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    You have probably read that Tiger Woods' maiden voyage into golf course design will be in Dubai, the coastal city in the United Arab Emirates.  That oil rich country, figuring the black gold could stop flowing some time in the next few hundred years, is banking on tourism as its next renewable resource and on golf as the way to lure the tourists.  
    Yesterday, I received an email message pitching a new development called Whispering Pines that will overlook the Greg Norman designed Fire and Earth golf courses at the Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai.  Vijay Singh has designed a third course, called Water, which will be ready for play in 2009.  Norman, along with Sergio Garcia and Pete Dye, are teaming up to design the fourth track there, a links-style layout, that will be called -- drum roll, please -- Wind.  It represents Garcia's first foray into golf course design, but he has two of the world's most prolific designers to hold his hand.  I hope the musical group Earth, Wind and Fire has been paid a licensing fee; they haven't had a hit in a while.  The course will be ready for play in 2009.
    The villas, which have a Tuscan motif to their design, top the US $1 million mark but are spacious and have views of the courses.  From the sketches we saw, they look like many of the Addison-Meisner style Mediterranean homes in Naples and other locations in Florida.  The community surrounding the two golf courses at Grande Dunes in Myrtle Beach, SC, is of a similar style; homes there sell for US $1 million and higher.  At Jumeirah, four different floor plans are offered in three and four bedroom models at prices beginning at US $1.2 million (638,000 in pounds Sterling).  Of course, given the current weakness of the dollar, our readers from the UK and the rest of Europe will get a lot more house in the States for their money (that's reality, not chauvinism).
    The four courses at Jumeirah are semi-private but offer memberships and the guarantee that at least one will be dedicated to member play only on any given day.  There are hole-by-hole descriptions of the Earth and Fire courses at the Jumeirah Golf Estates web site .  If any of our readers have played the courses there, we invite reviews.

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Monday, 16 July 2007 17:38

The pro golfer next door

    For the last couple of weeks, I've let the poll question (see left column) run longer than I typically do because it seemed to be generating a little more interest than other poll questions.  Not surprisingly, the top vote getter (with five votes) as the preferred next-door neighbor is Tiger Woods.  A few others, as you can tell if you click on "Results," are tied with one vote apiece.  Three golfers received no support:  Freddy is in a Funk, Phil isn't thrilled, and Vijay fans aren't singing.
    I cast my vote for Jim Furyk.  Tiger won't have time to chat now that the baby is here.  David Toms and Ernie Els don't seem like all that much fun: and although Zach Johnson looks like even less fun, I bet there would never be any loud parties at the Johnson house (except after winning a major).  Chris DiMarco is a bit intense; I'd be scared to let him near the dog (or vice versa).  And Padraig Harrington plays so many tournaments in Europe, I'd wind up taking out his garbage each week and checking that the cat's fed.
    Furyk doesn't look like the kind of guy who would own a cat, although he may have learned how to swing a golf club by practicing with one.  That's the best thing about being Furyk's next-door neighbor; I don't think I'd be tempted to embarrass myself by asking him for swing tips.
    I'll let the poll question run a few more days so that all precincts report.  Thanks for voting.

Monday, 16 July 2007 05:17

For sale by owner: Deal or no deal?

    When the time comes to put our primary house up for sale in a few years before a long anticipated move south, we will be tempted to list the house ourselves.  I hope we are strong enough not to give in to the temptation.  For sale by owner is a fool's paradise.
    There are too many psychological traps in the pricing of a home.  In our case, we have lived in our Connecticut house for 15 years.  We've raised two children there, spent uncalculated thousands on landscaping and other home improvements, and we built a kitchen my wife designed that literally changed our lifestyle by elevating our joy of cooking, entertaining and, of course, eating.  We have invested a lot in the house, financially and emotionally.  For the right family, we think our home is worth $1 million.
    But the truth is, at that price our house would sit on the market until the next housing boom, which may come when I am in a nursing home.  Our house is worth only what someone else will pay for it, and we are worse judges of its true value than is the guy who cuts our lawn.  Especially in a tough sellers market, pricing a house too low will wind up costing way more than the savings of cutting out the middleman. (Note:  If this were a strong sellers' market, I could be writing an entirely different column.)
    I did a little test this morning after picking up a booklet with a listing of homes for sale by owner.  I compared those listings with listings by realtors representing clients selling the same sized homes in the same neighborhoods.  Of course, you cannot know the condition of the properties, the views, and other nuances from four or five lines of agate copy, but I figured the comparisons would give me some anecdotal evidence to confirm my suspicion that owners factor in their commission savings when pricing their homes.
    My assumption was wrong.  In virtually every instance where I could find homes of similar sizes in the same neighborhoods, the price listed by owner was the same or higher than all others.  At the International Club in Murrells Inlet, SC, for example, an owner is offering a small 3 bedroom, 2 bath home for $218,000.  The listing by a realtor for the same size house down the street is $219,000.  A 3 bedroom, 2 bath condo adjacent to the True Blue Golf Club, a dramatically scaled course by Mike Strantz in Pawleys Island, is listed by the owner at $270,000.  The same sized condo was advertised by a realtor in the real estate section of Sunday's paper for $245,000.  In the half dozen other comparables I found, the owners' prices were higher than the realtors'.
    It is hard to pay a 5% or 6% real estate commission, and the $25,000 savings on a $500,000 sale can purchase a lot of newspaper advertising. You can even rent a billboard for a few months for $25,000.  Try asking your real estate broker to advertise your home on a billboard.
    But the marketing is irrelevant if the pricing is wrong.  Pricing is more important than ever in today's market.  A home overpriced from the gitgo will languish, and later price decreases still might not be enough to catch up with comparable homes that were priced right from the start.  Readers of this site know we are no shills for the real estate industry (although some of my best friends are realtors, and I know they provide many more important services than simply determining the right price).  But when it comes to selling your house, we defer to the warning you see so often on television:  Do not attempt this at home.

    Living Southern Style magazine, the publication of the Live South organization, recently published its list of the "Top 100 Amenity Communities."   Live South, which runs a well-attended series of trade shows that attracts some top southeastern communities and thousands of newbies to the community search process, identifies communities in just nine states, as well as Mexico and the Bahamas, on its amenities list.  They promise to add communities in other states in the future.

    Although a list of 100 of anything implies a certain comprehensiveness, there are some glaring omissions on the Living Southern Style list.  The group of communities with the widest and most lavish array of amenities in our experience, the Clilffs, does not make the list.  The Cliffs, besides its seven world-class golf courses, offers equestrian centers, beautiful pool complexes, well-appointed fitness centers and spas, guided nature trails and access for members to its other holdings, one in Argentina's Patagonia region.  We don't see the Savannah area's Ford Plantation on the list either; its combination of Pete Dye golf course, marina, and recreational options along a beautiful river is the best we've seen, if money is no object (homes begin over $1 million). 

    Some communities on the Living Southern Style list don't even feature a golf course.  (When did golf fall off the amenities list?)  But although we did not check out every community on the list, we did note that most are either advertisers in the Live South publications and/or exhibitors at the Live South trade shows.

    We've said it before and this seems the right time and place to say it again:  Proceed with caution when you do your home search research with organizations that are paid to promote communities.  Live South does its job quite well, but their primary "customers" are the golf course communities they represent.  If something strikes your fancy about one of the communities on their list, contact us .  If we are familiar with the place, we will tell you what we know.  If not, we'll get as much information as we can.  Whatever, we will try to cut through the hype. 

     

 

100_4626wdgfld13.jpgPar 3s at Wedgefield are not a strong point of the design, but on the 13th, a well-placed pin can provide plenty of challenge from the tee.

Wedgefield Plantation, Georgetown, SC

by Tim Gavrich 

 

    Wedgefield Plantation Country Club is a daily-fee golf course located two miles from Highway 701 in Georgetown, SC.  It is the southernmost golf course on the famed Myrtle Beach Grand Strand.  Designed by Porter Gibson, Wedgefield opened in the early ‘70s on the site of an 18th Century rice plantation.  The final green sits in front of the old manor house, which was recently refurbished and began serving lunch and dinner.  My rating scale is 1 (for repulsive) to 10 (incomparable).

 

Golf Course Setting: 6 ~~ Wedgefield was laid out on the site of a former rice plantation, so don't expect rolling hills -- the terrain is almost completely flat.  However, twisted, Spanish moss-laden oak trees frame many of the holes, as well as the pleasant entryway onto the grounds (there is plenty of shade in the parking lot, and it was quite a relief not to return to a steaming hot car).  There are a few ponds and streams placed in interesting spots throughout the course as well.  The only good long-range view to speak of comes at the back of the penultimate green, where the trees open up to reveal the expansive marshland to the immediate north.

Golf Course Conditions: 8 ~~ Wedgefield was in excellent shape, especially in view of the considerable drought that has overcome the Low Country in the last two months.  Fairways and roughs were quite lush, with a few brown areas here and there and only a few bare spots.  The greens, though a little slow for our liking, putted quite well and had very good grass cover.  To my delight, the course is not over watered.  Rather, the greens keeping staff maintains firm and fast conditions tee-to-green (sluggish greens notwithstanding), instead of pursuing obsessively the verdant green hue that most softer courses strive for and that is irrelevant to playing conditions.  Still, well struck irons stopped a foot or two beyond their pitch marks.
 
Quality of Green Complexes: 5 ~~The greens and surrounding areas at Wedgefield are decent, though not terribly compelling.  Most greens had a modest amount of undulation that made putting a challenge at times.  However, the contours were not terribly bold or "fun."  Most greens were guarded by a bunker or two (two greens boast three bunkers, and the large 5th green is protected by four).  The bunkers are not very deep, and most are set a few paces from the putting surfaces (this is due either to the greens having shrunk over the years, or just a conservative attitude by the architect).  The most compelling 

    Wedgefield Plantation in Georgetown, SC, is the farthest south of the 120 courses that stretch nearly 100 miles along the Grand Strand of Myrtle Beach.  It regained that distinction when the tricky Winyah Bay course closed two years ago to make way for a community of homes.  By the way, things don't seem to be going very well in that new development; we drove through last week, and the only thing built is a small clubhouse.

    Wedgefield was one of the original 19 courses on the Strand; I use the term "original" to signify the number of courses on the Strand during my first visit in 1969.  I played Wedgefield then and recall it seemed like wilderness, just a few homes scattered outside the fairways, and the clubhouse an antebellum plantation house that had seen better days.  I did like the golf course because it featured more water than I had ever hit over or around in my seven years of serious golf (at the time).  I can report that the water is still there, and the course is undergoing a renaissance of sorts, with better grooming along the fairways and on the greens than the place has seen in decades.  And the old brick clubhouse has been refurbished and recently reopened, serving meals at lunch and dinner to golfers and local non-golfers alike.  Georgetown needs a quality course, and residents and visiting golfers on the south end of the Strand will find Wedgefield a nice contrast to the notable Caledonia, Pawleys Plantation, True Blue and the soon to open Founders Club in Pawleys Island (the latter the former Sea Gull Golf Club, another on the list of my original 19).

    While the course is separate from the surrounding neighborhoods, Wedgefield has very much of a community vibe.  The houses are eclectic in style, new mixed with old, well designed mixed with some 35 year old structures that could use aggressive rehabilitation (or tear down).  Prices reflect the inconsistent nature of the houses and start at about $200,000.  You won't find many that tip the $400,000 scale.  A couple with some fix-up energy and no need for too many amenities could do quite well.

    In the next day or two my son, Tim, the golf architecture geek (and 1 handicapper), will share his thoughts about the Wedgefield course which he played with me a few days ago.  I expect that his comments will reflect that, unlike his old man, he is unburdened by any sense of nostalgia for Wedgefield.

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The short par 5 17th at Wedgefield offers a strong reward for a risky tee shot.  Drive anywhere left or right of the fairway, and you will need to contend with water that pinches in on both sides of the fairway from 150 yards in to about 50 yards from the green.  A good drive and you can comfortably go at the green in two.
 

 

 

 

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The par 5 12th at Red Tail Mountain starts a few stories above the fairway... 

   

    Red Tail Mountain, a two-year old community in a remote area of eastern Tennessee, has hired the Troon golf management company to supervise operations at its golf course.  Red Tail Mountain was one of the most interesting courses I played last year, and one of its par 5s is still seared in my memory.  It featured a four-story high tee, a fairway that was severely humped in the middle, and most unusual lay-up and approach shots.  Entry to the green is over a rock outcropping at right front; behind the green is a sheer two-story cliff that looks as if it will throw long shots back onto the green.  According to the assistant pro at the course, it doesn't work that way; he's hit buckets of balls at the cliff and very few bounce straight back.

    Red Tail, which is located in Mountain City, is about 40 minutes from the attractive mountain community of Boone, NC.  Real estate values currently reflect Red Tail's rural location; combine attractive prices, an intriguing golf course with a dramatic layout, and Tennessee's lack of a state income tax, and Red Tail Mountain has a great shot at success.  The hiring of Troon demonstrates that it is serious about upgrading its golf facilities.  That won't hurt either.

 

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...and gets even "harder" the closer you get to the green. 

  

Wednesday, 11 July 2007 04:29

Myrtle Beach course of history won't change

    Any golfer who has been to Myrtle Beach knows "The Grandaddy."  It is the nickname for Pine Lakes International Golf Club, circa 1927, the oldest course on the Grand Strand and the one with the most tradition.  In its clubhouse in 1954, for example, plans were hatched to initiate Sports Illustrated.  During cold weather rounds, Pine Lakes attendants greeted golfers at one tee box with a cup of chowder.  The course's starters wore kilts and other employees knickers.  None of the 120 courses in the Myrtle Beach area could match Pine Lakes for private, old club and old world atmosphere.
    And then, poof, it all seemed to vanish in a cloud of "progress" when the course closed last November in anticipation of a new housing development and a total rebuild of the layout.  The developers pledged to keep a course on site, albeit a dramatically changed Pine Lakes, but local folks were skeptical, having watched in recent years as a dozen courses in the area closed permanently to accommodate housing.  The threat of a course closure at Pine Lakes ended when the plans of Burroughs & Chapin, the local developers, were approved by the Myrtle Beach City Council.  Those plans included a golf course.
    Today, according to the Myrtle Beach Sun Times, plans to totally change the Pine Lakes course have been shelved, for the most part.  Burroughs & Chapin, with advice from local and national preservationists, decided that the course's National Historic Registry status should be retained, and to do that, only minimal changes could be made to the course.  To accommodate a main road into the new community, only holes 17 and 18 will be rerouted, moved to a wetlands area at the edge of the property, according to the Sun Times.  That could afford some interesting finishing-hole challenges.  Otherwise, Burroughs & Chapin have committed to rehabbing the course in its current configuration, and installing new saline-resistant grass on the greens; Pine Lakes's underground wells have a high salt content, and growing grass on the course's greens had been a perpetual challenge.
    The Grandaddy's clubhouse is also getting a sprucing up.  It and the course are expected to be ready in 2009.

100_4522.jpg

 

Position, not length, is most important on Diamond Back's par 5s. 

 

    Sometimes when you are in a slump in baseball or cricket (we have faithful readers from the UK), all you need is for someone to lob a few your way to get your stroke back.  I have been in a slump lately, a 10 handicap struggling to break 90.  Diamond Back in Loris, SC, was just what the doctor ordered.  Its wide fairways and approachable greens cured the pushes and pulls that had marked my game this year.
    I would not have played Diamond Back if it hadn't been for Woodland Valley, an intriguing new community out on the fringes of the Myrtle Beach area that is sprouting around the golf course.  This is bass ackwards for golfing communities, where almost always the course is built into the master plan so it can work in two-part harmony with the housing lots.  Here, however, the course and community are separately owned but woven together, with some holes in the very interior of the community that will afford nice views from future back porches.
    I'll have a more extensive review of Woodland Valley in the October issue of HomeOnTheCourse, our bi-monthly newsletter, but suffice to say for now that Diamond Back, whose advertising line is "Feel the Fangs," has more bark than bite.  Despite a few forced carries, Diamond Back is still a resort course and, with one curious exception, it is built for speed of play, with good sightlines, wide fairways, big greens, and sand bunkers not encroaching too much at greenside.  The exception is the absence of hazard stakes off fairways and just beyond the cart paths; we played behind a group from the San Diego Golf Academy, about a dozen young men trying to earn their credentials to become golf club professionals, and more than once a member of the fivesome in front of us returned to the tee to reload after a stray tee ball (He took an 11 on one hole and was crestfallen, as you might imagine).  This turned a 4 ½-hour round into a 5-hour one.
    A few other idiosyncrasies are worth mentioning.  Diamond Back has no alert system for impending bad weather.  As the signs on the carts and around the course indicate, you are on your own to exercise good judgment in the event of lightning. 100_4500.jpg The greens on the front and back nines were entirely different.  Although it was a Monday, normally a day of rest at many courses, maintenance crews were out working.  Oddly, the front nine's greens had not been cut, were quite grainy and medium slow.  The back nine's greens had been cut in such a way that they appeared to have been both shaved and slightly aerated, giving the surface an indoor/outdoor carpet weave effect.  Nevertheless, they were fast and generally putted as they read.  Finally, the Diamond Back scorecard needs significant updating.  Many official yardage stones from the back tees (6,907, rating 74.0, slope 139) did not match the card, and the course from the tips played more like 6,800.  Son Tim played erratically from back there and still shot 74.  My own 78 from the "back" tees (6,390, 71.4, 129) was my best round of the year.
     At almost a half hour from Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach, Diamond Back is out there, the farthest course north and west of the 120 courses in the Myrtle Beach area. Is it worth the trip?  My answer is that, like most golfers, I'd suffer virtually any inconveniences to shave almost a dozen strokes off my (recent) average score.  Diamond Back's lack of venom was an antidote for me.
    I'll have much more to say about the course at Diamond Back, and I'll print a review of the brand new community at Woodland Valley, in the October issue of HomeOnTheCourse.  For subscription information - we charge a mere $39 for six issues a year - go to HomeOnTheCourse.com where you can receive a free sample and subscribe securely.  The August issue will be available soon, with a 14-page look at the Williamsburg, VA, area, including the Kingsmill Resort, Ford's Colony, Governor's Land and Colonial Heritage, with an Arthur Hills-designed course that was as tough as any we have played.  Subscribe now so you won't miss  it.

    We didn't know anything about Double Diamond Resorts, but we were intrigued with the company's ad in this weekend's edition of the Wall Street Journal touting its latest resort development -- in Sullivan County, New York.  This part of the northeast has been economically depressed over the last 25 years.  The Catskill Mountains, especially the area known as "The Borscht Belt" (for the many famous Jewish comedians who populated the nightclubs in the area), stopped being much of a destination in the 60s and 70s.  The famed hotels became shabby, many closed, and the few notable golf courses, like the famed "Monster" at the Concord Hotel, fell into some disrepair.  Many closed.
    It was good to see someone making an investment in the Catskills, and we wanted to know more.  The trouble is that DDResorts.com, the Double Diamond web site, says nothing about the new venture - the only information it supplies is about its four resorts in Texas and one in Pennsylvania.  All we know about the new resort community is from the ad: 2,000 acres and gated; a "green development," which we take to mean environmentally pristine; a 70-acre mountain lake; "world class dining"; and a Nicklaus Design 18-hole golf course.  Note that Nicklaus Design is different than a Jack Nicklaus Signature course.  Jack doesn't design the courses designated as Nicklaus Design, but he does give the plans the once or twice over.  
    We hope the development of the Sullivan County resort itself, just 85 miles north of the Washington Bridge, is more coordinated than the initial marketing.  The Catskills area, long in the economic doldrums but within easy driving distance for weekenders from New York City, can certainly use a boost.

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