Keowee, Sunset, SC

        You know the saying “Idle hands are the devil's playground.” Apparently, 35 golf courses, plenty of other amenities and dozens of social clubs (aka taverns) are not enough to divert some residents at the gigantic, age-restricted Florida playground known as The Villages from a life of crime.
       Earlier this week, area police raided a home at The Villages on a tip from a neighbor about a possible illicit drug operation. What they found, however, was not only a cache of methamphetamine and heroin, but also a golf cart chop shop. One of the five arrested said he had been stealing 30 golf carts per month. The arrests follow others a few months ago for golf cart thefts in The Villages.
        The community, which is known for its inexpensive housing and high level of amenities, is growing at one of the fastest rates in the country, with well over 100,000 residents inside the boundaries. Television ads that feature the squeaky clean Arnold Palmer, may he rest in peace, and Nancy Lopez make The Villages seem a hotbed of activities and safety. But like cities of a similar size, and despite the fact the community is restricted to “mature” folks only (age 55+), The Villages has its issues that include theft as well as a staggeringly high percentage of socially transmitted diseases. You would think old folks would have the experience to protect themselves, as well as their golf carts, some of them valued at $25,000 and more. Apparently not.
        The news about The Villages is in stark contrast to a stop my wife and I made 20 years ago to visit friends of my parents in a large Florida retirement community (no golf). The wife told us we could only stay for a couple of hours because the couple was headed to a concert on site early that evening and they needed to get there early to buy tickets.
        “Aren’t you afraid they will be sold out?” I asked.
        “No,” she replied, “we can always buy a ticket from one of the residents.”
        “A scalper?” I asked. “How much do tickets cost at the box office?”
        “$2.50,” she responded.
        “How much do they scalp them for?” I asked.
        “We can usually get them for $3.00.”
        Now that is not much of a living, but at least it’s an honest one.
        You can read an amusing article about The Villages’ crime spree at Deadspin.

        The main feature of this month’s edition of Home On The Course, our free monthly newsletter, identifies three golf communities currently listed for sale. Chances are that most of our readers don’t have access to the seven or eight figures it would take to scarf up one of these high-quality communities, but the point for those seeking a vacation or permanent home attached to great golf is that real estate in communities listed for sale tend to be a bargain. The three we highlight have something for everyone, including one on the coast, one in the mountains, and one near a medium-sized city with a major university.
        The June edition of Home On The Course also features a rundown on the best golf community courses in North Carolina, courtesy of this year’s rankings by the state’s golf panel, a group of regular Joes who love golf and “subject” themselves to the rigors of taking mental notes as they play some of the finest layouts in the state. The top course is Pinehurst #2, the Coore/Crenshaw redo of the Donald Ross classic, but there are many other worthy golf community courses on the list.
        The newsletter will email to subscribers in the next day or two, so please don’t miss out. Click here to sign up today.
BrightsCreekbunkersTom Fazio's layout for Bright's Creek is one of North Carolina's best, but it, and the community surrounding it, are up for sale.

        ​A round of golf, especially if well played, can be an uplifting experience, and many of us consider a nicely laid out and manicured golf course a work of art. But if you are a golfer and a lover of fine art, there may be no better place to be uplifted than just off the 15-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 17 from Murrells Inlet to Georgetown, SC.
        ​The area that comprises Murrells Inlet, Litchfield and Pawleys Island is one of the most densely populated with excellent golf courses of any similarly sized area in the nation, with 16 public courses and three private clubs (DeBordieu, The Reserve at Litchfield and Wachesaw Plantation) of Myrtle Beach’s 100-plus layouts. Because of the competition, deals abound, especially for those who live year round in the area. For example, an annual membership to Caledonia Golf & Fish Club, arguably the best of all 100 courses in Myrtle Beach, and True Blue Golf Club, a visually arresting and playable track (wide fairways and enormous waste bunkers, many of which double as cart paths), costs less than $2,000. At an average rack rate green fee rate of around $125, the break-even point for a member is around 20 rounds (plus the mandatory cart free of $25 each time you play, but you will pay that at any club). Other annual plans include the Prime Times Signature Card, which provides discounted green fees (and free rounds) at a group of 22 of the finest layouts in the area, including Pawleys Plantation, TPC Myrtle Beach and The Founders Club. Membership in the Legends Group includes the underrated Heritage Club in Pawleys Island and adds a free breakfast, lunch and beer whenever you play.
        ​Vacationers to the area south of Myrtle Beach understand the amount of golf available, but what they might miss are the cultural blandishments, principal among them Brookgreen Gardens, an astonishing piece of property festooned with beautiful flora and fauna (there’s a zoo), garden sculptures large and small that seem created for the spaces they occupy in the fountains and bushes and beside the sprawling live oak trees that populate Brookgreen. The indoor museum buildings are great places to cool off and check out a continuing rotation of locally produced art, many pieces depicting marsh country animals in their habitat. My wife and I attended an art show there this past weekend and were impressed with the range of works offered by artists from up and down the east coast. (We purchased an abstract rendering of the Blue Ridge Mountains that, given its dominant green and blue hues, could just as well have been an ocean scene.) The shops along Front Street in the historic Georgetown feature many paintings and other works of art by local artists; some of them are extreme bargains given the quality of the efforts.
IMG 0840Homes inside the gated, private Wachesaw Plantation are among the most reasonably priced, on a per square footage basis, in the Murrells Inlet/Pawleys Island area.
        ​At $100 annually for a “household,” a Brookgreen Gardens membership is ridiculously inexpensive for what it offers, which is not only a sculpture fan’s dream but a great contemplative counterpoint to a competitive round of golf. As my wife and I strolled past a fountain with a large sculpture of the Goddess Athena at its center on Sunday, we noticed a woman sitting in the shade on one of Brookgreen’s hundreds of benches, reading a book. My wife expressed what I was thinking: “I’ve always wanted to do that here,” she said.
        A perfect day for a couple living in the Pawleys Island area, or for a vacationing couple, could very well be a round of golf in the morning at one of the aforementioned clubs, a contemplative stroll through Brookgreen Gardens in the afternoon, and dinner in a converted brick-lined alleyway at Al Fresco’s in Georgetown or outside under a tent or inside in full view of the kitchen at Frank’s, justifiably the single most popular eatery in the entire Myrtle Beach area.
        Since any frequent visitor to this site has seen plenty of photos of golf courses, and since we all know what a plate of good food looks like, I include below some shots taken at Brookgreen Gardens. If you would like to know more about life in the area south of Myrtle Beach –- my wife and I have visited for at least a couple of months every year since 2000 –- please do not hesitate to contact me.
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  • The only book about golf communities in the last 10 years.
  • 156-page step-by-step guide to finding your dream golf home.
  • Info on nearly 100 golf communities the author has visited.
  • Paperback version costs less than a sleeve of Pro VIs.

Here is what the experts are saying:

“The book is chocked full of information…applicable to anyone looking for a move to the Southeast regardless of whether they are looking for a golf community or not.” — John LaFoy, golf architect (Linville Ridge CC, CC of Charleston, The Neuse GC)

“Larry has done a tremendous amount of work and anyone — like me — who is looking to search for a golf home now or in a few years needs this book.” — Brad Chambers, golf blogger, ShootingYourAge.com

“Wow!  What a thorough piece of work…a must for anyone moving South. This book will help many people.” — Brett Miller, owner and founder of MMA, Inc, a golf industry consultancy

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